Calgary’s urban parks offer nearby residents a slice of the great outdoors in the heart of the city
At the beginning of July last year, John and Ildi Arlette took their first-ever walk through Confederation Park.
By the end of that month, they had bought a home in Mount Pleasant sitting near the crescent-shaped green space that stretches across 162 hectares – including eight hectares of wetlands – in northwest Calgary.
“We were on a date night and someone had told me about Confederation Park,” said John Arlette. “Ildi is from Ontario and I realized I hadn’t shown her much of Calgary – I hadn’t even been to the park myself.”
After that visit, the Arlettes sold their home in Signal Hill, becoming both inner-city – and park-side living – devotees.
Confederation Park borders on the neighbourhoods of Capitol Hill, Collingwood, Highland Park and Mount Pleasant, from 24th Avenue and 14th Street N.W. to 30th Avenue and 10th Street N.W.
Since moving to the area, the Arlettes, and their nine-year-old daughter, have become park “zealots” and are in the park – established in 1967 to mark the centennial of Canada’s Confederation – two to three times a week.
“We are always close to nature, something most people have to leave their homes to experience,” said Ildi Arlette. “We look out our windows or glance from the street and it’s there.”
For Marvin Quashnick, who has lived a block from a coulee entrance to Nose Hill Park most of his life, Calgary’s largest municipal park has long been a place to get lost in nature and escape everyday city stresses.
“I don’t have to drive to the mountains. I literally can step out my back door,” said the 57-year-old vice-president of the Thorncliffe Greenview Community Association. “It is so big you can lose yourself – safely.”
Quashnick also remembers, as a young child, accompanying his mother into the expansive Calgary green space – then privately owned – to pick Saskatoon berries.
“You can still find them there, growing wild,” he said.
“I don’t have to drive to the mountains. I literally can step out my back door. It is so big you can lose yourself – safely.” – Marvin Quashnick, vice-president of the Thorncliffe Greenview Community Association.
The 1,129-hectare Nose Hill Natural Environment Park is one of the largest urban parks in Canada, and reflects its location here on the Prairies. It is awash with Canadian grassland ecosystems and wildlife, from deer and coyotes to porcupines and gophers. It eschews structured amenities, such as sports fields and paved pathways, in favour of 300 kilometres of informal trails and stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and Bow River Valley.
Nose Hill also holds a number of archaeological sites, including stone circles that once held down edges of tipis and were sacred places for aboriginal ceremonies and burials. Today, the park, which also includes a more recently added medicine wheel, is a place of spiritual healing for many visitors.
Created in 1980 after significant citizen opposition to planned development on the land, Nose Hill Park is bordered by 12 communities: Edgemont, Dalhousie, Brentwood, Charleswood, MacEwan, Sandstone Valley, Collingwood, Cambrian Heights, Beddington Heights, Huntington Hills, Thorncliffe and North Haven.
The smaller Confederation Park (formerly, North Hill Coulee) is rife with wetland habitat that serves as a migratory centre for several waterfowl species, as well as Douglas fir, dogwood, poplar, willow and Colorado spruce trees.
It is more urbanized than Nose Hill, housing the Confederation Park Golf Course, picnic tables, toboggan hills, cycle paths, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and the annual Lions Festival of Lights.
With the benefits of park-side living come the potential for encountering wildlife, including coyotes.
“They walk through the neighbourhood all the time. They live in Nose Hill and work in the neighbourhood,” said Quashnick. One has visited the Arlettes’ front lawn, as well.
The City suggests keeping dogs on leashes even in off-leash Nose Hill areas, and while coyotes are generally no threat to people, these animals “should be treated with respect and never approached or fed.”
Encroaching wildlife aside, residents enjoy the active lifestyle that comes with direct access to a popular urban oasis.
“It’s hard to stay inside when the park is beckoning,” said Ildi Arlette.