Exploring Serene Calgary in Less Than 24 Hours

Calgary Tower
Calgary Tower

Calgary is a cosmopolitan city with a serene small-town vibe. This sentence pretty much sums up my impressions of Alberta’s largest city.

In this blog post, I will share my detailed impression of “cowtown”. This post is complemented by my YouTube video with a similar title. Come and join me on a quick visual tour of Calgary by clicking this link.

Trains seem to be the most common mode of public transportation.

While exploring Downtown Calgary, I saw trains every few minutes. But throughout my short stay, I only recall seeing a bus twice. The CTrain is the quickest public transport option in Calgary. This is a primarily over-ground system with 45 stations along 118.1 km of track.

Aside from the ease and speed of travel, passengers can avail of free rides on the free fare zone along 7 Avenue in the downtown area. Beyond this zone, adults pay $3.60 for travel up to 90 minutes.

Since Calgary’s average temperature during the winter season is below 0oC, I imagine that waiting for a train would be challenging. I did see covered and possibly heated shelters on the platforms. So, waiting when the temperature is below zero shouldn’t be that bad.

Calgary's Peace Bridge
Calgary’s Peace Bridge

There are no barriers around the train system to discourage fare evaders or prevent accidents.

In Metro Vancouver, passengers can only access train stations by tapping a Compass Card, credit card, or mobile payment service on a machine. With the exception of the train stations, pedestrians can not possibly get in contact with a Vancouver Skytrain.

In Calgary, barriers may not be needed as deterrents for fare evaders since CTrain’s fare payment works on the honour system. Also, as mentioned above, there is a free fare zone. Out of curiosity, I searched for accidents related to contact with a train and found several articles. In October 2023, a pedestrian was hit near the intersection of 61st Avenue and 1A Street Southwest. In August 2023, a woman succumbed to injuries she obtained after being struck by a CTrain at the intersection of Centre Street and Seventh Avenue S.E. A 21-year-old man died after he was struck by a CTrain in March 2023 at the Erlton/Stampede Station. With slippery conditions during winter, mental health, and other issues, this is a bit concerning to me.

Strolling Along Stephen Avenue
Strolling Along Stephen Avenue

The traffic light for bikes and blinking yellow before the red light are great modifications.

The designated bike lanes and corresponding traffic lights were nice to see. This, to me, means that Calgary is serious in its sustainability goals.

I also found the blinking yellow lights accompanying green lights great warning signs for drivers.

+15 Skywalk is the equivalent of Toronto’s The Path.

As I explored the city on foot, I saw several +15 walkway signs. A bit of Google search taught me that Plus 15 is a climate-controlled network of walkways that stands 15 feet above street level and spans 16 kilometers. It is open on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on weekends and statutory holidays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Skywalk supports the economy as it connects buildings and provides comfort to pedestrians during winter. Plus 15 keeps people off the streets and thus makes it safer. I haven’t explored Canada much but I have experienced walking through Toronto’s PATH. While The PATH is underground, I think the concept is the same.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to explore this network.

Calgary's Cityscape
Calgary’s Cityscape

The downtown core is a web of one-way streets.

While walking through the streets of Calgary, I noticed a lot of one-way signs. I had a conversation with my Uber driver who told me that you can turn on the designated direction on a red sign, the same way that we can turn right onto a regular street in Vancouver on a red sign. If I were to drive in Calgary, I would need time to get used to this. But, it would help that there is less is less swerving or honking as well as less cars in this city. Swerving and honking would just add to the pressure on tourists like me.

Electric scooters are popular.

Recently, I noticed an increase in the number of e-scooters in Metro Vancouver. But, there are way more electric scooters in Calgary. This is most likely a result of the city’s shared Micromobility program and the growing popularity of privately-owned e-scooters.

Green Space in the City
Green Space in the City

There are green spaces and public art throughout the city.

It is always nice to see murals and street art as well as trees in big cities. Though the number of murals in Calgary is not as extensive as that in Whitehorse, Yukon, I did see some paintings and sculptures. I also saw parks where people can take a break and enjoy nature. Eau Claire Park is an excellent one as it has views of the Peace Bridge, Bow River, and downtown buildings.

Construction is happening here, there, and everywhere.

I always see posts (mostly complaints) on Social Media about the amount of construction work in Calgary. My visit made me understand why. There were really a lot of road works happening simultaneously in the city.

View from Calgary Tower
View from Calgary Tower

The streets and alleys are clean.

The downtown core was unbelievably clean. Even the alleys were clean, well-maintained, and odour-free.

The population is visibly less dense compared to Toronto and Vancouver.

I was out and about in Downtown Calgary on a sunny Sunday afternoon but did not see a lot of people. I was wondering if most of them were walking through the +15 network or if I just wasn’t used to seeing a downtown street that is almost empty.

Calgary’s population is diverse.

The Government of Alberta’s website shows a graph of the % visible minority from 1981 to 2021. The percentage of residents who do not identify as Caucasians, white in colour, or Aboriginal has been increasing. In 2021, the percentage of visible minorities was 39.0%, an increase of 9.15% from 2016.

Street Art
Street Art

There are people experiencing homelessness but it’s not common to see one.

When I arrived in British Columbia over a decade ago, I already saw people experiencing homelessness. But they were mostly staying in a certain area. My recent trips to Downtown Vancouver paint a gloomy picture as I have seen more challenged individuals in various areas of the city. Of course, we can just imagine how this challenge snowballs into other issues. I roamed the streets of Downtown Calgary for several hours and only really saw two people experiencing homelessness.

There are lots of ethnic restaurants but I didn’t find an indigenous restaurant or store.

With over 240 different ethnic origins, Calgary is said to be the third most diverse major city in Canada. To me, this signals various ethnic food choices. In this regard, Calgary did not disappoint. I was able to sample Alberta beef and Arabian cuisine during my short stay. I tried to find a restaurant that offers indigenous cuisine but did not find one.

Buildings in Downtown Calgary
Buildings in Downtown Calgary

It is quite windy.

As soon as I got off my Uber in Calgary, I already noticed that it was windy. It was a sunny and warm day, but windy.

The explanation I got from the internet is that Calgary’s prairie location offers little barriers to the wind. In addition, there are strong downslope winds along the lee of the Rockies during winter.

Calgary is the biggest city in Alberta and the biggest metropolitan area in the prairies. However, it maintained its small-town vibe. This must be the reason why people choose to move to this serene city.

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