As I cross the George C. King Bridge and enter St. Patrick’s Island, it isn’t long before I realise just how different this park is to the business areas of the city or even the other parks in Calgary. While Prince’s Island Park is always full of people, here there is barely anyone in sight.

Apparently, it was purposely designed this way, well not necessarily the lack of people (which I now attribute to the cold) but when the park and bridge were revitalized from 2013 to 2015 at a cost of $45 million, it was definitely done so on a smaller scale.

Clare LePan the director of communications for Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) says the company designed the park to be enjoyed in many different ways.

“But it doesn’t have the scale or capacity to host events of the same size as Folk Fest on Prince’s Island, for example,” she says.“We wanted to create something that was a little bit more intimate in nature and that could allow people to experience it in different ways through the year.”

LePan explains that part of the “intimate” design was the different features of the island that allow for different events. Depending on the size of the feature, and where on the island it is located.

One of the most popular features of the park is one of the first parts of the island visitors come to after leaving the bridge. The seasonal breach —a restored water channel, and sand bar —is a great opportunity for people, and families to play in the water.

Richard White, editor of the website “Everyday Tourist” explains there’s a reason why the breach is so popular:“They’ve done a great job of designing it. It becomes basically a natural splash pool, I think it’s one of the few places in the world where you can actually go to a major river and basically put your foot in the water. It’s a natural river, it’s not a canal, and it’s not contrived,” says White.

I pass on putting my feet in the water though, as I’m not sure those that designed the park intended people to do so when it’s no longer summer.

“It is a spectacular change from what was basically almost an abandoned park in the middle of the city center and now is probably one of the most interesting urban parks that has been built in Canada in the 21st century,”- Richard White

To be honest, I actually have a bit of an eerie feeling on this island. I don’t know if that is because this is all new to me, or the park looks like it could flood at any moment. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

LePan explains that the construction company CMLC worked with did studies on possible floods. Construction had just barely started before the June 2013 flood, but the design of the park held up, and there were no changes made.

As I come to the middle of the park I reach “the Rise” hill which apparently is supposed to be really great for tobogganing, but it looks more like a death trap to me. The Rise is also used for outdoor movies in the summer, which is definitely more my kind of thing.

Evidently, I took the wrong way up the hill as I am gasping for air by the time I get to the top of those menacing stairs.

LePan explains that the Rise was created with leftover material after one island channels that had been filled in over the years was cleared out. She also explains that the Rise gives people the opportunity to see the beauty of the city.

“The intention of [the Rise] is the vantage of the island is so interesting and captures the full view of the city. So the rise is a way to get people up higher and see it,” she says.

Once I catch my breath I am able to see a better view of the park and I notice some joggers.I wonder what they are doing running on such a cold day.

When I returned a couple of weeks later I passed another jogger and I couldn’t resist asking him why he was running when it’s so cold.

He says, very emphatically, “Running keeps me warm.”
ducksJust a sample of what can be seen as one walks around St. Patrick’s Island. Photo courtesy of Bill Atwood.
The island has many other features that make it unique, including Pearce’s walk and the cove. Both of these attractions allow visitors to get close to the water giving them amazing views.

While the plaza on the very east end of the island may not look like much, it can accommodate events of up to 5,000 people. LePan states it was designed in such a way that it “can host a variety of different events without impacting the actual grass or ecosystem around it.”

This island and its revitalization hasn’t been completely problem free. One of the biggest issues has been the slides at the playground, which originally were metal, making them too hot for anyone to go down during long summer days. As well, the length of the slide caused sliders to go down at speeds that proved to be too fast, particularly for children. After CMLC studied different ways to slow the speed it was decided to replace the slides with a climbing structure, and other features that are more welcoming to children.

White states that to him these challenges don’t mean the redesign was unsuccessful, and the island is amazing compared to what it was before it underwent the revitalization.

“It is a spectacular change from what was basically almost an abandoned park in the middle of the city centre and now is probably one of the most interesting urban parks that have been built in Canada in the 21st century,” says White.

LePan agrees, “It’s really a beautiful way to connect with the natural environment and still be on the edge of downtown Calgary.”

Editor: Huyana Cyprien |

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