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Calgary’s Brand and Tonight’s Top Ten List

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We’re back from our latest west coast adventure. It was a very good trip. It was great to see friends and family, explore haunts new and old, and generally try to forget about working life for a while. During our trip we kayaked, golfed, sailed, hiked and walked, as well as some sleeping and lazing about. We found ourselves day-tripping to Tofino and Ucluelet as well as Vancouver, paddling Victoria’s inner harbour, sailing across the Georgia Straight and visiting Pender Harbour, and walking miles of new and familiar ground everywhere. We ate several great meals: notably at Victoria’s Cafe Brio (innovative, delicious… …outstanding roast duck accompanied by a killer Rochioli Sonoma pinot noir) and Il Terrazzo; and in Tofino at Shelter. The owner of Shelter once owned my favourite restaurant anywhere – Süze in Victoria, but sold it rather randomly one day five years ago, so we thought we’d check out this place. Shelter turned out to be great stuff (not as good as Süze though) in a great environ, however I found their wine list in need a facelift and some imagination. Therefore, if you find yourself there, don’t waste your money on vino.

I tweeted that Victoria has at least 6 restaurants that are better than anything in Calgary. Some followers wanted to know what those are. So here’s my list, paying attention to value, quality, personality and imagination:

1) Brasserie L’Ecole

2) Zambri’s

3) Café Brio

4) Sooke Harbour House (not technically Victoria, but sort of, and undoubtedly worth the drive)

5) Pagliacci’s

6) Mint (what, no website?)

I’ll get into more details of the trip soon – perhaps tomorrow, but for now, I want to revel in the sentiments that overwhelmed me as I sat in the Victoria airport yesterday, and after I arrived in Calgary last night.

It was tough to return to Calgary from Victoria. Victoria is the self-appointed “City of Gardens,” where people live, eat, work and sleep on a very independent and self-ful schedule. They take time to breathe and somehow both the city and island rewards them for doing so. The landscape becomes green – not white – as winter settles in.

In contrast, Calgary is a rough and tumble city. Where Victoria has architecture, Calgary features engineering. Calgary is unmistakably a working town that is becoming unabashedly self-indulgent in its oil, its new money and its growth. Where Victoria leans politically to the left, Calgary leans right. And it is reflected in its citizens. Oneupmanship is pervasive. The homeless, sick and drug-addicted are ignored and shuffled from community to community rather than dignified and rationalized. In whole, though, regardless of your societal beliefs, bewilderingly Calgary continues to somehow lack vision. There seems to be no sort of cultural or lifestyle plan whatsoever, save for expansion of the roads and suburbs. The mentality is ‘fast’ and ‘now’ and ‘me.’ Nowhere is there an overarching feeling of community or togetherness. Accordingly and perhaps sadly, Calgary therefore lacks an identity – no matter how many Wranglers are sold, that is in the past, not the present, and though the pulse is racing, no one seems to be able to find a vein.

I was recently told that Calgary is in the midst of a new branding campaign. Along with a new logo, the unknown team is also working on a new slogan to help locals and visitors alike identify with Calgary. A motto if you will. Currently Calgary’s motto is, “Heart of the New West.” The associated logo is a sketched-out cowboy hat (or Stetson), as though implying some sort of dynamic creative aspect to the pioneer spirit.

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What will the new motto be? One only knows. Almost certainly something to do with growth, the oil economy and its self-appointed preeminence in Canada. But before we go speculating on some sort of departure from the wild west, let’s not forget about the veto power of the infamous Calgary Stampede. Their influence in city politics may not be clear, but it is present. So whatever is drafted will have to pass Stampede approval. Thus we at least know it will not stray far from western heritage; that much is for certain.

In a tribute to one of my favourite shows, the Late Show with David Letterman, I’d like to provide you with tonight’s Top Ten List:

Tonight’s Top Ten List is the “top ten slogans that didn’t make the cut to represent Calgary’s new brand.”

Number 10: We Love Trucks

Number 9: Cranes are Better Than Trees

Number 8: Liberal, Gay and Social Program-Free!

Number 7: Home Of Jarome Iginla and a Million Other Right-Wingers

Number 6: Drill Baby, Drill

Number 5: Drive Baby, Drive

Number 4: Wait Until You See Our Suburbs!

Number 3: We Dare You To Find A Taxi

Number 2: Living In The Past So Tourists Can Find Us Tacky

and the number 1 slogan that didn’t make the cut to represent Calgary’s new brand: Burning Oil, Money and Bridges On Behalf of All Canadians

Photos from my trip and more ambivalent Calgary drivel to follow…

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4 Comments

  1. I would like to nominate Matisse as one of Victoria’s finest restaurants. There, I have done it.

    I would also like to nominate a new slogan for Calgary. It’s an oldie, but a goodie:

    “COWBOY UP”

    Reply

  2. I was curious about Matisse – never eaten there, however. Must do someday!

    Cowboy up indeed.

    Reply

  3. It’s ok to have an opinion, but it helps if it’s somewhat informed with something other than outdated stereotypes.

    Maybe take another look with an open mind and see and experience some of the great culture, upcoming architecture, music, design and art Calgary has to offer.

    Reply

    1. Like you, I too am not a big fan of stereotypes, which is why I only speak on matters where I have an educated point of view.

      While I don’t disagree with you that Calgary does have some things to offer in the fields you mention (the Foster-designed Encana building is a revelation), I do not speak from inexperience in my opinions. It is because this city fights tooth and nail against publicly-funded, internationally-renowned architecture commissions (Santiago Calatrava bridge); does not have a public art gallery (the Glenbow is a museum, not a gallery space); spends bare minimum on almost all public infrastructure spending except for roads, let alone beautification of them (read: architecture versus engineering); has next to zero recent (~10 years) investment on public art installations; has a very immature (albeit growing) arts scene for a city of its size; has a nearly-dead downtown after business hours; and has, in my opinion, amongst the least creative food scene of all major Canadian cities, that my taste for this particular debate is so sour. What’s worse is that we (Calgary) claim, such as you have, that there is no issue here; that the Stampede and our half-dozen summer festivals are world-class. I would suggest that if you could peel away most Calgary artists’ polite and humble masks, their dissatisfaction with the industry here would be significant.

      Again, as per my commentary, despite enjoying a relatively strong (though highly transient) economy, Calgary is unfortunately stifled at nearly every turn by the conservatively-minded population whenever the idea of stepping out of the shadow of cowboy philosophy and into contemporary metropolitan lifestyle is discussed. For context, I suggest you research and review the last few years’ discussions on creating a public art gallery, and consider the fact that Calgary is the only major centre in North America without a publicly funded art gallery.

      Reply

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