How can this Calgary intersection turn into a green park? There's history there

·3 min read
A City of Calgary pilot project is bringing a historic park, Balmoral Circus, back to life.
A City of Calgary pilot project is bringing a historic park, Balmoral Circus, back to life.

(Google Maps)

From the ground, Balmoral Circus looks like an intersection with touches of greenery around it. But as the name suggests and aerial maps show, the historic Calgary design is a perfect circle.

The circus, located on Second Street and 19th Avenue N.W., started out as a quiet suburban intersection in the 1900s but has gone through several phases in its more than 100-year history.

Now, a city pilot project may return Balmoral Circus to a complete park, harkening back to its roots as an urban design experiment known as the City Beautiful movement.

The quirky design is one of two like it in the city. Balmoral Circus really shone in the 1930s, when the famous William Reader, Calgary's parks superintendent at the time, took a liking to it and re-envisioned the intersection as a park.

Back then, it was planted and manicured to show off Calgary's civic harmony and social order — putting the city on the map with ornate flower beds filled with thousands of annuals, in a quiet suburban circle.

Presently, the city is experimenting with traffic calming measures as part of the North Hill Area Neighbourhood Streets Program.

The City of Calgary's Desmond Bliek is the project lead. He said the city is looking at ways to keep neighbourhood streets safe and liveable for communities, especially as the city grows and densifies, planning future transportation opportunities like the Green Line.

"If there's additional growth along the Centre Street corridor, some more people choosing to live and work along those streets, then there is a need for a better public realm to support that," Bliek said. "Whether that's bus lanes or future LRT, people were really concerned and sharing their desire to make sure that the parallel residential streets remain calm, quiet, and pleasant places to be."

Intersection has been closed to traffic

In the summer, the intersection was closed off completely, with temporary barriers, and made into a circular park while officials studied the impacts.

"We've definitely heard from people who've had their travel patterns impacted," Bliek said. "There's been an increase in kids playing in the space and really an increase in activity … things have gotten a lot quieter with respect to vehicle noise."

Already, there are street hockey nets nestled at the end of the paved road. Tables and chairs along with a fire pit have been placed around the circle to provide somewhere safe outdoors for people to gather. With the recent snow, there's a huge pile in one of the four quadrants, where kids are playing and digging forts.

City of Calgary
City of Calgary

Asia Walker, who is the Heritage Resources & Research Coordinator with Heritage Calgary, said it's an exciting project for the group.

Heritage Calgary is typically known for its work in preserving buildings, but Walker said in recent months they have shifted their focus to define heritage more broadly.

"It's our people and our landscapes and events and organizations, things like that, that have really defined who we are today as Calgarians," Walker said. "By broadening our perspective to include things like this cultural landscape, we feel like we're making heritage more accessible in a way and more integrated into people's daily lives."

Will the flowers return?

She sees the traffic calming pilot as a bit of a reclamation — and hopes the city can find a way to bring flowers back to Balmoral Park.

Walker also lives within five minutes of the landmark, and she used to bike through on her way to work before the pandemic.

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

"I think it's fantastic," Walker said. "The historic side of it is really cool. The transportation side is really cool. And just the ability to be outside in a unique space in a suburban neighborhood is a really cool experience"

The city plans to add permanent traffic calming infrastructure to Balmoral Park. Engagement feedback will dictate what that looks like; the designs are still in the works.

Bliek said there may be more opportunities for feedback in March.