I am a former journalist and editor, currently writing fiction for adults and children. Visit my website at www.karengrikitis.wordpress.com.
Published June 1st 2015
Local guides bring city's history to life
Learning where to find the city's hidden gems is one of the joys of taking a guided walking tour of downtown Calgary. Another is hearing about its history from someone who is passionate about sharing their knowledge and showing off their city to visitors.
One of the historic buildings along Stephen Avenue, Calgary
I opted for a two-hour morning tour organised by POWER, Projects Organised With Energetic Retirees. This is a free tour that meets every Wednesday from May to September at 10am outside the Glenbow Museum entrance along 9th Avenue SE Calgary.
There was only one other person on the tour, which was marvellous as it allowed plenty of time for our guide, Irene, to find out what particularly interested the two of us so she could tailor our tour accordingly.
Rather than starting our tour by going outside, we stayed inside the Glenbow Museum complex and entered the network of elevated walkways known as the + 15 Skywalk. Opened to the public in 1970, the + 15 is reputedly the world's longest covered pedestrian walkway 15ft above street level, covering 18km, with 59 glass domed bridges. It connects dozens of buildings, including office blocks and many of the major shopping malls, allowing office workers and shoppers to move around downtown Calgary completely sheltered from the weather. Irene is an advocate of the system and she gave us lots of tips on how to navigate it successfully, pointing out some of the hidden gardens that are not visible at street level.
The Famous Five sculptures in Olympic Plaza, Calgary
We walked through the Arts Commons buildings, which house four resident theatre companies and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, into the city's Municipal Building and the impressive City Hall atrium. Our guide told us lots of interesting stories about Scottish immigrant Colonel James Macleod whose role in Calgary's development – including naming it after a bay in northwest Scotland – is celebrated on a large display board in the atrium.
Another highlight of the tour for me was seeing the 'Famous Five' statues in Olympic Plaza, where the 1988 Winter Olympic medals were awarded. These larger than life, bronze sculptures portray five women dressed in early 20th century clothes, sitting having afternoon tea, one holding up a newspaper headlined 'Women are persons'.
One of the interesting interiors in the restaurants and bars housed in historic buildings along Stephen Avenue, Calgary
Irene explained that these prominent women together petitioned the Privy Council in England – the only authority higher than the Supreme Court in Canada – to rule on the fact that women were not considered 'persons' in the fullest legal sense of the word. They won and have ever since been celebrated as champions of women's rights in Canada.
Our guide told us some of the stories behind the historic facades along Stephen Avenue Walk, Calgary's National Historical District, and advised us about the most interesting interiors to visit. These included the Hyatt Regency Hotel – somewhere I would never have thought to enter myself – with its magnificent lobby and 19th century sandstone walls.
As Irene explained, the beauty of a walking tour is that each guide has a different idea about what might interest visitors the most, so no two tours are ever the same.