Home / Travel Guides - Calgary / From Cow Town To Boom Town

From Cow Town to Boom Town Calgary, once considered a cow town, now is one of Canada's fastest-growing cities, with skyscrapers, light-rail transit, shopping complexes, restaurants and a $245-million library said to be one of the world's most futuristic. 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.

Calgary today boasts a high concentration of corporate head offices, the highest in Canada. Energy, technology, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism comprise Calgary's industrial base.

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 and a popular place for those in search of adventure travel. 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 N.W.

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 friction between natives and 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 who relive the days of chuck wagons and lassos. 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.

Although Calgary's growth has been rapid, it has been practical. The downtown district was designed to accommodate a large amount of activity, even during winter. A system of enclosed walkways called the “Plus 15” (since the walkways are 15 feet above street level) connects almost half the downtown buildings, making it possible to eat, work and shop without ever having to put on a coat.

The Stephen Avenue Walk, a pedestrian mall in the city center lined with late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, is an urban refuge from traffic as well as a nice place to people watch in warm weather. It's pedestrian only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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.

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Calgary, AB

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Travel Information

City Population

1,096,833

Elevation

1,048 m/3,440 ft.

Sales Tax

The 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 3 percent Destination Marketing Fee (DMF) as well as a 4 percent Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT).

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(403) 266-1234

Fire (non-emergency)

311

Temperature

(403) 299-7878

Road Conditions

(877) 262-4997 or 511

Hospitals

Foothills Medical Centre, (403) 944-1110; Peter Lougheed Centre, (403) 943-4555; Rockyview General Hospital, (403) 943-3000.

Visitor Information

238 11th Ave. S.E. Calgary, AB T2G 0X8. Phone:(403)263-8510 or (800)661-1678

Air Travel

Calgary International Airport

Rental Cars

Hertz, with multiple downtown locations and one at Calgary International Airport, offers discounts to CAA and AAA members; phone (403) 221-1676 or (800) 654-3131.

Rail Service

The nearest VIA Rail stations are in Jasper and Edmonton; phone (888) 842-7245.

Buses

Red Arrow Express operates luxury motor coaches between Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge; phone (403) 531-0350 or (800) 232-1958.

Taxis

Taxi 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. Taxi rates begin at $3.80 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 $8.30 for the first 120 metres, then 20c for each additional 120 metres with a $4.50 surcharge). Cabs can be hailed on the street, but phoning ahead is recommended.

Public Transportation

Calgary has both bus and light-rail transit (LRT) service; the latter, known as the CTrain, is free in the downtown core between 3rd Street S.E. and 11th Street S.W. Calgary Transit's office, 125 7th Ave. S.E., has schedules and maps and sells transit passes. Fare is $3.40; $2.35 (ages 6-17). A 1-day pass is $10.75; $7.75 (ages 6-17). Phone (403) 262-1000.

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