There’s nothing not to like about Calgary (pronounced in two syllables by locals, Cal-gree), Canada’s fifth largest city. Long the center of ranching, of late it has been booming as the Canadian oil and gas industry’s headquarters. With a population of over 1 million, the city retains its small town attitude in a big city wrapper.
Although it has a history as a cowboy gathering place, today you don’t see many of them around except during the annual July stampede when the city has a huge party with a state fair-style midway and ever popular chuck wagon races in the rodeo stadium. Since coming to prominence by hosting the winter Olympics in 1988, Calgary has grown into a bustling, hip place with some of Canada’s best restaurants and museums. Talk to the people who live here, and you’ll quickly see how contagious the enthusiasm is. Everyone I met went out of their way to be helpful and friendly.
Despite having a large population, downtown Calgary at midday on a beautiful summer day was neither crowded or rushed. Even though it is a starting point for trips to the Canadian Rockies, tourists are few I saw no hop-on/hop-off tourist buses, but there is a nascent tourism orientation within the city. Calgary has so many parks it seems there is one everywhere you look. The Bow River meanders through the city, creating a focal point for locals during the summer, many of them on bicycles, bustling with activity seemingly snubbing Calgary’s long and very cold winter. In the middle of the Bow River the 50-acre Prince’s Island Park, across from the fashionable Eau Claire neighborhood of Calgary, is one of the city’s most beautiful parks, filled with wooded areas, a theater, sculpture, arboretum-style flowers, Frisbee players and sunbathers.
The park today is full of life but had been completely submerged by an epic flood in 2013, which destroyed all the island’s buildings and many of its trees. Several foot bridges connect the park to either side of the river, augmenting the network of jogging and biking trails that line both sides of the river.
In Prince’s Island Park you’ll find the River Cafe, selected as a member of the group of “100 best” restaurants in all of Canada in 2016. In a leafy setting facing the river, the menu offers unique dishes, many of which are made with ingredients grown right in the gardens surrounding the restaurant. For example, a chicken dish was partially seasoned with the edible flower nasturtium, which was being grown outside. Reservations suggested.
Another visually colorful park, Olympic Plaza in downtown, is where the medal ceremonies took place. It is a popular meeting place, with splash pad water features for children, and is located south of Calgary’s small but prosperous Chinatown.
Calgary is home to several excellent museums. Noteworthy is the Glenbow Museum which has a fine exhibit about Canada’s push westward. The Canadian experience isn’t so different from the U.S. Many heroes are remembered for some of the same things American heroes are, only the stories differ slightly and the names are different. The Glenbow spends a lot of exhibit space on the treaties with the native peoples, how they were not honored by Canada and how the native “First Nations” peoples were mistreated until the last of the “Indian Schools” was shuttered in the recent past.
A fun, new music museum known as Studio Bell is a few blocks down on 9th Avenue from the Glenbow. Both the Glenbow and Studio Bell have discount admission coupons in a popular tourist brochure titled, “Calgary Attractions.”
Interesting entertainment districts around Calgary include Inglewood, at the east end of 9th Avenue, a main street dissecting downtown. For contemporary art, the Eskar Foundation in Inglewood is a must-see. Calgary Tower on 9th Avenue, which can be seen from nearly everywhere, is the central transit point for the city and the site from which many commercial tours leave; and 17th Avenue, south of downtown, is a principle entertainment district with boutique clothing stores, hip bars and hip restaurants.
The long and short of it: add Calgary to your list.