It’s that time of year when we look back and get reflective. A lot happened in 2017, some good and some bad. We are focussing on the good here. There were some really interesting projects and initiatives that launched in 2017. A few were years in the making and part of multiphase plans. Some were new ways of solving persistent problems. And, a couple are all about creating hubs that bring Calgarians together so we can help each other do more good things. These are 10 things that stood out to us as ways Calgary got a little better in 2017.
In the first week of January 2017, the Calgary Board of Education opened the state-of-the-art school designed for students with physical, emotional, medical and cognitive issues. The school was originally in Bridgeland, but that building was old and cramped and not suited to the growing needs and specialized equipment needed. The new Varsity Acres school is a major upgrade. It has space for 125 students and is closer to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The building has wider hallways to make room for wheelchairs and medical equipment. Classrooms have tracking systems to move kids around more easily and multi-sensory rooms were designed to help calm kids down if they get agitated or overwhelmed. Movement and social interaction are an important part of the curriculum and was factored into the building design. A warm saltwater pool and outdoor playground are both wheelchair accessible.
This is right up there as one of the most Canadian things to happen in the Canada 150 year. For the first time in more than 100 years, wild bison are running free in Banff National Park – sort of. Technically the bison are in an enclosed pasture as the first phase of a five year plan to eventually set them free. In February, 16 bison were placed in the pasture in Panther Valley. They’ll stay there until Spring 2018 when they’ll be released into a remote 1,200-square-kilometre reintroduction zone. Already, the herd is growing with at least 10 bison calves being born in 2017. The whole thing is being recorded on Parks Canada’s Youtube channel and bison blog.
The Youth Campus is a multi-year, multi-facility project that has been a long time in the making. It’s part of the Calgary Stampede’s overall redevelopment plan that also gave us Enmax Park in 2016 and and the Agrium Western Event Centre in 2014. In March 2017, the 13,000-square-foot TransAlta Performing Arts Studios opened. It’s the new home of the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts and the Calgary Stampede Showband. They’ll use it for practices and performances. Also part of the Youth Campus, the Calgary Arts Academy opened in October in a renovated Weston Bakery building. About 300 students in Grades 4 to 9 attend the public charter school. And, in November the BMO Amphitheatre opened. The outdoor stage has seating space for 800. Still to come for the campus is a new opera centre that Calgary Opera will share will several other arts organizations.
You may have noticed more murals on the outside walls of businesses in Connaught and Victoria Park. That’s in part because of the Beltline Urban Mural Project (BUMP). The project commissions artists to create murals on partner businesses that have blank outside walls. It’s funded by the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association community investment fund, which includes funds from developers building in the the inner city community. Proposals came into the project in May and, so far, four murals have been completed with more to come in 2018. The goal is to add vibrancy to the neighbourhood for pedestrians, deter graffiti and make it even more of a destination. The murals also make for great instagram backdrops.
Calgary has been dabbling with composting for several years, including a five year pilot project. But, 2017 was the year the entire city joined the green bin program. Single-family homes started to phase into the program in the spring and multi-family buildings joined in the fall. That’s a lot of organic waste and it all goes to the biggest-of-its-kind composting facility in Canada. The facility, which opened in 2017, is the size of about eight football fields and is near Stoney Trail and 114 Ave. S.E. The facility can turn organic waste into compost in about 60 days. Each year, the composting facility will process up to 145,500 metric tons of waste that otherwise would have gone to landfills.
This non-profit initiative that leaves no flower behind began in 2017. The idea is brilliant: YYC Petal Projects takes flowers from weddings after the big day is over and rearranges them into smaller bouquets. Those bouquets are donated to Calgarians who get a boost from an unexpected delivery of flowers. YYC Petal Projects’ first donation was in August when flowers from one wedding were reconfigured into 24 small bouquets and delivered to a women’s shelter. The project now creates hundreds of bouquets each month.
In addition to weddings, YYC Petal Projects collects arrangements from business events, funerals, hotels and florists. It is always looking for flowers, volunteers (it’s all volunteer run) and deserving recipients. Get more information on all of that at yycpetalproject.ca.
This building is unlike anywhere else in Calgary. The King Edward School in South Calgary was converted into a creative “incubator,” which essentially means an affordable place for professional artists and arts groups to work, show their work and feed of each other’s energy and ideas. The sandstone school’s rooms were transformed into studios, a gallery, co-work and office spaces. Blackboards, wood mouldings and other vintage touches were kept from the 1912 school and many of the rooms remain intact. A new wing was added to house a theatre (still under construction) and meeting spaces. Any question that this is a space for creativity is immediately answered when you look at the walls filled with art, including the stairwell with an installation from Katie Green and daniel j. kirk. Tenants, including Studio C, Theatre Encounter, Anneke Forbes and The Alberta Craft Council starting moving in early in 2017, and cSpace had its grand opening during Alberta Culture Days on September 29 and October 1. Since then, it has kept a full schedule of community events including workshops, markets and art shows.
This pop-up journalism is hyper local. It was started by Calgary journalist Jeremy Klaszus as a way cover specific topics for a short while and fill the void of local journalism. The Sprawl jumps on a topic for a short time, feeding its audience the information it needs to better understand the situation. When that is done it goes quiet only to pop-up again for the next topic. The first edition covered the municipal election. Next, The Sprawl popped up for budget week. This December, it did a one-day mini-edition about secondary suites. It’s an experiment in local journalism that is working and we are all a little smarter for it. The Sprawl is paid for through crowd-funding, which keeps it running.
Drive-up voting came to Calgary
The 2017 municipal election was the first election in Calgary to use drive-up voting. Sure, the long wait times and lineups quickly killed the dream of thinking you could drive right through and vote like you were at a fast food restaurant. But, in the end, you still got to vote without getting out of your car. To vote, you drove into a polling lane where an election worker checked your ID and handed over the ballot for mayor, city councillor and school trustee. Once you filled it out, you could either get out of your car to drop your ballot in the box or watch the election worker via video while they dropped the ballot in the box. A little over 3,000 people used the drive-thru advanced polling at McMahon Stadium. In total, voter turnout for the municipal election was 58.1 percent compared to 39.3 percent in 2013.
At least 70 restaurants, 31 stores and 7 breweries opened in 2017
We’ve been keeping track. We knew it had been a big year for restaurant openings, but we didn’t expect the tally to be so high. You can read about all of the new restaurants here. Southern barbecue, poke, baked goods and ice cream were all a big part of the food scene in 2017.
Read our list of newly opened stores (there were at least 31) here. Several menswear stores opened as well as boutiques dedicated to eyeglasses, scarves, bikes and bridal apparel.
Beer was big in 2016 and it spilled over into 2017. The seven new breweries each have a little something extra to offer including root beer, food trucks and lounging areas. We also know of six breweries scheduled to open in 2018. Read about those here.