The views from Tom Campbell’s park make it a jewel in the heart of the city

Amongst million dollar homes, it’s hard to believe a small park with a perfect view still stands on top of a hill in the city’s beltline.

While most of Calgary’s hill areas are full of expensive homes, this park is reserved for citizens and their dogs.

This park sits on 18 hectares of land tucked in behind some of Calgary’s prime real estate. It’s located on the top of a hill overlooking the Bow River, Nose Creek and Memorial Drive. The 270-degree skyline frames downtown to the west. In the centre, the breathtaking view overlooks the Calgary Zoo and expands out to the east over the long stretch of highways.

Two rusty red steel pillars frame the entrance to the park. Walking down the main path, the bare trees start out wide where I stand and narrow down towards the end. The wind is crisp and cold, keeping the tip of my nose numb. The journey down the path feels calm and still. Within a few feet down the path of trees, the space draws me in. The crushing sound of my boots against the snow is all I hear. From where I stand, the path eludes me as if it will never end, the only visible landmark is a stone structure positioned far away.

After a short walk, I can see where the trees stop. Five stone columns tower over me in a straight line. A large incomplete cement circle rests on the ground about one-foot high and 20-feet wide. I keep on walking. Once I make it around the circle, I find it a good time to pause in front of the centre column. The stone columns hold plaques with photos and descriptions of the park’s history and native wildlife.

Northwest Poplar trees, at Tom Campbell’s Park, are the ideal environment for insect eating birds such as Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Birds.

Photo by Amira Caro

After the Great Depression, many merchants contributed to Calgary’s economic growth. Tom Campbell was a well-known hat maker who had an advertising billboard on this hill. Then, residents of this community ranched live-stock until 1939. From 1950 to 1985 the Calgary Zoo used the hill as a paddock for zebras, camels and other hoofed animals. The Bridgeland-Riverside Association campaigned strongly against proposed hotels and townhouses; the winning resulted in allowing the city to designate Tom Campbell’s Hill as parkland. A committee was established to restore it back to its original state as prairie grasslands. As I reflect on the old photos from mid-1900’s, it’s hard to imagine the rich history while I admire the scenery and watch several dogs playing fetch with their owners.

Hairy Woodpeckers call this park home but they aren’t easy to find, my best bet would be to close my eyes and follow my ears, rather than spot them through the snow covered branches. Richardson’s Ground Squirrels are seen here in the spring , but hard to spot around the city. The park attracts wildlife ranging from red foxes to snowshoe hares and even red-tailed hawks.

Behind me, I see a flat stretch of grasslands. Looking over my shoulder, I see a park bench looking out onto the downtown skyline. Here is a good place to take a moment, inhale the fresh breeze, sit down and watch the sunset. This place is something a person would have to experience to understand.

I stop to say hello to a passer-by, a middle-aged woman who greets me first. She is carrying her little Pomeranian over a big pile of snow when she looks up at me with smile. People are friendly here, which make it easy to exchange sentences without even knowing each other’s names. We just talk like neighbours.

“Do you think many people know about this place?” I ask.

“Not at all, if you really think it’s great now make sure to come back in the summer towards end of July to see all the butterflies, it’s really something,” she responds.

Two types of butterflies flutter here in the summer, Inornate Ringlets and Checkered Skippers. I certainly don’t need an excuse to come here again but incase you come here in the winter as I did then it’s deserving of a visit in the summer.

The highway view facing east on 18 hectares of grasslands at Tom Campbell’s Park.

Photo by Amira Caro

Walking a few steps down the gravel path around the columns of stone to the final destination, and then there it is, the ultimate view, standing on the peak of this hill, approximately 120 feet above the river. In every direction there is a flawless scene. The sky is blue lined unequally with pink, purple and orange hues. Behind me to the west, the sun is beginning to set and stretching wide across the lower part of the sky. Towards downtown, high-rises cluster to create a skyline of shiny glass on the concrete buildings. Straight across, the south side of memorial drive, I’m looking over the tips of many trees on the zoo’s property. Traffic zooms at high-speed on the east side overlooking Deerfoot Trail. The movement of vehicles comes into sight and quickly disappears – making it all so surreal.

I cover my nose with a soft fluffy glove in effort to ignore the chill. Because this very moment is where I want to be. I sink into this feeling. Peace. My arms at my side, I take a deep breath. The world seems to stands still. Fine scenery is what a visitor will find at Tom Campbell’s Park but the true gain is what you will feel. It’s no wonder why it’s Calgary’s best-kept secret. My advice, once you get here, see with your heart, follow your ears and let it all speak to your eyes.

acaro@cjournal.ca