Acting with a Light Touch

Downtown Calgary sits astride one of North America’s scenic rivers – The Bow, which reaches from Banff in the Rockies all the way to the Saskatchewan River and Hudson’s Bay. The 30 acre island has been the site of river fording by buffalo, First Nations, the Northwest Mounted Police, and later modern use as a campground. In recent years the campground was closed, and the park languished, becoming a site of homelessness, drugs and sex crimes.

With the establishment of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation a new vision emerged, beginning with a new bike and pedestrian bridge linking the redeveloping East Village with the island and the Light Rail Station just north in the Bridgeland neighborhood. CMLC reached out to the public to create a master program plan for the island to be restored as a premier example of biophilic design. Civitas with W Architecture won a design competition to create an active, nature-based park on the island for residents of the growing downtown and nearby populations.

Our analysis revealed that the island once had two breaches, one that was annual and one that was occasional. The annual breach flowed with water creating an ever changing internal beach, and the occasional breach had once supported a rich wetland across the island. Yet development, bank armoring, compaction, roads and other features had destroyed these natural ecological processes and left the island nearly barren compared to its once rich habitat mosaic.

The design restores a functional breach and wetland and uses those excavations to create a 10 meter high mound which provides a prospect upriver and to downtown, while also enabling people in East Village to see the activities on the island and encouraging them to cross the new bridge to enjoy the park. The scheme emphasizes a number of features that will give people of all ages new ways to interact safely with the river, with the old growth cottonwood gallery, the wetland, and a variety of activities in the amphitheater, picnic grove, playground and more.

The project began construction in 2013 with completion in 2015 at a cost of $13 million.

.Client: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation
Partners: W Architecture and Landscape; IBI Group; Matrix Solutions
Completed: 2015
Budget: $13 million
Location: Calgary

St. Patrick’s Island was named “Greatest Public Space in Canada 2016” – Canadian Institute of Planners