A tale of two Prairie down­towns

Winnipeg, Cal­gary square off

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - RICHARD WHITE

Af­ter nu­mer­ous false starts, Cal­gary’s East Vil­lage is try­ing hard to match Winnipeg’s east side re­de­vel­op­ment.

In the works for East Vil­lage is the Na­tional Mu­sic Cen­tre, along with the new Cen­tral Li­brary, Bow Val­ley Col­lege, St. Pa­trick’s Is­land Park and bridge, as well as im­prove­ments to Fort Cal­gary.

Stam­pede Park also has no­table at­trac­tions such as the BMO Cen­tre, Sad­dle­dome, the new Agrium Western Event Cen­tre and plans for a Stam­pede Trail shop­ping street, as well as the best fes­ti­val in Canada — the Cal­gary Stam­pede.

Ad­van­tage: Winnipeg Gal­leries, mu­se­ums,


Winnipeg’s Manitoba Mu­seum is on par with Cal­gary’s Glen­bow, which also func­tions as our ma­jor pub­lic art gallery of­fer­ing ma­jor per­ma­nent and tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions.

Winnipeg’s art gallery is lo­cated in a sep­a­rate, iconic, con­tem­po­rary build­ing from the Manitoba Mu­seum (which is de­voted to nat­u­ral his­tory).

Both cities also have ma­jor new mu­se­ums with ex­cit­ing ar­chi­tec­ture slated to open in the next few years: Winnipeg’s Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights and Cal­gary’s Na­tional Mu­sic Cen­tre.

Cal­gary’s ma­jor down­town at­trac­tion is the mid-cen­tury mod­ern Cal­gary Tower, while Winnipeg’s is the his­toric Pro­vin­cial Build­ing with its in­trigu­ing Ma­sonic tem­ple de­sign.

In Winnipeg, the MTS Cen­tre in­door sports arena is a ma­jor at­trac­tion. While many cities, such as Ed­mon­ton, are build­ing new down­town are­nas, Winnipeg has a Main Street-style arena that’s lit­er­ally right on Portage Av­enue.

This would be like the Sad­dle­dome be­ing where the Glen­bow Mu­seum is on Stephen Av­enue.

The MTS Cen­tre has placed in lists of the top 10 busiest are­nas in North Amer­ica, reg­u­larly sell­ing more tick­ets to more events than Sad­dle­dome.

From a per­form­ing arts per­spec­tive, Winnipeg has its Cen­ten­nial Con­cert Hall (home to the Winnipeg Sym­phony Orches­tra), the his­toric 1914 Pan­tages Play­house The­atre, Bur­ton Cum­mings The­atre, Tom Hendry Ware­house The­atre, Rachel Bowne The­atre and Prairie The­atre Ex­change.

The Royal Winnipeg Bal­let com­plex per­forms down­town — un­like Al­berta Bal­let, which per­forms out­side down­town Cal­gary.

But Winnipeg can’t match our fes­ti­val spa­ces: Prince’s Is­land Park, Shaw Mil­len­nium Park and Olympic Plaza.

Winnipeg’s Folka­rama at­tracts more than 400,000 peo­ple each year to more than 40 eth­nic pavil­ions lo­cated around the city. The ’Peg also boasts the sec­ond-largest fringe the­atre fes­ti­val in North Amer­ica (the Cal­gary Fringe Fes­ti­val strug­gles to sur­vive) and the Royal Manitoba The­atre is Canada’s flag­ship English-lan­guage re­gional the­atre com­pany.

Cal­gary prob­a­bly has the more im­pres­sive lineup of the­atres, such as the Ep­cor Cen­tre with five the­atre spa­ces — plus the Grand and Pump­house The­atres, and the Vertigo and Lunch­box the­atres at the Cal­gary Tower (but ru­mour has it that the lat­ter spa­ces will be closed to ac­com­mo­date a new of­fice tower).

Cal­gary boasts the High Per­for­mance Rodeo as its only ma­jor the­atre fes­ti­val now that playRites is his­tory. But our down­town is also home to nu­mer­ous live mu­sic venues, in­clud­ing sev­eral weekend af­ter­noon jam ses­sions (WAMJAM) at places like Blues Can, Iron­wood, Mikey’s, and Ship and An­chor that Winnipeg can’t match.

Our down­town also has Fort Cal­gary, which has am­bi­tious plans to be­come a ma­jor at­trac- tion. The park is al­ready be­ing used for things like rock con­certs and other fes­ti­vals.

Ad­van­tage: Tied Shop­ping, din­ing, cafe

Winnipeg’s Portage Place doesn’t hold a can­dle to Cal­gary’s The Core with its shiny new, $200 mil­lion-plus ren­o­va­tion and mega-glass roof.

Nor does Winnipeg have the wealth of restau­rants that pop­u­late the Stephen Av­enue, 4th Street and 17th Av­enue ar­eas, or pubs such as Craft Beer Mar­ket, West Restau­rant and Bar, and the Na­tional.

Cal­gary’s down­town restau­rants reg­u­larly make the top 10 list of new Cana­dian restau­rants by En­Route Mag­a­zine, while Winnipeg’s restau­rants have not.

A quick check of Vcay.ca’s Top 50 Restau­rants in Canada shows that it in­cludes eight down­town Cal­gary restau­rants, with the Char­cut Roast House and Model Milk restau­rant in the top 10.

Winnipeg has only one on the list — De­seo Bistro at No. 36. This might be due to fact down­town Cal­gary is home to more than 100 cor­po­rate head­quar­ters with their healthy ex­pense ac­count din­ing.

Both Cal­gary’s and Winnipeg’s his­toric Hud­son Bay stores are in need of ma­jor ex­te­rior wash­ing and in­te­rior ren­o­va­tions. Cal­gary’s Holt Ren­frew is def­i­nitely in a class of its own when it comes to up­scale shop­ping.

Winnipeg boasts the Stella Cafe (named af­ter one of the own­ers’ cats) with its sig­na­ture Morn­ing Glory muffins in the uber-chic Buh­ler Cen­tre, as well as the unique News Cafe (owned by the Winnipeg Free Press, it hosts live in­ter­views with Canada’s top news­mak­ers). How­ever, Cal­gary’s cafe cul­ture has more depth with dozens of lo­cal in­de­pen­dent cafes with mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions through­out the down­town.

Ad­van­tage: Cal­gary

So far, the score is tied. Next week: a look at Winnipeg’s and Cal­gary’s suc­cesses and fail­ures in place-mak­ing, ar­chi­tec­ture, ur­ban de­sign and down­town liv­ing.



Richard White

The Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights in Winnipeg is ar­guably Canada’s most iconic new build­ing of the 21st cen­tury.

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