The thing you always need to remember about Calgary is that it is one city. Though it is divided up into wards, and police precincts and communities, there are no equal, competing political offices like with most big cities. This was not by chance or circumstance- for many years The City of Calgary was intent on maintaining a non-metropolitan, unicity model to control development from a single central government. After World War II, the unicity model was combined with a suburban sprawl philosophy, leading the city to annex more land for both growth and control. This was evident in the treatment of Midnapore. Had Calgary not annexed the area, the city would have inevitably been hemmed in to the south by Fish Creek- besides the growth in lot sales and development in the hamlet after World War II, the Burns family had plans to develop their land holdings south of Fish Creek, where the community of Midnapore lies today. These plans were blocked in 1956 by the Calgary District Planning Commission, whose members decided such satellite communities were not in the area’s best interest. In 1961 Calgary annexed Midnapore, as well as Forest Lawn, as part of the largest land grab in the city’s history, adding on more than 70 square miles. With Montgomery and Bowness added in 1963 and 1964, respectively, Calgary’s total area was brought to 154 square miles before the end of the 1960s.
Map of Land Uses in Midnapore Townsite, from The Midnapore I Design Brief 1975 by The City of Calgary Planning Department
What makes a place?
I realize it’s such a broad question, but it’s something I find myself wondering all the time. Out of countless places on earth, why does someone pick here to live? What motivates us to move from one place to another? And why do some areas become thriving to the point of becoming monsters, while others struggle or even wither away? There is no simple answer to these questions, but a good way to approach this is to look at industry- we live in areas that provide us with a means of survival. This explains much of the history surrounding Fish Creek and the Deep South communities. The industry has changed a great deal over time, through primary-resource based industry, to a service-based one, to a world where work and home lives are again becoming integrated. But it all comes back to finding a way to live. And it starts with the land.
Bag from a&b sound, boasting about the chain’s ubiquity in Western Canada at its height.
Alright, this one gets a little personal.
If you really want to put things into perspective, there may be nothing better than looking at an old electronics flyer. The bulky, expensive, low-fidelity TVs and stereos. Computers at ridiculous prices with processing power a fraction of the average smart phone today. What may be strangest though is media, and music in particular. I’m sure kids today will find it hard to comprehend that there was a time when you didn’t have access to nearly every song ever recorded from wherever you like. Even the P2P services like LimeWire and Kazaa that were accessible, popular and ground-breaking when I was growing up seem so archaic now; no doubt YouTube and Spotify will seem ancient and strange in a few years as well. Of course I always preferred physical media and got pretty swept up in buying CDs in the early 2000s (and if I’m being honest they’re still what I prefer, although I have to admit, Spotify has been awesome). And if you really want some perspective and more than a little appreciation, look back at how much money we used to spend on things like that. Hell, I can barely comprehend the idea of spending $25 on a CD with one good song on it and I’ve actually done it. Continue reading Condos- A&B Sound→
Marquis de Lorne Bridge, Crossing The Bow River along Stoney Trail, looking North. Photo by Trevor Brown, email@example.com
It’s not a stretch to think of The Deep South as an island. Hacked off from the rest of the city by the Bow River to the east and Fish Creek Park to the north, provincially-regulated land, there will always be a sense of isolation to the area. I think area residents have always relished this to some extent, though for various reasons we’ve also needed to connect to the rest of the city and province. Naturally, the most basic way to do this is with a bridge. After reading enough about pioneer families in the area who had to “ford” the rivers, being at the whim of the seasons and the water levels, you realize how lucky we are to have a bridge. And unlike a real island like PEI, where the Confederation Bridge linking it to the mainland was controversial for over a century, over time there have been a large number and variety of bridges built in Deep South Calgary: assorted passenger bridges across the Fish Creek as well as the Bow River, and of course, the Marquis de Lorne Bridge connecting the Deep South and South East along Stoney Trail, and the 37th Street Bridge crossing Fish Creek in the West, infamously one-lane into the late 1990s. But I think the most interesting are the various crossings of Fish Creek near Macleod Trail.
There’s something about grain elevators. It should only be fitting that the thing which kicked off this whole project was my pursuit of memories of the old Unifeed elevator. Looking back, these old buildings are emblematic of everything I’ve discussed here: changing times, urbanization and the ethereal meaning of landmarks. And while much of what I’m exploring in these articles has been largely ignored, elevators have been exhaustively explored by a whole assortment of people: writers, photographers, artists, teachers, academics, journalists. They have appeal.
From studying old Midnapore, and specifically the feed elevator demolished in 2004, it quickly became apparent that that elevator, a landmark for everyone I knew who grew up anywhere in The Deep South in the 1990s, wasn’t always alone beside the railroad tracks. A second smaller elevator occupied the space just north of the feed elevator, where Fish Creek Nissan is now. And this second elevator was actually older and arguably more iconic. Of course the “second elevator”, having been demolished in July 1989, before me or most of my family or friends lived in area, and with no evidence of it in the area, may as well have not existed at all. For my generation, memories of “the grain elevator” were for the Unifeed elevator. So what was this earlier elevator?
Underside of Shawnessy Boulevard Overpass. Note the arches inspired by The Barn.
Bear with me here, I think I’ve got something.
Is there anything more urban than the overpass? From the multi-layered webs of interstates spinning at the apexes of American cities like Los Angeles and Denver, to the sky-high, seamlessly integrated trails running throughout megadense Tokyo, overpasses seem to be the purest signal of urbanism. Unlike the high-rise, or arguably public transit, there is no grandstanding of wealth, aesthetics or politics with them. Too expensive, too subtle yet disruptive, nobody builds one because they want to; they are a simple admission that there is enough traffic, of automobiles, trains or simply people, that we have to move into a third dimension to handle it adequately. As a sign of urbanism, they also embody all of that philosophy’s flaws and strengths, often at the same time: disrupting communities while also enhancing them; providing plans and amenities that otherwise couldn’t exist, while pissing people off when they fail to meet expectations or leave some people behind.
Calgary is a well-organized city. The sprawl and the array of topography obscures this, but I think at some point the planners really got it right with the city’s layout.
It begins with the grid: Continue reading Road Names→
I feel like most Calgarians have bastardized the pronounciation, and it comes out more like “MIN-da-pore”, than “mid-na-PORE”
It’s a pretty unique name. I went to high school outside The Deep South, and when I told people from other parts of the city where I lived, they noted how exotic it sounded, like it was another country. As it turns out, there is a reason it sounds like some exotic, far-off place- it is. Continue reading Community Names→
The old Unifeed/ Shur-Gain elevator that stood by Macleod Trail in Millrise, heavily damaged from both demolition and graffiti, circa 2004. It was demolished in July of that year. Photo gallery link. Photo credit: Joshua Soles
Wow, this photo. For some reason I thought of the building in late 2011, and it took me nearly two years, until late 2013, to actually find a decent picture of it (and, seeing as how this was posted back in 2004, the whole scenario makes me seriously reconsider my internet skills. Then again, you can only handle so many links to mechanics in India, before you give up Googling “midnapore elevator” completely).
In the meantime, my initial search for the elevator had led me to read about the Ogden Grain Elevator, which had been demolished just a week before. Reading the discussion about that building’s history, landmark status, and whether or not it could have been saved, led me down a path of urban studies and local history that continues to this day in the works presented here. Beyond that, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the building. I remember seeing it on car rides home as a kid, along with the spinning SOUTHSIDE SELF STORAGE neon sign, just south of it and barely visible in the photo above. I remember the big white building, with the orange stripe, and the writing on it. When my older brother had a hamster, our dad suggested he get feed there. I also remember seeing it from the Midlake/Shawnessy Boulevard overpass, while walking to A&B Sound to buy Clash and 54-40 CDs back in 2004. It was only a short distance away from that “purple warehouse”, and in retrospect , I wish I had gone to take a closer look. Because a few months later, it was torn down. Continue reading Landmarks- The Feed Elevator→
“There are a dozen cities where one might choose to grow old, their literary homecomings thick with temptation. Those are the places that seethe with pilgrims, where postcard racks adorn sidewalks and the same bells have rung for centuries, tours of significant sites available hourly. But those cities tastes of their own indigestion, wield a language lethargic with habit. They are complacent; their bones crack when they shift”- Requiem (excerpt), Aritha van Herk from In This Place (2011)
Is there a better description of everything the Canadian city of Calgary, Alberta is not? Dynamic, with seemingly boundless growth and aspiration, the city’s “Be Part of the Energy” campaign goes far beyond the region’s strong relationship to the oil & gas industry, to deeply reflect its identity. But beyond the reverential tone of Requiem’s opening stanza, beyond the sense of gratitude Calgarians surely have for the economic windfall of a place which can afford to be so busy and constantly reinvent itself, there emerges a concern for what is lost and a desire to understand what is happening. As van Herk continues, Continue reading Landmarks- Empty Spaces→