A tale of two Prairie downtowns
Winnipeg, Calgary square off
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.
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.
IS THE URBAN
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is arguably Canada’s most iconic new building of the 21st century.