|The skyscrapers of downtown Calgary seem out
of place, rising unexpectedly from the shallow Bow River Valley,
contrasting sharply with the dry, flat prairie stretching off to the east
and south, and dwarfed by the jagged ramparts of the Rocky Mountains lo
oming to the west. Pinched between the slopes of one of the world's most
rugged mountain ranges and the soft, fertile undulations of the
grasslands, Calgary is a city constantly on the move, rarely pausing to
catch its collective breath before the next boom sweeps it off its feet.
Less than a century old, the city hasn't had time to develop a rich heritage, but instead has built a rough and ready character full of youth which thrives on spectacle and excess. From the noise and bravado of the Calgary Stampede, billed as the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," to the more subdued opulence of the Palliser Hotel's famous galas, the city vibrates with a barely-controlled energy straining to rush after the next trend.
Known as a hotbed for young entrepreneurs, the city has embraced the information age, while still clinging to the pioneer roots forged by the ranchers, railroad workers and oilmen who laid Calgary's foundations.
The city sprawls from the foothills of the Rockies in the northwest to the rolling hills and farm country of the southeast. It is divided into four quadrants instersecting at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, which meet at right angles in the city center. Cente r Street runs north to south, and Center Avenue east to west, with all streets laid out in a grid expanding outwards from the center.
The Southwest extends from the boreal forests of Kananaskis Country to
the office towers of downtown, and is a mix of re sidential and business
districts. It includes the natural beauty of North Glenmore Reservoir and
the haute couture and fashion of the 17th Avenue shopping section. The
Southwest is also home to the Fourth Street Restaurant district and the
Elbow River, which winds its way from
The Southeast is home to vast oil refineries, fabrication plants and heavy industry, as well as trendy new housing developments and the world famous Spruce Meadows equestrian facilities. Its western boundary is defined by the Macleod Trail Strip, 10 miles of flashing neon, huge nightclubs, malls, hotels and luxury car dealerships. In the north end is the Saddle Dome and Stampede Grounds, as well as the historic district of Inglewood and the old town-site of Fort Calgary.
The Northeast is separated from the rest of the city by the Deerfoot Trail, a freeway which carries most of Calgary's commuter traffic and is one of the most dangerous roads in Canada. Comprised mostly of older working-class neighborhoods interspersed with industrial areas, the Northeast is the place to find factory-outlet shopping, as well as the Calgary Zoo and International Airport. The area around the air port is currently undergoing heavy development, whose goal is the transformation of a rather seedy district into a comfortable village where air travelers can find all types of accommodation, dining and shopping without ever leaving the area.
In the Northwest you can find many of the city's academic institutions and athletic facilities, as well as its upscale residential districts. Both the University of Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are located here, as well as the Cana da Olympic Park and McMahon Football Stadium. On the banks of the Bow River and close to downtown is Kensington Village, a collection of shops, galleries and restaurants catering to the more artistic crowd.
Calgary is the gateway to the eastern Rocky Mountains, which rear up in a sheer wall of snow-capped black granite seventy kilometers to the west of the city. Only an hour's drive west along the Trans Canada Highway from the city center is Banff National Park, the pride of Parks Canada and a showpiece of Canadian wilderness. The Banff town site and resort is renowned for its luxurious accommodations, including the historic Banff Springs Hotel, as well as its bustling nightlife. With almost 30 feet of natural snow a year and lifts running up to 10,000 feet, the ski hills of Sunshine Valley, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise are ranked among the best in the world.