Calgary – An Olympic Wonderland

After Roughing it in the Bush for several days, the second part of our Albertan vacation took us to a few different cities, of which the biggest was Calgary, a place I had never been to apart from the airport.

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The Bow River with a lovely pedestrian bridge that connects to downtown

One of my good friends lives there and she gave me an excellent tour, beginning with downtown.

Stephen Avenue was by far the most vibrant street, offering plenty of restaurants, shopping, entertainment venues, and public art. It’s described as “Calgary’s historic pedestrian mall” on this Calgary Downtown website, and I liked walking on a street that cars don’t have access to.

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Pedestrians line up to cross Stephen Avenue

In the pic above, you may be able to see some cone-shaped steel structures between the buildings in the distance that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. They’re called the Galleria Trees and they were installed between Bankers Hall and the Home Oil Tower in 2000 to break up the wind tunnel that these two buildings created. There are 10 of them in total. I like that they have a functional use and yet they serve a double purpose as public art. They have since been equipped with an audio system to play music and with LED lighting for special events.

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Looking up at the Galleria Trees

Because the Rio Olympics were going on while I was there, the City had put up a gigantic screen on Stephen Avenue with couches and chairs for the public to enjoy the Olympic action, and I thought that was the coolest thing (Vancouver, take notice!)

I was definitely in the Olympic spirit, and so my friend indulged my interest to see all of the major venues when Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics. We dipped our feet into the Olympic Plaza downtown where the medal ceremonies took place.

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Olympic Plaza-turned-waterpark during the summer

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Also near the Plaza are these eye-catching orange pipes listing all 100 parks in Calgary, with different heights according to their age (the taller, the older).

The artists (IBI/Landplan) said this about their artwork titled Centennial Grove installation:

Drawing on the imagery of the native prairie landscape of aspen groves and grasslands and in a celebration of the 100 anniversary of the City of Calgary Parks, the installation symbolizes 100 trunks of aspen trees nestled in grassland.

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Speaking of public artwork, it’s hard to miss this mesh face in front of the distinctive Bow Building (Calgary’s tallest tower) that, together, create probably the two biggest/most distinctive markers to the city’s urban landscape. Wonderland is the name of the large white sculpture made of painted stainless steel, standing 12 metres high, designed by internationally-renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

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The Bow Building

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Walking into the Wonderland of the artist’s imagination

I like what Christopher Hume says about the two entrances on either side of the girl’s neck in The Star:

Had these entrances not been included, which would traditionally have been the case, our relationship with the piece would be different. Wonderland would have remained a fascinating object that lay forever just beyond our reach.

But because we can enter into the artist’s head, and peer at the world from the inside out, we are able to “possess” the work, or at least, view things from its point of view.

Indeed. I had never been inside someone’s head before.

We eventually left downtown to explore the other Olympic venues, such as the Olympic Oval at University of Calgary.

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It was a little strange to see speedskaters in the middle of summer!

Outside the Oval is the torch that was lit in 1988—quite a stark contrast from the elaborate ones made these days. I told my friend it was rather underwhelming but as she reminded me, “Things were simpler back then.” And it got the job done.

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We took a quick peek at Canada Olympic Park where you can ride the Skyline Luge down the hill like a go-kart, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for this so will hope to catch it on our next visit.

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Apart from finding Calgary extremely spread out and rather disjointed as a city, I enjoyed touring around the downtown part especially, seeing the buildings and bridges and some waterfront/running areas along the Bow. Their public art scene seems to be strong and, compared to Vancouver, there were far more public squares/plazas/seating areas like the one below that integrate well with the landscape and foster a dynamic street culture (though no one was sitting there as we walked by!)

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