After getting off the plane at YYC (Calgary’s airport, which is just north of downtown), I got my rental car, switched my GPS to kilometers, and set a course for downtown Calgary. I had reserved a room at the Marriott on 9th Avenue Southwest. It was the perfect location: across the street from the Calgary Tower, and just one block away from the pedestrian-friendly shopping district known as Stephen Avenue (8th Ave. SE). The only problem is, the Marriott didn’t have a parking garage, and I was too cheap to use the valet. So, my exploration of downtown Calgary began here:
The nearest parking I could find was at the Calgary Municipal Building, two blocks east of the Tower and the Marriott. At the time, I didn’t realize the importance of this big, blue, stair-stepped building — but in the days that followed, I kept seeing it on the news.
As I emerged from the underground parking, I wandered into this plaza…
… which was bursting with color, thanks to all the flowers. Behind the potted plants, you’ll notice a memorial, placed in remembrance of Calgary’s fallen police officers.
Olympic Plaza is a block away from the municipal building, at the east end of Stephen Avenue. This is where medals were handed out during the 1988 Winter Olympics. During my visit, the park was crowded with people, and some sort of multicultural performance troupe was on stage. They weren’t great, and I kept walking.
Olympic Plaza spills onto Stephen Avenue, which has several blocks of shops, as well as lots of flower pots and a few statues. This one is William Hodd McElcheran’s “Conversation”. I’m betting they were discussing where to eat.
Stephen Avenue has plenty of restaurants, and many of them spill out onto the wide sidewalk.
Walk west a few blocks, and you’ll find these sculptures towering over Stephen Avenue, and reflecting in the glass skyscrapers.
Calgary’s light rail system runs parallel to Stephen Avenue, one block north, along 7th Avenue SE. It’s free to take the train anywhere in the downtown corridor, so I hopped on, for a ride to the west side of downtown.
The downtown line ends at 10th Street SW, just one block away from the Telus World of Science. (For you non-Canadians, Telus is a phone company). The rings on that sculpture rotate, just like the spinning tires outside a gas station (like on that episode of Seinfeld, when Elaine became a moron — you remember that one, right?)
North of the science center, I found the Bow River Pathway, a pedestrian/bike path that runs parallel to the sparkling Bow River (which cuts through the center of town). Along the pathway…
… I passed through a sculpture garden, before crossing the Bow River on the 14th Street SW/NW Bridge. The river marks the division between north and south streets in Calgary — Centre Street (and the Calgary Tower) is the east/west dividing line.
You’ll get a great view of the skyline from the 14th Street Bridge, and from the 10th/9th Street Bridge (where I crossed back over into downtown Calgary). It’s a great spot to view the city at sunset, when the sun gleams in the windows of the skyscrapers. The only problem is, you can’t see the Calgary Tower from this angle — and the Tower is Calgary’s most recognizable landmark.
You’ll also be impressed by the Bow River. It’s remarkably clean, and there will probably be some kayakers and rafters floating by. I can’t think of any American city that has such a pristine river flowing through a metropolitan area.
By the time you read this, and get to Calgary, the skyline will look a little different. As of September, 2009, “The Bow” is under construction. Once complete, this will be Calgary’s tallest building — as well as Canada’s tallest, outside Toronto. The Bow will measure 236 meters tall (770 feet) when completed in 2011.
After all this walking around town, it was almost sunset. I decided this would be a good time to head to the Calgary Tower, to see the city in twilight, and after dark.