Here’s a crazy notion…let’s go back in time. Nothing out of an HG Wells novel, and there’s no magic machine to send us into yesteryear, instead let’s do this…pick the far end of a major walkable thoroughfare, in this case Centre Street, hike it in its entirety from the newest section of town it touches on, into the heart to downtown, the oldest, where it ends. Photographing what ever we see as interesting along the way, we’ll also record any sidewalk date stamps to show our progression backwards in history.
The far north end of Centre Street (officially Centre Street North – there is a small section of Centre South) ends unceremoniously at a side street just south of busy Beddington Trail. Here, it’s a quiet boulevard for a few blocks, but for most of its length is much more busy. Park at Bergen Crescent in the Beddington Heights Neighbourhood.
Hit Centre Street and head south, never leaving it until you hit your destination, the Calgary Tower in the core. Navigation is a no-brainer. Date stamps, commonly put on sidewalks here in Cow Town, tell us this first section is from the 1990s. These reflect when the community was built.
Doddle along passing strips malls and endless rows of houses. The street here is two lanes each way and divided. Later it narrows, sometimes the second lane being used for parking. Outside one sweeping S curve fairly early on in the walk, it’s arrow straight and perfectly aligned north/south. Time is a blur and date stamps showing the 1980s and 1970s are seen in quick succession.
Welcome to Huntington Hill and the 1960s. Houses here, more so in the younger north end, have a very “Brady” feel about them. A corner drug store is passed. Remember those? Their sign tells us it’s a good place to drop off rolls of film for processing. A pay phone out front is another anachronism.
Entering Thorncliffe, the 1950s are reached. Someone has a beef with the city – an old panel van parked nearby and in plain sight of traffic, is a rolling billboard in protest of some land usage issues in the area. What will be made clear shortly. Read on.
Come to the community of Highland Park dating from the late 1940s and early 1950s. There’s a golf course here, disused for the few years (see: Fore! No More). This green space is used as an informal park of sorts by residents and is potentiality slated for redevelopment (meaning housing). Locals are opposed to that. The van seen earlier…it”s theirs. Makes sense now. More 1950s era sidewalk date stamps are seen. Calgary was going through a boom then.
Closed for a few years now, Family Groceteria is passed. There was a time when there were a lot of these mom and pop corner stores. The 7-11s and Macs (and Winks) that replaced them seem sorta soulless in comparison.
We’re now in Tuxedo Park and Balmoral, communities dating from the 1910s and 1920s. We’re flying through time now! From here on no more date stamps are seen, the last was some blocks north and was from 1940-something. As we’ve travel south and back in time, the street becomes more retail oriented and few houses are seen. Truck spotting moment! A sleek International Lonestar. We now return you to the story. Looking down a side street, take in impressive Balmoral School. Many old schools like it in town are made similarly of Sandstone.
Come to 16th Avenue, one of the biggest thoroughfares seen. Do your best Frogger impersonation crossing it. Watch for bad drivers! Don’s Hobby Shop, a long time Calgary Institution, was a regular stopping place for this author when a teenager. It was downtown then. No more date stamps are seen (sidewalks having been replaced over time) but we’re still travelling back in time.
Centre Street is made up of more retail, shops, stores, and businesses. Not many old buildings are seen, most long since torn down and replaced by newer structures. One stand out that is relatively old, is the Tigerstedt Block, from the 1930s. The property is due to be redeveloped (cough, cough, gentrified!). They plan on keeping the old neon sign though! What saints.
Cross and enter Rotary Park (paralleling Centre in the narrow draw here is best avoided). Take in the impressive Calgary Skyline before dropping down to the century old Centre Street Bridge over the Bow River. It’s fine structure, massive, made of concrete and guarded on each end by a pair of lions.
Come to Chinatown. Some of the oldest buildings seen on this trek are passed here, including bits of some dating back to the late ninetieth century. Lots of restaurants here from many Asian Cultures…and we’re getting hungry!
The old clock tower at the James Short Parade is interesting. It was saved when the early 1900s era school once located here (Central School) was demolished. Just to the east is the Bow Building “Head”. It’s a hugely popular subject for photographers. There was one inside, snapping away, as we passed.
Just a few blocks to go. Background left, see the St Regis, or sometimes the “Regis”, one of the last dive hotels in the city, before it closed some years back. The folks…how do we say this…were winos and frequented the “beer parlour” there back in the 1970s. Plans are to do something with it. Eventually. The building is from the 1910s. We’re in old downtown.
Next up is the “Mechanical Horse” made from all manner of scrap metal. It fits with the town’s cowboy vibe. Look waaaay up, it’s the Calgary Tower behind it. This 1960s built structure was once one of the tallest buildings in town but today gets lost in the clutter. Most skyscrapers in the core are higher than it. Still, it’s the city’s most iconic building. Stand at the base and take it in.
You’re now about smack dab in the oldest section of Calgary, even if the buildings around don’t reflect that. Here, say in the 1880s, was a few buildings, the CPR tracks and little else. Just over ten clicks from the starting point, you’ve gone from the 1990s to the 1880s. All by simply put feet to pavement.
A walk back to the starting point would make for a particularly long strenuous day. Fortunately a bus follows Centre Street from end to end making things easy – we saw a lot of these pass as we walked.
Later the same day….
Withing sight of downtown, we find an old transit bus that’s been stripped down. This GMC “Fishbowl” (made from the 1960s-1980s) appears to be ex-Calgary Transit. We don’t know anything about it and soon it’d be gone. We like old buses, and rarely miss the chance to capture one and it makes a nice byline to this adventure (and it’s our website to do with as we please…so there). Maybe you rode this bus in the old days. Certain I did.
If you wish more information about this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: November, 2016.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Distance: 10.5km one way.
Height gain maximum: 10m plus an 80m-ish (loss)
NOTE: all distances and heights are approximate.
Technical bits and notes: It’s a city hike – all the usual concerns.
And later this same day…