St. Patrick’s Island Grand Opening

Following its official reopening on July 31, 2015, St. Patrick’s Island was the site of a Grand Opening Ceremony on September 15 to celebrate the park’s completion. After several years of intensive construction and restoration by Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) – the organization responsible for the remarkable improvements underway in East Village and the Rivers District – this 31-acre treasure at the city’s centre reopened as an amenity-rich, family-friendly park space for all Calgarians to enjoy. It is now accessible on both sides of the Bow River, so Calgarians can ride, walk, or drive to enjoy this magnificent space.

For the past month, St. Patrick’s Island has held summer events and activities all over the park, with attractions such as Movies on the Rise that took advantage of one of the best views in the city to provide Calgarians with a wonderful outdoor movie night experience. Families have been enjoying story time readings and sketching classes, and there have even been free Spanish classes for anyone to join.

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Adela Harja visited the island for the first time at the grand opening, and was really impressed with the space. “What I like about it is that it’s very quiet, the accessibility of it, and that it is surrounded by the beauty of nature, and right now with the fall colours and view of the city makes it a very cute and cozy place.”

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The abundance of natural space in the park makes a great location for Calgarians to take photos or sketch the landscape. Lucie O’Reilly has been a frequent visitor to the park, and told us about her experience both before and after the redevelopment. “Over the years this whole island was very grungy and there was nothing really here, sometimes it didn’t even look very safe – it was not attractive for people to come here. I’ve been here a lot since it opened July 31, and I’ve been able to rediscover all the different areas – I think what they’ve done with it is wonderful. Since all the different summer events were announced, I’ve been attending Andrea’s drawing class on Monday nights. I’ve always wanted to see if I could draw, so this has really pushed me into it. I’ve also been here for the story time readings, because I look after my grandson 3 days a week, so I’ve brought him with me. I’ve come back myself when the weather has been good, sketched some more, taken photos, and put pictures on Facebook to let people know that it’s here and that they should come and discover this because it’s a wonderful area. It connects the old part of the city and is pushing us more East, and with all the new work there I’m really excited about things like the National Music Center. There is also a lot of artwork around here that I really enjoy, I find it inspiring and inviting.”

“In designing and creating the island’s long list of amenities and attractions, our focus was squarely on functionality,” explains Michael Brown, CMLC’s President & CEO. “Just as it considered and responded to the ways individuals and families would use the park, our master plan for St. Patrick’s Island maximized the park’s value as a venue for community events and festivals. For example, the Rise is a perfect setting for community celebrations, performances and movies in the park, and the small amphitheatre at Confluence Plaza is ideal for performances and other programs throughout the summer.”

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Samantha Cross has visited the island three times with her new food truck, The Tea Wagon to supply the movie night crowds with an assortment of delicious teas. “They’ve been doing some amazing events all summer, the movie nights were great, and now the lunch for the grand opening – I think it’s a really great idea to do a picnic in the park. There have been other great free events such as yoga, story time, sketching classes, Spanish classes. I really like that you can access it from both sides of the river, and how close it is to the East Village, so now you can go from one side to the other and really enjoy all aspects of the city much easier than before because of the bridge. East Village is really making an effort to bring the community together as well as all the different small businesses, and I really appreciate that as a small business owner.”

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The Tea Wagon uses entirely compostable and recyclable products. Sam told us that when she thought about opening a food truck, it was not really negotiable that their cups and sleeves and everything that was used in the trailer wasn’t compostable. She adds, “I think that a lot of the big chain stores tend to generate a lot of waste with their cups, and I always feel really disappointed when I go for coffee and I can’t do anything good with the cup, I just have to throw it in the garbage. It was really important to me to not be adding to that pile of waste, so it’s great to do events that support green initiatives like composting bins.”

Shaped by extensive public engagement to ensure the park would meet the needs and desires of its users, the master plan that guided the restoration of St. Patrick’s Island was based on the principles of “biophilia” – a landscape design approach that nurtures the instinctive bond between people and nature and provides opportunities for life-enriching experiences and activities by fostering harmony between constructed and natural elements.

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Clare LePan from CMLC told us more about the process behind the redevelopment:

“When the master plan for East Village was completed in 2009, St. Patrick’s island was identified as an important part of that because not only was it a neighbour to East Village, but it was this large regional park amenity right on the doorstep of downtown. We knew that in order for East Village to be successful we needed to address some of the challenges and issues with St. Patrick’s Island.

The island as it existed then was probably one of the least used park spaces in Calgary, but at the same time one of the most unique, because not many cities have a 31-acre playground right in the middle of the Bow River. We embarked on a master plan in 2010 to understand what was possible on the Island. Through part of that process we went through a series of different research phases to understand the context of the island as it existed at that time, as well as historically.

We had historical and ecological studies done, and the ecological studies helped us to understand what was happening with the park at the time and through that we started to understand that it was in need of repair, and that it was decaying, overgrown, and not a lot of people were using it. Our master plan was to remedy that and return it to a regional park that people could enjoy and feel safe using. Through the process we did a public engagement program, where over the course of 6 months we had a number of different events and initiatives to understand what Calgarians wanted to see happen in the park. We received overwhelming feedback that people wanted to see it remain a natural environment, and one that they could feel safe using. We often heard the phrase that people wanted to “put their toes in the water”, and since the Bow River is quite a fast moving stream we wanted to provide ways that people could access the water, because there are not a lot of opportunities for that in downtown Calgary. That really set the tone for what has happened on the park since that time.

We did a request for qualification process to identify the landscape design team that would lead the process, and through that we selected W Architecture from New York, and Civitas from Denver. They partnered and their idea was for a “living island”, where people could still enjoy the natural environment, but also have areas of activity where they could have different types of events.

Really, the focus is on the balance between a natural and an active park. Active didn’t always mean that it had to have things happening, but that there are opportunities for people to come down and create their own experience. Things like the seasonal breach are ways for getting people in the water safely, for kids to splash in the water and perhaps skate in the winter. Those kind of pockets of activity are sort of scattered throughout the park.

Our hope is now that the park is open, that people will rediscover St. Patrick’s Island, or discover it for the first time and create those experiences, whether it’s at an event that is hosted at the space, or just by enjoying the pathways on their bikes, or checking out the rise in the summer. There will be a variety of different programs that take place that suit all different age groups and interests.”

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Providing a dramatic example of the park’s versatility as a festival space, Beakerhead (beakerhead.com) – a local organization that seeks to advance understandings of science and engineering as part of everyday life through art and culture – is kicking off a week-long spectacle on St. Patrick’s Island. Towering skyward atop The Rise, people will see The Fabulist – a 35-foot inflatable public art, conceived and created by the three ‘Bees’ of Calgary art collective Bee Kingdom Glass (beekingdomglass.com): Ryan Fairweather, Tim Belliveau and Phillip Bandura.

“St. Patrick’s Island is one of Calgary’s oldest parks, but after its prime in the mid-1900s the park fell into neglect. Despite its location at the heart of Calgary’s inner city, it was all but forgotten when CMLC took up the restoration challenge a few years ago,” says Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “Now, we’re delighted to return to Calgary and Calgarians a welcoming park space that’s as versatile as it is beautiful.”

For more information about St. Patrick’s Island and CMLC, visit http://www.evexperience.com/patrick-island/ and www.calgarymlc.ca

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