Monday, December 27, 2010


Bridgeland-Riverside has a colourful history
1901 to 1925:; Life in old city neighbourhood seems to go at slower pace
By Valerie Berenyi, Calgary Herald
December 27, 2010 6:24 AM

Want to know how the "ethnic" side of Calgary grew up? Take a trip back in time through Bridgeland.

One of Calgary's oldest inner-city neighbourhoods, this northeast community retains elements of an Old Country village. Here you can still see seniors hanging laundry on the clothesline or gardening in their vegetable plots. Much has changed with condominium development on the site of the former General Hospital -- built in 1908 and imploded by Ralph Klein's cost-cutting government in 1998 -- but the tidy, modest houses on tree-lined streets remain. Life seems to go at a slower, quieter pace here.

Marshall Libicz is a living link to that past.

Born in 1922 at the General Hospital, he's the son of an ethnic Ukrainian who'd moved to Canada in 1912 after leaving Galicia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A hale and hearty 88-year-old who loves to garden, Libicz remembers his childhood Bridgeland as largely rural.

People kept chickens, tended market gardens and grazed cattle on vacant prairie land. Milk came, not from the local grocery store run by the father of Alberta's recently retired lieutenant-governor Norman Kwong, but from a neighbour's dairy cow.

A streetcar line rumbled along First Avenue, ridden by working men coming home from the Dominion Bridge Co., Riverside Ironworks and the CPR rail yards, "all smeared with grease," says Libicz.

"I remember when Bridgeland-Riverside was just about all German," he says, referring to the neighbourhood's proper name, and some of its early residents.

Indeed, the community has two distinct areas: Riverside is generally considered to be the flats below the old hospital site; Bridgeland is located above it.

Geography played a role in shaping this unique community: the Bow River frames the area's southern edge and a steep crescent-shaped escarpment, carved by retreating glaciers, envelopes the community to the west, north and east.

From the late 1880s to the turn of the century, members of the Blackfoot Tribe camped in the area and kept a close eye on the fledgling town that was springing up on the south side of the river.

The north bank of the Bow opened up after Langevin Bridge was built in 1882 and the First Nations people gave way to a flood of European newcomers after 1905.

While earlier Anglo-Saxon immigrants had settled in residential areas developing south and southwest of downtown, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians and Ukrainians made the north side their new home. The flatlands of Riverside, a.k.a. "Germantown," were dominated by ethnic Germans from Russia. Italian, Ukrainian and other immigrants settled in Bridgeland.

They left their indelible imprint on the community's houses, churches and businesses, many of which remain and make the area so appealing. There's the pretty, onion-domed Russian Orthodox Church of All Saints overlooking Bridgeland and the striking St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Riverside, to name but two.

Other colourful residents in the early 20th century were Gypsies, who parked their caravans along the north bank of the Bow River until 1927. Even spicier, the area was infamous for its red-light district.

"Numerous brothels also operated in Riverside before the community's 1910 annexation to Calgary," writes Douglas Stinson in an essay posted on the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association website.

"Before this jurisdictional change, the area was the responsibility of the Mounties, not the city police. Following the annexation 'the women from across Langevin Bridge' relocated to the Nose Creek valley, outside city boundaries. This red-light district remained sheltered by the escarpment's eastern slope until the First World War, when the houses were either torn down or destroyed by fire."

Calgary annexed Bridgeland in 1907 and added Riverside to its holdings three years later. Much of the land was owned by the CPR, and the subdivision of Bridgeland was parcelled out in 25-foot lots, sold to working men through the real estate firm of Toole, Peet and Co.

Around the same time, Bridgeland-Riverside was further connected to the bustling city by streetcar lines. Real estate and land development were booming.

"(The years) 1910 to 1912 marked Calgary's biggest boom ever," says public historian David Finch. "It was huge."

By 1912, 47,000 people lived in Calgary and enjoyed the fruits of urban prosperity.

Many of the city's landmark sandstone buildings -- old City Hall, the Palliser Hotel, Memorial Park Library -- were built during this heady time.

Residents of Bridgeland-Riverside took advantage of the new urban parks located on three little islands in the Bow River, St. George's, St. Andrew's and St. Patrick's, linked together by rustic bridges and tethered to the mainland on either side by steel bridges. There was a free zoo, promenades, playgrounds with a merry-go-round, which Libicz enjoyed in his childhood. Picnicking was a popular pastime.

And there was a new fair called the Calgary Show, started in 1912 by cowboy promoter Guy Weadick. It lost money and wasn't revived until 1919. In 1923 it was renamed the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede.

Walter Chitrenky, Libicz's pal and another longtime Bridgeland-Riverside resident, recalls going to the Stampede when he was eight or nine. At the time, two ponies, a bicycle and a cocker spaniel puppy were given away in a draw for school kids.

"I wanted that pony," says Chitrenky, 80, "but it was never me."

Later, he bought a horse for $35 and pastured it near Tom Campbell's Hill. Once, it got loose and tore up a cabbage patch in a nearby market garden. Chitrenky was fined $10.

The two men chuckle about having played street hockey on the community's dirt streets, using frozen horse turds for the puck and goalposts.

As with the boom-bust cycles that endure today, Calgary's overheated economy collapsed in 1913, bringing hard times.

Annie Gale, a community activist later elected to city council (making her the first female alderman in the British Empire) observed the lack of fresh vegetables, most of which were imported, expensive and poor quality. She led the charge to establish the Vacant Lots Garden Club in 1914. Calgarians could rent a plot in an empty lot for $1 a year. The program provided food and beautified the city by ridding vacant lots of weeds, dust and garbage.

In Bridgeland-Riverside, a long section of vacant-lot gardens sprouted behind three houses on McDougall Road. Libicz said his parents, in whose home he still lives, started gardening there in the 1930s. Later, he did too -- for 70 bountiful years.

In 2008, Libicz and his friend Mike Ricketts, a 66-year-old retired military man who grew up in Hillhurst but moved to Bridgeland-Riverside 11 years ago, were instrumental in having the city declare the Bridgeland/Riverside Vacant Lots Garden a municipal historic resource. Today, they share the garden with 10 neighbours.

The year 1914 must also be remembered for the discovery of oil at the Dingman No. 1 well in nearby Turner Valley. The boom that followed was short-lived, lasting only May to August -- curtailed by the outbreak of the First World War.

The war years made for a difficult, even frightening, time for some residents of Bridgeland-Riverside.

"Antagonism towards German residents flared up in 1916, when mobs of soldiers and civilians wrecked the White Lunch Restaurant and demolished portions of the Riverside Hotel," writes historian Max Foran in his book Calgary An Illustrated History (James Lorimer & Co., 1978).

"It was city council policy between 1916-18 to employ only British subjects and to dismiss all individuals born in alien territory."

After the Great War, life returned to relative normalcy, only to be interrupted in October 1924 when a subsidiary of Imperial Oil drilled below the Dingman well and struck it rich again, tapping into a major oilfield, and igniting natural gas and yet another boom.

"(For years) they were flaring gas in Turner Valley and if you looked to the southwest, there was a glow in the sky," says Libicz, an eyewitness to Calgary history in the making.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Modest rise predicted in Calgary home prices
Investing In Real Estate; Monthly numbers up one per cent
By Mario Toneguzzi, Calgary Herald
December 21, 2010

Short-term year-over-year house price growth in Calgary is expected to be in the range of five to seven per cent, says the Conference Board of Canada.

In its Metro Resale Index released Monday, the board said the average MLS sale price in the city in November was $397,239, up one per cent from October.

Also, on a seasonally adjusted annual basis MLS sales in November increased by 8.6 per cent from October to 21,017.

Realtor Christina Hagerty, with Re/Max Realty Professionals in Calgary, said at the beginning of this year when first-time buyers were entering into the market, industry experts felt a ripple effect was bound to happen.

That led to a surge of sales in the $400,000-$500,000 range which allowed for a third quarter spike in the luxury market as well.

"We are seeing two predominant clientele out there right now," said Hagerty of her inner-city clients.

These are "first-time buyers, which after calculations prefer to own instead of rent as it's either cheaper or similar monthly payments; (and) savvy investors who know that some people are still hesitating or unable to enter into the real estate market and are buying properties to rent."

Hagerty recently sold a 2,239-square-foot penthouse condo in the Arriva highrise in Victoria Park for $1.125 million. She has another 2,799-square-foot penthouse condo in the tower listed for sale at $1.899 million.

Hagerty said the local real estate market is buoyed by move-up buyers as well as investors, not speculators, who are buying properties for long-term hold investments.

"People are confident they have their jobs in Calgary and know they are here for at least a few years," she said.

"They are making decisions based on this -- moving their families, starting the kids in schools. They aren't maxing out their mortgage approvals. With the low interest rates, people are taking advantage, but aren't using every last dollar they are approved for. They are leaving a little for a rainy day."

The conference board forecast the following Canadian centres to experience seven per cent and higher short-term year-over-year price growth: Saskatoon, Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivieres and Saguenay.

Joining Calgary in the five to seven per cent range were Victoria, Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Regina, Winnipeg, Halifax and Newfoundland.

Despite the optimistic outlook, in Calgary seasonally-adjusted sales in November were down from the 27,816 recorded in November 2009 and the average price was just slightly off the $400,865 from a year ago.

In November, there were 891 single-family home sales in Calgary for an average price of $455,460. In October, there were 888 transactions at an average of $444,744.

In the condo market, Calgary saw 310 MLS transactions in November, the same as in October, for an average sale price of $284,667. That was down from the average of $287,793 in October.

The conference board said the sales-to-new listings ratio in Calgary was 0.521 in November, increasing from 0.494 the previous month. A year ago, it was 0.653. It classified Calgary as currently being a sellers' market.

On a seasonally-adjusted annual basis, listings for Calgary were 41,929 in November, up from 39,406 in October but down from 44,500 a year ago.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Volumizing your small space
Designers can make dinky digs look grand and sprawling rooms intimate — and their services are multifarious
By Samantha Pynn, National Post

In the early ’80s, people who worked with designers lived in a world of Champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It was the late great design legend Mark Hampton who said that it wasn’t until the ’80s that a decorator entered through the front door and not the trade entrance. But these days, it seems like everyone is working with a designer.

In fact, I can’t remember a week passing without someone asking, “Can you give me the name of a good designer?”

The answer: Yes. As a design editor at Style at Home magazine, I have worked with hundreds of the best and brightest as well as rising stars.

From mansions where you can park 10 cars in the entrance, to teeny nests where you’d barely have room to store a bicycle, I’m always awestruck by the way designers can manipulate space. A professional can make a sprawling space feel cozy and a small space feel, well, spacious.

You may be thinking, “There isn’t much a designer can do with my 500-square-foot condo.” Or, a small space is easy to furnish because you need a lot less. Au contraire. Tiny spaces can be the toughest to design, but somehow designers have a knack for making them feel larger. On one of the first photo shoots I assisted at, designer David Overholt divided a 400-sq.-ft. bachelor pad to give it a wall of storage including bar, office, bedroom, living area-cum-TV-watching spot, plus dining table. If you’ve ever lived in a bachelor pad, you know that’s a lot of function in a very small space.

I understand if you may not have the budget to go all Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but there are so many capacities in which you can work with a designer, from consults to full-service design. There are even online services popping up all over the Web.

Croma Design, a full-service company owned by Amy Kent and Ryan Martin, recently opened a subsidiary company, Croma Express. Instead of driving all over the city, you go to their downtown Toronto studio, where you can view different Ikea cabinet doors alongside other hardware and finishes. With the help of one of their designers, you pull together the kitchen of your dreams. “Designing a kitchen can be overwhelming; we help people make the right choices and upgrades to make it look like a million bucks,” Mr. Martin says. Croma Express focuses primarily on kitchens. “But we also open our design library of wallpaper, paint, fabric and other samples for those working on other rooms,” he says. Shopping all over the city is time-consuming. “Having everything under one roof with a designer to guide you in the right direction saves multiple trips and hassle.”

The right fit: Find someone whose style is simpatico with your own. If you like ultra-white spaces, you may want to rethink working with someone whose portfolio is filled with red floral sofas and bouillon fringe. Plus, there are designers who shift from mod to trad with ease, but be sure to see examples of their work.

Go online, extract names from decorating magazines, watch the daytime TV shows that feature designers’ work, and, of course, ask your friends. If a designer you love is too busy to take on your project, ask them to recommend someone.

One-time consultation: Next, determine the level of service you need. One-time two-hour consults can cost $500 and are for people who have done their research and have images of furniture, paint chips and fabric swatches. If you know what you like, but have specific decorating questions or you’re worried you’ll make a mistake, a consult will give you the affirmation you need. (Tip: If you can’t remember what colour underwear you’re wearing, then take notes. Two hours of decorating talk is a lot to take in.)

Many designers don’t give consults because it’s difficult to download in two hours everything that one needs to do to a space. Moreover, one thing that’s guaranteed in the land of design is that something will go wrong. The chandelier will be too small for the dining table or the floors will have been stained the wrong colour.

Every time something goes wrong or changes, 10 other things have to change, too. It’s the domino effect.

And two hours of consultation will not really equip you for a soup-to-nuts makeover.

Designer floor plan: This is ideal for anyone confident in his or her style and colour choices, but who wants a furniture roadmap. Explain your needs to a good designer and he or she can give you a floor plan that tells you where your furniture should go and what the maximum sizes should be. This will prevent you from buying a sectional that will block both entrances of your living room (ahem, not that I know anyone who did that a long time ago).

For those who like to do the legwork, a designer Web package will give you a paint-by-numbers design plan. Online packages range from floor plans to complete room designs. You are required to fill out a questionnaire about your decorating and lifestyle, as well as submit a photograph, and you’ll need to measure your space and send inspirations shots. Prices range from $350 to $2,500.

Full-service design works just like the full-service gas station. A designer will take care of everything, you just have to sign off. “It alleviates stress for people who don’t have the time or expertise to pull their space together,” says designer Kimberley Seldon of Kimberley Seldon Design Group, who offers many different levels of design. Like anything that makes your life easier, good design costs money. Hourly rates start at $125 per hour for a junior designer. A senior designer with a well-known reputation can command $325 per hour.

“Busy working couples understand the value of having something taken care of properly,” Ms. Seldon says. Indeed, a designer will pay attention to every detail, help you make purchases that last, save you from costly mistakes, and project-manage (ever try to arrange a plumber, cabinet maker, electrician and painter in that order?).

If this sounds costly, remember you don’t need every square inch of your home professionally designed. “We’ve occasionally worked on a task-only basis for clients, preparing lighting plans, sourcing furniture for a single room, or styling a large bookcase,” Ms. Seldon says.

Treat your designer right: Your full-service designer may feel like your best friend, but respect that your project is a job (kind of like when you go to the hair salon). Many designers work around the clock — if you’ve ever designed a room you know that it’s a time-consuming process — but will keep contact hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Emails at 11 p.m. count as work, too. I don’t know any lawyer who doesn’t clock and charge every phone call and email. And unless you only use your home’s back door yourself, be sure to see your designer in through the front.

Monday, December 6, 2010



Friday, Nov.26 2010 to Sunday, January 2, 2011 (CLOSED CHRISTMAS DAY & EXCLUDING ZOO YEARS EVE)

6:00 pm to 9:00 pm - Gates close at 8:30 pm

Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo is one of western Canada’s most spectacular and largest Holiday light shows. Surround your family with the beauty and splendour of over 1.5 million twinkling lights. This interactive light show immerses you in the spirit of the season and will tempt all five senses. Chat live with Santa direct from the North Pole with our exclusive SantaVision.

Our creamy hot chocolate will always hit the spot on a cool night, while our cracking fire pits will keep you toasty warm as you listen to the festive choirs singing holiday favourites.

Our kids play areas are ideal for Holiday fun with the likes of Snowball Alley, Snow Bowling, The Reindeer Stables or Snigloo, where you can make your own igloo! Our customer favourites Candy Cane Lane and the Tunnel of Love are always part of the show because where else will all the couples get engaged?

PLUS Dashers Dog Sled Races brought to you by Petland

•Visit this activity the first 10 nights of Zoolights to enter daily draws for $10 Petland gift certificates.

•Plus you will also be entered to win a FREE Pet photo with Santa that will be drawn for on Friday, December 3

•Dec. 6 -30 enter to win a $50 Petland gift certificate

•On Zoo Years Eve (Dec.31) a special draw will be made that night for $50 Petland gift certificate

Don’t forget we are taking non-perishable food bank donations at our north gate all throughout Zoolights! As a thank you, you will receive a 2 for 1 coupon for Zoo Admission in the spring time.

Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo has so much to offer. It epitomizes the holiday spirit that is why it’s Calgary’s Favourite Holiday Tradition! Don’t miss it!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It's a tough time to sell a condo
Sales down 38% from a year ago in condo market
By Mario Toneguzzi, Calgary Herald
December 2, 2010 8:00 AM

CALGARY - Calgary's housing market continued to show signs of stagnation in November, with MLS sales down in both the single-family home and condominium markets compared with a year ago.

The last few months have been a tough time to sell a property in the city.

Elizabeth Klein, one of those fortunate sellers in November, was able to sell her condo through Christina Hagerty, a realtor with Re/Max Realty Professionals.

Klein's condo in the Mission neighbourhood was originally listed by another realtor in April. When she re-listed the property with Hagerty at the end of August, the list price was dropped by about 5.7 per cent. It sold for about 3.6 per cent less than the new list price.

"I think we had it priced too high at the beginning," said Klein. "We were going on what the old prices were before the recession kind of kicked in and I think that is why we didn't sell it. And when Christina came along, we decided to lower the price and we were successful. With her it took us a couple of months to sell."

"There's so much on the market. A lot of new ones have come on. People have got a lot more choice," said Klein. "I'm glad that we sold it. Obviously we would have liked to have got more, but I think we were dead on the market. So I think that's why it sold. There's a lot of people out there buying. But I think there's a lot of people sitting on the fence saying OK, maybe prices might come down a wee bit more. I think that's what's happening."

Statistics released Wednesday by the Calgary Real Estate Board indicate single-family MLS sales were off by close to 19 per cent from November 2009, while the average sale price dropped by about two per cent.

In November, there were 891 single-family transactions for an average price of $455,460, while a year ago for the month there were 1,095 sales for an average of $464,444.

In October of this year, there were 888 sales for an average price of $444,744.

The condo market was particularly slow in November with only 310 sales and an average price of $284,667. Sales are down by more than 38 per cent compared with a year ago (504) while the average price has decreased by just over three per cent from $294,264.

In October of this year, there were also 310 condo transactions at an average sale price of $287,793.

"Indeed the second half of 2010 has proven to be weaker than expected and Calgary's housing market is taking some time to regain traction," said Diane Scott, president of CREB.

The month-end inventory for single-family homes for sale was 3,869 compared with 2,658 a year ago, while for condos it was 1,882 compared with 1,434 in November 2009.

Subdued employment growth, especially in the area of full-time jobs, has tempered sales activity, said Richard Cho, senior market analyst in Calgary for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

"The average price has moderated as the housing market continues to favour the buyer. Prices are expected to firm up in the early months of next year as the economy improves, supporting job growth, while active listings decline and move to more balanced levels," Cho said.

Todd Hirsch, senior economist with ATB Financial in Calgary, said the city's housing market is still adjusting to the new realities of the economy.

"While the economy has definitely improved, the housing market has lagged," he said. "There was a notable run-up in activity around a year ago when buyers were anticipating higher mortgage rates. So now, in the second half of 2010, the market of potential buyers is a bit thin. That's weighing down sales and prices."

- - -
Calgary MLS Sales

Category / November 2010 / October 2010 / November 2009
Single-family sales / 891 / 888 / 1095
Single-family average price / $455,460 / $444,744 / $464,444
Condo sales / 310 / 310 / 504
Condo average price / $284,667 / $287,793 / $294,264
Source: Calgary Real Estate Board