Today… I was a tourist (Pt 1)


For about three years now… I have been wanting to do this.   To tour the city.   I have had many life changing experiences both here, and far far away… many of the far far away I have documented with photos.  I cannot say the same for the experiences here.  Doesn’t that seem odd? It does to me – so as I say, for years, I have wanted to play tourist in my city.   Keeping up with being present, and seizing the moment…..  I decided today was my day.  The last week, possibly more.. has been disgustingly cold. One day over the weekend even got to -36C with the wind factor.  Disgusting.  I love where I live because it gets cold enough that we don’t have huge bugs…. but then again, when it’s that bloody cold..  Uh.  Today on the other hand, the cold broke. The wind… almost stopped.  It was a balmy -9C. Seized the day.

I made my way downtown….  took, oh, 10 minutes or so to find a parking spot… 5 dollars later and only paid up for 2 hours….   I was ready to go! There are a few places in the downtown core that I have been seriously itching to photograph for a long long time.  So I decided I would start with them, and maybe tomorrow (since it’s possibly another beautiful non-sub-zero day) go ahead and tour the other areas. One of the things I love so much about travelling to old cities.. is that everything is just that – old.  Here, well, we just implode all of our old buildings and put up new sparkly ones in place.

The photos I had been itching to take are of older buildings, the ones that bring unique character to the city. Some I didn’t manage to capture just yet…. like the Doll Block…  one of my favorite stops on the City Ghost Tour.

Image James Short Park, once the site of the marvelous sandstone James Short School (Central School) – built to supplement the original wooden cast school. James Short was the principle…. although he later took up law. Funnily enough, when Chinese business men bought the land to form the city’s China Town, objectors hired Short to be their lawyer. The school was eventually demolished in 1969 and memorandum (this part of the sandstone clock) was moved to Prince’s Island… it wasn’t until 1995 that the clock was placed back on Short’s original land and named James Short Park. Funny little tidbit….  although there was always a place for a clock on the tower, while it was actually attached to the school – there was never a clock mounted in.


The Bow Building….  which I believe used to be where the Hotel York stood.  View from James Short Park..  The Bow is supposed to be a building (at this point) one of a kind in North America.  It’s seemingly taken ages… but here she stands.


The Cathedral Church….  second oldest church still standing within the downtown. It was supposed to be a temporary cathedral, which you can kind of tell… it is quite small.  According to the ghost tour I took … oh, maybe two Halloweens ago… there is a grave out front the cathedral, the only inner city plot.


The beautiful inside of the Chinese Cultural Building….  while reading information on said building… I was not so kindly ushered out.  So, all I have is the one snapshot… and this one below, the outside of the building.



Some street art….  which seems to me looks semi native, strange because it was on the side of a building in China Town.


More street art : )   As I snapped this shot, a car was in the process of pulling up to me… the driver saw my camera and proceeded to the next person on the side walk, yelling out of the car “DO YOU LIVE HERE? I’M LOST!”.  Mega awesome… he totally thought I was a tourist. As I walked along smiling to myself, and to all the Asians who walked by… I finally got my first returned smile. It was rather entertaining…. seeing as when I was actually IN China I rarely had any return smiles… and here I am in Canada.. still feeling equally as foreign as I did then.


Then this…. I had a bit of a chuckle, and as I was doing so I got my second smile of the afternoon…  now I’m not totally sure if the woman was mocking me or genuinely pleased that I had smiled at her…   Regardless, I’m counting it as a smile.


More street art across from the historic hotels and Whiskey Alley….  this particular mural was sponsored by the new Art Central. Pretty awesome!


The St. Regis Hotel…   built in 1913.  Built apart from “Whiskey Alley” the St. Regis had no alcohol on site, and no liquor license making it more of a suitable stop for business folk.  After being sold. and resold, prohibition was repealed and the Regis had been given a “beer room”. The Regis is one of the six hotels that remain standing in the core,  built before World War One.  The Regis eventually became a hang out for transients and criminals, getting a bad name along with many of the other old hotels in the core. I can remember many a nights waiting at the Centre Street train station being hollered at by drunks, witnessing fights and many police interventions. Funny, I was never as afraid to be near the Regis as I was the last hotel on the list….. the Cecil.

ImageThe Canadian Legion Building, just beside the Regis, had it’s sod turned by the Prince of Whales in 1919!   On lookers however, stole all of the soil that had been touched by the royal spade….   Interesting thought, to wonder how many bags of soil lay in attics or trunks, tucked away for safe keeping. I suppose unless it was labelled.. and maybe even so,  not many remain. Haha.


This mural is the back side of the same block, ending with CUPS.


The St. Louis Hotel… also built in 1913, one of the six remaining predating World War One inner city hotels. Yes, I know the 1950’s signage doesn’t really do the old dilapidated building justice…. the hotel was apparently a favorite watering hole for Ralph Klein, among other city business and governmental workers.


Hooray, Yes!!!   This is one of the pictures I have been absolutely dying to take. Legendary blues from this baby… legendary. The Kind Edward Hotel aka King Eddie…built in 1906. Apart from the Palliser, the King Eddie is the only existing building that illustrates 9th Avenue’s early manifestation of the city’s Hotel Row. The second owner of the King Edward (William Mill) was known for giving it all to his clientele…   he started off working at an asylum, then served as a police officer… then the hotel. He was however, shut down for such giving allowances for over serving drunks, and unsanitary conditions.


Centre Street Bridge….  built in 1916, connecting the city as it grows beyond the river. The northern part of the original bridge collapsed into the river in 1915.


The bridge houses four archways, all adorned with a lion and bison heads, they were originally patterned to those of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. The lions however, have been replaced as of 2002 due to decay – one of the restored originals lays in protection of the Municipal Building.


The second photo I have been itching for – seriously this baby and the King Eddie have been on my bucket list for so so long….. one that I am fortunate to say I took once the building had been closed.  The Cecil hotel, another of the six hotels predating World War One was one that I had heard stories about as a child.  Sure, that might sound strange to those who know nothing of the hotel…. and honestly, it would probably sound strange to those who do.  The Cecil was not a place to go, at all. It was not safe.  The building boasts fires…  many many many homicides…  incredible amounts of prostitution and crime. The Cecil is the second hotel of the ones I captured today that I can remember being open, and mostly because I remember being afraid when diving past it. I’m not sure who told me when I was little, but someone made it clear to me that the Cecil was a scary place, a place where liquor was abundant and the rooms were rented by the hour. Crowds of people would hang out outside of the Cecil, handily located just a hop, skip & a jump from the drop in center…  According to the National Post, the police were called to the Cecil on average 5 times per day.   Now, don’t get me wrong… I am aware that the other hotels in this post had seedy times, they were all known for their debauchery… the Cecil was different.  Maybe it was only different to me, because I remember witnessing the people outside… I don’t know.  In its final year of operation, the police were called 1700 times.  That’s insane.  In 1979, two employees were shot in the back of the head for a measly $100 that remained in the till. Employees…. god I can’t imagine being an employee there, the fear every single day… I am sure my parents would cringe at the thought…. but as a teenager I always wondered what it would be like to go into the Cecil Tavern – obviously to get a rise out of people…. being a little girl, I would never actually do it (mom, dad, I can hear your sighs of relief). I can recall a conversation, although I’m not sure who it was with, talking about how we would never even be allowed in.. not even in sweat pants. It felt so… wrong, to hear that. You know?  People like us wouldn’t be allowed in? I live in a bubble… within my own city.  Seriously though, there was something about this place.  Something about the energy housed in it, even now… even boarded up with one only real remaining sign. I snapped my picture as quick as I could and booked it across the street.


Heading back towards my car…. I noticed this bench bathed in late afternoon sunlight.  It seemed I was interrupting a peaceful moment, a time lapse….   Having just basically ran away from the Cecil, and then this. It was a lovely, and fitting end to my afternoon.

Information for this post on the history of the city is from the National Post & Historic Walking Tours of Calgary


7 thoughts on “Today… I was a tourist (Pt 1)

  1. Wow, I’ve just finished your tour, it was so interesting! Thanks for sharing a part of your life with us, I’ve never been to Calgary, was surprised it had so much history. I can only imagine being in those seedy juke joints and hotel bars in it’s heyday. The Cecil hotel feels haunted, like an old dilapidated prison of some sort. I’m sure this is just a glimpse of what the entire city has to offer, really cool post!

    • Wow.. Thank you so much! It feels crazy haunted, like crazy crazy haunted. Even the outside…. I mean the cage around it really doesn’t help, but seriously the energy just oozes out. I guess really – how could it not ooze these feelings, when really, my understanding is every person who frequented it…. was in a pretty awful place may it be mentally.. spiritually, physically. All that pent up baggage. Ick. Sending it love 🙂 thank you again for the comment!

  2. Really enjoyed the tour of this city. I am personally entertaining 11 Fahrenheits, and feeling a little warm. 🙂

    Getting back to this tour, I found several points grabbing my interest. The idea of only a rare smile in China, and finally getting one in the Asian area of Calgary is actually a sad commentary on its’ own. It tugs a bit, at the imagination.

    Any ideas why, the Chinese Cultural Building was off-limits?

    • It’s nice and warm today, might even break zero degrees by New Years! Excellent! Yes a rare smile in China… I can specifically remember one very old man who was delighted and smiled back at me, even grabbed my hand and gave it a good healthy shake. His face, I will never forget… wonderful toothless smile. The Chinese people were an experience! Lots of rushing, many people took my photograph. I would go back to visit, or even to live if I had the chance!
      Generally I find Calgary a very happy place to live, people are smiley and will say hello when you pass by them. Maybe it just was a busy day for most of the people I passed by in China town! As for the Cultural Building… I’m not sure why, there is a fee to go into the museum portion.. but not the main entrance. It was midday, so there shouldn’t have been any closures. We’ll see on New Years day if my Tourist pt 2 provides equally as interesting!

  3. Thanks Shanna! I loved reading about the the history of our hotels – never knew any of that and it’s super fascinating – kinda creepy too but hey, that’s our town!

  4. What a wonderful tour of your beautiful city. I love how you tried to spread a smile in Chinatown. I’ve had similar experiences where I live. I also love how you captured the culture, history, and myth in your city. Makes me want to tour mine.

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