Wednesday, May 21, 2014

5 Things to Do in Calgary That Aren't Stampede

Every so often, even the nearest and dearest of friends will accidentally introduce me as being from Calgary. It’s not entirely inaccurate—despite living in Toronto for nearly a third of my life, I stubbornly insist on calling myself Albertan.

But being from Alberta and being from Calgary are far from synonymous. In fact, as any good northern Albertan knows, this isn’t just a minor mistake—it borderlines on a grievous error. Northern and Southern Alberta are two worlds apart (or in the case of my hometown and Calgary, 600 kilometres apart). They’re not in the same biome and as a result, they don’t look geographically similar and have distinct climates. Northern and Southern Alberta even cheer for different hockey teams. When someone introduces me as being from Calgary, it’s like introducing someone who is from Timmins as being from Toronto.

In fact, apart from some hazy roadtrips in my early 20s (thankfully, the memories of Stampede-inspired pseudo cowgirl outfits, fake bachelorette parties and early-noughties screamo concerts have been pleasantly blurred by the alcohol I consumed during that period of time), I’ve actually spent very little time in Cowtown. (I’ve also never willingly referred to it as Cowtown before this moment. There’s a first for everything, I suppose.)

That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to visit when Tourism Calgary invited me to join a press trip in March. I hadn’t been in nearly 10 years and it turns out that in that period of time, I’m not the only one who grew up. Calgary is a lot more mature than I remember. It has a heck of a lot more to offer than just 17th Avenue and Stampede. 

Here are my top five suggestions for how to get to know a grown-up Calgary:  

1. Visit the Famous Five Interpretive Centre. 

I fangirl swooned when I found out that I would be one of the first people (other than staff) to visit the replica of Nellie McClung’s 1907 house.

In addition to serving as the first museum in Canada dedicated solely to women’s history (!!), the hands-on and immersive education centre, which opens in June 2014, will feature living recreations of the women’s “pink teas.” (Historically, McClung hosted these teas as a forum for women to discuss political issues freely. The frilly pink decorations kept the men away.) But I was also excited to learn that the centre won’t gloss over the less desirable details of the Famous Five’s history, including racism and eugenics.

“It will tell the story our history—warts and all,” Alida Visbach, Heritage Park’s director, assured me.

2. Have lunch on a train.

Okay, let’s just clarify straight up that “lunch on a train” does not mean the can of Pringles that Via Rail offers on the Windsor Corridor. What I’m talking about is a proper three-course meal served in classic period style on Heritage Park’s train car, The River Forth.

Starting in August, visitors will be able to dine aboard a refurbished 1929 solarium dining car (only one of four left in Canada) as it travels through the historical park. And then, after you’re done, you can head over to the Wainwright Hotel for drinks. (In other words, pretty much my ideal date.)

3. Learn to play an instrument at the National Music Centre. 

Shamefully, I had no idea that Canada had a National Music Centre, much less that it was in Calgary. But when they finish construction on their new building, there will be no making that mistake again—the new facility in Calgary’s East Village will easily rival Seattle’s Experience Music Project.

Five exhibit floors will house the most comprehensive collection of instruments and sound equipment in Canada. The interactive museum will also feature a performance space and a restored live music venue. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until 2016. But in the meantime, their current location on 11th Ave has an amazing collection of instruments and music memorabilia, as well as knowledgable and talented guides to lead you through the exhibits. While I’m no Clara Rockmore, I was personally a huge fan of the opportunity to try out the theremin.

4. Go bowling at National.

The moment that I stepped into National’s 10th Avenue location was the moment that I realized how much Calgary has grown up. A far cry from the bars I frequented a decade ago, National’s eight-lane bowling alley downstairs was. . .beautiful. (Yes, beautiful. I just called a bowling alley beautiful. Fully justified.) And the Bourbon Room, upstairs from the Beer Hall, is not to be missed.

5. Craft your own brew.

Big Rock Brewery is slowly shedding their reputation as a local brewery that actually hawks subpar mass-produced beer. They're deliberately moving back towards quality or quantity and in 2014, they introduced 14 new brews. I had a chance to sample their Monk’s Misery, a limited production run of gruit, which was amazing.

I also had the chance to create my very own “craft beer,” (I’m using that term loosely) at one of their 2.5 hour brewing workshops, hosted at Heritage Park. The result was what we called "HPV:" Heritage Park Victory beer. At the workshops, which are hosted a couple of times a month, would-be brewers learn the basics of recipe formulation, brewing and packaging. After creating your very own beer, you can return in a month to sample the finished product.

Thanks so much to Tourism Calgary for hosting me in Alberta's "other" city! I can't wait to come back.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...