A lot of people give Calgary a hard time. They call it "Cowtown". They think that we’re overrun with cowboys and horses. They think everyone has a shotgun rack in their beat-up pickup truck. They think that most of people who live here are intolerant hicks with nothing better to do than pick fights every night. They think it’s really cold year-round. They think there’s no culture.
The problem is that people don’t think. They accept without question.
These were stories I’d heard before moving here, so I too was guilty of not asking questions. I didn’t know much about Calgary before I first came here in September 1997. My first exposure to Calgary was an eye-opening one — I hadn’t expected such a young city. Both Gerry and I recognized that almost immediately, and how much we suddenly felt the urge to move here.
As it stands, I moved to Vancouver and Gerry moved to Bermuda. But now I’m here, and in the last year I’ve learned quite a bit about this city. It’s time to dispell a few myths.
Myth #1: Calgary is full of cowboys.
There are two times this is actually true. First, during the Calgary Stampede. This is when the only way you can tell the city folk from cow pokes is by how clean and pressed the clothes are. The only other time this is true is when some of them gets lost, and somehow finds their way downtown. It’s rare, but it’s been known to happen from time to time. (For all we know, it could just be part of an ad campaign.)
Oh, and then there’s patrons of Cowboys, Desperados, and Outlaws, three of the western-themed bars in town. But those are usually drunk jocks.
Myth #2: Most people who live here are intolerant hicks.
Most of the people who live in this city moved from other provinces (of all the people I’ve met here, only about 10 are native Calgarians). Many are from back east. We have the youngest demographic of any city in Canada — the average age is 33.7 (as of 1996, down from 34.5 in 1991), while the Canadian average was 35.8. Also, over 50% of our residents have a post-secondary education of some form.
We also have a lot of rich people. It’s that black, oily stuff they keep finding out here. There are a large number of people who’ve made small (and large) fortunes off it. Of course, you can’t spot some of these people — they look completely ordinary. That is, until they climb into their Mercedes, BMWs, Porches (although they’re not as popular out here), high-end SUVs, and expensive Japanese imports.
If there are hicks here, they’re keeping a mighty low profile.
Myth #3: It’s cold year-round.
No, it’s dry here year-round. Our altitude, combined with a lack of suitably large body of water (the Bow River certainly does not count) keeps us gulping liquids and using moisturizers more than most people. But there is an upside to all that — the driness cuts down on the cold. Without moisture to cut through our clothes, a heavy shirt, fleece, and windbreaker can get you though weather that freezes people to death back in southern Ontario.
The downside, of course, is that when we go to more humid climates without suitable protection, we freeze even in what others consider comfortable weather.
Sure we do have winter from as early as late October through to as late as early June (worst-case scenario), but we also get Chinooks all year (yes, we get Chinooks in the summer, too, but they’re not as pronounced as in the winter), so even in the dead of winter, when others are digging themselves out of 10 feet of snow, we could be wearing shorts on the skihills.
Myth #4: There’s no culture; there’s nothing to do.
This is the single largest myth, and it’s one that many transplanted Calgarians continue. Calgary isn’t like Vancouver, or Toronto, or Montreal. In those cities, you can’t avoid things to do — they’re in your face 24-7. But out here, people aren’t interested in that kind of constant bombardment. We have a large theatre scene — we have a complex here that I haven’t seen in either Toronto or Vancouver. We have a large concert hall, and several stadiums perfectly capable of holding concerts or sports, depending on your fancy.
And then, of course, there’s the outdoors. I would love to know what the population of the city drops to during the summer, when almost everyone ducks out for the wilderness. You can’t get a camping spot in this province on any long weekend ... not without either booking months (and I mean *months*) in advance, or staking out a spot (in the non-reservable grounds) days ahead.
Okay, still not impressed? I left this one for last, because even I have trouble believing it. Calgary has a skatepark, called the Shaw Millennium Skatepark. This is a concrete playground built specifically for the skateboarding population of our city — a place where they can go and grind to their heart’s content, without any fear that some security guard will interrupt their fun.
This park was built by the city (with funds from local companies, such as Shaw Cable), is open 24 hours a day, and completely free. Chris, Stuart, and I went over to it on Saturday night to get a close look and see what it was all about. It’s quite large, and well-built (at least from a skateboarder’s perspective). It allows kids to do whatever they want, and hang out with people like themselves. And even at midnight, there are kids of all ages practicing, showing off, and hanging out.
It’s just west of the downtown core, wedged between 6th and 9th Avenues, far enough away from condos to not bother residents, but close enough so the kids can still get there. I can’t think of another city that has something similar in its downtown. Stuart was quick to point out that Toronto would find some way to turn it into a golf course. Vancouver would build a condo, and then charge $150,000 for a 400 square foot bachelor.
I hope that in some small way, I might have changed your view of Calgary. Although different from other large cities in Canada, it’s no less a fine place to live. I offer anyone the chance to come here and see for yourself.