The unofficial guide to escaping your couch during a pandemic
In light of new public health measures announced Tuesday, the need for pandemic-conscious activities has never been higher.
Toronto-based food and travel writer Jennifer Bain has teamed up with Calgary photojournalist Christina Ryan to write 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss.
The book, which is part of the series 111 Places: Guidebooks for Locals & Experienced Travellers by Emons Publishers out of Cologne, Germany, serves as a comprehensive repository of arguably unsung locales, many of which remain COVID-friendly.
“People think this is a travel book for tourists, but it’s really not. It’s an insiders’ guide,” Bain said.
“Even pre-COVID, each book in this series is aimed at locals.”
Variety of Calgary venues
111 Places in Calgary features a variety of notable local venues and attractions. It includes restaurants, green spaces and historical monuments – with directions, background information, and a bonus “tip” location included with each featured place.
“The book says 111 places, but it’s basically 222 when you include the tips,” said Bain.
While the book’s primary focus is bolstering local interest. It includes quintessential Calgary landmarks like the Stampede Grounds and the Calgary Tower, but it also acts as an aid to the seasoned traveler that might be curious about the city’s less celebrated attractions, such as Luke’s Drug Mart and Scotsman’s Hill.
“For someone like me, who’s been to Calgary a million times, you end up doing the same five things you always do. And Scotsman’s Hill may not appeal to all Calgarians, but if someone wanted to know where to go to get the best photo of the city skyline, then that’s where they could go,” said Bain.
Bain, an award-winning writer and published author of two cookbooks, started her newspaper career in Calgary and Edmonton before relocating to work as a food and travel editor for the Toronto Star.
“My first job out of university was at the Calgary Herald, I worked at the Edmonton Sun for three years, and I married an Albertan, who until recently, ran his family’s ranch just outside of Calgary,” Bain said.
“So, I have very strong ties to the province.”
A city of hidden gems
Ryan, also an award-winning journalist, said the majority of the book was new to her, despite having more than 15 years of experience as a Calgary news writer.
“I’d say about 80 per cent of what’s in the book I never knew existed, and I’ve lived in Calgary all my life,” she said.
While many of the places listed in the book may be off limits until the new health measures are lifted, readers can still find entertainment in bookmarking some of the quirkier places in Calgary they might want to explore down the road. Whether that’s the Gopher Hole Museum (northeast of Calgary in Torrington) or the Testicle Festival at Bottlescrew Bills, which was also featured in Bain’s 2014 cookbook Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison.
“I had to include the Testy Festy in this book,” said Bain.
Bain’s husband, a bison rancher at the time, supplied Bottlescrew Bills with some of the prairie oysters for their 2014 Testicle Festival.
“I went and hung out with the chef, they cooked balls for me, and I put them in my cookbook, so I knew right away that they were going to be in this book, too,” she said.
Ryan, who also teaches photojournalism at SAIT, said shooting the Gopher Museum was one of the more memorable locations she visited.
“Torrington is incredibly proud of their Gopher Museum, which is really an ode to the Richardson’s ground squirrel, one of the most hated and vile creatures across the prairies. And not only did they do this ode, but they dressed them up and put them in dioramas,” said Ryan.
“Like, how Canadian?”
An unexpected eulogy
Despite being the industry’s leading food editor for the last twenty years – having written the Star’s column Saucy Lady and two cookbooks – Bain’s inclusion of bars and restaurants in the book was kept to a minimum.
“My background is in newspapers, where stories usually run in a day or two, so even writing for magazines where stories can run six months later is hard for me because I’m a complete worst case scenario person,” she said.
“Then you multiply that by a book, and I started thinking what happens when we’re editing this book in July and all of these places are going out of business?”
Bain’s concern took form in September when Calgary’s iconic honky-tonk bar, Ranchman’s, closed its doors permanently after 50 years of service.
“They weren’t upset about it, because it’s an important piece of Calgary’s history, and people can flip through the book and think “Huh, I miss Ranchman’s.”
Ryan said she enjoyed collaborating with Bain when deciding which photos would best represent each location, and hopes the book will help readers form connections to places they often see throughout the city, but maybe haven’t taken the time to personally explore.
“The release of the book was quite bizarre because it lined up so perfectly with COVID. But I think it really helps encourage people to have staycations. You don’t have to necessarily go anywhere. You can just explore the unusual parts of Calgary that you didn’t know existed.”
The book is now available for purchase on Amazon. It will be available for in-store purchase at various Calgary locations in the coming weeks.