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IntroductionThe discovery of oil near Calgary in the 1900s fueled a growth spurt that even today shows no signs of slowing down. This former cow town has evolved into a cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers, shopping complexes and contemporary housing. The bustling downtown district—including the Stephen Avenue Walk, a popular pedestrian mall that extends from Bankers Hall to the city municipal buildings—has been designed to accommodate crowds of shoppers even during winter, when below-freezing temperatures would normally inhibit commerce. Enclosed walkways (called “plus-15s” in reference to their being 15 feet above street level) connect almost half the downtown buildings.
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In DepthCalgary, once considered a cow town, now is one of Canada's fastest-growing cities, with skyscrapers, light-rail transit, shopping complexes and contemporary houses. The city's economy began with—and still includes—ranching and the subsequent meatpacking industry, but the discovery of oil just south of the city in 1914 and just north in 1947 fueled a spurt of growth that turned an agricultural community into a metropolis.
The city's modern skyline, jagged with skyscrapers, makes a dramatic appearance on the vast expanse of Alberta prairie. To the west, almost mirroring Calgary's silhouette, are the Canadian Rockies, jutting into the sky just over an hour's drive away. The Trans-Canada Highway, a major national east-west roadway, runs through the heart of the city; in Calgary the highway also is known as 16th Avenue.
The region's history of human habitation began almost 10,000 years before the first 19th-century fur and whiskey traders arrived. First Nations tribes chose the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers as a campsite; emerging as the dominant tribe was the Blackfoot. Their acquisition of horses allowed them to hunt buffalo and fight almost every other prairie tribe with great success. As European settlement increased, so did the friction between the natives and the newcomers.
An 1877 treaty calmed the rough waters, and relative peace among all factions has existed since. Several reservations, including the Tsuu T'ina Reserve south of the city, are near Calgary. Native North Americans have sought to assimilate themselves into Canadian culture while retaining their native heritage.
Chinese were recruited abroad in the late 1800s to build railroads; once the trains were running, however, immigration was restricted. Oil and money lured Americans who brought technology and investment funds needed to get Calgary's petroleum industry started. But many of those who came for the money enjoyed the area and stayed, becoming Canadian citizens.
Calgary's modern sophistication is offset by a romantic perception of the past—a past in which the city was established as a North West Mounted Police fort in 1875. The Calgary Stampede, a 10-day Western wingding, is attended by more than a million residents and visitors every July. Those days existed more than a century ago, after the North West Mounted Police—the forerunner of today's Royal Canadian Mounted Police—and the railroad brought law, order and homesteaders to a region previously settled by trappers, buffalo hunters and whiskey traders. The bustling downtown district was designed to accommodate a large amount of activity, even during winter when below-freezing temperatures normally would inhibit commerce. Enclosed walkways called “plus-15s” (since they are 15 feet above street level) connect almost half the downtown buildings, making it possible to eat, work, shop or visit neighbors without donning so much as a mitten.
The Stephen Avenue Walk, a brick pedestrian mall in the city center lined with restored late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, trees, statues and benches, is an urban refuge from traffic as well as a nice place to people watch and enjoy lunch or a stroll in warm weather.
Nearby is Olympic Plaza, the site of the awards ceremonies during the 15th Olympic Winter Games, held in Calgary in 1988, and now a popular venue for events and festivals.
By CarTwo major highways pass through Calgary. Queen Elizabeth II Hwy. runs north and south through the city; Trans-Canada Hwy. provides access from the east and west. Hwy. 1A, which connects Calgary and Cochrane, also serves as an alternate route between Calgary and the towns of Canmore and Banff. Hwy. 8 connects Calgary with Bragg Creek.
Street SystemCalgary is divided into quadrants, with Centre Street separating the east and west sectors and the Bow River and Memorial Drive delineating north and south. Streets run north and south, avenues east and west. All are numbered from the intersection of Centre Street and Centre Avenue, just north of downtown. Roads in suburban areas are numbered where they form grids and named where they do not.
The speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour (30 mph) or as posted. A right turn on red after stopping is permitted unless otherwise posted; U-turns are not. Other restrictions apply during rush hours in certain areas; be aware of signs, especially in school and playground zones. Pedestrian crosswalks are designated by “X” signs, and motorists must yield to pedestrians.
ParkingParking is not permitted on major roads in the downtown core during rush hours, between 6:30 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 and 6 p.m. Downtown metered street parking usually is limited to 2 hours at a maximum cost of $4.76 per hour. Pay parking for extended periods is available at numerous locations. Rates for downtown parking lots range from $1.67-$3.81 per half-hour during the day.
About the City
Elevation1,048 m/3,440 ft.
Sales TaxThe federal Goods and Service Tax is 5 percent and applies to most goods, food/beverages and services, including lodgings. Alberta does not have a provincial sales tax but does impose a 4 percent tourism levy on hotel rooms.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(403) 266-1234
Road Conditions(877) 262-4997
HospitalsFoothills Medical Centre, (403) 944-1110; Peter Lougheed Centre, (403) 943-4555; Rockyview General Hospital, (403) 943-3000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersCalgary's daily newspapers are the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, both morning papers. The national newspapers are The Globe and Mail and the National Post. Calgary Metro is a free newspaper.
RadioCalgary radio station CBC (1010 AM) is a member of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Visitor InformationTourism Calgary 238 11th Ave. S.E. CALGARY, AB T2G 0X8. Phone:(403)263-8510 or (800)661-1678
Air TravelCalgary International Airport (YYC) is northeast of downtown off Hwy. 2 exit 266. Public bus transportation to and from the airport is offered by Calgary Transit via Route 300, with service to and from downtown for $9.05. Taxi service between the airport and downtown typically costs $38-$43. Limousine to or from airport $46.50. Many hotels also offer free shuttle service for their guests.
Rental CarsHertz, downtown or at the airport, offers discounts to CAA and AAA members; phone (403) 221-1676, (800) 654-3131.
Rail ServiceThe nearest VIA Rail stations are in Jasper and Edmonton; phone (888) 842-7245.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc. operates from the depot at 850 16th St. S.W.; phone (403) 218-3000 or (800) 661-8747. Red Arrow Express operates luxury motor coaches between Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge; phone (403) 531-0350 or (800) 232-1958.
TaxisTaxi companies include Associated Cab, (403) 299-1111; Checker Yellow Cab, (403) 299-9999; and Mayfair Taxi, (403) 255-6555. Allied Limousine provides town car and limo service; phone (403) 299-9555. Rates begin at $3.20 for the first 120 metres (about .074 mi.) or portion thereof, plus 20c for each additional 120 metres (about .074 mi.) or portion thereof (unless departing from Calgary International Airport, where rates are $7.50 for the first 120 metres, then 20c for each additional 120 metres). Cabs can be hailed on the street, but phoning ahead is recommended.
Public TransportationCalgary has both bus and light-rail transit (LRT) service; the latter, known as the CTrain, is free in the downtown core. Calgary Transit's office, 125 7th Ave. S.E., has schedules and maps and sells transit passes. Fare is $3.30; $2.30 (ages 6-17). A 1-day pass is $10.50; $7.50 (ages 6-17). Phone (403) 262-1000.
Allan Baxter / flickr
EssentialsZip to the top of Calgary Tower (101 9th Ave. S.W.) via high-speed elevator to take in a fantastic 360-degree view of the city, a great way to get your bearings. Built to commemorate Canada's centennial, the tower has been a distinctive city landmark since 1968.
Pull on a pair of cowboy boots and celebrate all things wild and western during the Calgary Stampede , a rodeo-centered event attended by more than a million people. For 10 days every July, the Stampede puts on a tremendous show that not only includes barrel racing, bull riding and chuck wagon races, but also fireworks, parades, street parties, a carnival midway and a huge outdoor music festival.
Walk in the footsteps of Olympic greats from the 1988 Winter Games at Canada Olympic Park (88 Canada Olympic Rd. S.W.), a year-round sports complex offering miniature golf, a zipline and bobsleigh runs in summer and skiing, snowboarding and luge rides in winter.
Geoff Sowrey / flickr
Listen to birdsong as you wander through the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (2425 9th Ave. S.E.), a lovely bit of wooded parkland just minutes from downtown Calgary. And once your inner peace has been restored, explore nearby Inglewood, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. It's a place known for boutiques, art galleries and antique stores, especially along 9th Avenue S.E.
At TELUS Spark (220 St. George's Dr. N.E.), get answers to such weighty questions as: What does it mean to be human? What natural forces have shaped our world? How can we harness energy for our use? The state-of-the-art science center is filled with high-tech displays that engage both children and adults. The two-level building houses exhibit galleries, the HD Digital Dome Theatre, learning labs, an interactive kids museum and more. The outdoor Brainasium, a .4-hectare (1-acre) park teaches young visitors about gravity and acoustics.
Discover the bravery of Canada's military heroes at The Military Museums (4520 Crowchild Tr. S.W.), showcasing the nation's army, navy and air force as well as four army regiments. Tanks and a fighter jet seem poised for battle outside the museum, while inside dramatic dioramas and displays of weaponry, medals and photographs bring Canada's military history to life.
Flip, fly and fall courtesy of thrill rides at Calaway Park (245033 Range Rd. 33), where the amusements range from tame to terrifying. The Adrenaline Test Zone, Chaos and the Vortex roller coaster are in the latter group, but there are plenty of rides designed for smaller children as well. Plus, with various carnival games on-site, the whole family can compete for plush prizes—and glory. The park also offers a miniature golf course, live shows and a 3-D theater.
Trek back through time to the age of the dinosaurs at the Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park (1300 Zoo Rd. N.E.), home to a collection of fierce-looking dinosaur replicas, to say nothing of the even more impressive collection of living, breathing animals from all over the world. Such creatures as gentoo penguins, grizzly bears, cougars, bison, mountain goats and wolves thrive within their particular re-created habitats.
Imagine rubbing elbows with one of 19th-century Calgary's wealthiest and most influential families when you enter Lougheed House (707 13th Ave. S.W.), their imposing sandstone mansion. Stroll through the formal gardens and you'll understand why the estate was named Beaulieu, French for “beautiful place.”
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Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Puppeteers, storytellers and theater troupes fill the city with imaginative fun during the Calgary International Children’s Festival (205 8th Ave. S.E.), a summer event that has been providing family fun in Calgary for over 30 years. Dozens of ticketed performances—some in English and some in French—delight children with stories from all over the world. Free dance workshops, concerts and other fun activities for kids take place on the outdoor plaza.
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Horse lovers can’t beat a day at Spruce Meadows (18011 Spruce Meadows Way S.W.), an equestrian center just south of the city. On days when there are no show jumping events, visitors may wander the well-kept grounds for free and pet the horses in their stables.
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iStockphoto.com / FrankvandenBergh
Those who speak the language of music will find plenty to ooh and aah over at Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre (850 4 St. S.E.). The architecturally striking building—opened in 2016 with a $191 million price tag—features interactive exhibits and memorabilia covering Canada’s music history as well as vocal booths where you can test your singing abilities.
All AgesTry traditional Dutch pancakes (called “pannenkoek”) at the Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus (2439 54th Ave. S.W.), a local favorite that has appeared on the Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here.” Not your typical fluffy pancake, the Dutch variety is rolled thin like a crepe. Diners choose from all sorts of savory and sweet ingredients including ham, pineapple, smoked sausage and even ice cream.
Lemurs and tigers and dinosaurs—oh my! One of the most popular Calgary attractions is the Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park (1300 Zoo Rd. N.E.), which just so happens to be as fun for adults as it is for children. Don’t miss the Prehistoric Park where dozens of life-size dinosaur models occupy the grounds.
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iStockphoto.com / LauriPatterson
See what all the fuss is about at Village Ice Cream, the dessert spot that consistently tops the lists of the “Best Ice Cream in Calgary.” Their hand-crafted and locally sourced flavors are anything but boring; maple pecan, salted caramel, huckleberry, Earl Grey and dairy-free varieties are among the selections. Find three shop locations around the city.
davebloggs007 / flickr
ShoppingStephen Avenue Walk, a downtown pedestrian mall, extends from Bankers Hall to the city municipal buildings. This popular spot for people watching features shops, galleries and restaurants housed within historic buildings. Also downtown, a five-block shopping complex linked by an indoor walkway includes the more than 200 boutiques, department stores and retail chains of The CORE - TD Square/Holt Renfrew (333 7th Ave. S.W.), Bankers Hall (315 8th Ave. S.W.) and Scotia Centre (225 7th Ave. S.W.).
Unique specialty shops, kiosks and restaurants are the draw at Eau Claire Market , adjacent to the Bow River and Prince's Island Park at 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street S.W.
Major department stores and a wide variety of chain and specialty stores occupy the city's shopping centers: Chinook Centre (6455 Macleod Tr. S.W.), Market Mall (3625 Shaganappi Tr. N.W.), North Hill Centre (1632 14th Ave. N.W.), Northland Village (5111 Northland Dr. N.W.), Southcentre Mall (100 Anderson Rd. S.E.), Sunridge Mall (2525 36th St. N.E.) and Willow Park Village (10816 Macleod Tr. S.E.).
Calgary Film / flickr
Performing ArtsFour of Calgary's most illustrious theater and music companies perform in the Arts Commons at 205 8th Ave. S.E. The center is shared by Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Calgary, One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre, Calgary International Children's Festival, Downstage and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to four theaters and a concert hall, it contains shops, a restaurant and a coffee bar. For information about performance schedules and ticket sales phone the Arts Commons box office at (403) 294-9494.
Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, 1415 14th Ave. N.W., stages a variety of performing arts, including touring companies of Broadway musicals and presentations by Calgary Opera; for details phone the opera company at (403) 262-7286 or the auditorium at (403) 297-8000.
davebloggs007 / flickr
A popular dinner theater that often showcases well-known performers in its productions is Stage West, 727 42nd Ave. S.E.; phone (403) 243-6642. Other theater, dance and music companies operate locally; check newspapers for performance schedules.
Alex V / flickr
Bus, Train and Van ToursBrewster Travel Canada offers trips around Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and the Columbia Icefield; phone (403) 762-6700 or (866) 606-6700 for schedules and fares.
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations offers scenic vacation packages, including the Rocky Mountaineer, a 2-day, all-daylight, narrated rail tour between Canada's west and the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer tour departs mid-April to mid-October; phone (604) 606-7245 or (877) 460-3200.
Michael Gil / flickr
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
The Calgary Midwinter Blues Fest takes place over 6 days in late February in venues throughout Calgary. The event features concerts by national blues performers; dance parties; and the Singing the Blues Vocal Camp, a workshop for aspiring singers.
Afrikadey! celebrates African culture through traditional and contemporary music, crafts, food and special scheduled events. Venues for the popular May event are found throughout the area, with festivities concluding at Prince's Island Park with an all-day music festival. Calgary International Children's Festival draws performers from such locales as Peru, Germany, Russia and Zimbabwe. The 4-day festival's many offerings include music, puppetry, dance and storytelling. Also in late May, the Lilac Festival at 4th Street features a parade and concerts—along with tons of vendors hawking artisan crafts.
Despite a focus on the modern oil and gas industry, Calgary citizens recall their past with the Calgary Stampede , held in July. This 10-day Wild West exhibition features a rodeo, chuck wagon races, livestock shows, beach-themed attractions, educational displays, shopping, extreme sports events and a midway. Parades, fireworks, street dancing, pancake breakfasts and other activities create a carnival-like atmosphere. Families enjoy the cultural and musical events that take place during the Calgary Folk Music Festival , held over 4 days in late July.
GlobalFest takes place in August and features such events as an international fireworks competition and a multicultural celebration. Visitors can sample fine foods and beverages at the Eau Claire Market during Taste of Calgary in mid-August.
During Labour Day weekend BBQ on the Bow offers a barbecue competition, live performances by local bands, a children's craft tent, and vendors selling food samples and take-home goods. The Masters Tournament takes place in September at the Spruce Meadows outdoor equestrian center, off Hwy. 22X (Spruce Meadows Trail) and Macleod Trail. Other racing and dressage events are held at the center throughout the year.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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