Category Archives: John Andrew McKiernan

Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – Calgary’s Devonian Gardens

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Devonian Gardens – closed until early 2010

Calgary, Alberta

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

It seems a bit of a tease to write about such beautiful gardens as the Devonian Gardens without being able to see them in the near future. Unfortunately for visitors who were hoping to take a trip to see the beautiful Devonian Gardens, you will be disappointed. The beauties of Banff and the other National Parks will have to suffice as the Gardens will be closed for 18 months since August 30 2008 for some much needed renovations.

The gorgeous (but temporarily closed) Devonian Gardens.

The gorgeous (but temporarily closed) Devonian Gardens.

However, the plants will continue to be maintained on site but all of the fish and turtles have been moved elsewhere while construction is taking place to maintain their ingnorant bliss. However, the Gardens that were originally opened 30 years ago will re-open better than ever in early 2010 for the patient traveler. Set in the middle of the city, this indoor rooftop garden spans three acres and is home to a paradise of waterfalls, ponds, fish, turtles, trees and thousands of plants. There are bronze statues that stand proud amongst the beautiful setting. There is a playground for the kids and during winter, there is an awesome rooftop winter skating rink.

Although it may still be a few months from completion, if you are booking a 2010 holiday, make sure to consider the Devonian Gardens in your schedule. It is well worth it.

Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – The Calgary Stampede

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The Calgary Stampede

Calgary, Alberta

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

There are few better festivals to look forward to around the world than the Calgary Stampede. Book your accomodations early and prepare yourself fro July 3rd this year. This world wide famous festival kicks off with a parade through the streets of downtown Calgary and doesn’t stop for 10 days. Get your denims washed and dried and ready for July.

  • This year (2009), the Stampede will run from Friday, July 3 through Sunday, July 12. If you really like planning ahead, in 2010 it will go through July 9-18.
  • It is not difficult to get tickets. They can easily be purchased from the main entrance during the stampede. However, for the rodeo events, chuckwagon races, the evening Grandstand show or concerts, it’s best to buy tickets online in advance. There are also a wide variety of ticket packages so keep your eyes open for whichever one suits you best.
  • It’s all about the western at the stampede. The more denims and tassels you have, the more you will fit in.
  • Once again, the opportunity is there to use everyone’s favorite word. FREE! There are heaps of free things to take in during the stampede such as the free pancake breakfasts all over town. Very Canadian! Very free!
  • Heritage Park is a great place to be for these celebrations. There are few places better suited to celebrate all things western. Check out our section on Heritage Park for more details.
  • A Calgary tradition that must be tried is the prairie oysters at Buzzard’s Cowboy Cuisine, downtown. They bring out special varieties for the big week.
  • Parking can be a pain in the backside during this week so try taking the C-Train (Light Rail Transit) to the Stampede grounds. There are two C-Train stations that connect directly to the Stampede grounds: Victoria Park / Stampede Station at the north end (near the Round-Up Centre), and Elton / Stampede Station at the south end (near the Indian Village).
  • Anyone who has already been to Calgary will know that the weather is changeable, to put it nicely. Even if it looks like it is going to be a scorcher, pack a rain jacket. Better to be safe than sorry.
The symbolic Calgary Tower.
The symbolic Calgary Tower.

On The Stampede Grounds

  • Visit the Round-up Centre on the stampede grounds. It is often overlooked when it is really one of the highlights.
  • Bring your own food or eat early to avoid the stampede (excuse the pun) to restaurants at peak times.
  • Stick around for the fireworks every night. After all the shows, it’s nice to sit back and finish off the day with the 11pm fireworks.
  • The Coca-Cola stage is great during the day for families but then turns into a club atmosphere at night when children under 18 are strictly not allowed.

Many visitors have been disappointed and being forced to pay over the odds for accomodations if not booked well in advance so make sure you have a good scour around before you go.

Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – Attractions of Calgary

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Calgary Attractions

Calgary, Alberta

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

Long long gone are the days when Calgary was considered a boring city. Before heading up to the delights of Banff, Canmore and Jasper, why not stay a few days in Calgary. The list of things to do is practically endless. If you have time to stop for a few days before hitting the mountains, here are just a few of the things to keep you occupied.

The sights and adrenalin from a Calgary rollercoaster.

The sights and adrenalin from a Calgary rollercoaster.

Calaway Park: There is no end to the fun at Calway Park. It has everything you would expect from Western Canada’s largest amusement park including a roller coaster, train ride, log ride, Ferris wheel, and all the other classics you have come to expect. It is set in a wonderful location also. On a clear day, you can get a great view of the surrounding mountainside from the top of the Ferris wheel. Refreshingly, entrance is with a “one price, all rides” ticket so you don’t have to spend half an hour outside pondering your options. There are rides for all ages, even the oldies! In the summer, there are some great live shows too. It is always a great day out with the family. On Hwy 1 (Trans-Canada Hwy, aka 16 Ave N. in Calgary) about 10 minutes west of Calgary; use exit 169.

The distinctive sight of the Calgary Towers.

The distinctive sight of the Calgary Towers.

Calgary Tower: Built in 1968, this Calgary landmark had its greatest moment of glory when it acted as a torch for the Olympic flame for the winter Olympics in 1988. The 3D view that you get from the look-out deck is something else but with the new glass floors built in, it offers a whole new view. It is nothing short of terrifying and the kind of experience that every human should at least attempt once. If you are feeling a little shaky on your feet after looking down to your doom, there are two great restaurants in the tower to get your heart beating at normal pace again.

Canada Olympic Park: This is one of the  most visible reminders in Calgary of the successful 1988 Olympics. Today, athletes still continue to be trained here to try and maintain Canada’s great record in the winter sports. There are three ski jumps here as well as a bobsleigh and luge track. Among the many things you can do, during summer you can use the skyline which lets you experience flying off the 90-metre tower like the ski-jumpers. Freakin awesome!

Calgary Zoo: This is one of North America’s largest zoos and not so coincidentally has many animals from around the world. It is very popular with kids and there is also a large conservatory and garden area for the parents to relax. Speaking of parents, there is also the Prehistoric Park, featuring life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs, and many animal and nature-themed playgrounds dotted around the zoo.

Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre: This is a fairly self descriptive museum. Everything you need to know about the history and culture of Chinese Albertans. There are some small businesses here too.

Keep an eye on the local media to see what sort of events are coming up that might suit you or your family. Also ask the staff at your hotel who are usually happy to help.


Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – Arts and Culture in Calgary

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Arts and Culture in Calgary

Calgary, Alberta

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

Calgary is often simply used as a gateway town to the Canadian Rockies. However, it is in itself something of a growing city bursting with cultural events for its inhabitants and visitors alike. There are numerous theatre companies and art galleries as well as a rising number of events that are held year round. Before heading up to Banff National Park or one of its surrounds, take a few days in Calgary to find out what everyone is talking about.

calgary_banff

A ski high view of Calgary.

In fact, Calgary has risen in the culture ranking so much that in 2008, it beat off competition from Montreal and Toronto to be voted “Canada’s Most Cultured City” by MacLeans Magazine. Not a bad title to have attached to your name. The title comes thanks to the Calgarians, who are very much involved in the city’s cultural scene. The proud tag comes because over 50% of all Calgarians spend money on attending museums and the performing arts, giving Calgary the highest cultural participation rate in the country.

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The Jack Singer Concert Hall - comparable only with the best.

At the heart of the city lies the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts. This huge building spans almost 2 entire city blocks. It houses five permanent theatres including the stunning 2000 seater Jack Singer Concert Hall. The acoustics here compare well with the best in the world including the Sydney Opera House.

Every night, there seems to be something new going on in Calgary. The centre in particular is always buzzing with some show or another and Calgarians are only too happy to get involved.

The Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium lies in the city’s northwest. It has only recently re-opened after extensive renovations but has once begun to host huge varieties of performances from ballets to operas.

Of course it doesn’t always have to be huge locations. On a smaller scale, keep your eyes open around town as there are some really excellent café , hotel and pub shows. Canada’s music industry in particular is really thriving at the minute so it is a good chance to see some great performers while they are still playing to small crowds.

Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – The Beaches of Vancouver

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Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – The Beaches of Vancouver


Vancouver, British Columbia

by John McKiernan
Staff Writer

Vancouver is often seen at the top of lists for most liveable cities in the world. Other than it being a gateway to Banff and Jasper National Parks, it is also packed full of activities to enjoy. During summer, one of the greatest amenities is the public access to the waterfront. 18Km of beach surround Vancouver where you can swim, sail, windsurf or just lay back and enjoy.

Vancouver's Seawall Bridge.

Vancouver's Seawall Bridge.

List of Beaches

Quiet Beaches (amplified music not allowed, recommended for weddings)

Locarno,
Spanish Bank West
Sunset Beach

Other Beaches

Spanish Bank Extension
Spanish Bank East
Jericho
Kitsilano
English Bay
Second Beach
Third Beach
Trout Lake

Lifeguards

Lifeguards are on duty at all beaches from Victoria Day to Labour Day except when the red light is on.

Not Allowed

Dogs are only allowed at:
Spanish Bank West (200m west of the concession)
Sunset Beach (bay behind Aquatic Centre)
Posted areas, from 6 am to 10 pm
West of the Maritime Museum on Kits Point from 6 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 10 pm

Fires (barbeques permitted in containers)
Ball playing (except in designated areas)
Inflatable devices in water
Alcohol
Kite surfing
Horses

Stunning sunset at Longbeach.

Stunning sunset at Longbeach.

Renting Windsurfs

If you want to go windsurfing, Vancouver is a great spot. One of the best places to rent is at the Jericho Sailing Centre. Keep in mind that windsurfers are required to launch and land their windsurfers between the yellow buoys only at Locarno and Kitsilano Beaches. Windsurfers and boats must stay at least 300m away from swimming beaches to avoid collisions with swimmers. Unfortunately kitesurfing is not allowed on Vancouver beaches.

Renting Kayaks

Ecomarine offers kayak rentals and tours from the English Bay Bathhouse from June to September. If you are bringing your own kayak, there is indoor storage space at the English Bay Bathhouse.

Disabled Access

Vancouver is fast becoming more and more wheelchair friendly. Generally, there are two beach wheelchairs available for public use – one is at Jericho Beach and the other at English Bay. The sand isn’t necessarily a restriction either as there are ‘Path’ kits for wheelchairs located at English Bay.

Getting to the Beaches

Recently, Vancouver city has added a new community shuttle service that runs from Broadway & Alma to UBC via Spanish Bank, running by Jericho, Locarno and Spanish Bank beaches, on to UBC and return. The bus runs hourly Monday to Friday into the early evening. It is a handy way of getting to the beaches but is also one of the most scenic drives in the city so sit back and enjoy the ride. Ask at your hotel and keep an eye on this route as it is constantly being improved and upgraded.

Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – Cycling and Walking Vancouver

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Gateway to the Rockies – Cycling and Walking Vancouver


Vancouver, British Columbia

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

Despite being British Columbia’s biggest city, Vancouver is still very accessible for those who wish to get around by the strength of their own legs only. Whereas Banff and other Canadian Rockies towns are sometimes considered too hilly for novice cyclists, Vancouver is full of people who love to get around on two wheels. Below is a list of the cycling pathways in the city.

The cycle path to British Columbia Palace.

The cycle path to British Columbia Palace.

Cycling pathways:

* 10th Avenue Bikeway
* Adanac Bikeway
* BC Parkway
* Cassiar
* Central Valley Greenway
* Cypress Bikeway
* Fraser Lands
* Gladstone Bikeway
* Heather Bikeway
* Inverness Bikeway
* Kent Bikeway
* Lakewood Bikeway
* Midtown and Ridgeway Bikeways
* Mosaic Bikeway
* Off-Broadway Bikeway
* Ontario Bikeway
* Pender Street
* Portside Bikeway
* Ridgeway Bikeway
* Seaside Bicycle Route
* SW Marine Bikeway
* Sunrise Bikeway
* Trafalgar Bikeway
* Trans-Canada Trail
* Windsor Bikeway

In 2008 Vancouver was recognized as Canada's most walkable city.

In 2008 Vancouver was recognized as Canada's most walkable city.

Walking Vancouver

Don’t just take our opinion on Vancouver as a walkable city. In 2008, it was awarded the prestigious, if a little odd, award of Best Walking City in Canada by the Canadian Federation of Podiatric Medicine (CFPM). Take that Toronto!

The reason Vancouver was recognized as a great walking city is down to a few things. Most importantly, the streets are designed to give pedestrians the highest priority. Drivers are constantly reminded to be careful while driving through the city. Not only is it a cheap and healthy option to get around the city; it is also a safe one.

Gateway to the Rockies – The Gardens of Vancouver

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Gateway to the Rockies – The Gardens of Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

Because of its climate and unique location to the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver has some of the most beautiful gardens in North America. Many people visit for their beauty alone. Before visiting Banff and Jasper National Parks and their extreme gems, check out some of the subtle beauties of the gardens of Vancouver.

One of the many gardens of Vancouver.

One of the many gardens of Vancouver.

The largest and most extensive garden is the Van Duen Gardens which is literally packed full of every flower imaginable with every color under the sun and more. Quirkily there is a podcast tour of these gardens by a Vancouver Sun columnist which could be worth checking out for fanatics.

Perhaps more popular and also free to tour is Queen Elizabeth Park. You may have guessed that it was named after the Queen of Britain already but did you know that it includes the Bloedel Conservatory, which has a small admission fee, but is a fun place to go with kids. There are birds flying everywhere around your head so a hat might be a recommendation.

Among the many other popular gardens to visit are the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the UBC Botanical Garden, the Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC, and the Park & Tilford Gardens. One personal favorite is the small Japanese-style garden surrounding UBC’s Asian Centre (just across the road from Nitobe Garden), which incorporates delightful dry water features. This is one of the most peaceful parts of Vancouver.

Gateway to the Rockies – Vancouver on a Rainy Day

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Gateway to the Rockies – Vancouver on a Rainy Day

Vancouver, British Columbia

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

As much as we would like to pretend that Vancouver is some sort of steadily sunny world, it’s unfortunately just not that true. Just like Banff and Jasper up in the Canadian Rockies, the weather can best be described as changeable. It is after all a coastal temperate rain forest. Regardless of what time of year you are visiting, it is liable to rain but don’t you worry, there is no shortage of things to do in Vancouver regardless if the sun has got his hat on or not.

No sun is no excuse for not having a great time in Vancouver.

Vancouver is packed full of activities to do on a rainy day.

Museums

If the rain is falling, it may be a good chance for you to educate your brain a bit. Explore your cultural side at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, the Vancouver Museum, the H.R. McMillan Space Centre or the Maritime Museum. The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park is also a great way to empathize with the fishies on a wet day.

Day Trip

The thing about Vancouver’s weather is that it can be very localized. If you take a day trip only a few hours away, you may find a totally different sky. Tsawwassen Bay is a lot more fun to visit than it is to spell. Boundary Bay, Crescent Beach and White Rock are all great day destinations as well.

Granville Island is a good sheltered spot from the rain.

Granville Island is a good sheltered spot from the rain.

Woods and Parks

It is too easy to admit defeat to the rain and stay indoors. The fact of the matter is that with a bit of brass and effort, you can take advantage of the weather. The wooded areas and parks are lovely in the rain, bursting with colors. The parks are quieter and if you dress correctly, a great day out can be had. Just make sure you have some spare, warm clothes ready in your car or hotel. Some of the highlights while singing in the Vancouver rain are North Shore Parks like Capilano Canyon, Lynn Canyon, Lynn Headwaters and the terrifyingly named Mount Seymour. The paths and trees here provide great cover from the pounding rain.

 

Gateway to the Rockies – Vancouver’s Performing Arts

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Gateway to the Rockies – Vancouver’s Performing Arts

Vancouver, British Columbia

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

With the Winter Olympics arriving in Vancouver next year and an array of outdoor activities to make you dizzy, you could be forgiven in thinking that Vancouver is all about sports. However, this mountain city at the base of the Canadian Rocky Mountains has an undercurrent of cultural events to make any city jealous. If you are heading to the natural beauty of Banff National Park and its surrounds, why not stop off for a few days in Vancouver and experience the depths of performing arts it holds.  

Vancouver's impressive city hall.

Vancouver's impressive city hall.

Cinema

Nicknamed Hollywood North as it is third only to LA and New York in the film production stakes, Vancouver plays a huge roll in international cinema Not only is it the setting for countless movies, it also hosts the annual Vancouver International Film Festival. It runs for 17 days with 300 films, 50 countries and 9 venues. There are more than 130,000 attendees and if you don’t see some stars then it might be the time to switch glasses.

Although this is the biggest film festival of the year, Vancouver doesn’t disappoint during the rest of the year. There is an incredible selection of films being screened all year round including foreign films, underground films and independent films. Movie types and theatre sizes are wide ranging and very popular throughout Vancouver. Daily matinees and evening shows are accessible in most major theatres around the city, while many of the larger theatre complexes offer a selection of films every single hour.  In short, this is paradise for cinema buffs.

British Columbia Palace - home to many great events.

British Columbia Palace - home to many great events.

Dance

Although Montreal currently carries the torch in Canada as the dance centre, Vancouver is hot on its heels. The city’s dance scene continues to grow, showcasing talent from all over the globe. Whether it’s the National Ballet of Russia or a local dance school, Vancouver has it covered.

Literature

It is a little known fact that Vancouver is a literary hub in Canada and indeed in the world. It’s the centre of a largely unheralded publishing industry that produces 250 books per year and also hosts an annual International Writers Festival. More than 1,500 authors live in British Columbia so don’t worry if the guy at the coffee shop keeps staring at you while writing something down. Statistics Canada says that BC has the highest number of book-reading people in the country!

Music

Canada as a whole has a great reputation for producing great new music. Whether it be one of the many quaint cafes that showcase live music or one of the mega stadiums ready for huge international acts, Vancouver has it all. Keep your eyes open in the local media for upcoming acts. If you play music, there are heaps of pubs and cafes that allow you showcase your talents. Note: Vancouver is the only remaining North American city with its own radio orchestra – the Vancouver CBC Radio Orchestra.

Another stunning Vancouver rose garden.

Another stunning Vancouver rose garden.

Theatre

Vancouver is home to an unbelievable 32 professional groups, a major international theatre festival (The Fringe), two outdoor theatrical events (Bard on the Beach and Theatre Under The Stars) and more than 21 venues. Theatre is taken very seriously here and it is considered a major cultural activity in Vancouver.

The locations for theatre have been improvised over the years and it is now possible that one night you could watch a play in an old firehouse while the next you may listen to a musical in an old refurbished church. The choices are endless. Make sure to book your accommodations early if you are planning to visit during one of the bigger events, hotels book out fast!

Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – Vancouver Sports and Activities

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Gateway to the Canadian Rockies – Vancouver Sports and Activities

 

Vancouver, British Columbia

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

With its picturesque outdoors, accommodating locals and mild climate, Vancouver is the perfect place to experience some of the best sports and activities on offer. If you are planning on using Vancouver as a gateway city into Banff National Park or one of the other gorgeous parks of the Canadian Rockies, why not stay for a few days to see what it has to offer?

Stunning sunset in Vancouver shipping port.

Stunning sunset in Vancouver shipping port.

The Stanley Park Seawall

Every good city needs a nice open space to do all the things that humans are meant to do. The Stanley Park seawall is a very popular stretch in Vancouver for cycling, jogging, walking and in-line skating. The seawall itself makes up only one part of the Vancouver Greenway Seaside Route, which runs along the shoreline for 20km. If you are fit enough to complete the whole route, you should see some interesting animal habitats, marshes, forests and fellow exercising sightseers. This route is particularly good during the summer months when the city’s many festivals and events bring colorful crowds to the seafront.

Cycling

One of the best ways to see Vancouver must be cycling. Extensive bike routes cover the city, and rental bicycles, helmets and locks are available at various locations. Route maps are also available at bike rental and retail locations. One of the highlights for bike lovers is the Tour de Gastown in mid-July where the streets close down and cyclists can race through this historic area. Grouse Mountain also has some excellent trails for serious mountain bikers.  

 

Running

If you trust your feet more than the two wheels, Vancouver will suit you down to the ground. There are lovely paths around Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake or if you prefer the seashore then try Kitsilano Beach, Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach. If it is competitive racing you are after, there is at least one road race in and around Vancouver every month so start the training now! An annual highlight is the Vancouver Sun Run in April. It is the second largest 10km race in North America drawing around 50,000 participants every year.  

Seawall bridge - great for a Vancouver run.

Seawall bridge - great for a Vancouver run.

Dance

Vancouver is a city of culture and arts and if your feet feel like dancing, there are plenty of opportunities. Robson Square is an open air/underground venue between the Vancouver Art Gallery and the law courts. During the summer, every Friday night, you can dance till the cows come home. You can watch, be taught or simply be swept off your feet by a smooth dance partner. The variety in dances is practically endless with something different every week. Not to be missed for dance aficionados.

Skateboarding

There aren’t too many skate parks around so make sure you research before packing the board. There is a popular skateboarding park under the Skytrain tracks just off Pacific Boulevard.  It is hard to find in an obscure location between GM Place and Chinatown.  There is another skate park on Venables very close to La Casa Gelato, home to some of the most unique and delicious ice-cream.

Watersports

For those who prefer their sports with a splash, Vancouver has numerous places to help you out. You can rent kayaks and canoes for respectable prices at Jericho Beach, English Bay and Granville Island. If you want to try something a bit different, you can sail or windsurf at Jericho Beach.

Gorgeous Vancouver skyline.

Gorgeous Vancouver skyline.

Swimming

Kits Beach and Second Beach in Stanley Park have stunning outdoor pools with great views of the Canadian Rockies. The two most convenient indoor lap pools are at the YWCA at 535 Hornby St and at the Vancouver Aquatic Center at 1050 Beach Av, beneath the Burrard St Bridge.

Winter Sports

There are plenty of ski locations around Vancouver including Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour. Of course the Canadian Rockies are only a short drive away where Banff and Jasper National Parks among others have some of the best skiing in the world. Snowshoeing tours are also available.  Most of the tours end with a cup of hot chocolate or chocolate fondue for those chocolate lovers. 

Spectator Sports

If you prefer to watch than play the sports, hockey could be a good choice. The minor league Vancouver Giants or NHL team Vancouver Canucks both make great options for an evening of sport. Soccer is also becoming more and more popular in Canada and Vancouver is represented by the Vancouver Whitecaps. Baseball, American football and basketball are all options also.