In 1901, the stretch of land now known as International Avenue was nothing but swampy prairie populated with half a dozen farming families. That is, until two ambitious American real estate agents bought up all that soggy grassland in hopes of turning it into a suburban paradise.
Alas, it wasn’t quite the right time for paradise. Despite going as far as spreading a rumour about a pending streetcar and laying railroad ties for their fictional tracks, Albert Smyth and his partner, Mr. McCullough (sans a first name), failed to drum up enough sales before the ruse was up and they were chased out of town.
Today, the 35-block strip of 17th Avenue S.E. between 26th and 61st street has grown into the most culturally diverse stretch in the city. From its German sausage shops to its Filipino restaurants, its motley mix of brand-new businesses and decades-old pillars of the community are a Petri dish of 100 years of immigration.
And a redevelopment plan is in place that will turn the east end into a safe, walkable community worthy of Smyth’s dream, with leafy, human-scale boulevards, public art and, who knows, maybe even a tram.
Where to Eat
Gong Kee BBQ Noodle House
Its decor leaves much to be desired, but locals swear it’s the freshest, fastest and finest Cantonese and Peking cuisine in the city. Dine in on a whole fresh lobster doused in a cream sauce, or take home one of the barbecue ducks hanging in the front window.
(5, 4527 8 Ave. S.E., 403-235-1993)
Feel the warmth only a Jamaican grandmother could bestow with a visit to Mrs. B’s kitchen, where you’ll find homestyle jerk chicken, curried goat roti and some of the best braised oxtail north of the Caribbean.
(3229 17 Ave. S.E., 403-272-2988, greengrato.ca)
Colourful checkered tablecloths and bright orange, cartoon-covered walls lure diners into Hector Menjivar’s bright and cozy little bistro.
(3503 17 Ave. S.E., 403-235-4620, lacasalatinacalgary.com)
Mimo Restaurant & Lounge
The Portuguese menu has impressed food critics for almost 30 years without having to change anything but the prices since opening day.
(203, 4909 17 Ave. S.E., 403-235-3377)
Find Chinese pastries including cream horns and barbecue beef pies, as well as eastern pastries like sesame seed balls, pork buns and Chinese doughnuts, at this wonderfully eclectic Hong Kong-style bakery.
(2, 4527 8 Ave. S.E., 403-273-9576, forestlawnbakery.com)
Soft and stretchy loaves of fresh sourdough and crunchy apple turnovers are just two of the daily delicacies found at Gunther’s, a family-owned bakery that’s served Calgary since 1971. Celebrate with its custom chocolate tortes and cakes.
(4306 17 Ave. S.E., 403-272-0383, gfbaking.ca)
This market isn’t just good for those hard-to-find Asian ingredients; it’s also one of the few supermarkets you can pick up a barbecue duck to go with your daily bread.
(3215 17 Ave. S.E., 403-387-7798, hongkongfoodmarket.ca)
This family-owned community staple has been smoking the hundreds of different kinds of deli meat, sausage and bacon from its Forest Lawn locale for more than 40 years now.
(1840 36 St. S.E., 403-272-1673, illichmannsausage.com)
La Tiendona Market Inc.
Stock up on all those Latino delights from pinto beans to Valentina hot sauce and Jarritos’ pina soda at this friendly tienda.
(1836 36 St. S.E., 403-272-4054)
Things to Do
With four reclining pedicure chairs and four nail booths crowding this busy Vietnamese salon, it’s a virtual assembly line for acrylic adornments. Get all your nail needs filled here, including custom nail art and foot-pampering spa pedicures.
(3601 17 Ave. S.E., 403-569-7702)
Barber Ted Leslie has been building a community of regulars who come here for the chitchat as much as a cut and shave. Sorry ladies, it’s boys only.
(5315 17 Ave. S.E., 403-273-8789)
This 415-hectare park has picnic tables, rose gardens and an off-leash area. It’s also the site of GlobalFest, the annual fireworks and multicultural festival. This year, the fireworks will be set to music and reflect off the 20-hectare pond August 16 to 26.
(1827 68 St. S.E.)
Forest Lawn Park
The sprawling sports grounds in Forest Lawn are home to the usual mix of baseball, soccer and tennis. The grounds also boast one of the few disc golf courses in the city.
(4808 14 Ave. S.E., calgary.ca)
Paradise Lane’s gigantic, pin-shaped sign outside and wall-length beach murals inside lend the alley a charming Coen Brothers feel – think Jeff Bridges’ bowling-obsessed “Dude” in The Big Lebowski.
(3411 17 Ave. S.E., 403-272-4570, paradiselanes.ca)