We’ve all heard that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Calgary, which continues to undergo an urban renaissance. Over the next five days, CREB®Now will present a series where it has sat down with five influencers who have helped develop the city as we know it today.
The path less travelled
It may seem strange that a woman originally destined for medical studies is instead helping build what will ultimately be the largest pathway and urban parks system in the world.
But Calgary’s giant $60-million Rotary/Mattamy Greenway — to encircle the entire city when completed — is a symbol of the less-travelled path Myrna Dubé herself has chosen in more than four decades of service to her adopted city.
The working life of the Montreal-born CEO of Parks Foundation Calgary (PFC) has run from instructor in a genetics lab and office work, to corporate and community relations as well as business and land development.
But throughout her career, she has learned that, in Calgary, big things can happen.
“In Calgary, there is the ability to dream big and go with the dream,” she said. “All sorts of things get in the way and you have to turn directions. But a problem is an opportunity.”
The Greenway, which is PFC’s largest project to date, is being built in partnership with a network of corporate donors, some of the city’s largest land developers (including Canada’s largest homebuilder Mattamy Homes), Calgary-area Rotary clubs, individual citizens and all levels of government.
When completed in 2017, the 138-kilometre, three-phased network of urban parks (including off-leash dog parks), family fitness areas, extra-wide pathways for biking, running and walking, and environmental wetlands will directly connect to 55 communities, with nearly 400,000 residents.
By linking with the city’s system, Calgary will have 1,000 kilometres of continuous pathways when the Greenway is finished; by the end of this year, 90 per cent will be completed.
Dube believes it is a project unlikely to have happened anywhere but in Calgary.
“Every city has rules and regulations, but here you can go out on a limb,” she said. “You work together and understand the vision and you can realize something that has not been done before. I love that part.”
Dubé’s passion for creating may have come from parents committed to education for their children and a frugal Belgium-born mother who believed “in making things, not having them given to you,”
Dubé earned a bachelor of science in biology as part of the first graduating class of the University of Calgary.
Instead of pursing medicine, however, she married and worked as a lab instructor in genetics at the university until, with five children and an educator husband, she sought a job with summers off.
Dubé did office work for the Catholic school board, “but throughout all those years, I always had a passion for learning. “
She took night business management certificate courses at U of C and met a classmate who had joined the Calgary Airport as it devolved from a federally owned entity to a locally owned authority. Intrigued, she joined Calgary Airport Authority (CAA) as executive secretary to the president, went on to lead the innovative Attractions Alberta baggage carousel displays and then became director of corporate and community relations.
Dubé later went on secondment for a year to work with PFC and Calgary’s Rotary Clubs to develop and implement Calgary Rotary Challenger Park, a barrier-free recreational facility, built on airport land.
Next was land development for CAA — “I took a crash commercial real estate course” — and leadership of the authority’s Canadian Centre for Aerospace Development.
In 2008, development dried up and Dube joined PFC, becoming its CEO in 2009.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity,” she said. “It was a chance to be involved in something dear to the hearts of Calgarians — its green spaces and natural surroundings —which put Calgary on the map.”
The 30-year-old foundation, established by the City of Calgary, has built 100 playgrounds, led development of Shaw Millennium Park, North America’s largest free outdoor skatepark, and distributed more than $10 million for amateur sports, through a two decade partnership with the Calgary Flames and Saddledome Foundation.
Dubé says those born or living in Calgary, “have won the lottery” not only because of the spectacular natural landscape but because the corporations and service clubs that reside here, give back to their community.
“They help make dreams reality,” she said.