Monday, July 14, 2014

Calgary, Drumheller

Only an event as important as our nephew's wedding would have convinced us to fly out to Calgary only 3 days after returning from a 7 week trek through France.  Still recovering from jet-lag due to the 5 hour time difference between Toronto and France, we added another 2 hours by flying further west.  Despite our being extremely tired, it was a lovely wedding with a cowboy theme, in honour of the wedding being held during the annual Calgary Stampede.  To make the flight worthwhile, we decided to stay a few extra days to attend the Stampede (my first time), tour Calgary, and to visit surrounding areas in Alberta.

I was expecting the Calgary Stampede to be larger and more elaborate than it turned out to be.  The grounds reminded me of Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) with its carnival atmosphere of games, rides,  junk food, agriculture and livestock exhibitions, with the addition of kitschy Cowboy and Indian related displays.

You were hard-pressed to find anything healthy to eat at the various kiosks, and the prices were outrageous with everything from hotdogs to french fries costing at least $10.  After trying kettle-cooked chips with nacho sauce, sausage with dijon mustard and onions, and deep-fried bananas in chocolate sauce, we finally ate a beef souvlaki that at least had bits of tomato in it.

But the main reason to attend the Calgary Stampede was for the rodeo shows, and these did not disappoint.  From the one-armed bareback broncos riding, bucking  bull-riding, ladies barrel-racing involving tight turns around obstacles, to the steer wrestling and tie-down roping, the events were thrilling to watch.

One of the sweetest and most hilarious events was the wild pony racing, which pitted trios of 8-12 year old children trying to control a tiny wild pony long enough for one of the competitors to jump onto its back for a ride.  More often than not, the three kids ended up face-planting and being dragged around the corral by the pony.   Another cute "race" involved toddlers pulling a mini wagon while propelling a plastic rocking horse forward.  The highlight of all the competitions was the chuck wagon races, where a driver steered a team of horses pulling a chuck wagon around a figure-8 obstacle course and then around a race track.  But first, outriders (extra horsemen) needed to "break camp" and toss tent poles and a barrel into the back of the wagon.  The outriders then chased their wagon and were required to cross the finish line within a certain time period after the wagon.

After the chuck wagon races came the Grandstand Show, a singing and dancing extravaganza that included a mini concert by a children's rock band reminiscent of the movie "School of Rock", and a performance featuring electric current that became all the more dangerous and thrilling when it was executed during a massive thunderstorm.  At one point, one of the dancers had enough and walked off the stage rather than risk getting electrocuted.  The "featured headliner" of the show was silver-haired crooner Taylor Hicks, who won American Idol Season 5 and promptly was never heard from again until now!  The evening concluded with a fireworks display while it was still pouring rain.

Calgary is home to the world's largest network of skywalks, which are covered bridges that connect two buildings. Conceived and expanded upon since 1970, the Plus 15 Skyway consists of 62 bridges covering 18km.  While these connectors would be great for traversing the downtown core during the freezing cold winters, they have been criticized for impacting the vitality of street life by reducing foot traffic on the ground.  We could attest to this issue since even during a bright, sunny day in the midst of the Calgary Stampede, there were relatively few pedestrians on the streets that supported the skywalks.

There were no shortage of cool sculptures to be found while walking around Calgary.  The "Family of Man" installation consists of a series of 21 feet tall bronze people arranged in a circle, who seem to be interacting and conversing with each other.  It was first built by Mario Hubert Armengol for Britain's Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal.  The "Famous Five" monument in Olympic Plaza honours five women, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, from the late 1800s who championed rights for women and children.  The giant mesh head in front of the Bow Building, called "Wonderland" by Jaume Plensa has an entrance that allows you to view the head from the inside out as well as from afar.   "Sadko" by Sorel Etrog pays tribute to Russian ballet composer/director Serge Diaghilev, using Etrog's trademark nuts and bolt shapes, but rendered in bright florescent colours.

Even strolling several blocks down 4th Street, you ran across sculptures on corner after corner, commissioned by the 4th Street Revitalization Zone, and the City of Calgary.  Some of my favourites included "Starting Fourth", a set of 7 figures that seemed to be striding forward together, the colourful "Welcoming the Sentinels of Time", the pink "Chippendale Bench" which provided a nice respite after a long walking stretch, and "Hand Signals" which apparently spells out "DREAMS" in sign language.

The Glenbow Museum was showing an interesting special exhibit called "Bee Kingdom - Iconoclasts in Glass" that featured fantastical artworks in glass that are a cross between "mythology and nature".  Bee Kingdom is actually an art collective consisting of 3 artists, but the name seemed to also refer to the bee motifs prevalent in the works.  Part of the exhibition included a series of tongue-in-cheek "spoof" elixirs including "Workinol - Love Your Job" (I needed this while I was still working!) and "Gay Be Gone".

From Calgary, it was a short drive out to Drumheller to see the Hoodoos and visit the Tyrrell Dinosaur museum.  It was an eventful drive along the way, as we saw meshed elephant art on the overpasses of the highway, large expanses of bright yellow canola fields, and even the word "Rosebud" written up high on a hillside.  As we got closer to Drumheller, the terrain started to change, as mounds containing layers of different-coloured sedimentary rocks began to appear.

This was the precursor to the Alberta badlands, a barren stretch of terrain that included sandy mounds and craters, and a patch of hoodoos, which are tall, thin, pillars of soft sandstone rock that are topped or capped with a harder rock to form the shape of king oyster mushrooms.  The hoodoos took millions of years to form and stand 5 to 7 metres tall, are extremely fragile and therefore protected within the Drumheller Valley.

The Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum hosts over 40 dinosaur skeletons and 130,000 fossils, many of which were discovered in the surrounding badlands.  Dioramas in a series of galleries chronicle the history of life on earth.  A paleontological centre of research, the museum allows visitors to watch technicians as they prepare fossils for research and exhibition.  While I thought Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum had an impressive dinosaur collection, it now seems miniscule in comparison to the Tyrrell.

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