OPINION: Calgary – The city of parks and pathways

Riley Park is one of Calgary's inner city gems. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary’s amazing collection of parks and pathways have been put to a test during the COVID pandemic. 

Thousands have flocked to the city’s outdoor infrastructure to catch a few moments of relief while being cooped up in isolation.

Calgary is fortunate that early settlers championed the idea of transforming the treeless barren prairie next to two rivers, into a beautiful park-like city. 

Calgary’s moniker could easily be “The City of Parks & Pathways.”

The Early Champions

Calgary’s park history dates back to the late 1880s when William Pearce convinced the city to set aside a 200-foot wide land reserve on the north side of the Bow River from the Langevin to Louise Bridge.

Today that land is Memorial Drive and the very popular Bow River pathway.

It’s been so busy during the COVID-19 pandemic the City has closed off one lane of the road to allow for more room for pedestrians and cyclists.

Back in 1885, the land we now call Shaw Millennium Park was set aside to become a park space. Eventually it became the Mewata Armories and Mewata Stadium. 

RELATED: Hidden gems – 5 Calgary parks you still need to check out this summer

In 1890, the City got title from the Federal government to three Bow River Islands and named them St. George’s (Calgary Zoo), St. Andrew’s and St. Patrick’s. (Note: Following a drowning in 1920, the lagoon and swimming pool between St. Andrew and St. George’s Islands were filled in to create a larger St. George’s Island.)

In 1889, the CPR developed their Station Garden next to the railway station on 9 Avenue  where the Calgary Tower now stands. At the same time the CPR was also accumulating a substantial debt to the City for unpaid taxes that resulted in the City getting the land that would become the Central (Memorial) Park 20 years later.

In 1908, the Calgary Horticultural Society was formed and immediately began champion the idea of planting more trees and creating more parks.

In 1909, the City of Calgary struck the Parks Board to oversee the development and management of city parks.

1910 was an important year as Ezra Hounsfield Riley donated 20 acres to the City which was to become Riley Park and James Shouldice donated 100 acres along the Bow River with the condition it must be used for recreational purposes; this became Shouldice Park. 

But perhaps the most important decision in Calgary’s parks and pathway history was in 1913 when the city appointed William Reader (personal gardener for Pat Burns) as the City’s Park Superintendent. 

He served in this role until he retired in 1942. By then, he had converted Calgary from a frontier city on the barren prairie, into a city with some of the best parks, boulevards and pathways in Canada – including the Reader Rock garden.

Calgary Parks today

Over the past 100+ years, Calgary has not only been served by the efforts of the Calgary Parks but the formation of the Parks Foundation Calgary. Over the past 30+ years they’ve raised $200+ million for the development of park and pathways projects in Calgary.

That’s included $2.5 million for community playgrounds and green spaces and 1,200 dedicated benches and picnic tables. 

The Foundation’s signature project is the 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that encircles the city connecting almost half of our city’s population.

In addition, Calgary developers have continued the tradition of Ezra Riley and James Shouldice in working with the City to create new pathways and parks as part of new master-planned suburbs. 

Facts At A Glance

  • The City of Calgary provides:
  • 8,000 hectares of parkland and natural areas
  • 905 km of pathways
  • 1,100 playgrounds (this doesn’t include school and new community playgrounds)
  • 475 soccer fields and 430 baseball diamonds
  • 8,400 park benches
  • 9 parks with designated picnic sites

The last word on Calgary Parks

Even though Calgary has one of the largest parks/pathways systems in Canada and every Calgarian lives within five minutes of a green space, it was still difficult for everyone to social distance. 

As our city continues to evolve in the 21st Century, we will need to continue to look for ways to provide more parks and pathways that everyone can enjoy.

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