What to See & Do in Calgary?
Calgary is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, with beautiful blue skies, and great hiking and biking in the city and the nearby foothills and mountains. In the winter, come for Canada’s longest ski season (mid November to late May) and in the summer come for the many festivals, including the blockbuster Calgary Stampede (roughly, the first week of July) which showcases the city’s cowboy and ranching history
Calgary is a vibrant city of 1,200,000, located within breathtaking sight of the Canadian Rockies. The city’s population has doubled over the past 20 years, when it hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Calgary is the head office city for Canada’s “oil patch”, which includes not just the major gas station chains, but more importantly the explorers and producers of the oil that gets to the gas stations and the gas that heats Canada’s homes.
Calgary has a compact and very modern downtown core with tall, mirrored skyscrapers on the edge of the always-blue Bow River.
The city is a magnet for those who love outdoors, with Nose Hill Park in the north, Fish Creek Provincial park in the city’s south end, an the parklands along the banks of the Bow and Elbow rivers cutting through the city’s centre. And of course, its only an hour drive to the scenic wonders of Banff and the Rocky Mountains!
The city’s weather generally features wide-open blue skies, but the temperatures can be quite unpredictable. We can get July weather in January, courtesy of the famous Chinook winds. which not only warm temperatures by 20C in a few hours, but literally sucks the snow off the ground. Of course, being so close to the mountains, we can get the occasional sprinkle of snow in any month, including July. By the way, the area’s ski season usually goes from mid-November until the Victoria Day Weekend.
Whether it’s a visit to the zoo, an art gallery or the mountains, Calgary offers its visitors and residents lots to do every day of the week. The city has over two dozen museums, a number of top-rated sports teams playing hockey, football, and lacrosse that keep sports fans busy year-round.
Following the last ice age, which ended 10,000 years ago, which brought humans from Asia into the Americas, the area was settled by the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Sarcee (Tsuu T’ina), and Stoney bands.
The lands were first explored by fur traders working for the Hudson’s Bay Company and were first settled in the 1870s. Fort Brisbois was built in 1875 by the North West Mounted Police (which became the RCMP) to protect the western plains from American whiskey traders. The fort was renamed Fort Calgary about the time that Treaty No. 7 was signed, where the First Nations ceded southern Alberta to the Canadian Government in return for government protection and reserves: Blackfoot near Gleichen, Blood Indians near Cardston, Peigan near Pincher Creek, Sarcee near Calgary, and the Stony near Morley.
Early Calgary grew around what is now Inglewood, and when the CPR built the trans-continental railroad, they located Calgary’s station and railroad hotel west of the Fort and the Elbow River, setting the location for its current downtown. The city became a major commercial centre for this part of the prairies and in 1894, The City of Calgary was incorporated, and in 1904, the City abandoned most street names and converted to numbered streets. The city boomed and many old sandstone buildings along the eastern end of Stephen (8th) Avenue Walk and along Atlantic (9th) Avenue SE date back to this era when Calgary grew to 85,000 residents.
Calgary has actually had three oil booms: the first around World War I, when oil was found south of town in Pincher Creek and natural gas near Medicine Hat, the second following the 1949 Leduc strike (near Edmonton) which caused an investment boom in the city’s stock exchange, and lastly following the 1974 Arab Oil Boycott, which spurred madcap exploration in Western Canada, while causing disruption in other economic sectors and other regions of Canada. The “oilpatch” headquartered in Calgary grew rapidly and the city’s population grew from 325,000 in 1974 to 650,000 by the early 1980s. Any surviving pre-1974 building is considered a candidate for being declared a heritage structure.
The most recent boom ended in 1981 with the “National Energy Program” (NEP) legislation created by Finance Minister Jean Chretien (who went on to be Canada’s Prime Minister), unfairly sucking over $100 billion in oil industry profits from the West. The recession the NEP caused Alberta to diversify the economy into forestry, technology, and tourism. Calgary’s new glass-towered downtown gave it the pride to apply for and host the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. Today (2009), Calgary’s population is over the 1,100,000 level, with slow and steady growth gaining residents form all other parts of Canada.
The Trans-Canada Highway through Calgary includes some magnificent views in the west as it climbs up and down some rolling foothills, a bunch of traffic lights in the Montgomery area below Canada Olympic Park, a maze of traffic lights (and lots of road-widening construction activity in 2009) along 16th Avenue North from the area known as Motel Village by Crowchild Trail east to Deerfoot Trail (which goes north to Edmonton, and south to the US border and the southern Crowsnest Pass route through the mountains). East of Deerfoot, the Trans-Canada speeds up considerably, with much more limited access until Chestermere, after which its open prairie. The communities along the eastern portion of 16th Avenue grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, while the crowded parts existed long before the 1960s and the frugal city fathers of that era did not think it worthwhile to build a freeway through the community, just for travellers.
Fast-forward to the 2000s: The city has a Ring Road around the northern suburbs, accessed in the west at Stoney Trail (just west of Canada Olympic Park), and in the east at 84th Avenue East. This route opened in late 2009 and is designated as Highway 201, runs 43 km (and skips 22 km along the 16th Avenue Route) zipping travellers north of the Airport and around Calgary’s exploding suburbs. While it looks like a big detour, this route has 3 traffic lights (at opening) and is faster during rush hours, and definitely a smoother trip than scooting through Calgary (though visitors should pop into Calgary at least ONE way on a there-and-back cross-Canada adventure). In off-peak hours the higher speeds are offset by the doubling of road distance, so does not provide a significant time saving.
The “West” portion (actually the SW portion) of the Ring Road is expected to be complete by 2022, and there is much construction at the junction of Stoney Trail (the ring road to the north and east) and 16th Avenue (the Trans-Canada highway) including a new south extension of the ring road, with overpasses and ramps, a doubling of the bridge lanes over the Bow River, and new accesses to nearby subdivisions to the west. Speed limits are lower between Canada Olympic Park (to the east of construction), Tuscany overpass (to the north of the construction) and the hill with the cellphone towers (to the west of the construction) 24 HOURS A DAY, and with enforcement and lower limits when crews are working.
Heading westbound, exit for the highway at Lake Chestermere, and head west into Calgary along 17th Ave SE “International Avenue” with lots of shops and ethnic restaurants, when you cross the Bow River, continue along 9th Avenue through the historic Inglewood district (with its many shops, restaurants, and brewpubs), past Deane House and Fort Calgary into downtown. From downtown (cross the River at the Peace Bridge, shown above), take the bike path along the north bank of the Bow River into the Bowness shopping district, until you see the street toward Canada Olympic Park’s ski jumps. Its the only real hill on this stretch.
Heading eastwards, turn north off the highway at the Canada Olympic Park lights, head downhill, and follow the marked bike routes along the Bow River into downtown. From Fort Calgary head east along 9th Avenue until you see signs to 17th Ave SE (now called “International Avenue”). The hill after crossing the Bow River is your only hill on this stretch. You can ride along the Irrigation District canal, but you miss the joy of shopping for supplies in this ethnically vibrant area before hitting open prairie.