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Sunnyside residents celebrate the reimagined Bow to Bluff Corridor

Bow to Bluff provides a touch of history and artistry in the Calgary community of Sunnyside.

It was nearly 13 years of work, one massive flood, one worldwide pandemic and now a five-block corridor connecting the northwest Calgary community of Sunnyside.

Residents and community leaders gathered Thursday morning at the corner of 9A Street and 4 Avenue NW to celebrate the opening of the reimagined Bow to Bluff Corridor.

It’s five blocks along 9A Street NW that’s been revamped with an upgraded pathway system and three new public spaces. Each one of the areas has its own unique amenities to serve different groups.

Along with the upgraded infrastructure, there are more than 60 interpretive signs, along with mural art, to help shepherd people along in their community adventure.

Tamara Lee, who wrote the Bow to Bluff Process Guide, a blueprint for other communities to create connections, said in 2011 they took the idea to then-councillor, Druh Farrell.

“The next thing we knew we had $150,000 from the Mayor's Innovation Fund, support from transit, parks and (Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association) HSCA and 10 design companies pitching proposals and breathing down our necks,” she said.

“So, we got down to work.”

Lee said they opened an HQ in her home, began citizen engagement, and eventually opened a storefront with maps, kid spaces and a pretend park.

“People filled every wall with their ideas on sticky notes,” she said.

It was a wild ride over the years, Lee said.

“The way I remember describing it at the time was this Bow to Bluff was a train running at full speed, with council, the city designers and every participant shoveling coal into the engine while our tiny citizen group was on the cowcatcher, desperately laying down track as fast as we could so the train had somewhere to run.”

2013 flood impact

It’s a bit serendipitous that in a few days, Calgary will commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the massive city floods. 

Those floodwaters derailed the project – for a time.

“It’s an understatement to say that we were disappointed,” Lee said, reflecting on the postponement of the project.

“We had so much momentum, and then the flood hit and of course, all of us in Sunnyside were evacuated. After that, the funding, unfortunately, was clawed back. We were really disappointed and to be honest, a little upset, because it was the kind of project that would have really raised spirits here in 2014, 2015.”

She again credited former councillor Druh Farrell with jumpstarting funding. Albeit five years later.

For her part, Farrell redirected credit back to the community members that drove the project forward. She said the level of trust the city gave to community members on all facets of the project was critical to moving it ahead.

“It was actually quite extraordinary that the level of trust of turning over a project this complicated could deliver such extraordinary results,” she said.

Farrell said this project is a reminder of ensuring that with the city’s push for densification, they also make sure there’s funding for amenities like these.

“I think that's a lesson for every community and city planner, and members of council, that when you ask a community to go through change, you also offer a benefit to them and it has to be immediate,” she said.

“They have to see it immediately. They shouldn't wait 10 years.”

Neglected land brought to life

The corridor uses triangle-shaped parcels that were largely unused in the community. They’ve converted them into places where people can connect.

“Who would have thought that it was just two years ago that this land was somewhat neglected. It was covered in weeds and some long grass. There was garbage and it was basically just vacant land,” said Kyle Ripley, director of Parks and Open Space with the City of Calgary.  

“But the vision that community had was one of vibrancy and playfulness and bringing the community together through shared amenity.”

Along the route, murals from artists Gabriel Specter and Daniel Bergeron captured the energy of skateboarders, the flow of the Bow, and the activity around CTrain stations.  The murals were also inspired by a SikSika Elder who offered insight into the area’s resources and connections to Indigenous ways of life.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she was honoured to be celebrating the opening with a dedicated group that worked relentlessly to see the project through.

“This project is an incredible example of the power of community and how impactful grassroots initiatives can be,” she said.  

“Calgary is growing, it's changing, and as its communities are evolving it's more important than ever that public spaces evolve to meet the changing needs and desires of each community.

Community members behind the Bow to Bluff Corridor project gather in the playpark at 4 Avenue and 9A Street NW on June 15, 2023. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY