How the Bow and Elbow Rivers Inspire Calgary Artists

See how Calgary artists take inspiration from Calgary’s rivers and translate it into their photos, music and performances.

Dianne Bos

Bow Ponds Canada Geese

Photograph by Dianne Bos.

Photo artist Dianne Bos has what she describes as a “love-hate relationship with the Bow,” ever since the flood of 2013 inundated the below-ground studio at her Bowness home, destroying camera equipment and decades of printed work.

“After the renovations, I was left with a very sad empty studio. It took several years to feel inspired to work there again,” Bos says. “In 2020, at the beginning of COVID, when everything shut down, I began to explore and photograph in and around the river again. After the flood, a part of the Bow flood plain across from Bowness was transformed from a gravel pit into an environmental art piece. Meandering streams and marshlands clean stormwater from the neighbourhoods on the north banks of the river. This has created a beautiful habitat, right in the city, for migrating water birds in the spring. This area (Dale Hodges Park) became a refuge for me during COVID. I took this image in the spring of 2020 with a plastic Holga 120 film camera. The overlapping images are created by not winding the film all the way after each exposure. So yes, the flood was devastating, but it also inspired a beautiful park that helps to clean water and will also take some of the overflow if the river ever floods again.”


Walter E. Neumann

River Straws

Photograph by Walter E. Neumann.

Walter E. Neumann (the artistic pseudonym of Avenue’s staff photographer Jared Sych) shot this image on the banks of the Elbow River, just off the paved path, as it approaches the confluence with the Bow. “I’m interested in manufactured objects that are ordinary and how I can turn them into something extraordinary,” he says. “The natural backdrop of the river makes these objects stand out. I’m always riding the paths that follow the Elbow and the Bow. My work is not necessarily about the river, but it’s facilitated by the river. It’s the way that I move through the city.”


Denise Clarke

The Land, The Animals

Photograph by Lori Andrews.

In this original work of theatre by One Yellow Rabbit, ensemble member Denise Clarke portrays Cy Evans, a character who ultimately drowns in the Bow River. “[Fellow Rabbit] Blake Brooker wrote The Land, The Animals, but I was around him when he did, and eventually played the fictional character around whom the play revolves,” Clarke says. “The true story of a man’s drowning, which Blake witnessed, was a deeply moving event that made for some careful thinking about how we live our lives and how we relate to the precious resources and the creatures around us as city dwellers.

“I lived beside either the Bow or the Elbow Rivers for most of my adult life, until a very recent move up the hill, but I still walk beside the Bow almost daily. It is the perfect metaphor for the creative life: there are seasons when both flow high and fast, the beauty is undeniable and the potential for thrills and dangers are great. And there are seasons when both creativity and rivers slow down, get a bit lazy and take their time to get where they’re going. Importantly, you can’t push either the creative life or the river, no matter the season. They are what they are and you have to respect and honour both.”


Cîpayak ᒌᐸᕀ

The Wandering Island

Photograph by Mike Tan.

Cîpayak is the multimedia collaboration between Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle. The artists began working together 12 years ago with the band Ghostkeeper. Cîpayak delves into the many layers of contemporary Indigenous storytelling through interactive multidisciplinary concepts. “Last summer, Shane and I were invited to perform under Mission Bridge on Elbow Island as a part of The Wandering Island (a site-specific, collaborative art project guided by lead artists Lane Shordee, Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett),” Houle says. “We set up with two battery-powered amps and played for passersby as the audience drifted from one location and performance to another. This was our first-ever improv show. Playing next to the river and the flowing water, having that intimacy with the river, inspired forward movement with our musical ideas. The water as a cyclical entity allowed us to visit prior movements in order to keep the music flowing.

“We had the privilege of growing up in Northern Alberta surrounded by beautiful rivers. Our home settlement, Paddle Prairie, has the magical Chinchaga River that has inspired the creation of both art and music. Coming to Calgary/Mohkínstsis, it felt natural to connect with the rivers. We love to take our kids to river spots in and around the city to unwind, skip rocks and wade in the water.”


Rachel Harding, Karin Hazle, Jonathan Stel, JorDen Tyson

The Conference of the Birds

Photograph courtesy of National Access Arts Centre.
Photograph courtesy of National Access Arts Centre.
Photograph courtesy of National Access Arts Centre.

Conference of the Birds was created as part of an international project that brought together many voices and perspectives to consider our relationship to the lands we call home and our communities. The National access Arts Centre, a Calgary-based multidisciplinary disability arts organization that dates back to 1975, gathered an ensemble of four artists — Rachel Harding, Karin Hazle, Jonathan Stel and JorDen Tyson — who worked alongside mentors Richelle Bear Hat and Emily Promise Allison.

“Together, they discussed, questioned and listened to one another, and found connection through understanding our role as caretakers of our homelands,” Bear Hat says. “The place where the Bow and the Elbow Rivers meet became a significant spot for the ensemble in building trust and friendship that mirrors the deep history of exchange this site holds. The artists captured their experience and natural surroundings using 35-mm film and collectively submerged disposable cameras in the river. The photographs are a reverberation of experimental collaboration with each other and the river itself. Each image represents the fluidity of our abilities, strengths, and creative confluence of our ensemble.”

“I am very strong and handsome and like making art about scenery, things outside and what is around me. I am an artist because it makes me feel good about myself. I can do things that no one else can do.” —Jonathan Stel

“I am an artist that gets inspired by nature, music and what is around me. I love that art is freeing and it makes me feel magical. I describe my art as a mixture between the mythical world and the real world.” —Rachel Harding

“I like to make art about spiritual animal natures. When I make art I can be a tiger and make friends with a leopard, if they can believe in animal natures where there are birds and butterflies.” —JorDen Tyson

“I make art about butterflies, birds and hearts. Flowers make me very happy. My art is a mixture of many different materials depending on my mood and interests. It is different all the time!” —Karin Hazle

Learn more about the people and organizations moving Calgary forward with Avenue's Innovation Newsletter.

This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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