Welcome to Calgary, Canada’s most energetic city. That’s not even an exaggeration. Calgary was recently voted one of the world’s best cities to live in. It ranked 4th in the world and the number one city in all of North America. This high placement might come as a surprise, as Calgary often flies under the radar.
At just over 1.2 million inhabitants, Calgary is a relatively small city, half the size of neighbouring Vancouver and dwarfed by the megalopolis of Toronto. But in this city of modest size, there is a lot of heart. In Cowtown (one of many nicknames) you can expect to find a place that has a pleasant mixture of a small town feel with a big city number of opportunities and activities. For those willing to explore, Calgary always has something more to offer!
While the original site of Calgary was established in 1875 as a post for the RCMP to stop illegal whisky traders, the town of Fort Calgary was first incorporated in 1884. It became a city in 1894 as it grew rapidly. Its position on the convergence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers places it in a fertile area with enormous natural resource close at hand.
Besides the beautiful landscape, Calgary was the home for the Western office of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This alone has made the most difference in Calgary’s rapid growth and expansion. When Alberta was discovered to have rich crude oil resources, Calgary was naturally one of the first considerations for setting up business. It serves today as the head office for many petroleum and gas companies who work in Alberta.
Calgary was named one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and since the year 2000 the population here has expanded by tens of thousands each year. Over 190 distinct communities make up the populace of Calgary and the city is divided into quadrants.
Calgary’s position is in between the towering Rockies to the West and the beginning of the plains to the East. Its location on the map gives it a unique weather pattern that isn’t replicated anywhere else in the world. Summers can easily reach the mid-30s while brutal winter weather can drop the mercury below -30, much lower with windchill factored in. But winters are manageable with regular warm wind patterns coming down from the mountains called Chinooks. These unique weather phenomena can raise the temperature several degrees in a single day, making winter less bleak and cold.
Founded on oil, gas, and the railway, Calgary now has many thriving businesses enjoying this fruitful community. Manufacturing, electronics, and three major universities continue to bring people into the city from all over Canada and the world.
Calgary has a lot to offer the people living here. There is always something to see and do for the family, the young and active, or the enthusiast.
One of the attractions that make Calgary world famous is the Calgary Stampede. Every year in July, Calgary hosts the world’s largest outdoor show with the Stampede playing for 10 days. It’s a huge outdoor event that has rides, animal attractions, food, shows, a rodeo, and chuckwagon races. Each year, over a million people walk through the gates to visit the Stampede, welcoming visitors from around the globe.
The Calgary Flames are an NHL team that plays in Calgary. They play in the iconic Saddledome, a very recognizable arena for the sport. Canada is known for its love of hockey, and a visit to the “Dome” will delight anybody, experienced or brand new to the sport.
Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, and Canada Olympic Park is still a popular location during the winter. The ski hill includes a snowboard park and plenty of opportunities to learn to ski, right here in the city. The park includes a bobsled run, mountain bike trails, and a thrilling zipline.
The Calgary Zoo is located just outside the downtown core of Calgary. It’s a distinctly popular zoo with a train station that directly links visitors to the rest of Calgary. The zoo has several dozen species of animals, including a Canadian wildlife exhibit that displays the best Canadian display of animals in Western Canada. There is an interactive penguin exhibit, hippo tank, a dedicated gorilla enclosure, and many exotic animals throughout the zoo. Each year, the zoo receives over 300,000 visitors, nearly a third of Calgary every single year.
Telus Spark is a relatively new attraction in Calgary, recently added just beside the zoo. It’s an interactive science centre perfect for all ages. The centre is always changing and updating its displays and attractions. It includes a planetarium-style dome theatre, showing narrated films on all subjects. Be sure to attend the popular adult-only nights that offer patrons a chance to drink alcohol, experience the displays, and watch live demonstrations suitable for the 18+ crowd.
One of the unique features of Calgary are the elevated walkways that span between buildings in the downtown core of the city. These walkways sit 15 feet above the street level, earning them the nickname of the “+15s”. These walkways extend for over 15 kilometres through the city’s core and allow people to walk from one side of downtown to the other without ever having to go outside. It makes traffic flow easy and is certainly convenient on cold, blustery winter days.
The Calgary Tower is one of the most distinctive buildings in the world and served as the lit torch during the ‘88 Olympics. The 190m tower now hosts a world-class restaurant at the top of the tower with a revolving floor that completes a full revolution close to once every hour. Visitors to the Tower can take the elevator up to the top or try their luck at the 802 stairs all the way to the top. The Observation Deck allows visitors to get a 360-degree view of the whole city as well as a glass-bottom floor to look straight down the street below.
Other city attractions include Heritage Park, a classic take on the old history of Calgary and Western Canada. There is the Glenbow Museum containing artifacts and history of the indigenous people of Western Canada. There is Calaway Park, a theme park with rides and games located just outside the city limits. There is also the Devonian Gardens, an indoor garden in the downtown core, a rainforest, arid desert, and lush tropical gardens in the heart of the city. There are plenty of options for family-friendly fun in this city.
Calgary is dominated by green spaces as many Calgarians love to get outside and experience nature. In just about every community and neighbourhood, the houses are built around public green spaces and include walking trails, public parks, and playgrounds. But there are a couple of parks that stand out as popular locations for Calgarians to frequent.
Fish Creek Park is a provincial park located mostly within the city limits. This park, in the southwest of Calgary, is a natural habitat for many creatures and the local wildlife. In all, the park continues for 19 km from east to west, generally following the course of the Fish Creek. It’s the second largest urban park in Canada, behind larger parks in Toronto, and currently three times the size of the more popular Stanley Park in Vancouver. Fish Creek Park, although bordered on almost all sides by the city, often has wildlife wandering in from the nearby mountains. This includes bears, the occasional cougar, deer, moose, badgers, beavers, raccoons, porcupines, and coyotes. It’s constantly patrolled and managed by Alberta Parks wardens, keeping the trails safe for all. There are several biking trails, walking trails, and off-trail paths that wander through the forest. There are also several picnic areas and campfire locations to cook food and enjoy the surroundings.
Nose Hill Park
The other obvious park in Calgary is Nose Hill Park, located in the northwest of Calgary. This massive hill can be seen from nearly everywhere in the city, a monstrous outcropping that takes up 11 square kilometres of space within the city limits. The hill is a natural reserve area, one of the largest urban parks in the world. It’s a perfect representation of the great plains to the west and the natural scrubland that surrounds Calgary. It also has several trails, picnic areas, and plenty of wildlife that wander through the park. Nose Hill Park is a popular location for joggers and bikers, providing a challenging trail to wind up and down the park’s topography.
Bow River flows alongside downtown Calgary, and recent upgrades to the pathways along the river’s edge make it a playground for people to enjoy the scenery. There are several paths on either side of the city, and it’s constantly used by bikers, walkers, and runners who want to have uninterrupted space alongside the flowing river. The city-built paths go for several kilometres past the metro area and into the neighbouring residential communities.
Whether you’re buying a house or renting, you’ll need to learn the lay of the land. There are 198 neighbourhoods in Calgary, also known as communities. These are just the residential communities that don’t account for the industrial or commercial sectors of Calgary. These communities are categorized by the quadrant they inhabit.
The northwest of Calgary contains some of the oldest communities in Calgary, including several in the downtown core itself. The communities are fairly residential with hardly any industrial areas of note. The main amenities include the University of Calgary, a campus that is larger than the entire Calgary downtown core, serving over 30,000 students every year.
Southwest Calgary is known for having more luxurious homes, especially in the river communities (surrounding Elbow River) and Glenmore Reservoir. Neighbourhoods like Eagle Ridge and Mayfair have several homes that are valued at $10 million+.
In the southeast of Calgary, there is a rapid expansion of new neighbourhoods being built. Communities like Auburn Bay, Mahogany, and Seton have sprung up quickly and have quickly become one of the most populated quadrants of Calgary with several southeast neighbourhoods now housing over 20,000 residents.
The northeast of Calgary is popular with newly arrived immigrants to the city. Several of the communities here are more minority populated than any other race or ethnicity. The communities of Saddletowne, Falconridge, and Taradale are very diverse with a number of ethnic food stores and restaurants from many different countries.
Every year, Calgary maintains a steady growth of natural births and migration. People continue to be attracted what the city offers, including a steady job market, growth in new sectors, fantastic educational opportunities, good infrastructure, excellent transit, and a number of amenities to serve everybody. Calgary looks to have over 2 million inhabitants by the year 2060. It will continue to develop, growing from a small city status to face larger city problems and challenges. Transit, housing, and schooling are the ever-present obstacles ahead, but Calgary faces it with good planning and preparation for the growth hurdles.
Calgary also is looking to upgrade a lot of the infrastructure including adding new public transit lines, increasing roads, creating a new ring road, and establishing a number of hubs for shopping and schooling throughout the city. It’s also looking to expand the entertainment of the city, overhauling the current arenas with new and improved structures, ensuring better amenities for teams in future with more seating for fans.
Calgary’s International Airport has undergone massive upgrades in preparation for a world stage. Its position on the “World’s Most Liveable Cities” list has made a desirable location for many new individuals and businesses.
Calgary has come through plenty of challenges in the past including a 100-year flood in 2013, massive job losses following an economic downturn, and a number of leadership changes. But the strength of the city persists and will cause it to thrive as one of Canada’s best cities.