Sitting smack dab on the imaginary line where the prairies end and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains begin, Calgary, Alberta is a gleaming city of petro-funded glass, steel and concrete that boasts one of the better views of any major city of the world. While many that fly into this city often hop into a shuttle at the airport that immediately spirits them away to Banff in the national park that bears its name, we would advise you to spend at least a couple of days to experience one of the most dynamic and wealthiest cities in North America.
Being a city was merely ranchland a little over one hundred years ago, some might say that Calgary lacks culture due to its shallow roots, but the cowboy heritage of its not so distant past has been mined heavily, and the deep pockets of Calgary’s elite has invested in and lobbied for better arts infrastructure over the years, greatly improving the offerings on that front over the past generation.
The ample parkland that can be found throughout this sprawling metropolis will serve as an engaging warm-up for the fun that will surely follow in the mountains, and remnants of Calgary’s super successful hosting of the 1988 Olympics will impress upon you the spirit of the can-do people that live in this place.
Indeed, Cowtown (as it is affectionately called) is home to more than its share of go-getters, whose ambitious spirit will motivate you to get the most out of your trip to Alberta, starting with your explorations of Calgary, Canada!
Of all the events that Calgary hosts throughout the calendar year, the Calgary Stampede stands out as the Goliath of the lot. Given its billing as The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, it has lived up to and exceeded the lofty expectations of organizers and patrons for over a century.
Starting out as a mere rodeo competition, it has since evolved to include a midway with exciting rides, food that pushes new boundaries for fat and caloric consumption, trade show displays that tout the latest and greatest in entrepreneurial innovation, and citywide pancake breakfasts that offer that addictive morning treat within easy driving distance of most places in the city.
Encompassing all of this are countless parties put on by bars, corporations, and individuals that seemingly raise the bar of alcohol consumption, decadence and cash figuratively lit ablaze in the name of an epic time every year. Triple Grey Goose and Coke? Don’t mind if I do!
After your two day hangover wears off, stumble over to the Glenbow Museum for an in-depth education on the life and times of this young city in the foothills. Artifacts surrounding the settling of Western Canada, the native peoples that were there before them, and art displays from those inspired by the wide open land that they had moved out to as pioneers are the main draws here, but be sure to also check out visiting exhibitions from other museums, as they have hosted shows that are sure to impress even the most discerning culture vultures.
It’s one thing to learn about history in a book or from a museum display, but it’s quite another to experience it in living form. At Fort Calgary, interpreters in costume inhabit a reconstructed settlement meant to simulate conditions back in Calgary’s frontier days, when it was merely a trading and defence post in the midst of the massive Northwest Territories. In addition to playing host to the first structure built in the Calgary area, it also hosts theatre productions throughout the year, so be sure to enquire on whether any shows are happening during the course of your visit.
After spending your first day exploring the origins of the largest city in the Prairies, start your second day by getting a great view of the surrounding area at the Calgary Tower.From the top of this 191 metre high tower, views of the front range of the Rocky Mountains, the seemingly infinite flatlands of the prairies to the east, and the rapidly sprouting modern downtown core from all other sides can be had. Stick around for a meal in the revolving restaurant if you wish to savour the view with a delectable dish.
If all the glitzy new skyscrapers are getting you in the mood to spend, then taking a stroll down Stephen Avenue Walk will provide you with a fun-filled few hours of browsing, trying and buying some of the finest goods Calgary has to offer. If the restaurant in the Calgary Tower didn’t float your boat, there are many places to choose from here as well, from bratwurst street stalls, to pubs, and high class dining.
In the late 1980’s, Calgary had a larger than life dream: to host the Winter Olympics in Canada for the first time ever. With much hard work, they pulled it off, and proceeded to put on a Games that was so well loved that the head of the IOC at the time called it “The Best Games Ever”. There are many remnants of those heady times around town, such as Olympic Plaza near City Hall, which is a popular public gathering place, hosting a creative fountain in the summer that amuses many young and old.
The Olympic Oval can be found of the University of Calgary campus, which makes for a great place to try and follow in the footsteps of the elite speed skaters that competed there more than 25 years ago, or watch them in action, as this facility still hosts many significant meets during the winter season.
Perhaps the best place to take in Calgary’s Olympic heritage though is at Canada Olympic Park, which is home to the gigantic ski jump that many medal hopeful launched themselves off of in search of glory, and the bobsleigh/luge/skeleton track that sliders also navigated in pursuit of their dream.
Winter time sees these facilities at full use, including a constructed ski hill that will allow you to practice your turns before hitting a real mountain slope in the Rockies, but mountain biking happens here during the summer, and Canada Sports Hall of Fame will give you insight into the athletic heritage of this proud nation.