Frances Bula header image 2

A tour of Alberta cities (with some tours of mayors offices thrown in)

June 21st, 2016 · 5 Comments

I’m from Regina, so a Prairie kid, as all good Canadians are. But it’s been a long while since I’ve travelled east. So it was a pleasurable surprise to do whirlwind visits to Edmonton and Calgary recently.

I interviewed the mayors of those two cities. (Story here, for comparisons on who among Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton is the most extroverted, who is the most nerdy, who gets the most done, who is the strongest and weakest on Twitter.)

But, as much fun as it was to talk to these two in their little municipal castles, it was equally fun to walk around their cities.

Both of them made me realize how squeezed Vancouver seems in its downtown. Yes, we are vibrant and busy and packed. But our downtown public space, in comparison, seems to be largely pushed to the edges: the seawall and Stanley Park, Jack Poole Plaza, David Lam Park.

That was different in Calgary and Alberta, where there are big spaces carved out right in the middle of the city.

I loved the huge rectangular public space in front of Edmonton’s city hall, bordered on two sides by cultural spaces. And Calgary’s big downtown parks — the Olympic park with its pool, also bordered by theatres — and another park that sported Joe Fafard metal horses were like huge gulps of fresh air amid the buildings.

Calgary was impressive in its downtown urbanism: bike paths everywhere, a pedestrian street that was thronged at lunch hour, and then a second street a block over dedicated to the city’s streetcar lines. (Less impressive was the ride out to the ends of those lines, which seemed to travel through industrial lots, alongside highways, dumping people at giant malls or what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. The tallest residential building I saw along a line was actually a long way from a station and plunked in the middle of an industrial zone, with not a single interesting thing around it.)

And I was truly envious of the gorgeous piece of art, the giant wire-mesh head, in front of the imposing Norman Foster skyscraper.

Edmonton has less of the bike-lane thing going on and is struggling with its streetcar. A former student told me it’s faster for her to walk or take her bike than take the train, which also has the delightful advantage of keeping motor vehicles on the streets (and bikes and pedestrians) waiting for long, long periods at gated intersections before the train finally goes by. But it still feels pleasantly walkable downtown.

And it has some building boom going on (though the ginormous, metallic stadium is like something imported from Mars) and lovely restored brick buildings, a Sunday market that was jammed with visitors, trying out everything from Chilean specialties to bison burgers, amid the pottery, flowers, jars of honey, wooden thingamabobs, children’s clothing, gourmet cookies, and so on.

And the multi-ethnicity was startling. We think we’re so diverse here in Vancouver but, really, we’re anglo, Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, and not a lot else. Both Edmonton and Calgary felt more like Toronto, with their mixes.

I don’t pretend to any deep thoughts. These are quick impressions, the things that interested quickie visitors notice. Things that will inspire interested quickie visitors to go back.


Categories: Uncategorized