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Day 12 - Calgary and a city tour

Calgary Tower

We'd looked at the weather forecast for the next few days, and it was not looking good. Today was going to be cloudy, then the rest of the week was forecast for rain. So if we were going to see anything of Calgary, today was the day. After a late start (that bed in the Fairmont was very comfortable!) we looked up the nearest A&W outlet, and headed for breakfast. Our tour included a trip up the Calgary Tower, so we headed there next.

The Calgary Tower was built in 1968, and is not the tallest or the most elegant of the city towers - it looks a typical 1960's type structure, built of concrete and painted metal. It is 191 meters tall (including its mast); compare that to the Blackpool Tower in the UK (158 meters - built in 1894), Sky Tower in Auckland 328 meters - built in 1997), and the CN Tower in Toronto (553 meters, built in 1976), and you can see that in the world scale of things it is not that tall. And consider this; the Calgary Tower would fit into the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai (the tallest tower in the world at 828 meters, built in 2010) over 4 times - take off its mast, and it would fit 5 times (source: It also is surrounded to the north and north-west with office blocks that are very similar heights - so there ain't much view from that side! On the other sides, you look over the city suburbs - and we're talking flat. Over the other side of the railway line to the central business district, it looks like you'd expect the 'wrong side of the track' to look - car parks, warehouses and factories, and municipal apartment blocks. There are some new buildings going up here - IBM is based on this side, and there is the Central Memorial Park, a beautifully formal garden with a sandstone (and therefore 'historic') building in it. You can just see the Rockies in the distance to the west. I'm not sure it's worth the $15 entrance fee.

We had booked to go on a 'Calgary City Tour' in the afternoon - mainly for something to do! At 1:20, a huge coach turned up, with a driver and 4 other passengers - two Indian couples. And that was the entire coach-load. Our bus driver described what was going to happen - a visit to the Calgary Historic Fort, then the Stampede Grounds, a tour around the environs of Calgary itself then off to Heritage Park until our drive back to the hotels for 5:30. The Indian gentlemen looked slightly worried.

Calgary's history is even shorter than New Zealands - it celebrated its centenary in 1967 (that's why the Tower was built). Like New Zealand, the history that spans European occupation includes the original inhabitants of the land (the 'Red Indians', or - now more politically correct - 'First Nations'), the Chinese and the European settlers. And like most other places in the world, the non-Europeans didn't get the better end of the bargain. It was a lawless place too, so the Royal Mounted Canadian Police ('Mounties') were recruited to try and bring some order.

Fort Calgary

Fort Calgary was the first base in the district for the Royal Mounted Canadian Police ('Mounties'). Most of it is not original, as there was an arson attack a couple of years ago. We were given around an hour to look round. There was a pretty amateurish talk given to us in a small theatre (I think the guy was new, and he was very nervous). A 10 minute film (with a projector that needed a new bulb), then a chance to dress up in Mounties uniform. Art looked very much the part! Then a tour round the exhibits, and the purchase of a few postcards. We were then going to use our final 15 minutes to look round outside - but our bus driver caught us up. Our fellow passengers had a problem - they thought the tour was only for a couple of hours, and they were expecting to be back in time to pick up a bus to the airport, then on to Banff. They were already back on the bus! He was busy trying to sort them out, and arrange alternative buses for them, but he though he'd better warn us that there may be some difficulties, and he wanted to make sure that we didn't lose out because they were pushing him to get back sooner. We certainly didn't want to get back sooner than planned - these tours aren't cheap. Nevertheless, we got back on the bus early this time. (Note - if you visit Fort Calgary by yourself, entry is around $12)

Calgary Stampede Grounds

Next, we had a tour of the suburbs in Inglewood, to the east of the Elbow River. This was originally intended to be the centre of town - but some greedy land speculators bought up the land, and tried to charge too much for it. So everyone decided to build on the west bank of the river instead (serves them right!). This side of town also has the cemeteries - Europeans on the left-hand-side of the road, and Chinese on the right-hand-side. The bus pulled up near the Stampede Park Showgrounds, and our driver pointed out the main parts and gave us some history. Then he drove us through the grounds. Now, the Stampede Grounds without anything going on are pretty mundane……

Heritage Park

Heritage Park is to the south-west of Calgary. You pass the largest shopping mall in Calgary to get to it - the Chinook, named after the hot winds that sometimes hit the area. The winds are tunnelled from the Rockies, and can raise the temperature substantialy; In Pincher Creek, in 1962, the temperature rose by 41°C (from -19°C to 22°C) in one (source: So far most of the descriptions (and experience) of the weather in this area are not making me want to move there….

Calgary Heritage Park

Our fellow passengers still wanted to get back to town early, so when we arrived at Heritage Park our driver agreed to take them back at 4 pm, then to come back for us at 5 pm. That was fine with us - so off we set.

We liked Heritage Park. It is very much like the Howick Historical Village (Auckland, NZ), or the Chiltern Open Air Museum (Chalfont St Giles, UK) but on a larger scale. And as this was a holiday weekend (Victoria Day is tomorrow), everything was on the go - there were working windmills, an old-fashioned fun-fair, a steam train, horses and carts, and shops selling 'old-fashioned' type things. Most popular were the ice cream and sweet shops. I was very tempted to buy some aniseed twists, but the queue was too long. All the staff are dressed in turn-of-the'century clothing. Also there is a display of old vehicles and an amazing array of petrol pumps in a place called 'Gasoline Alley'. Art loved it here as there were loads of photographic opportunities. (PS a short note - this was actually the first weekend it was open this year - so - like everything else here - it has a very short opening season.)

Dinner this evening was in a bar called 'Original Joes'. The drinks and food are very reasonable here. And we've decided that the starters are the way to go. I had a pizza for $12.99 CAD (and very nice it was), and Art had Brushetta, with cheese-topped bread ($6.99 CAD). There was so much of it we couldn't see how anyone would want a main meal afterwards!

Calgary is a pleasant enough city, people are friendly, but to live there, would drive me crazy, its too flat, the weather is not great and its miles from anywhere else

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terris_travelogue/canada/l_calgary.txt · Last modified: 2011/05/26 05:15 by tel
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