Inner city blessed with parks
Foresight of Calgary has paid off
Everyone knows Calgary is blessed with many parks. Some are very well known — Prince’s Island, Nose Hill, Fish Creek, Bowness and Edworthy — others, not so much.
Our new suburbs are also full of pocket parks, natural areas and playgrounds.
What is often missed are the wonderful parks hidden in the gridwork of our inner-city communities.
I will never forget when my nephew came to visit us in the mid-’90s (he was then about eight years old). As we were exploring the city, he said to us: “How many parks do you have, anyway?”
Now that he’s grown up, he and his wife were recently visiting Calgary with their young son.
His wife basically said the same thing: “I could live here! You have so many parks and playgrounds.”
While many of us love to complain about the way our city is growing and evolving, perhaps we shouldn’t be so harsh on ourselves.
Calgary has a wonderful 100year history of creating parks. I am reminded of it daily, especially along the 6th and 5th avenues parkway from Hillhurst to Parkdale.
It is a constant reminder to me that someone back in the early and mid-20th century was insightful enough to create a wonderful collection of parks, f ields and natural areas in what was once the edge of the city.
Riley Park /Burns Memorial Garden
Riley Park with its flower gardens, wading pool and cricket pitch is a tribute to Calgary’s early Parks and Recreation leaders.
Originally part of the 146,000-hectare parcel of land known as the Cochrane Ranch, what is now the park (on 10th Street and 6th Avenue) was homesteaded by the Riley family from 1888 to 1909, when it was left to the City of Calgary.
In the 1950s, the Senator Burns Memorial Garden was developed in the northeast corner using 20,000 pieces of flagstone from his demolished mansion.
It is a pleasant urban park that combines both active and passive activities.
I love to walk through this park in the summer, when there are families picnicking and enjoying the wading pool and playground area, young couples wandering hand-in-hand, and cricketers doing their thing.
It is truly a community gathering place.
Located at 14th Street and 6th Avenue, this is Riley Park’s sister.
With activities like tennis, baseball and soccer, the Hillhurst Community Centre Park complements Riley Park nicely.
There is also a bustling weekly farmers’ market in the summer and a popular year-round Sunday morning flea market.
The community centre also has a daycare and many other community programs.
The most recent addition to this park is a community garden. This is an intimate mixed-use park.
Kiddy corner to the QES is the West Hillhurst Park with a recreation centre (arena, gymnasium, squash courts and meeting rooms) Bowview outdoor pool, a new playground, two baseball diamonds and youth soccer fields.
Located at 18th Street and 6th Avenue, it is a busy place yearround.
One of its most unique features is how the gymnasium is converted into a church every Sunday, a great example of cooperation and adaptive reuse of facilities.
Grand Trunk Park
Sixth Avenue takes a jog at 19th Street and become 5th Avenue (those planners love to mess with the grid system every once in a while just to keep us on our toes).
At 23rd Street and 5th Avenue is a small pocket park with yet another playground and a nonregulation soccer field.
I am told the name of the park references the fact that this area was originally called Grand Trunk after the Grand Trunk railway that preceded the Canadian National Railway.
Constructed in 1911, the Grand Trunk Cottage School still occupies the southwest corner of the Park.
It was one of the seven cottage schools constructed in 1911 in outlying subdivisions to provide temporary accommodation for overcrowded Calgary’s classrooms prior to the First World War (sound familiar?)
I have seen everything from bocce ball to baseball being played in this park. One day, I counted nine different impromptu activities taking place in it.
Fifth Avenue dead ends at 27th Street at what is perhaps one of the city’s best playgrounds.
Located at 27th Street and 5th Avenue, it is known as Helicopter Park because the playground’s central climbing structure is the skeleton of a helicopter.
The STARS helicopter regularly flies over the park on its way to and from Foothills Hospital.
It is one of hundreds of playgrounds in the city being upgraded into modern activity areas.
I love the way playgrounds have become more imaginative, almost like sculpture parks. They add visual interest to the landscape even when there is no one there.
The park also has one fullsized baseball diamond, which also serves as an open field for passive fun such as tag or kite flying.
One of my sources tells me that their family drives in from the suburbs to take their kids to this playground.
Fifth Avenue actually continues on the other side of Helicopter Park.
Just two blocks away is the former Parkdale Elementary school, which closed in 2003. However, in September 2011 it reopened as Westmount Charter School, which is located at 29th Street and 5th Avenue.
While some may see the closing of inner-city schools as a negative thing, in most cases they become private or charter schools — meaning they attract children of parents with high incomes, who soon discover the joys of inner-city living.
Some even decide to move into the community, renovating older homes or building new ones.
Either way, they contribute to the revitalization of our older communities.
There are numerous new infill developments in the immediate area of this school that stand as evidence of this transformation.
Parkdale Community Association and the Nifty Fifties Centre is just a few blocks further west at 34th Street and 5th Avenue.
Here, you will find another theme-enhanced playground — this time, a train-oriented design.
There is also an outdoor hockey rink with boards and lights, a reminder of the old days when minor hockey leagues played on outdoor rinks.
There are also some old baseball diamonds and a basketball court. Inside, there are plenty of programs for people of all ages, including a fledgling farmer’s market every Wednesday from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Calgary’s 6/5 Parkway
The distance from Riley to Parkdale Park is only four kilometres, yet it is rich with parks and recreational activities.
In addition to these parks, there are two natural areas along the escarpment — one from 19th Street to 21st Avenue and one from Crowchild Trail to 29th Street.
Both have become popular dog parks with amazing views of the river valley and downtown skyline.
Calgary is lucky to have such amenity-rich, inner-city communities. It is no wonder they have become attractive places for families, empty nesters and seniors to live and play together.
All of our established neighbourhoods are being rejuvenated with new mansions, skinny infills, mega renos and boutique condos.
The 6th/5th Avenue parkway is just one example of why Calgary’s century-old commitment to parks and recreation has paid dividends as we have some of the most vibrant inner city communities in North America.
Forget “Heart of the New West.” Forget “Be part of the energy.”
Calgary new moniker should by “The City of Parks and Pathways.”
What could be finer than a spring day last year in Riley Park? The park is one of many such gems within Calgary’s inner city.
A STARS air ambulance crew has some fun at Helicopter Park in Hillhurst in 2009. The park is at 27th Street and 5th Avenue.
A playground in West Hillhurst Park is a busy place year-round.