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Introducing Calgary

Brash, bold and dripping in oil money, it's easy to pour scorn on flashy Calgary, as some do. A slightly-less-frenetic but colder version of desert Dubai, this nebulous, hard-to-grasp prairie city has grown up so fast that last week (let alone last month) can seem like ancient history.

Livable but sometimes characterless, prosperous but economically precarious, super-modern but not always pretty, 21st-century Calgary isn't a place that any unbiased out-of-towner is likely to fall in love with (although the locals can be fanatically loyal). Most visitors either come here on business and deposit their briefcases in one of a plethora of generic business hotels, or arrive in outdoor garb and use it as a springboard for the more alluring attractions of K-Country and Banff. But itinerants holed up on longer stopovers (unexpected or otherwise) needn't break into a cold sweat. Shoehorned among the Stetsons and SUVs of downtown, there's a decent dining scene, an excellent museum, remnants of the 1988 Winter Olympics and – contrary to popular belief – a good (and expanding) public transportation system.

Cowboys led Calgary's first incarnation in the early 1900s, paving the way for what has become one of the world's biggest rodeos – the Calgary Stampede. The oil barons piled in next, after the first big Alberta oil strike in 1947, and brought with them a boom-bust economic cycle that has been both the city's blessing and curse. These days, the bulk of new arrivals are here to make fast money rather than immerse themselves in Calgary's cultural splendor. If you've arrived looking for the soul of the city it could be a long and fruitless search. If it's youthful nightlife, chic restaurants, clean streets and a well-paid job you're after, you might just get lucky.

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