Calgary is still a young city, whose fame has been gained only in the last 40 to 50 years. Most of its growth can be traced to the discoveries of Albertan oil earlier in the 20th century and high prices over the past few decades, but the city has managed to diversify into a multicultural, global metropolis, remarkable among boom towns for its forward-thinking perseverance and flexibility. It’s motto? Onward.
Western expansion by European-Canadian settlers generally lagged behind that of the United States. As such, the first Europeans to settle in the Calgary area were Canadian Mounties of the 1870s, seeking to restore order and wrest control from American traders and settlers operating on land claimed by the British Empire and the fur trading Hudson’s Bay Company. The Hudson’s Bay Company, in particular, drove settlement in what are now Canada’s western provinces, and began using Calgary as a trading post shortly after the Mounties’ establishment of a fort.
In the early 20th century, the first of Calgary’s oil fortunes would be discovered, though a true rush on Alberta’s reserves would not begin until the 1940s onward. In 1912, Calgary held its first Stampede, a ten-day rodeo, fair, and agricultural festival that serves as the central cultural event of Canada’s own country western heritage, sport, and simple fun. The annual Calgary Stampede remains one of the country’s most noted fairs, in recent years attracting over one million guests.
By the 1970s, Calgary’s population was approaching half a million, and leaped ahead with the spiking of oil prices shortly thereafter. It was not long before the city recognized the consequences of overdependence on a commodity with prices that could be as dramatically volatile as oil, and Calgary made an effort to attract different types of business. Today, the city remains heavily tied to the oil industry, but is also home to a wide range of other large Canadian firms, with communications, technology, and other industries settling into the city’s warren of skyscrapers.
Calgary’s unique and relatively recent history is well documented in the Glenbow Museum and Heritage Park Historical Village. The Military Museums provide an in-depth primer on Canada’s eventful military history.
Some of Calgary’s most stunning attractions lie outside of town. Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, lies not far west. The otherworldly magnificence of this Rocky Mountain preserve, full of imposing, snow-topped peaks and glacier-fed lakes, must be seen to be believed, and the small mountain towns of Banff and Canmore make for warm and welcoming stops.
Calgary’s fairly long stretch of recent economic growth has turned it into a great shopping destination. The multicultural 17th Avenue, or International Avenue, makes for excellent shopping, dining, and nightlife activities. The Core Shopping Centre serves as downtown’s retail mecca, with over 150 stores and building-to-building walkways that make it a meeting place and central hub. Among other options, the 250+-store Chinook Centre takes care of shoppers looking for nearly unlimited options, while high-end retail, including Vine Vera Calgary, takes up residence at the Sunridge Mall.