Most people don’t think of amazing art when they think of Calgary. This city actually has an impressive art scene, if you know where to go, and take the time to go check it out. The best part about a lot of the art in Calgary, is that it’s free to see! We’ve put together an idea for a free walking art tour around part of the city that you’re going to love. It’s the perfect weekend activity, and we guarantee it’s something different from your routine. It’s time to get out and explore your own city!
Poppy Plaza Memorial-Kensington
First, we recommend grabbing a bite to go from Vendome Café located at 940 2nd Ave NW. Take your food and head over to the Memorial Park area, which sits on Memorial Drive just before the 10th St Bridge. You can’t miss the big weathered steel letters that spell out Memorial, with benches that sit on a sprawling wood deck overlooking the river. The memorial was created to commemorate those who have served and protected our freedom, with quotes from world leaders and Canadian citizens displayed on the steel. It’s the perfect spot to stroll around, see all of the intricate pieces of the memorial, and take in the natural beauty of the river.
If you walk just over 5 minutes up Memorial Drive to the NE, you’ll come to one of Calgary’s most well-known and controversial landmarks. The bridge connects Sunnyside to Downtown Calgary for both pedestrians and cyclists. Designed by Santiago Calatrava in 2012, the Peace Bridge was highly controversial for several reasons including its high cost. Creating the bridge was no easy feat, as it had very specific requirements when it came to the height and width of the bridge, in addition to its height above the water. It was created with custom fabricated steelwork, made in Spain, then assembled in Canada. The Peace Bridge has now become somewhat of an iconic landmark in the city, and many people will walk an extra few minutes just to cross it.
Eau Claire and Prince’s Island Park
If you follow the Bow River Pathway down to Barclay Parade you’ll end up at Eau Claire in just over 10 minutes. Stop at Eau Claire Market for a coffee then stroll around the many unique shops, or take some time to explore the abundance of outdoor space in this area. You’ll find the wading pool and spray parks in the summer, as well as an outdoor amphitheater for performance art. In Prince’s Island Park you’ll find several works of public art as you walk around. For a bit of local history, you can check out the Eau Claire smokestack which was built in 1947, you can’t miss it!
Less than 15 minutes away from Eau Claire is Stephen Avenue, the well-known pedestrian street on 8th Avenue downtown. You’ll find some of the city’s best restaurants, department store and boutique shopping, galleries, street performers and more. Likely the most recognizable of the public art here are the large tree sculptures that line the street. They stand 25 meters high and are constructed from steel, meant both as a unique display of public art, but also to reduce wind gusts between buildings. You’ll also find The Mechanical Horse, on the corner of 8th Avenue and Centre Street. It’s a large sculpture of a horse made mostly from mechanical equipment and junk parts, and is definitely worth checking out. The Conversation is another piece of art you can’t miss on Stephen Avenue. It’s a brass sculpture with two business men that was done by William Hodd McElcheran in 1981.
Depending on where you’re at on Stephen Ave, the walk to Olympic Plaza is up to 15 minutes. You can ice skate in the winter, or watch performance art in the summer. A local art favourite is The Famous Five, otherwise known as Women Are Persons at Olympic Plaza. These statues represent the five women, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, and Nellie McClung, who were key in having women in Canada declared as persons. The statues were done by Barbara Paterson in 1999, and are unique for their detail, expression, and people love to get in close and interact with the statues. You can find these lovely ladies on the west side of 8th Avenue and Macleod Trail.
A 5 minute walk away sits Calgary’s newest and tallest tower, and is something to be seen in itself. On the art side, a new city landmark has been constructed called Wonderland, a sculpture created by Barcelona designer Jaume Plensa. Plensa is a world renowned sculptor, with creations in London, Chicago, Dubai, and Tokyo to name a few. Wonderland can’t be missed, it’s a 12 metre tall bent wire sculpture of a young girls head. You can check it out from all angles on the outside, and also walk inside the sculpture for a unique view of the outside world. Wonderland puts Calgary on the map as a location for major international art and sculptures!
We hope this tour is a great, and mostly cost free option for your weekend afternoon activities. The total walking time between spots is less than an hour, so why not see what our amazing city has to offer? You might be surprised at the things you come across, and Calgary definitely has more to see than you think!