Calgary’s ninth annual Neighbour Day served as a much needed way for communities to connect.
Organizers at a variety of community held events spoke to the desire for Calgarians to reconnect with their communities.
The annual event, which encourages neighbourhoods to celebrate community spirit, began in 2014 following the devastating 2013 floods. The City of Calgary led day was created to continue the togetherness shown by Calgarians in June of that year.
“As we slowly emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, the community spirit and kindness felt on Neighbour Day has never been more important,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
The local events held by community associations and organizations ran the gambit from coffee get togethers, new park openings, parades, art displays, and welcoming events for Calgary’s newest citizens.
The City of Calgary offered free permits for block parties, and for the use of green spaces and play spaces for local June 18 events.
Individual organizers were encouraged to invite members of Calgary City Council, the Calgary Fire Department, the Calgary Police Service, and other city agencies to attend their events.
Downtown Core found connection over coffee
The Downtown Core Community Association held its first ever Neighbour Day event on Saturday.
The association held their get together at Historic Fire Hall No. 1, offering coffee and conversation to downtown residents.
The association was newly incorporated this year, and is Calgary’s most recent addition to the roster of more than 150 community associations.
“The hardest part I think of living, like right in the core of downtown is casual opportunities to meet your neighbours, and I think this is sort of a niche that we’re trying to fill as much as we can,” said Dr. Paul Fairie, principal co-ordinator of the Downtown Core Neighbourhood Association.
“Because this is the first Neighbour Day that we’ve really existed for, we thought we might as well kick it off with something a little bit casual and just meet the neighbours.”
Heather McRae, director for strategic communications and marketing with the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA), called the start of events being held by the community association exciting.
“The conversations that I’ve just had with the president of the Downtown Core Community Association, and a very engaged volunteer in downtown, is that we want to work together to build something great for our our downtown and everybody is very committed and enthusiastic about doing that,” she said.
McRae said that the revitalization of the downtown begins with the residents who live there.
“Cultivating community spirit in the downtown is the biggest priority that we can have right now. We need downtown to be a great place to live work play shop.”
Ward 7 Councillor Terry Wong, who stopped by the event to meet with downtown residents, spoke about the need to recognize the core as more than just offices and shopping.
Coun. Wong said that he recently returned from a trip to Toronto and Kitchener, Ontario, with CDA Executive Director Mark Garner. He said that the goal of the trip was to see how other communities have integrated their community and businesses together in their downtowns.
He said that he’s working towards creating a vision for downtown Calgary that better reflects the needs of the people who live there.
“It’s a space that seven days a week, for maybe say 18 hours a day, you can find the things you need, and that’s what we’re trying to prepare for,” he said.
Connaught Open Street party one of the best attended Neighbour Day events
Hundreds of Calgarians were drawn to the live music, play spaces, and food truck at the newly finished open street woonerf located next to Connaught School.
At times, the line for balloon animals stretched well past the woonerf and towards the school parking lot.
Celia Lee, executive director of Sustainable Calgary, called the turnout “wonderful.”
“You know, it’s particularly wonderful to see the kids—when we first did this engagement, it was COVID and I didn’t meet them in person, most of us didn’t meet them in person,” she said.
“They’re so excited to see their vision become reality.”
The space, which is being temporarily blocked off to car and truck traffic until October, was developed in conjunction with the Grade 4 students at the school, and a UCalgary landscape architecture student.
Sustainable Calgary is going to be holding weekly community get togethers at the space from 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. The organization will be on hand to continue to gather feedback from members about the street-turned-park.
“Already we’ve heard from parents saying this is great, there are also other like traffic safety issues that we would like to see handled, so they’ll be passing all of that information on to Ward 8 and on to the City,” said Lee.
She said that the opening of the temporary park was the start of an experiment to see how people re-engage with their community.
“So now we get to see. We tried something, it was what the kids had suggested, and we get to see what happens. Is it creating a safer space in the street? Are people more comfortable walking around their neighbourhoods? Are speeds increasing? Are we seeing more cut through traffic?” said Lee.
“This is meant actually to decrease cut through traffic, but it might also give us an idea of what else should we do.”
Northern Hills Community Association sees need for more community engagement
The NHCA held their Neighbour Day event at Vivo in Country Hills. It featured a makers market featuring local artists and creators from the Northern Hills communities, a sizable number of food trucks, and prize giveaways for community members.
And little bit of treasure was equally appropriate for the pirate-themed kid games.
Amanda Mauch, secretary of the Northern Hills Community Association Board, said that it has been difficult to get community engagement during the pandemic.
“We’ve really struggled through COVID to get people out and engaged in the community, so having a public event like this where people can come and gather, and we can spread the word about who we are and what we do, is super important,” she said.
Mauch said that there has been some hesitation by people to gather. Having a large spread-out outdoor event, she said, was one way of encouraging those folks to become re-engaged safely with their community.
Ward 3 Councillor Jasmine Mian spoke about the importance of the NHCA event being held in light of Covid.
“It’s so important, especially after the last couple of years that we’ve had, and not being able to have as many events it’s so great to be out and talking to constituents,” said Coun. Mian.
“It’s amazing, and I think what the pandemic taught me and I think so many people is the importance of the neighbourhood, and the people who are right around you.”
The food trucks, said Mauch, were also key to drawing community members to their Neighbour Day festivities.
“Everyone wants to come for food and donuts,” said Mauch.
“It’s a really great way of drawing people in, and once they come in for the food then they kind of come in and see what else is going on. So this really works for us, and it saves us having to spend more money on advertising and things that don’t generally work as well.”
Coun. Mian said that a large part of the post-pandemic recovery would come from finding ways to support community associations.
“Supporting them as they rebuild is going to be really critical because they’re the ones who often are closest to community have a good understanding of the issues,” she said.
“So I think that’s a really big part of the pandemic recovery is making sure that our community associations are able to recover just like the rest of our institutions.”
Neighbour Day especially important in Sunnyside, following flooding scare
Gerald Wheatley dawned his golden suit to lead the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association’s parade on Saturday.
Wheatley, along with other community members, businesses, and organizations, put on a parade that was both boisterous and bizarre.
Community members dressed up in costumes, walked, roller skated, or even biked the route, all to spread some cheer and community spirit.
And even though the weather kept the blues skies at bay, the community managed to find a way of showing off the Sun—in the form of a giant balloon in the back of a pickup truck.
“I think you have got to be really creative, and sometimes that takes confidence in the community to know how to have fun and pull off bigger events,” he said.
The parade was especially poignant for members of the community, given how Neighbour Day began, and the recent flood precautions taken during last week’s storm.
“It’s a great neighbourhood, and so it’s very appropriate to celebrate not having a flood threat this year,” he said.
“It’s just wonderful to see so many friends and family able to get together, even after the pandemic and after the recent flood threats.”
The City of Calgary said that Neighbour Day was important to help communities connect in the face of challenges, like the floods.
“When neighbours know each other, communities are more resilient as people feel like they can reach out to each other to offer or accept support when challenges hit,” said Peter Ma, community and program development worker with the City of Calgary.