Thinking back to my younger years, when I had watched NTSA (more commonly known as 新秀) on cable television, Calgary's stages paled in comparison to that of Toronto and Vancouver. Where the urban cities of the nation had grand stages with LED monitors, stairs, colourful lighting, and several angles supporting the livestream, Calgary's show was always set on a barren stage with nothing beyond a black curtain. Even the camera, the only one in presence, captured just one angle of footage and barely aired for the viewing of other provinces.
Given the city's size, availability of highways in and around the core, and nonexistent congestion, it was extremely easy to navigate. That is, if you are driving. Buses were spotted on a number of occasions, but superseded by sightings of the CTrain. Although frequent, there were but two LRT lines in total: one running east-west, and the other in an orthogonal lightning bolt format up along areas of commercial interest.
Parking is cheap, even in the downtown core, and not ridiculously inconvenient like Toronto and Vancouver. Meter parking was absurdly affordable, with free parking offered on weekdays in the late afternoon hours and weekends. Parking in a downtown garage until 7 PM set us back a ridiculously economic three dollars, and further allowed us to elect our preference from an abundance of spots. Unlike in the GTA, "fighting for parking" was a non-issue: there were simply so many spots to choose from!
In the days leading up to our arrival, I had been made aware of snowfall. However, only sunny skies and above-zero temperatures were experienced during our stay. Warned we had been of Alberta's harsher, colder climate, but we had been fortunate enough to bask in extremely forgiving conditions for both downtown exploration and hiking.
Had the visit taken place during decidedly ruthless winter climate, my remarks would emerge distinctly less favourable. Winter tires are not optional (as much as the sleepy polar bear seems to think) and are very much critical for safe navigation.
Beyond mercury levels, one cannot refrain from addressing the obvious difference in terrain. Steep elevation differences and beautiful, snowcapped mountains are the two prominent variances from Ontario. These observations are consistent with BC/West Coast environments, with the exception that Vancouver often has abrupt, winding paths through residential districts.
b) Proximity to Banff
Calgary's proximity to Banff makes for wonderful hiking trips and even brief weekend getaways. Personally, I found Banff to be a much-appreciated escape from the downtown and uptown cores, as it combined fused elements of nature with tourist-geared urban development (cellular signal, familiar franchise names, modes of active transportation).
The same striking view of the mountains could also be seen from the YYC airport's many glass panels, albeit from a farther distance.
c) Environmental fees
Environmental deposits and recycling fees apply here, just like BC. Though I oughtn't be surprised given the city's Midwest/West Coast vibes, I was appalled at the sight of additional fees tacked onto the sleepy polar bear's (unwarranted) purchase of individual artificial milk bottles.
a) Snow Removal
Drawing from historical climate data, one would expect adequate snow ploughing services in the face of frequent winter storms. It was with disbelief that we found all apshalt lots unploughed and unshovelled. Where private properties often hire their own snow removal contractors, our hotel parking lot revealed no actions of this sort. Even the T&T parking lot was a slushy, muddy mess that had us sliding and skidding. Cars proceeded to drive into these lots and onto the snowy patches, compacting the underlying layers to form ice.
Major streets and downtown walkways were cleared for the most part, but icy patches remained against the curbs and side streets witnessed the same fate as private parking lots.
My utter shock towards the inadequacy of municipal services was discussed at the dinner table during the wedding, to which locals responded matter-of-factly. In a somewhat proud manner, an elderly resident declared that "We don't need to shovel because we have warm currents flow through the city, and everything will melt!". But nothing had melted.
Ice and snow remaining in place even long after reaching temperatures of dissolution were circumstances that Torontonians could neither relate to nor accept. While we are quick to shed winter boots for running shoes when mercury levels soar, this practice could not be applied in Calgary due to poor - nonexistent? - snow clearing procedures.
The same observation can be extended to the drainage network. Should the appropriate grades be utilized (and grates unobstructed), even copious amounts of precipitation would not require much manual labour for comprehensive removal.
Interactions with locals spanned service staff in Downtown Calgary, Signal Hill, and Banff City Centre and Cantonese-speaking residents clustered in the Harvest Hills community. The general consensus was that everyone was friendly and appreciated the small city vibes. Younger crowds adopted a trendy appearance (with playful doodle tattoos being very common) and cool yet approachable demeanour. With that said, one can compare the overall visual of a Calgary native to born-and-bred Torontonian as being more pristine and structured (fitted clothes instead of oversized), as well as embracing character without unnecessary pride or hostility.
As with all urban areas, homelessness is not uncommon. A stretch of grocery cart-pushing beings were spotted along the Bow River walkway, just as we were about to round into Chinatown from Riverfront Avenue.
Our experience with a female swindler and her sap story of being twenty-five dollars short of rent in Inglewood was an amusing approach indeed. The long, tedious explanation of her backstory ultimately led to asking for money. I had scanned her up and down, observing minimal filth covering her clothing, a cheap-looking red patent leather handbag in hand, and some griminess under her nails, but devoid of obvious indicators of homelessness. The swindling came in a non-aggressive format - immediately after debarking from a bus, mind you - and continued as such even after we denied to help. Physical and verbal attacks may have come with homeless interactions in larger cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and even Ottawa, especially once our backs were turned. But we found her repeating her sap story patiently to another group of pedestrians shortly after.
Needle disposal boxes in the bathroom aren't common sightings in the GTA unless encountering a low-income area like Regent Park or Jarvis and Gerrard. In both Vancouver and Banff, these biohazard-labelled disposal boxes were found in predominantly touristy areas, and in the Starbucks washrooms no less: Gastown at Water St/Cambie St and Banff at Caribou St/Banff Ave. (Though, this Gastown outpost is apparently now closed.) A "No needle disposal" sign was pasted on the sanitary napkin disposal bin in the YYC airport stall.
The very presence of these labels and fixtures is an indication of users of that area.
As mentioned previously, service staff were observed to be amicable across all visits.
b) Operating Hours
For the most part, Calgary establishments adopted reasonable operating hours: independent retail shops till 6 PM, cafés till 8 PM, and restobars till 12 AM - 1 AM. Some places closed early, but nothing like BC's ridiculous 7 PM closures (and 2 PM openings). Combined with low congestion levels, I was able to hit all POIs before their slated shuttering.
c) Shops and Variety
Pleasant it was to discover that, in addition to nationwide loyalty program-equipped franchises like McDonald's and Tim Hortons, Calgary also offered a number of local franchises ranging from coffee roasters (think Te Aro/Pilot in Toronto and Small Victory in Vancouver) to independent clothing stores. The selection offered a sense of familiarity paired with innovation and discovery.
It is also worth noting that their T&T was larger and grander than ours, with a broader product assortment and additional vendors along their perimeter. Further similarities to BC could be concluded in their produce section, from which floral, juicy Envy apples, gargantuan green grapes, and delectable oranges were obtained.
Before their introduction into designated grocery stores, alcoholic beverages were exclusively retailed at LCBO in Ontario and BC Liquor in British Columbia. I attempted to find an Alberta equivalent of these regulated outlets, but was astounded to find that alcohol retailers in Calgary were privately owned. By default, this would equate to a lower degree of regulation. While the looser restrictions enable independent brewers to reach consumers easier, it poses the risk of having alcohol imported illegally and in the hands of those underage.
The price of living is far lower than back home, given that Alberta's total tax does not exceed 5%.
The majority of Calgary was found to be Caucasian, with only a handful of non-English speakers and people of colour spotted in Banff for tourism. Harvest Hills is primarily composed of Cantonese speakers, specifically those originating from Hong Kong. It was a surprising revelation: One truly did not need English skills in that area.
Toronto and Vancouver, in comparison, are arguably more multicultural on the population spectrum, with instances of minority groups clustering in given districts and suburbs beyond urban centres.