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Column: Making Winters Work

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.

How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.

Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.

We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”

There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.

Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.

Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.

Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.

I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.

A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.

In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.

New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.

December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.

Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.

The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.

No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.

Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.

Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.

The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.

Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.

Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.

It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.

It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

How Calgary’s Oil Boom is Threatening to Destroy It’s Middle Class

From the Globe and Mail

When Necole Hines moved to Calgary from Toronto nine years ago, she was offered teller positions at four different banks. When she got laid off from a recent job at a stock photography company, she easily found another in sales and administration at a magazine.

Ms. Hines – who spent a year in university but has no degree – has always made lower-end but respectable wages, most recently around $50,000 a year.

But that salary doesn’t go very far in what has become one of Canada’s most expensive cities, where an oil boom has created reams of new money and driven up the cost of everything from housing to groceries.

The signs of wealth are everywhere – from the frenzy to build the new tallest skyscrapers, skyrocketing sales at the four-year-old Bentley dealership, and plans for high-end malls and neighbourhoods at every turn.

In the country’s energy capital, where business people, lawyers, engineers and geologists earn some of the highest salaries in Canada, households making less than a six-figure income – who many would classify as middle class – face a tough slog.

Calgary families earning up to $68,175 still qualify for a three-bedroom social housing unit, proof that even amid Calgary’s wealth, middle-class households are being increasingly squeezed. The tight labour market created by the expansion of the energy industry has not eliminated the issue of income inequality. Far from it – the rise in the cost of living is adding to the pressure.

Ms. Hines will attest that if you’re not working for an oil and gas company, or one of the other corporate towers that make up the landscape of the downtown, it’s an expensive place to be.

“If you don’t get into that right industry, you’re still having to pay for the same things as somebody else making that amount of money,” Ms. Hines said.

She found she needed a car because public transit isn’t reliable, and food basics such as produce and cereal are more expensive. (The Consumer Price Index was higher in Calgary in 2012 than any other city in Canada, except for Edmonton.) In a city where home ownership is prized, the average single-family home costs more than $516,000, so the single mother of three rents the main floor of a house. Although she is the main breadwinner for her family, Ms. Hines has never felt as if she’s been able to get ahead. “In this city, it’s not that easy.”

Alberta’s bountiful oil and gas resources have given many people steady work, and have made others rich. Calgary is home to more than one in 10 of Canada’s wealthiest tax filers, those with an annual income of at least $201,400. Between 1989 and 2010, its share of the national total more than doubled, to 11 per cent from 5 per cent.

But the influx of money and 20,000 newcomers to the city each year – whether it’s for views of the Rocky Mountains or the low unemployment rate – means the demand for every service, from housing to hairdressers, has gone up.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in Calgary,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in an interview. “There are a lot of people who are vulnerable. There are a lot of people who are living on the margins.”

While Calgary has become home to one of the country’s highest family median annual incomes – now at $93,410 – increasing wealth has not affected everyone equally. In an analysis of Statistics Canada income-tax data, the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute says Calgary is Canada’s most unequal city, as the bottom 90 per cent of income earners saw an average increase in pay (adjusted for inflation) of only $2,000 between 1982 and 2010.

Alberta has the highest average hourly wages in the country, but certain sectors routinely benefit more than others. For instance, while people in business, finance or sales saw large average increases in hourly rates over the past 12 months, wages in art, culture and recreation occupations dropped.

Let’s Make Calgary Better

When your Mayor has a vision for your city, this is what it looks like.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 1. Cut Red Tape

Saskatoon loves to talk about how it is a business friendly city and touts our lower taxes. As other cities have learned, being business friendly means a lot more than lower taxes, it means less red tape.

In 2010 the City of Calgary created the Cut Red Tape program to reduce red tape at The City of Calgary. The focus of the program was to remove red tape and make changes that result in our citizens and businesses seeing visible improvements. Some of those changes were small, constant irritants and others may be larger, fundamental issues in regulations or business processes. The aim is to shift our culture from a regulator perspective to a facilitator. The program has been supported by Council and funded through approved applications to the Council’s Innovation Fund on a project-by-project basis.

There are some real cost savings both to taxpayers and to the city.  Take a look below.

Cut red tape total savings

Cities around the word are hearing from world class businesses that “business friendly” is a lot more than low taxes, it’s about creating a climate where business can be conducted easily.  It’s something that Saskatoon has a way to go on but as Calgary is showing, it is something that can be improved.

Right Here

And is Calgary’s branding for why you need to be there.  Here is some of the videos from last year.

These are all part of the Be Part of the Energy campaign that Calgary is running.

Calgary Flood Infographic

Flood 2013 Full

This is fantastic and I don’t know why more cities don’t use these as communication tools for even governance (budget, infrastructure plans).  Another example of world class communications coming out of Calgary right now.

Flooding in Saskatoon

That flood water from Calgary has to go somewhere and it’s headed toward Saskatoon.  Here is the press release.

The City of Saskatoon is taking precautionary measures, based on the potential rise in Lake Diefenbaker and the South Saskatchewan River, resulting from the heavy rainfall in Alberta.

Today, the Water Security Agency advised the public that record inflows from Alberta will cause flooding along the South Saskatchewan River. In anticipation of these record flows, the Water Security Agency is proactively increasing outflows from Lake Diefenbaker to try and mitigate the impact of this event.

The City of Saskatoon Emergency Measures Organization is communicating closely with the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency and Emergency Management Fire Safety (EMFS) to monitor the situation, make necessary adjustments, and keep citizens well informed as new information is received.

As a result of the information received from the Water Security Agency, the City of Saskatoon is taking precautionary measures, particularly for low lying areas around the South Saskatchewan riverbank.

For the safety of our residents, the City will be restricting access, with barricades, to lower lying roads and parts of the Meewasin Valley Trail where flooding may occur. Beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, 2013, the following locations will be closed until further notice.

Since some of you have asked, most of Saskatoon is well above river levels and where it does spill it’s banks (Spadina Cres below River Heights) there is nothing around to damage.  It does upset the geese however and that is never a good thing.

In case you are curious, here is a great photo set of the last time the South Saskatchewan River was really high.  There were kayakers on the weir.

Council for sale?

Some stunning developments coming out of Calgary last night

It is a rare glimpse into some of the backroom politics going on in Calgary, ahead of October’s municipal election.

Global News has obtained a recording of a November meeting hosted by Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes. In the video, Wenzel presents a plan to defeat select members of city council who are perceived to be anti-development.

Some in the housing industry have been clashing with the city over growth and who should be responsible for infrastructure.

In the video, Cal Wenzel tells the group, apparently made up of about 150 industry leaders, that while Mayor Nenshi is unbeatable, that may not be the case for other council members.

“Dimitri asked me the question a little earlier on, ‘Can anyone beat Nenshi?’ And I said ‘no, likely not’. I am not sure what he’s hoping for – I don’t think he can and I had in my notes here, ‘I don’t think he is beatable. But you know when I talked to [former mayor] Dave Bronconnier, Dave is sitting there saying, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the mayor on your side or not. You need eight votes. As long as you have eight votes you can control whatever happens.’

“So for whatever and however, we have to ensure that we end up with the eight votes.”

Wenzel runs through a list of councillors he approves of and says he is supporting with campaign donations including Ward 12 Councillor Shane Keating, Ward 13 Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, and Ward 14 Councillor Peter Demong. He also names those he does not support or is unsure of.

“One time where [Ward 6 councillor Richard] Pootmans was kind of guided as to maybe vote for us, when it comes up he forgot to ask any questions and forgot to vote the right way.”

Wenzel claims millions of dollars a year are at stake for developers.

“Unless we get somebody in there that is you know really going to be on our side, rather than the dark side you know, we are talking another four years after next October.”

So they have raised quite a bit of money and have a celebrity supporter.

Preston Manning’s name is also mentioned at one point in the tape. Wenzel talks about a big donation from members of his group to the right-wing think tank founded by the former opposition leader.

“…in order to bring Preston on board, 11 of us put up $100 thousand, so a million-one, so it’s not like we haven’t put up our money and we are going to be there to put up again, and we are also supporting candidates.”

I love the response by Cal Wenzel

Cal Wenzel has declined Global News’ repeated requests for comment until he sees the video.

Part of the problem may be the lack of campaign finance rules in Calgary.

While candidates pump out press releases and smile for news cameras, Fast Forward has been digging into campaign records from the 2004 civic election and investigating the way these campaigns are financed. Compared to other Canadian cities, Calgary has few campaign finance rules. Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa have rules on how much candidates can fundraise and when, but Calgary candidates fundraise and spend without limits anytime they want — and they can keep whatever’s left over for themselves tax-free.

Candidates aren’t required to report where many of their contributions come from, and their contribution statements are littered with errors. Many candidates don’t file their statements at all. “Basically, there are no rules,” says Naheed Nenshi, of city hall watchdog Better Calgary Campaign. “It’s the Wild West out here.”

How bad was it? (in 2004)

Of Bronconnier’s $673,498 war chest, more than $150,000 came from development, construction and real estate companies. If engineers and architects are added to the calculations, the number reaches almost a third of his total contributions. “That’s tradition,” Bronconnier says. “The development industry is interested in what happens at city hall…. Just like the oil and gas guys contribute to the provincial campaigns, because they’re interested in what happens.”

Most contributions from developers go to incumbents. Ward 10 Ald. Andre Chabot learned this first-hand in the 2004 election, which he lost. “I wasn’t ever viewed as a front-runner by some of these guys that typically will contribute to whomever they think has a chance of winning,” he says. After Chabot won the 2005 byelection, developers regarded him differently. “They’re all coming left, right and centre. I can’t even keep track of all of the contributions that are being given to my office.”

Remington Development Corporation donated to 10 of 13 incumbent aldermen in 2004, with sums ranging from $300 up to $2,500 for Ward 2 Ald. Gord Lowe. Remington donated to only one non-incumbent. President Randy Remington says his company uses “similar principles applicable to finding the best candidate for any job” when deciding which candidates to support. “Both businesses and individuals have a responsibility to the city in which we work and live to ensure the best leaders are in civic office,” Remington says.

All the current aldermen took donations from developers. “They are key partners in building the city, and so access to the political process is hugely important to them,” says Ward 8 Ald. Madeleine King, who got over $16,000 from those in the industry. “We need to recognize that and dignify it.” However, King says voters hold the most power. “I don’t feel they’re getting short shrift.”

In other Canadian cities, many of these donations from developers would be illegal for one reason: they’re too big. A contributor can’t give more than $2,500 to a mayoral candidate in Toronto, and no more than $750 to a councillor. In Winnipeg, the cap for mayoral contributions is $1,500, and $750 for councillors. Contributions are also capped in provincial and federal elections, but in Calgary there’s no such rule.

Some of Bronconnier’s developer donors aren’t based in Calgary, or even Alberta. Trinity Development Group, an Ottawa company currently building a big-box complex in northwest Calgary, donated $7,250 — almost 10 times the amount that would be legal in Ottawa. “There’s a real problem at the municipal level because there are so many people who… contribute to political campaigns who stand to get some kind of benefit out of political decisions being made,” says Danielle Smith, Alberta director for the Canadian Federation for Independent Business (CFIB). “It doesn’t look really good.”

This is what progress looks like

A video by the Calgary Homeless Foundation about the progress being made at year 4 of their 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.  Great stuff.

Framing Housing First

Excellent video explaining Housing First by the fine folks at the Calgary Homeless Foundation.  Framing Housing First presents a 360 degree look at the concept through voices of people in the community, those working front lines, agency, corporate and government , volunteers and those who are now living in community

Reining in Sprawl Won’t Be Easy; One of Canada’s Worst Offenders Shows Why

Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star

City-building is never easy, and Alberta’s largest urban centre is a good example why. Despite the efforts of a growing number of people, sprawl in Calgary ranks amongst the worst in Canada.

According to some, fully 95 percent of population growth in this city of 1.2 million happens in the ’burbs, which already occupy vast swaths of land surrounding the downtown core. Calgary is one of those nose-to-the-grindstone cities that empty out at night after workers return home to the hinterland.

On the other hand, this is also the municipality that elected Naheed Nenshi its mayor, a politician as dedicated as any in Canada to urbanism. It is also the city that commissioned Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava to design a footbridge across the Bow River. The Peace Bridge caused outrage when it was announced; most critics were unable to get beyond the $25-million pricetag.

But Calatrava, whose Toronto work includes the Galleria at Brookfield Place and the Mimico Creek Bridge, is arguably the best bridge designer in the world. His projects garner an international audience regardless of where they’re located. Local anger notwithstanding, Calatrava’s beautiful bridge brought Calgary to the attention of many who’d never heard of it, let alone visited.

Today, of course, the colourful structure is one of the most popular in town. Calgarians cross it in droves; they stare, smile and take endless pictures. Wedding parties show up to have photographs taken. A year after it opened, it has become a hugely popular destination.

But as its champion, Calgary Councillor Druh Farrell, likes to say, the scars inflicted during the planning and construction of the project match the cross-bracing of the bridge.
“It was hell,” Farrell recalls. “I’d never want to go through that again.”

She was accompanied to the opening a year ago by four burly men, just in case. As Nenshi asked a planners’ conference this week, “Why do we make it so hard to do good stuff?”

He wasn’t talking about the bridge, but Garrison Woods, a neighbourhood built in recent years on a former military base in Calgary’s east end. With narrow streets, street-level shopping and apartments above, this looks — and functions — like an older part of town. It has a 19th-century scale and sense of connection.

A proud City of Calgary featured Garrison Woods on the cover of a recent planning document. The irony, Nenshi pointed out, is that the neighbourhood everyone loves broke “every single rule” in the planning book. Getting it done took more than a decade as the city fought its own requirements every step of the way.

At the same time, developers continue the discredited and ruinous “multiplication by subdivision” approach that has turned the outer reaches of Calgary into endless tracts of cookie-cutter housing.

It was no surprise, then, that Nenshi and Calgary’s biggest homebuilders group have just ended a nasty spat during which the mayor kicked the association off all city hall advisory committees and demanded an apology. Developers had accused Nenshi of imposing a suburban building freeze; something he, sadly, denied.

“Why do we persist in building stuff people don’t want and that doesn’t work?” Nenshi asked planners.

Saskatoon needs to answer that question as well.

Nenshi: Calgary is being treated like a “farm team”

Proving that he can pick fights with all sorts of people, Mayor Nenshi wrote this in the Calgary Herald

Calgary has been accused of being a “bully” for trying to actually enforce our policies (based on the province’s own Water for Life strategy) for responsible water development.

The best example of this occurred in 2011 when the City was asked to provide water and water servicing for a large industrial development outside the city, in Rocky View County. This is precisely the kind of development the Plan envisions, but since the County has not signed onto the Plan, the City’s policy doesn’t allow for it.

But the province, without telling anyone, decided to pay for the water connection itself. The details are unclear, as the province has never publicly released them, but it’s almost certainly true that their solution cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than if they had legislated the Plan, and it’s not at all certain they will ever be able to recoup the cost.

Last week, the Premier met with the council of the Municipal District of Foot-hills (another of the holdouts), and was quoted in the local paper saying that she would not “force” the MD into the Plan (meaning she would not legislate the plan). She also implied that she is not sure the Plan is needed at all. The same day, her Minister backpedalled furiously, saying the Premier’s words did not represent government policy, that the decision was his to make, and that he would continue working to a resolution.

You might forgive me for being a little confused.

What I am not confused about is that the future prosperity of this city is the future prosperity of this province.

Treating the City government as the farm team in this relationship and managing important files as cavalierly as this is not good for Calgary, and it’s certainly not good for Alberta.

It’s weird seeing a mayor take this approach to government relations.  You see it with the provinces and the feds all of the time but rarely with cities and their province (Toronto would be the only other city that plays hardball with the province).  In Saskatoon former mayoral candidate was mocked for this desire to be more aggressive in asking the province for more.  We seem to have resigned ourselves to be reduced to thanking them for government handouts when they are so inclined.  Nenshi took a different approach and not only got his meeting with Premier Redford but also was offered mediation from the province.  

According to this column by Don Braid, there will be a political cost to pay.

Even as Mayor Naheed Nenshi was being invited to meet with the premier, provincial needling continued Thursday over the city charter.

The PCs don’t forgive readily, and they never forget.

Premier Alison Redford implied that Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel co-operates, and Nenshi doesn’t.

She said both Edmonton and Calgary city councils are satisfied with talks on the charter. So is Mandel.

By leaving out Nenshi, she suggests he’s the unreasonable renegade.

In an interview Thursday, the mayor said none of that’s true. He and Mandel agree on most points of the charter, he insists. Nor is he offside with his own council.

The mayor also points out, correctly, that he never called anybody names in this dispute.

He did say in a Herald op-ed piece that the province is fumbling civic issues and treating Calgary like a “farm team.”

Technically, he was only calling Calgary a name. But even that mild comment deeply irked the provincial types who, in recent years, have become almost fanatical about suppressing criticism from local municipalities and authorities.

In the midst of this dispute, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said Nenshi has “an election coming up; he’s going to puff up like a peacock and be tough.”

Answering a question Thursday, Griffiths said: “If there’s tension, it’s on his side. I don’t feel any tension.”

But the PCs do. They have ever since ex-mayor Dave Bronconnier scared the heck out of them 2007, when he accused then-premier Ed Stelmach of a “broken promise” over infrastructure funding.

Facing an election, the government had to back up. Bronco won that contest by a knockout. Everybody knew it — especially the provincials. They fumed, but didn’t forget.

During the 2008 election campaign, Jack Davis, then CEO of the old Calgary Health Region, declared a medical emergency and demanded extra funding from the government. Again the PCs were livid.

Within four months, the health regions were abolished.

There were many reasons for that decision; but one was the growing tendency of the health regions to speak up about local problems.

It will be interesting to see what this is going to cost Nenshi.

Calgary Mayor Nenshi picks a fight with developers

This is interesting

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is reprimanding the top Calgary home builders group for speaking out against the city’s planning department.

In a letter sent Thursday, Nenshi informed the Calgary branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association that its members are sidelined from city advisory committees — until its president recants statements he made to an industry dinner last month.

The advisory work includes cutting red tape and reforming the entire planning department.

Nenshi told the Herald the city would continue to work with the development industry and home builders, but it “will find our representatives from the home building industry elsewhere” until they clarify comments the mayor contends contain “misleading and inaccurate information.”

Nenshi is taking issue with a speech made by Charron Ungar at the CHBA’s Jan. 9 economic forecast dinner, which was attended by Premier Alison Redford.

Ungar was critical of the city’s planning and accused the city of freezing surburban development in favour of increasing density in existing communities.

“Currently, there exists a significant (divide) between city hall and our industry on this issue of how we are going to grow,” the Herald reported Ungar saying at the meeting.

Ungar, an executive with a major homebuilder, called the city’s plan to balance growth by increasing density in existing communities “essentially a suburban development freeze.”

He told the group increasing density in existing communities shouldn’t be done “at the expense of suburban growth. Ensuring proper and adequate housing in all areas of our city should be our main focus – and not a byline of a grand experiment in planning.”

Nenshi said Ungar’s comments to colleagues contradict what CHBA has been saying directly to the city.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, we disagree with one another all the time, but we need to do so in a respectful, thoughtful way,” Nenshi said in an interview.

The mayor also says that Calgary “is up to pre-recession year levels in housing starts.”

Although the group president made passing reference to Nenshi’s past comments about “crap” development applications, the mayor says his reprimand isn’t about a personal grudge.

The CHBA is an influential organization whose members build the houses and condos of Calgary’s suburbia, and also redevelop existing neighbourhoods. They’re a top lobbying force in the city, and its home-builder members are among the top civic campaign finance donors.

If you let the market decide how to build homes, they will build for profit.  One of the roles of a city planning development is to take in considerations on how the development will impact the city and those that live in it.  Most cities abdicate that role because they don’t like fights like this with developers.  It’s a gutsy stand to take, especially with an election next year.  That being said I think it is the only stand a mayor can take here.  Calgary suburb lots are being sold at a lifetime lost.  The city isn’t making back the money needed to install and maintain the sprawling sewers, roads, and other infrastructure during the lots life which means that Calgary is subsidizing quite heavily each and every new suburban lot in Calgary.  That is a path that has taken many American and especially Californian cities to bankruptcy.

Fleeing downtown Calgary

This is an interesting trend.  Is the rent too high in downtown Calgary?  

Imperial Oil is on the move. Now Canadian Pacific Railway. The big question is who is next to make the jump from downtown Calgary as prices escalate and tenants look for better rents away from the core.

“You add them together and you get 1.2 million square feet and that’s a big chunk,” said Ross Moore , head of research with CB Richard Ellis Canada, in referring to the two companies. “There is a limit to how high you can push rents.”

Imperial announced in September it would move its downtown office to a 20-acre site away from the downtown with five low-rise buildings and 800,000 square feet. Then last week CP Rail said it would move its employees as part of a cost-cutting plan.

“Everybody is focused on costs and real estate is obviously part of your costs,” said Mr. Moore, who wonders whether the trend will curtail some of the planned development expected to go ahead shortly. “They all have to be having second thoughts.”

Third quarter statistics from CB Richard Ellis show rents overall in Calgary’s downtown core climbed 4.4% from just three months before to $26.79 per square foot per year, making it one of the most expensive places in North America. The vacancy rate for what is considered a AA building is a scant 0.5% which has pushed rates up.

Of course the answer is no as it is market driven.  CPR is cutting costs and Imperial Oil has it’s own strategic reasons to move to a very large campus but it is extremely interesting to see how expensive rent is in downtown Calgary.  

Calgary/Banff 2012

It’s been so busy the last week and I have been so incredibly sick that I never posted this last week.  Since a bunch of you have asked how our mini-vacation went, here is the summary… just really late.

On Thursday morning we got up early, checked out the highway conditions and headed out to Calgary for the weekend.

It was Oliver’s first long road trip and we packed pretty well.  In his backpack he had his VTech tablet and some kid’s volume controlled headphones as well as a cheap set of binoculars.  Mark had his PSP and a National Geographic History magazine.  The end result is that we stopped in Kindersley (for a 5 Hour Energy Drink for me), Hanna (for windshield washer fluid), Drumheller (to take Oliver for a walk up the giant dinosaur) and the boys were remarkably good.

Drumheller's Dinosaur

The trip took up around 6 1/2 hours which is pretty good but like I said, our stops were quick.  The stop at Drumheller took the longest and Oliver wasn’t that thilled with the idea of running up the “butt of a dinosaur” and I carried him most of the 100 steps to it’s mouth.  

In the mouth of the dinosaur

After heading back down, we were off to Calgary and checked into our hotel at around 2:30 p.m. Calgary time. 

The hotel was the Best Western Plus Calgary Centre Inn and was quite nice.  Our room was massive and the photos on their site don’t do justice to how nice the pool area is.  They have a normal pool, a hot tub but also a small pool that is only 2 feet deep for kids.  Oliver loved, “his pool” and spent all of his time in it.  They also have a free continental breakfast that was varied enough that we didn’t get sick of it.  Of course it’s central location meant that it was out of the way of everywhere we wanted to go but not so far out of the way we didn’t go.

All day on Twitter, Mayor Nenshi was warning of the snowfall which we didn’t really notice until we hit Chestermere and the highway was closed because of a rollover.  I am not sure what happened as we didn’t find the highways that slippery.  There was some black ice but nothing that bad; then again I am used to driving in it.

We were two long blocks away from the 39th Street LRT station and took it downtown where we went for a long walk.  We had plans to head up the Calgary Tower but visibility was really poor so we just took in downtown Calgary.  The snow was really coming down but all over downtown were snow removal crews sweeping sidewalks and streets even as the snow fell which is quite a bit different than Saskatoon which puts the onus on store owners who may or may not shovel out downtown.  It’s almost as Calgary’s downtown is a place of commerce.

Stephen Avenue in Calgary

Snow clearing in Calgary

That night we headed back, checked out the pool and ordered in from Mother’s Pizza, something that I have done since I was old enough to know what pizza was.

Friday morning the roads in Calgary were reported to be in bad shape but in reality were quite good.  Thanks to Saskatoon for lowering my expectations for snow removal.  Mark spent the summer and fall saving up for a new iPod Nano and despite being $4 short that I kicked in for him, we went to the Apple Store in Chinook Centre where a clerk named Jazz managed to help him pick out the one he wanted.

Wendy and Oliver in the Apple Store

While Mark and Jazz finished the deal, Wendy pulled out her Samsung Galaxy and started to text something.  She was lucky she wasn’t tossed out.  As we were leaving, Wendy had a minor fit as she saw a Lego store and insisted that we had to purchase some Lego for Oliver for Christmas.  Long story short, Wendy always wanted Lego as a kid and never had any.  She had more fun than any of us in there.

As soon as we hit Highway #1, roads were perfect until we hit the Banff National Park gates and they never got the snow the rest of us got so it was a fun trip up with lots of stories and sight seeing along the way.  We went straight to Sulphur Mountain and took the gondola to the top of it.  Excited does not describe the reaction of Oliver and Mark who loved every second of the nine minute trip to the summit.  Once at the summit I was tempted to hike to the science station but it was blowing and cold up there so we ordered a bite to eat and chilled out at the top.

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Panorama from Sulphur Mountain

Once back down we did some shopping and Banff didn’t disappoint.  Every single shop had the exact same touristy junk.  As I told Wendy, I spent most of my life trying to buy something nice in Banff and failed.   Wendy found some earrings and found some Christmas gifts.  Mark managed to get some more money out of me and bought some magnetic rocks and a Gondola souvenir.  The highlight of the shopping was a large male elk meandering through main street and within inches of the car.

An Elk

I personally love Banff in the off season and hate it during the peak season.  The lack of tourists and crowds are nice, even if the weather is not.  What I loved about Banff is that there was absolutely no trace of snow along their main street.  Every flake was removed… again, it’s a place of commerce.

Finally we took the boys to Bow Falls where a combination of the cold, wind and humidity almost froze Wendy, Mark and I to death while taking some photos.  Oliver just said, “I want to wait in the car”

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Panorama of Bow Falls

As we were leaving, we went to Walsh’s Candy Store where I bought Mark and Oliver two massive jawbreakers and challenged them to finish them by the time we got to Calgary.  It’s an impossible task (knowing first hand) but neither one of them talked all the way back to Calgary.  I love it when a plan comes together.

For supper that night, we went to Five Guys Hamburgers for the first time.  We need one of those in Saskatoon in the worst possible way.  We ordered burgers and fries and couldn’t even start the fries as the burgers were so filling.

Saturday morning we met our good friend Dave King at Nellie’s where we had a good talk about politics, urban planning, cycling and photography all over a fantastic breakfast.  It was cold out that day so instead of going to the Calgary Zoo, we went back downtown and checked out Mountain Equipment Co-op (twice), the Calgary Tower, Glenbow Museum, and snagged some milkshakes at Peter’s Drive-Thru.

While at Mountain Equipment Co-Op, we did some Christmas shopping and Wendy agonized over which bag to purchase (which she always does).  She finally got one of these and seems at peace with the world.  Meanwhile I got a sleeve for the MacBook, a left handed sling pack, some gloves, bike lock (as well as one for Mark) and a lantern. Mark also bought a sling pack which means that we kind of match which is awkward.  At least his is right handed.

The Calgary Tower is always amazing and we spent a lot of time up there.  The glass floor was fun as people were absolutely terrified to walk out on it while kids seemed to not even notice.  Both Wendy and I took a bunch of photos with other people’s cameras while they stood out on the glass.  We went back downstairs and across the street to the Glenbow Museum where Mark really had a good time.  Wendy enjoyed the section on the National Energy Program and on Peter Lougheed.  It was weird to see a display honouring Preston Manning and not Joe Clark or Ralph Klein.  I know Manning has significance but so does Clark and Klein.

Oliver at the top of the Calgary Tower

The Bow as seen from the Calgary Tower

Saturday night against my better wishes, we went to Swiss Chalet.  Wendy and the boys had never gone but the meal was what you expect of Swiss Chalet.  Personally I am still bitter that St. Hubert is not in Calgary.  Sadly everyone in the family like the meal which means that I am going to have to fight not to go back.

Sunday we drove back home after some more running around.  The trip was quick as I had two boys chilling out to their iPods and sucking on jawbreakers.  The only excitement was when we were back in Saskatoon city limits when we found out again that snow removal baffles our fair city.

All of the photos from the trip can be found on either Wendy’s or my photo set.