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Bowness Park


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Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
Bowness Park is a large City of Calgary park, approximately 30 hectares in area and two kilometers in length, situated on the south bank of the Bow River in the community of Bowness. The site is comprised of a relatively flat and long alluvial island separated from a residential enclave via a narrow channel and is accessed via a bridge from 48 Avenue. There are numerous buildings and landscape features on the site associated with the park including covered picnic shelters, restroom facilities, clusters of picnic tables and fire pits, a large lagoon, a concession pavilion, a miniature rail track, two playground areas, open grassed areas, and clusters of mature trees and plantings. The park amenities are linked by gravel and paved trails that follow the natural topographic contours of the landscape. The park has open vistas to the north bank and provides direct access to the Bow River.

Heritage Value
Bowness Park is valued as the preeminent leisure, public gathering, and recreational resort for Calgarians for over 100 years and has evolved through time with the community's needs. Bowness Park, established in 1911 by the City of Calgary, was initially developed as an urban trolley park at a time when family parties were in vogue. Situated at the end of streetcar lines, trolley parks were conceived by streetcar companies to encourage people to use their services on weekends and were a popular park type in the late 1800s to early 1900s in Canada and the United States.

The park was initially conceived by John Hextall (1861-1914), a solicitor, who envisioned developing the Bowness area as a high-end suburb known as Bowness Estates. In 1908, Hextall purchased a large area of the Bowness Ranche property, which included two islands that would become Bowness Park. In 1911, the Hextall Agreement was signed with the City of Calgary that saw the transfer of the islands and a bridge to the city for development as a park, in exchange for the extension of streetcar service to the area by 1912.

The park originally contained picnic areas, shelters, and camping cabins carved out of the largely treed, riparian landscape. In 1914, a man-made lagoon with adjacent shallow pond, and connecting canal was constructed, which served as a skating rink in the winter and swimming in the summer. During the park¿s heyday, from the 1920s to 1950s, the park transitioned into a recreational and social hub with access to a deeper main swimming pool, boating, and skating. Facilities to support these activities included a dance pavilion (1919), a carousel built by Hershell Spillman Company (1919), a teahouse (1923), an orthophonic device in the lagoon that played music (1929), and Canada¿s first floating fountain (1928). In 1931, due to its popularity, the dance pavilion was enlarged to include a dining room - an area known as 'Twilight Corner'. In the 1960s, pathways were paved and lit, and the park's amusement rides were consolidated in one area, later known as Funland, which operated as until 1988.

Bowness Park is also valued as a designed landscape that showcases the integration of natural and managed landscapes, park buildings, and amenities. Bowness Park was developed based on recommendations from Thomas Mawson, internationally renowned town planner, who was hired to develop a plan for the city in 1913. As an advocate of the City Beautiful movement, Mawson believed that parks and green spaces were beneficial for the promotion of harmonious social order. His 1914 report called for the creation of a green belt on the south slope of the Bow River and his vision came to fruition in 1914, under the supervision of the city¿s Parks Superintendent, William R. Reader. During this early period of development to 1919, a lagoon, playground, and vernacular structures were constructed and open grassed areas and natural forests defined. The park's design was based on the English tradition of tamed but natural landscapes. The park underwent a large redevelopment in the late 1950s to early 1960s, with the addition of Modern architectural-style buildings, including a new dance hall, a concession building (1958) and washrooms (1961) designed by J.H. Cook & Associates.

Bowness Park is also valued as a landmark as the foremost leisure and recreational resort in Calgary that serves as a collective memory for the community and for its bucolic quality that provides a vital link between people and nature

Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage character of Bowness Park include but are not limited to its:

- siting on a low-lying island on the south side of the Bow River;
- views of the north bank of the Bow River; view down the lagoon;
- water features including a natural east-west channel off of the Bow River feeding into the lagoon; footbridge and attached canal with oblong smaller pond north off the lagoon; a fountain in the lagoon;
- associated landscaping including: natural and managed stands of trees (including Riverine Poplar and White Spruce) framing open grassed areas; a collection of Douglas Fir trees on the western extent of the park; Riverine Poplar lining river; natural areas in the park at the east and west ends and along the River and channel edge;
- historic circulation pattern, consisting of two road loops on the east and west side of the park;
- clusters of picnic amenities throughout park including: picnic tables, fire pits, and barbeques; two playground areas;
- wooden-framed rustic picnic shelters with log veneer cladding and exposed structural posts (a total of four historic shelters - two square and two rectangular buildings); and
- remnants of use as an amusement park including: miniature train track on east extent of park.


Street Address: 8900 - 48 Avenue NW
Community: Calgary
Boundaries: Blocks 40, 40A, 40B, 40C, 41, 58, 59 and 60, Plan 5565AH
Contributing Resources: Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1
Structures: 4

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.09590 -114.21601 Digital Maps

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
694932 5664176 Digital Maps NAD83


Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2014/03/31

Historical Information

Built: 1912/01/01
Significant Date(s) 1919 to 1929
Historic Function(s): Leisure : Park
Current Function(s): Leisure : Park

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0374
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link: http://www.calgary.ca/PDA/PD/Pages/Heritage-planning/Discover-Historic-Calgary-resources.aspx?dhcResourceId=37
Data Source:
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