Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Friday, July 31, 2020

inglewood...calgary's first (and coolest?) neighbourhood

Calgary's 9th Avenue, in the city's south-east Inglewood is the original main street. Located just east of the iconic island of office towers in downtown, Inglewood grew out of bustling Fort Calgary, the city's first settlement built in 1875.

The fort and Inglewood, respectively, were established in the heart of Blackfoot territory, on what is now Treaty 7's Camp Mohkinstsis, meaning 'Where the Elbow meets the Bow' (

On the banks of the Elbow, across from Calgary's busy downtown, you will find the oldest structure in Calgary known as the Hunt House, built in 1876 and part of the Hudson's Bay Company (Canada's oldest company, fur trading since 1670). On the same property not far away you will also find the Métis Cabin, a similar structure from the same decade.

Look across the street and you will see refurbished warehouses hosting art galleries, architecture firms, hot yoga and cool stores. My favourite is Fair's Fair (for Booklovers - their slogan, not mine)...a paradise for anyone who is, well, a book lover. You will most probably get lost in this mammoth used book store.

But, what most Calgarians identify Inglewood with is music. There are some now-classic venues supporting independant, home-grown and not-so-local musicians and songwriters, such as the Blues Can, Ironwood, Festival Hall and the Nash. Even though singers now (currently) need to sing in the 'aquarium' to protect patrons, the sound and vibe is still the same.

The Ironwood Stage & Grill moved to the old Garry Theatre, which opened as a motion picture house in 1936, becoming the Loose Moose theatre (many a time spent watching improv there in my youth!) in the late '70's, and a decade ago transforming into its current manifestation.

In this very walkable neighbourhood, there are many businesses which have become Calgary institutions, whose home has seemingly forever been Inglewood. One of the first (paid) events I ever planned was twenty years ago this summer, a 50th surpise party at Kane's Harley Diner. The vibe in there was perfect for a '50's-themed party, and not at all cheesy.

Nowhere is the dichotomy between young and old, vintage and modern as strikingly represented as in Inglewood. The neighbourhood has, in my opinion, masterfully renewed, re-energized, and re-invigorated what was once a very run-down, neglected part of the city, by combining the historic, original flair with contemporary elements...infills neighbouring originals...

fashionable, yet unique boutiques like Antiquaire or Espy (my new favourite) alongside...

quaint, rustic shops...where a baby lies on a blanket in the middle of the shop, the owner sells you her book of Victorian flowers which was actually just meant for decoration, and you leave with your arms overflowing (which really isn't the plan while doing research)...

and whimsical, yet utilitarian. Is there anything more iconic than Crowne Surplus? I have always loved popping in here, picking up something random for my brother like paracord (only the real stuff!). It's like a museum. It is a museum.

Don't forget to eat in Inglewood...or just drink. There is an incredible variety of excellent options from cafés to pubs to Mexican, Italian, drive-in, and high-end. I have a hard time choosing what I'm in the mood for when I'm in Inglewood...because I want everything here! Do I want coffee at Gravity, or a beer at the Hose & Hound, Chips & Salsa with a side of Vanilla Stoli at the Blues Can, or breakfast at Delightful? So many choices.

But if you want to head to the beginning of it all (well almost, 1906), and possibly chat with a ghost, then reserve a table at The Deane House. Lying on the banks of the Elbow River, with a view of the Calgary Tower and the Saddledome, this historic building was once a part of Fort Calgary until it was rolled over the river in 1929 in a feat of engineering, to its new home.

Craft breweries have popped up here in the past few years (haven't they everywhere), creating a new, chill vibe on a couple of Inglewood's older corners.

And, of course, mainstays like Calgary favourites Spolumbo's Fine Foods & Deli, or the landmark Inglewood Drive-In which you pass as you head over the bridge to the zoo, or another historic dining establishment, Rouge, are yummy options for a full or near-empty wallet, and for many a different tastebud. When it's open, I can't stay away from The Swan public house. It could possibly be my favourite the whole world.

In any new city, and on many a blog post, I highly recommend taking a walk off the main street to see how the locals live, and that is no different here. Wander off of 9th Ave, in either direction, and stroll among the houses to get a feel of home here. In Inglewood the houses are still unique and interesting, sometimes eclectic, but always different from their neighbour. There is no cookie-cutter pattern here featuring some designer 'look'. The 'look' is the design of Inglewood...and it creates an atmosphere of authenticity which personally I love.

The buildings and homes are as "well-rounded", shall we say, "street-wise" as its citizens, and in all honestly, it's not always pretty. You might just see a drug deal going down on one of the side streets, or a shady character or two, and oh the sirens...there are lots of sirens. This isn't the suburbs (thank God!) and it's never boring. But, it is safe, which is always important to this particular, mostly-solo, female traveller.

Inglewood is nestled in the armpit of the Elbow and Bow Rivers, where they join up to flow happily ever after together (unless they flood, then it's not so happy). There is a beautiful river pathway following the Bow from far in the north, through downtown and along Inglewood's leafy edge. There are rafters, dog-walkers, stroller-pushers, Canadian Geese (many) and a bike or two.

It's the perfect place to experience Calgary's history, modern vibe and the doorway into the great outdoors. Start here, in Inglewood, and go forth into the wild frontier, just like they did back in the day...but use a bike instead of a horse, that's what I do.

If you go:
  • take the time to eat.
  • you can park for free for up to 2 hours practically on every street, an amazing thing in Calgary.
  • don't miss visiting Kensington, Calgary's first suburb...also very cool, and just minutes away - follow the Bow River upstream and make a right :)

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