Cities like Montreal, New York or Vancouver are well known for their vibrant street life. But Calgary has something uniquely its own—another level of ‘streets,’ a set of thoroughfares and byways bustling with people, shops and cafés. Understandably, they’re easy to miss—you have to look up to see them.
Calgary’s Plus-15 system is a network of enclosed skywalks that rides an average of 15 feet above our city streets (hence the name). The bridges allow pedestrians to bypass busy streets and avoid the city’s sometimes inclement weather. At over 16,000 metres in length and interconnecting more than 100 downtown office buildings, banks and hotels, the Plus-15 network is the largest elevated, climate-controlled pedestrian system in the world. And in addition to providing a warm and dry way of getting around town, this network of skywalks also offers some interesting shopping, eating and viewing opportunities.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Plus-15 is all the food courts. These are great places for a little respite, but if dining à la cafeteria tray isn’t your style, there are also charming cafés and delis. Marcello’s, in the Calgary Place building, is a European-style deli featuring 20 kinds of Illy coffee, and homemade sandwiches and soups. Sunterra Market in the TransCanada Tower is also worth a visit. Designed to look like a classic Paris boulevard with cobbled paths and street lights, the market features hot entrees, a fresh juice bar and a decadent dessert pâtisserie. At 520 – 5 Avenue, Sonoma Cafe offers a sit-down experience with nicely detailed sandwiches, salads and thin-crust pizzas; try the strawberry, turkey and brie on sourdough.
Many shops and services on the Plus-15 are geared to the office crowd—a host of shoe repair shops, dry cleaners and dental clinics. But some of the gems include Madison & Page in Fifth Avenue Place. Geared towards the chi-chi exec, you’ll find Porsche Design day-timers, business card holders sporting Frank Lloyd Wright designs and smart looking Cartier pens. Beside Madison & Page is Charlotte’s Web, a pretty floral shop where you can gaze into a cooler filled with colourful mums, roses, and birds of paradise as you walk by. Art Central anchors part of the Plus 15 with three levels of galleries, studios and stores, including Uppercase Gallery, with quirky one-of-a-kind design-oriented gifts.
The Plus-15 also intersects The Core, a shopping complex occupying multiple levels of TD Square, Scotia Centre and the Calgary Eaton Centre, and anchored by The Bay and Holt Renfrew. Combined with Bankers Hall, this shopper’s paradise has high fashion shops and a slew of specialty stores and standard offerings.
A relatively unknown feature of the Plus-15 is the artwork. There are several galleries, including the Stephen Lowe Art Gallery in the Bow Valley Centre, specializing in Canadian fine art. Windows Gallery in the Epcor Centre features six windows showing rotating installations by artists featured at artist-run centres like Truck, Stride and The New Gallery.
Even outside of such dedicated spaces, you’ll see paintings on walls, massive lobby installations, and scattered sculptures. And in the southwest corner of the Plus-15 you’ll find something that’s distinctly Calgary. Integrated within the Centennial Parkade is the Udderly Art Legacy Pasture. In the mid-’90s, local artists designed and painted life-sized cow statues to be auctioned off for charity. The remnants of the herd are kept at the Legacy Pasture, free for viewing.—Andrew Mah