Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Mostly digressions, but Calgary, buildings, and progress

You might think this is just an ordinary photo of downtown Calgary, but you'd be wrong. Very very wrong.

In one sense, of course, it is an ordinary, there I was and this is what you'd see photo. It's ordinary light, no special lens or settings, no Photoshop tricks, only basic Lightroom edits. If you don't live here you'd never know that there is a major river and a major highway running through the photo. But that's not the point.

The point is you can see nearly the entire Calgary Tower. That's getting harder to do from the various vantage points. Once upon a time the Palliser hotel was the tallest building in Calgary, from renovations in 1929 to 1958 when the Elveden Center was built. Then 10 years later the Calgary Tower was built, although originally it was the Husky Tower. 

Calgary was a small city then, and photos of it (external link) showed the tower head, shoulders, and chest above other buildings downtown, proud against the Rocky Mountains backdrop. More and more buildings arrived amid huge growth fuelled  by oil.  I arrived during one boom (there's been several) in 1980, with the tower still visible from any direction. (As a digression, there used to be a bumper sticker you've probably heard of - 'Please God let there be another oil boom, I promise not to piss it all away this time.' There were, and our stupid Conservative governments and short-sighted individuals did. Again and again. And people wonder why I'm happy to be off that roller coaster.)

In the early 80's they started building what was called Red Square, and in 1984 the Petro-Canada building topped off a bit higher than the tower, blocking the view in one direction. There were a lot of people cranky about this. At least some people thought it was a rule that no building taller than the tower could be erected. (Which as another digression reminds me of one of my blog readers back in the day who's PhD dissertation had the working title of "Huge Roman Erections", I think in reference to the aqueducts. I'd love to know how that turned out.)

More booms, more building. It wasn't quite each one taller than the one before, but there's now probably half a dozen or so buildings taller than the tower. Those interested can look up the details for themselves. Most of the new buildings are either north or west of the tower, and from several vantage points the tower isn't visible at all. 

As yet another digression, there are so many vantage points to get nice skyline shots of Calgary, that the visibility of the tower is a major clue as to where it was shot from. And yes, while I'm digressing, even if the tower is visible, the LED light show often screws up long exposure night shots.

Looking from the tower outwards, the buildings block the view a bit, but there's still lots to see. I've been up the tower on a half a dozen occasions, all on someone else's dime, typically for some swanky corporate affair but at least once with Neil with the camera. Pity the windows are filthy, making photography difficult.

My photo is SE of the tower, from an old refinery site. Not many buildings have been built in that direction. What's interesting is that the taller of the Red Square buildings isn't visible at all, unless your eyes are sharp enough to see a faint bump in the side of the Telus Sky building (another digression, it puts on an amazing LED light show). Of course the Palliser isn't visible, and hasn't been prominent in skyline photos since the early 70's. So visible to so not visible in the blink of an historical eye. (I could digress about how the 70's wasn't all that long ago, but won't, at least not today.)

It's a graphic illustration of how fast things change. They look so permanent, those buildings. There are any number of old (or semi-old) buildings that used to be banks and are now something else. One that comes instantly to mind is a used car office and another is a costume rental store. How the mighty have fallen. 

(Major digression alert! It's getting to be the season for banks to announce their profits. Their multi-billion dollar profits, and yet they continue to gouge Canadians loonie and twoonie fees for anything their greedy little minds can think of.)

And that skyline isn't likely to change much in the coming decade. What with the crash in oil prices, and COVID, many of the buildings are completely empty or nearly so. It was an eerie feeling walking through the +15 corridors to pick up and drop off the computer for the AltaGas contract. At least some of that space was leased, waiting for employees to return, but there's a lot of vacant space. So much they are looking for ways to reconfigure it and get it occupied again.

Yet I suspect in a decade or two, there will be books written on the Western Canada petroleum boom, just like there were books written on the various gold rushes during the 19th century. Future generations might look back on us, wondering how we could have been so stupid as to put up those buildings for what we should have known would be short term, and put them to the trouble of tearing them down again to build something important.

That highway I talked about earlier? Here's an unconventional view of it. 

Yes, that really is some fencing strung horizontally between the bridges. Why? Not a word of a lie, during one of the many demonstrations of driving incompetence that have taken place on that bridge, a guy stopped, and was going to jump over the barrier to help out. I don't know if he had expertise relevant to the situation or what. He fell about 18 m into the Bow. I can just imagine his frantic scrabble and thought processes on the way down. It created another situation that the emergency crews had to deal with. Which is one of the reasons why such crews don't ordinarily want citizens 'helping out.'

Part of the walk was through Beaver Dam flats, and I found a delightful (to me) heap of logs in a bed of leaves, all in wonderful light. 

Of the Day

Artsy, near that piece of driftwood, and only found again now.




Owl. Say goodbye, that's the last of the owl photos, hope you enjoyed.

Celina, in her favourite posture.


  1. Michelle said, "I love the dinosaur bones and the pink peony frilly backlit petals…"

  2. James said, "I like the leaves and logs, some more than others."

    Exactly. Except the ones I like keep shifting around. This is one of the cases where what I saw isn't quite what the camera saw, and I was conflicted in the degree of how far to push the editing. In a way I can't really describe, it was like the logs were emerging from the leaves in a geologic process, as opposed to the leaves settling in between the logs.

  3. Your cat pictures make me want to get another kitty so much!! However, I know that would be unwise with a Jack Russell in the house. Enjoyed your reflections on how the city has grown. Halifax is going down a similar road - wiping out views to and from Citadel Hill - which is criminal in my mind. If only I had a few million dollars to grease the palms of our local politicians the way I'm quite sure local developers do.


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