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Every city has its own little quirks; things that might not be completely unique, or grand enough to be tourist attractions in their own right, but are just a little different. Here are some of Calgary's quirks:
The Plus 15 system of enclosed pedestran bridges was started in 1970, and now dozens of bridges connect most of the buildings in Calgary's downtown. Downtown workers can cruise from one end of the core to the other in just their shirtsleeves, even when it's -30ºC outside. The system even includes an indoor park, the Devonian Gardens. Map.
The movie Waydowntown (2000) was shot and set in Calgary's Plus 15 system, and revolves around a bet amongst a group of co-workers about who can stay inside the longest.
Do you enjoy making brass rubbings - and dodging traffic? Then perhaps you would like to make an image of one of Calgary's decorative manhole covers. There are at least four different designs to be discovered: original utilitarian, Calgary skyline, leafy face, and bucking bronc. But on second thought, just taking a photo is risky enough! (Luckily, they can also be found in parking lots.)
Calgary skyline manhole cover
Chinook Winds manhole cover - Calgary
Cricket is not a popular sport in Canada. But that wasn't always the case. In 1908, Thomas Riley donated the land near his home to provide Calgarians with cricket pitches, and Calgarians have been playing cricket at Riley Park ever since. The interest in the game has grown as more and more people from cricket-loving countries move to Calgary, and there is now an urgent need for the city to create more public cricket pitches to keep up with the demand. The park also has ornamental flower gardens, a rock garden, a wading pool, and a bandstand for concerts. Located at 800 - 12 Street NW, just down the hill from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Park map.
A graceful archway spans the main roadway into the University of Calgary (University Dr. NW, just north of 24 Ave N.). It gives its name to a university publication and university awards. But it wasn't always purely decorative, and it wasn't always in that location. The twin steel arches were designed in the 1960's by U of C engineering professor Bob Loov for an Expo '67 design competition. When the City of Calgary wanted to put up a utilitarian footbridge from the university over neighbouring Crowchild Trail, the U of C proposed Loov's pedestrian bridge suspended from arches as a more attractive alternative. Twenty years later, when the roadway was widened with the addition of the LRT (tram) line, the bridge had to be replaced, but the twin metal spans were donated to the university and became its gateway.
On the side of a hill in southwest Calgary, a series of giant numbers made up of large rocks can be seen from quite a distance. This is Battalion Park on Signal Hill (both the park and the hill are named for the numbers). In 1910, a militia camp was established on land that was leased from the Sarcee (Tsuu'tina) First Nation, more than a day's travel from Calgary. During WWI, this became a large military training camp. Lacking much to do in their off hours, the soldiers training there dreamed up something that today would be called a "team-building exercise": carry rocks up the big hill that overlooked the camp, and use them to make the unit numbers of the battalions training there. Over the decades, the numbers slowly became less visible, as growth and erosion took their toll.
In the early 1990's, development threatened the neglected site, as plans were announced to grade the hillside to provide a larger flat area at the base for a future shopping centre. After extensive lobbying by those interested in preserving this historic site, a compromise was reached: the hill would be graded, but the Calgary military cadet units would recreate the numbers on the new slope with the original stones. The result is Battalion Park, a park on the side of the hill with interpretive signs explaining the history of the numbers and of the military units that they represent. The park is easily accessed from a small parking area at the top of the hill, at 3001 Signal Hill Dr. S.W. The numbers, however, can be easily viewed from the Signal Hill Shopping Centre or even while drving northbound on Sarcee Trail between Glenmore Trail and Richmond Rd. (just look to the west or left as you go).
Signal Hill numbers, Calgary - Feb 2009
The fledgling town of Calgary, established just eleven years earlier as a Mounted Police post, suffered a devastating fire in 1886. Local businessmen rebuilt using fireproof sandstone from nearby quarries; this practice earned Calgary the nickname of the "Sandstone City", because up until the First World War, many commercial and public buildings (including Old City Hall, built 1911) were made of local Paskapoo sandstone taken from over a dozen local quarries.Although there are many buildings in Atlantic Canada made from sandstone which are older than Calgary's, Calgary buildings have not been deeply stained by decades of coal soot. Most of Calgary's sandstone buildings were constructed prior to the start of WWI.
There is a detailed online brochure that gives a nice guide to Calgary's Stephen Avenue National Historic District (along 8th Avenue downtown), including the many sandstone buildings there.
Naked people! Twenty feet tall! Hardly what you would expect to see right next to the main offices of the Calgary public school board. However, the Family of Man group of sculptures have made their home here in downtown Calgary since 1968. The raceless, faceless figures reach toward each other with gestures of goodwill and friendship. They are in a park adjacent to the main offices for Calgary's largest school board, and for decades the Family of Man has been part of the Calgary Board of Education's official logo. They were designed by Spanish artist Mario Armengol for the British pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal. After the fair, they were purchased by a Calgary company, donated to the city, and relocated to their present site. Look for them in downtown Calgary along 1 St SE, between 5 Ave SE and 6 Ave SE (3 blocks north and 1 block east of the Calgary Tower).