Heritage Park in Calgary   Stephen Avenue circa 1889

Bow River

Bow River, 587 km, rises in Bow Lake, fed by glacial meltwater from the Bow Glacier (Wapta Icefield) in the Waputik Mountains in Banff National Park, Alberta. It flows south and east from the Rockies through Banff townsite and Calgary to join the Oldman River, forming 2 main tributaries of the South Saskatchewan River in Alberta. It drains an area of 26 200 km2, encompassing a wide variety of physiographic and vegetational regions, from alpine ice fields and tundra, through dense conifer forest and aspen parkland, to semiarid shortgrass prairie. Its name may derive from a Cree word referring to the good bow-making wood along its banks.

Several dams have been built in its middle and lower reaches for hydroelectric power (325 MW developed), flood control and irrigation. Calgary, the Eastern and Western Irrigation Districts and the Bow River Development are important beneficiaries.

Bow Lake, the source of the Bow River



The earliest indications of human settlement in the Calgary area, dating back some 12 000 years, consist of spearpoints found in ploughed fields east of the city. This period coincided with the end of the last Ice Age when glaciers from the Canadian Shield receded from the valley of the Bow River. The successive cycle of nomadic hunting peoples over the next 10 000 years included at least 3 dominant cultures. The last, some 2000 years ago, brought the Blackfoot from the eastern woodlands.

Among later arrivals were the Sarcee, who came from the north in the 1700s, and still later the Stony from the Manitoba area. Archaeological evidence of prehistoric peoples is confined mainly to campsites and Bison kills. Fireplaces, storage pits and tipi rings date back over 4000 years. Sites depicting religious customs also exist in the form of fieldstone medicine wheels, cairns and effigies, while a pictograph panel can be seen on the Big Rock near Okotoks, south of Calgary.

The westward movement of the Fur Trade brought the first Europeans to the area in the late 18th century. David Thompson, then of the North West Company, wintered near Calgary (1787), and Peter Fidler of the same company skirted the Calgary region (1792). In the late 1860s bison hunters from the US appeared in increasing numbers, joined by illicit-whisky traders who erected a network of fortified posts in southern Alberta from which they sold vile alcoholic concoctions to the native people in return for bison robes. One such post was located in the Calgary area near the present-day Glenmore Reservoir.

The whisky traders' activities in part led to the formation of the North West Mounted Police by the federal government (1873). Their second post was established at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers in 1875, and was named Fort Calgary in 1876. (The word Calgary, of Gaelic origin, means "bay farm.")

The railway reached Fort Calgary in 1883 and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) subsequently laid out its Calgary town site west of the Elbow and south of the Bow rivers. Calgary was incorporated in 1884 as the first town in what is now the province of Alberta, receiving city status in 1893.


Satellite image of the City of Calgary


The city of Calgary appears as a blue patch centered on the Bow River. The physiography around the city is visible, with the prairie farms (reddish areas) and rangeland of the foothills (green). The snow-capped mountains show as bright blue areas (courtesy Canada Centre for Remote Sensing).

Calgary's economic growth was closely associated with the development of the livestock industry, and with the city's focal position as the chief transportation centre in Alberta. Before 1906 the open range cattle industry was dominant and Calgary effected its influence commercially, industrially and socially. The city's first millionaire, Pat Burns, built up the largest integrated meat business in Canada. The cattle industry, especially following the crippling winter of 1906-07, contributed a volatile element to Calgary's urban development, despite the boosters who continually referred to the city as a thriving cattle town.


The opening of southern Alberta to cash crop farming in the early 1900s brought rapid growth in Calgary, which increased its population by over 1000% from 1901 to 1911. Rails stretching in all directions solidified the city's position as the prime distributing centre for south-central and southern Alberta. After 1912 Calgary's development slowed along with that of rural Alberta, appreciably so after the end of the immigration boom and the onset of WWI.

A third and most crucial element in Calgary's economic development has been the oil and natural gas industries. Beginning with the first strike in 1914 at Turner Valley, a few kilometres southwest of Calgary, local entrepreneurs such as W.S. Herron, A.W. Dingman and R.A. Brown continually promoted Calgary's future as a major oil centre. Alberta's first oil refinery opened in Calgary (1923). Subsequent important discoveries at Turner Valley (1924, 1936) established Calgary's pre-eminence in Canada's oil and natural gas industries. When the lid was eventually lifted off western Canada's vast oil reserves at Leduc in 1947, Calgary stood ready to reap the rewards.

The city's subsequent phenomenal growth from an urban expression of southern Alberta to a metropolis of international status is a direct offshoot of its diversifying economy and its increasingly cosmopolitan population base. Another aspect of Calgary's development has been a continuation of a long-standing and intense rivalry with Edmonton. The 2 Alberta cities have competed keenly at every level, and have produced one of Canada's most identifiable urban rivalries.


Calgary City skylineCityscape

The Bow River valley forms the main topographical feature of the city. Two smaller streams, the Elbow River and Nose Creek, flow through the city into the Bow, creating a configuration of valleys and bluffs. The placement of railways has also affected spatial growth patterns. The main business section is compressed between the Bow River and the CPR main line.

Residential development has tended to follow the river valleys, originally along the Elbow, and more recently along the Bow to the northwest and southeast. Other influencing factors include the University of Calgary and the International Airport to the north, and the Glenmore Reservoir, Tsuu T'ina Indian Reserve and Fish Creek Provincial Park to the south. Manufacturing districts are located to the east, in the railway suburbs of Ogden, and in zoned areas along the railways.

Formal planning began in 1911 when an English town planner, Thomas Mawson, was commissioned to prepare a comprehensive scheme. His extravagant proposals (1914) were never implemented. A zoning bylaw was instituted in 1934 and a city planning department established in 1950. In 1963 the city adopted its first general plan for controlling future development (revised 1970, 1973). The Alberta Planning Act (1977) directed Calgary to adopt a more regional approach to planning.



Calgary's predominantly Anglo-Saxon population has been steadily falling as a proportion of the overall (from 28% in 1986 to 23% (British and Canadian single response) in 1996). In 1996 English was the mother tongue of 80% in Calgary, down 5% since 1986.

Calgary has witnessed steady population growth since WWII, showing only minor decreases in 1983 and 1984 due to the collapse in oil prices. Since 1983, net migration into the city has exceeded natural increase on only 2 occasions (1990 and 1996). Although still relatively young, the city's population is aging. The median age in 1996 was 33.3 years, up 5.7 years from 1976.

Economy and Labor Force

Calgary's economy has historically been associated with commerce and distribution. Its more recent emergence as a world energy and financial centre is reflected in its second-ranking national position in the location of head offices, including those of Nova Transcanada Pipelines, Petro Canada and Suncor Inc. The work force, therefore, shows a heavy orientation towards the professional, management and commercial sectors.

"Blue collar" occupations have traditionally been dominated by the building, railway and, more recently, oil supply trades. Manufacturing has diversified from products for the agricultural, oil and natural gas industries to include products from the food, clothing, furniture, motion picture making and high-technology sectors. The high-technology sector employs 32 000 people and totals over $7 billion in annual revenues. The University Research Park in northwestern Calgary is the second-largest research centre in Canada.



Map of Alberta

Calgary has been one of Canada's fastest-growing and most prosperous cities. Since the 1980s, however, it has remained heavily economically dependent on a single, high-risk industry. It suffered accordingly in the recessions in the oil industry in the mid and late 1980s and in the early 1990s. Most of the nation's oil and natural gas producers and two-thirds of coal companies are headquartered in Calgary.


Calgary has world-class freight classification yards at Alyth and major repair facilities at Ogden. Canadian National has container and intermodal services into its Sarcee yards. Calgary's airport is one of the largest and busiest in Canada. The city's municipal transportation system consists of motor buses supplemented by a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system.

Government and Politics

The government of the city has been conducted under powers originally granted by the North-West Territories and later (1905) by the Government of Alberta, most recently through the Municipal Government Act (1968). Before 1909 civic business was conducted almost entirely by council alone. Since then the system of a council and board of commissioners has been in operation in one form or another. The mayor and council members (representing the city's wards) fill 3-year terms. The board of commissioners consists of the mayor and 5 appointed members.

The municipal franchise was reformed to exclude plural voting (1913) and property restrictions (1915). A preferential system of voting was initiated in 1916 and continued until 1958. Since the establishment of a board of public utilities (1916), the provincial government has wielded an ever-tightening control over the scope of local government in Calgary.


CP Rail circa 1883

Calgary 1988 Olympics opening ceremonies.

Calgary performing arts - Theatre Calgary

Cultural Life

Cultural and recreational facilities have reflected Calgary's recent growth. Educationally the city is served by the University of Calgary, Mount Royal Community College, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Bow Valley College and Alberta College of Art.

Major cultural facilities include the Glenbow Museum, Fort Calgary Interpretive Centre, Alberta Science Centre and Heritage Park. The Calgary Centre for Performing Arts is home to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and 3 professional theatre companies: Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Calgary and One Yellow Rabbit. The centre includes the 1800-seat Jack Singer Concert Hall. Calgary also has a professional opera company, the Calgary Opera Association. The Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre is patterned after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China, and is located in the city's "Chinatown."

Calgary features several major cultural attractions and festivals throughout the year, including the African Festival, Calgary International Jazz Festival, Canada's Cowboy Festival, International Native Arts Festival and the Calgary Folk Music Festival. The Esther Honens Calgary International Piano Competition and Festival attracts performers from around the world, while the Calgary International Children's Festival is a cultural journey for the young.

The greatest concentration of enclosed spectator and exhibition facilities is in Stampede Park, the home of the world-famous Calgary Stampede. Also, the nearby Canadian Airlines Saddledome, built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, is home to the Calgary Flames of the NHL. The city's other professional sports teams are the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL and the Calgary Cannons, a Triple A baseball team.


Canada Olympic Park features world-class ski jumping, bobsled and luge facilities. The enclosed 400 m Olympic Oval on the University of Calgary campus is one of the world's best speed-skating venues. Spruce Meadows is an internationally known equestrian show-jumping centre.

Calgary boasts the second-largest Zoo in Canada, which includes a prehistoric park. There are 2 large urban parks, Fish Creek Provincial Park (1153 ha) and Nose Hill Park (1128 ha). Another attraction is Devonian Gardens, a 1.25 ha indoor garden in the heart of the downtown area.

Calgary has developed lifestyle amenities consistent with its status as a winter city. Its Alternative Level Pedestrian System (Plus 15) is a network of enclosed walkways to most of the downtown buildings. Over 12 km of walkways and 41 bridges facilitate comfortable year-round movement for pedestrians and shoppers. The city is also encircled by almost 350 km of maintained pathways, ski trails and bikeways that enhance a sense of "the great outdoors," and which enable quality recreational activities regardless of location.

Article written by Ian A. Campbell

Chinese Cultural Center   Ape pondering the way in which Government operates....or just grooming!

McMahon Statium home of the Calgary Stampeder's

Text and Photos courtesy of the Canadian Encyclopedia