The skyscrapers of downtown Calgary seem out of place rising unexpectedly from the shallow Bow River Valley. They contrast sharply with the dry, flat prairie stretching off to the east and south, and are dwarfed by the jagged ramparts of the Rocky Mountains looming to the west. Pinched between the slopes of one of the world's most rugged mountain ranges and the soft, fertile waves of the grasslands, Calgary is a city constantly on the move, rarely pausing to catch its collective breath before the next boom sweeps it off its feet.
The city sprawls from the foothills of the Rockies in the northwest to the rolling hills and farm country of the southeast. It is divided into four quadrants intersecting at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, which meet at right angles in the city center. Center Street runs north to south, and Center Avenue east to west, with all streets laid out in a grid expanding outwards from the center.
Less than a century old, the city hasn't had time to develop a rich heritage, but instead, has built a rough and ready character full of youth that thrives on spectacle and excess. Calgary's downtown area is bustling and always on the move. From the noise and bravado of the
The Southwest extends from the forests of Kananaskis Country to the office towers of downtown, and is a mix of residential and business districts. It includes the natural beauty of
The Southeast is home to vast oil refineries, fabrication plants and heavy industry, as well as trendy new housing developments and the world famous
The Northeast is separated from the rest of the city by the Deerfoot Trail, a freeway which carries most of Calgary's commuter traffic and is one of the most dangerous roads in Canada. Comprised mostly of older working-class neighborhoods interspersed with industrial areas, the Northeast is the place to find factory-outlet shopping, as well as the
Northwest In the Northwest you can find many of the city's academic institutions and athletic facilities, as well as its upscale residential districts. Both the University of Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are located here, as well as the
When finding a place to stay in Calgary, your choice of activities will likely play a major factor in picking an area to stay. The most luxurious accommodations, which are also surrounded by the best dining and entertainment in town, can be found in the Downtown and Eau Claire districts. For those who desire the peace and quiet of a romantic getaway, one of the hundreds of bed and breakfasts scattered throughout the city and Rocky Mountain Foothills can satisfy even the most demanding guest. Hotels catering to business travelers and conventions can be found near the Calgary International Airport and in the Banff Trail area. The more adventurous may prefer the lodging in the Bowness region for its proximity to the mountains of Banff and Kananaskis Country. Downtown
Built by the Canadian National rail company, the first major hotel in Calgary wined and dined investors before introducing them to the splendor of the mountains. The Palliser Hotel still stands as a monument to the faded railroad history that first put Calgary on the map. Although airplanes have replaced trains in transporting travellers to Banff, the Palliser continues to provide luxurious accommodations for those who desire nothing but the best, along with such newer hotels as the Sheraton Cavalier and the Westin Calgary. Other good choices are the comfortable Sandman Hotel, the classic Calgary Marriott Hotel and the elegant Regency Suites Hotel Calgary.
Adventurers and skiers on their way to Banff can watch the rising sun blaze scarlet off the eastern slopes of the Rockies from the balconies of the Bowness hotels. Conveniently located beside the Trans-Canada Highway directly across from Canada Olympic Park, these hotels offer easy access to the mountains while still allowing you the pleasures of Calgary nightlife. These hotels are best suited to travelers with their own vehicles, as it is a lengthy bus ride to downtown or a C-Train station and taxi service is often slow to arrive this far from the city center.
If you want to be right in the thick of the action, the hotels along the Macleod Trail Strip are located amongst the biggest shopping centers and nightclubs in Calgary, and are only a five-minute drive from the Stampede Grounds, the Saddledome and Downtown. Most of these hotels are moderately priced franchises of large international chains, and are a good place to stay while enjoying the sporting events and festivals in the Stampede area. There are several C-Train stations close to the hotels, which allow for quick and easy access to downtown. The Carriage House Inn, Blackfoot Inn and EconoLodge South have well-appointed rooms with excellent guest service. The Howard Johnson Express Inn-Calgary and the Stetson Village Inn are two other no-frills options that offer guests spectacular views. The Best Western Calgary Centre Inn is a popular choice among families with small children.
The Banff Trail hotels cater to business travelers who want to be close to the downtown business district, but want a more affordable stay with modern amenities. These hotels are also popular with football fans, as they are right across the street from McMahon Stadium and the University of Calgary. Early reservations are very important during the football playoffs in October and November when exuberant fans flood the area. The decked-out lounge at the Quality Inn University is popular with guests, while the Super 8 Motel is located near many attractions, such as Olympic Park. Those staying at the Bow River House or the Inn on Crowchild are able to get downtown in just minutes.
This area is filled with accommodation mostly of the B&B variety. You'll feel right at home; you might even have a private balcony, the use of a kitchen, laundry facilities or a complimentary breakfast thrown in. Barb's Bed & Breakfast, the Bed & Breakfast Inn of Calgary and Betty's Bed & Breakfast are all excellent choices. If you're looking to stay for the longer-term, check out the apartment-style quarters at the Pinnacle, where guests have a full kitchen, a housekeeper and laundry service.
There are many places to stay off the beaten path. Try the Delta Calgary or the Holiday Inn Calgary if you'd like to stay close to the airport. The deluxe Greenwood Inn & Suites, Coast Plaza Hotel and Four Points Sheraton Hotel & Suites Calgary West offer spacious, high-quality rooms with features like jacuzzis and fireplaces. B&B's are also aplenty. Along River Ridge B&B is close to many shops and restaurants, and the Edwardian-period architecture and details of the quiet Bankview House B&B offers a nice break from the noise of the city.
Calgary is a city where an international population and a strong local culture assure a broad range of dining choices, whether you are looking for an old-fashioned family restaurant or feel the need to sample exotic foreign spices. The bar and club scene is no less diverse with establishments catering to every crowd, from draft beer swilling traditionalists to martini-loving professionals to techno-rave enthusiasts.
There are several restaurant and bar districts, each with its own distinct flavor and character. From the refined pubs of Kensington to the rough and ready cowboy bars of the Stampede area, there is something for everyone to be found here.
Kensington is the place to find the exotic and unusual in Calgary, with several blocks packed with small shops and restaurants. This is where the ethnically diverse establishments such as the Marathon Ethiopian Restaurant and the Irish Kensington Pub . The Vietnamese flavor of the Blue Ginger Cafe and Restaurant adds even more character to an area famed for its diversity and adventurous architectural style. This is also ground zero for coffee shops, with over a dozen establishments ranging from cyber-cafes to old-fashioned bakeries crowded into a few blocks.
Inglewood is the oldest region of the city, and the area where the first settler in the Bow Valley built his homestead. The buildings date from the turn of the century, with many built in the now-crumbling sandstone blocks popular at the time. The local businesses reflect the frontier character by offering a more down-home Canadian atmosphere than the upper-crust cuisine of Kensington. This is where you will find Kane's Harley Diner, located in a Harley Davidson shop, as well as the Hose and Hound Pub, which occupies a deserted fire-hall.
Fashion, flash and panache dominate 17th Avenue. Home to most of the city's upper-end clothing and jewelry designers, this is where the young and upwardly mobile strut their stuff. Martini and hibachi bars line the east end, while family and international restaurants nestle amongst the shops of the west end. The Chianti Café and Restaurant and the Buon Giorno's Restaurant specialize in traditional Italian dishes, while Kashmir and Spicy Hut offer other types of distinct regional cuisine.
Stephen Avenue Walk
Stephen Avenue Walk is a cobblestoned street in the heart of the city which is closed to vehicles and has become a gathering point for Calgarians from all walks of life. This is where you will find the Palace Nightclub, which is the undisputed monarch of Calgary nightclubs, as well as the more sedate Unicorn Celtic Pub and a host of street cafes and small restaurants. Located beneath the towers of Bankers Hall, the sidewalks are always alive with street performers and buskers plying their trade amongst a steady stream of bike couriers, business people and travelers.
If you are looking for a restaurant of any nationality, flavor or decor, chances are that it will be found somewhere on Fourth Street southwest. Between 17th street and the Elbow River, both sides of Fourth are jammed with dozens of restaurants serving fare as diverse as the Burger Inn's ostrich burger or the garlic-saturated "stinking steak" at Antonio's Garlic Clove. The Fourth Street area is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best places to eat in western Canada because of its ethnic diversity and wide range of prices.
If you are looking for a chain restaurant of any description, it will probably be found somewhere on Macleod Trail. A drive along the strip will reveal at least one franchise of every American fast food restaurant imaginable, as well as the Southcentre and Chinook shopping malls. Lined with Macdonald's, Pizza Huts and similar establishments, the strip is 10 miles of blazing lights and deafening music emanating from the many boisterous nightclubs. Sandwiched between the Porsche and Ferrari dealerships is a vast strip mall complex which shelters Outlaws, the Back Alley and the French Maid , the largest and loudest of the Calgary clubs.
This area is a little bit seedy, but contains some of the wildest and most interesting bars in the city. As it is close to the Stampede Grounds and the Saddledome, hockey fans and Stampede-goers make sure that an exciting time is had by all. The area is often frequented by sports celebrities traveling incognito and has become a favorite haunt of Prince Albert of Monaco.
The country-western tradition is especially strong here, with many bar patrons sporting cowboy boots and large-brimmed Stetson hats. Local saloon owners are fiercely loyal to the home hockey and football teams, and one has made a habit of standing in the street dressed only in red long underwear and sporting a shotgun while he waits for the opposing team's bus to drive by, which it invariably does after hockey games, accompanied by much derisive hooting from both the bar patrons and the occupants of the bus.
The city of Calgary has only been incorporated since 1904, but it is estimated that the Bow River Valley has been inhabited for the last 10,000 years. At the end of the last Ice Age, the ancestors of the present-day native tribes made their way across the Bering Sea from Siberia, traveling down through Alaska before settling in the Rocky Mountain foothills. There they formed the Blackfoot, Sarcee, Blood, Stoney and Shaganappi nations, and subsisted on the seasonal migrations of American buffalo herds. Their way of life remained relatively unchanged until the late 1870s, when Europeans hunted the buffalo to near-extinction. With the buffalo gone, the natives began trapping beaver and other fur-bearing mammals for the Hudson's Bay and North-West Trading companies, who set up trading posts in the Bow Valley and at Rocky Mountain House to the northwest. The local furs were especially prized by designers in Paris and New York for their richness and quality, and commanded high prices from the traders.
This lucrative market lured opportunists from the United States, who began selling cheap bootleg whiskey to the traders and native trappers. The resulting anarchy inspired the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to dispatch officers in 1894 to build Fort Calgary and restore order. Meanwhile, farmers were beginning to move into the fertile Alberta prairies. The first settler in the area of what is now Calgary was a cattle rancher who started a small farm near the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, in an area now known as Inglewood. His ranch was the first of hundreds built by the flood of immigrants that would soon pour into the region.
In the late 1800s, Western Canada was still mostly wilderness and the Canadian government was afraid that the United States might try to annex the as-yet-undefined provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. To unite the nation, a railroad was proposed stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. This railroad, which was constructed in 1881, was to drastically change the nature of Calgary, and transform it from a remote frontier outpost into a bustling jumping-off point for the settling of the Western Prairies.
The Calgary townsite had the good fortune to be built at the entrance to the Kicking Horse Pass, one of the few passages through the sheer eastern wall of the Rocky Mountains. The 10,000-12,000 foot-high peaks denied access to a railway all along their thousand-mile length, except for a narrow valley which led from Calgary into the heart of British Columbia. This meant that the railroad had to be routed through Calgary, which became a major supply station during the construction process. Hotels, saloons and shops sprang up to serve the construction workers, and the first train loads of immigrant farmers and ranchers began pouring in. The fertile plains to the west of Calgary made ideal grain farming territory, while the rich and abundant natural grasses also produced a grade of beef unequaled in North America. In 1904 the City of Calgary was incorporated with a population of 6,000. It grew slowly until the event occurred that would determine the city's direction for the rest of the century. In 1914, just before the start of the First World War, huge reserves of oil were discovered in the surrounding hillsides. Half the local ranchers became instantly wealthy, and a boom rocked the city. When the demand for oil dried up after the war, recession set in and many residents set off to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
In 1930, seeking to revive the floundering local economy, an American promoter and four local ranchers set out to create the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. This celebration of cowboy culture and the ranching lifestyle became the most celebrated festival in Western Canada, and the rodeo competitions are still a showcase of the best and toughest cowboys and cowgirls in the world.
As the Second World War was winding down, a vast oilfield was discovered to the north, near Edmonton, ushering in a new boom. While most of the actual drilling and processing of the oil was centered around Edmonton, most company headquarters, refineries and related industries chose locations closer to the railroad in Calgary.
In the 1990s, many of Canada's largest corporations moved their head offices from the more traditional business centers of Montreal and Toronto, and have set up shop in downtown Calgary. The electronics and e-commerce industries have found the community appealing, and are now a driving force behind the city's development.