A city rediscovered: 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss is a guidebook for locals

Article content

Jennifer Bain had a reliable sounding board when she was writing and researching the book 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss.

Her friend has lived in Calgary for more than 15 years and told Bain from the get-go that she would have to dig deep to find anything that would surprise her about her hometown. “There’s nothing you can tell me about Calgary that I don’t know,” she said.

Jennifer Bain, author of 111 Places in Calgary You Must Not Miss, Courtesy, Emons Publishing.
Jennifer Bain, author of 111 Places in Calgary You Must Not Miss, Courtesy, Emons Publishing. jpg

Bain, who only lived in Calgary briefly in the early 1990s, took this as a challenge and found herself constantly running ideas past her friend. Every time she was able to reveal a new place or interesting sight in Cowtown, it was considered a victory. “I was like ‘Did you know this? Did you know that?” says Bain, in an interview with Postmedia from her home in Toronto. “No?”

It was Bain’s preferred method for gathering information, rather than ask for tips outright from locals.

“The old newspaper journalist in me was very much like ‘Keep your research to yourself.’ ” she says. “Don’t tip your hand. Don’t put it on Facebook and ask people to weigh in because then other people start writing similar stories. It was a bit more of the big reveal.”

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Photo by Christina Ryan. From the book, 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss. Courtesy, Emons Publishing.
Photo by Christina Ryan. From the book, 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss. Courtesy, Emons Publishing. jpg

This approach wasn’t just for secrecy. It also plays into the fact that it’s Calgarians, not visitors to Calgary, who are actually the target demographic. Part of a series established by Cologne-based Emons Publishers, 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss is only the third book to explore a Canadian city in this way. The concept has proven popular in Europe but is still fairly novel on North American shores. Which is one of the reasons Bain is reluctant to classify 111 Places as a travel book. It may contain one or two recommendations for places to eat or shop, but it is not meant to be a Lonely Planet-type guide.

“I try to describe it as Atlas Obscura-like vignettes,” says Bain, who worked at the Toronto Star for 18 years but began her career as a summer intern at the Calgary Herald. “The publisher was very clever when they launched the series. They have always been aimed at locals, that is the primary market. It was very much supposed to be ‘You think you know your city so let’s dig in and see. Look at all these great places. Here are the stories behind them. Here’s ideas for what you can do on Sunday.’ ”

The Secret Seed Pod. Photo by Christina Ryan. From the book 111 Places in Calgary You Must Not Miss by Jennifer Bain. Courtesy, Emons Publishing.
The Secret Seed Pod. Photo by Christina Ryan. From the book 111 Places in Calgary You Must Not Miss by Jennifer Bain. Courtesy, Emons Publishing. jpg

With photography by former Postmedia shooter Christina Ryan, 111 Places offers a nice balance of shining a light on hidden gems such as the Paradise Lanes bowling alley, Mandy Stobo’s wall of portraits at Righteous Gelato, the “Bookscsalator” at the Central Library, the Second World War-era Enigma machine at the Military Museums, The “Secret Seed Pod” sculpture at Prairie Winds Park, and the “Testicle Festival at Bottlescrew Bills,” which celebrates so-called Prairie Oysters as a gourmet delicacy.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

The Testicle Festival at Bottlescrew Bill’s. Photo by Christina Ryan. From the book, 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss by Jennifer Bain. Courtesy, Emons Publishing.
The Testicle Festival at Bottlescrew Bill’s. Photo by Christina Ryan. From the book, 111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss by Jennifer Bain. Courtesy, Emons Publishing. jpg

But she also includes places, facilities and businesses that a  good number of Calgarians will already be familiar with. But most of these chapters come with a surprising twist, with Bain unearthing interesting tidbits in these chapters. She writes about the labyrinth at Knox United Church, the controversy surrounding the Giant Blue Ring public art sculpture and the colourful 100-year-old history of the Palace Theatre. At first glance, readers might be confused by Bain including Hudson’s Bay in the book, an elegant if hardly unheralded landmark in the city’s core. But Bain takes the opportunity to retell the story of the 1985 takedown of notorious serial killer Charles Ng, who slipped into Calgary after a killing spree in California and shot a security guard in the hand after shoplifting a can of salmon and a bottle of Pepsi.

“It’s a boots-on-the-ground kind of book,” Bain says. “You could go to the Hudson’s Bay because you are looking for architecture and it is an interesting 1913 Edwardian, commercial-style building. You could go there because it’s a beautiful selfie spot with arches and the arcade outside. Obviously, they don’t have a plaque and it’s not on their website, but it’s where Charles Ng was taken down. That was the fun part, going on location to all these places and finding out that they are a lot more exciting than I thought they would be.”

Bain did have some parameters to follow that were set in place by the publisher. Emons had some strange requirements that are perhaps specific to German sensibilities. For instance, it arrived at the 111 number because 11 is considered a lucky number in Cologne. All books must include both a tattoo artist (Bain highlights Reverend Deacon Trevor Jameus, a tattoo artist/pastor) and a public toilet (Bain chose the RiverWalk Public Toilets.)

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

But for the most part, the rule seemed to be the more eccentric, the better.

Ryan, who currently teaches photography at SAIT, has presumably photographed every obscure nook and cranny Calgary has to offer during her decade-plus stint shooting for Postmedia. But even she was surprised by some of her assignments. That included getting down in the weeds with some hungry goats put to work by the City of Calgary as weed control in parks. She was even allowed to take a baby goat home with her, albeit temporarily.

“I thought that was really fascinating,” Ryan says. “I got there first thing in the morning and all the goats were in their pens. They herded them across the street to where all the weeds were. I got to get right up with the goats and be with them as part of the herd and crawled around on the ground with them. Then (the goatherder) just asked ‘Would you like to take him home?’ So I did and we had a goat in our backyard.”

Bain says she hopes the book is an eyeopener for Calgarians and an invitation to see the city through fresh eyes.

“Everybody is chasing things that are new and ignoring things that are fading away or things that you drive by and see them so many times that you never stop to think about them,” she says. “These things are there at the edge of your consciousness but you’ve never stopped and they have incredible stories tied with them.”

111 Places in Calgary That You Must Not Miss is now available in bookstores.

News Near Strathroy

This Week in Flyers