The back-story to “I Am Calgary”
It’s a milestone week for us here at “I Am Calgary” (IAC). It’s the anniversary of our first birthday since go-live on April 14th, 2018. We’ve had such fun. Discovering. Exploring. Filming. Photographing. Meeting. Posting. Sharing. Writing. These are all critical elements of what I wanted to do to showcase life in and around Calgary, my new home city. It’s the essence of what gave rise to our launch slogan: “Detour. Explore. See more”. But let me first set some context.
Having relocated from sunny South Africa to set up home with my life-long friend and new bride in 2012, we settled in Calgary where Christa had been living for the past 12 years. I had the fortune of becoming a tourist in what was now my new home town. Christa was constantly intrigued by the little things that I noticed about the city. Things that had faded into the background blur of familiarity for her over the years. The city’s layout and address system. The variety and diversity of city parks, gardens and public spaces. The extensive pathway system. The beauty of the meandering Bow River through the city. The captivating views of the Rocky Mountains on the western horizon. The phenomenon of the Chinook Arch. An appreciation for the seasonal changes. Seasonal activities within the city limits like cross country skiing, downhill skiing, luge, zip line, outdoor skating, walking, jogging, picnicking, road cycling and mountain biking. The bustle of the downtown core. The urban sprawl and neighbourhood treasures. The public transit system. Historical buildings and museums. Annual events and festivals. Sometimes it takes someone with fresh eyes and a new appreciation to remind locals of what they have available to them on their doorstep.
After being laid off, following a two-year employment period as an engineer in the volatile oil and gas sector, we opened our home through Airbnb to visitors passing through Calgary. We were constantly surprised by the number of foreign guests staying with us overnight en route to or from their Rocky Mountain explorations. They had no idea what Calgary had to offer. I’d hazard a guess that more than 70% of our guests hadn’t taken the time to consult a travel guide or done a Google search to see what the city might offer them and whether it was even worth staying an extra day to explore.
These two groups of people, the established locals and the bypassing travellers, became the target of my website initiative. My goal was to introduce both ends of this spectrum to some of the gems that I was discovering around my city. I wanted to encourage locals and tourists, alike, to take time to: detour from their schedule; explore familiar and undiscovered elements of Calgary and, in the process, see more than they had expected or even knew existed. The vision was simple.
During my launch year of IAC, visitors to my site and social media were introduced to Gary, my mascot. I intended for Gary to become the persona of my site and my brand. I had great fun creating some stop-motion snippets highlighting places around the city. We spent time introducing the Telus Spark science centre, the Calgary Zoo, the Calgary Tower, the Plus 15, the Tourmaline outdoor fitness park, raking leaves along the Bow River at Edworthy Park, attempting kite flying at McHugh Bluff, and even visiting some of our favourite meeting spots like Alforno Bakery and Café, Higher Ground Café and Village Ice Cream. Gary was privileged enough to visit the set of Canada’s longest running TV series, “Heartland”, filmed locally in High River, just south of Calgary, where he met celebrity star of the show, Amy (Amber Marshall). He even shared a moment with Calgary’s Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, during the opening of a new fire hall in the neighbourhood of Tuscany.
At the start of 2019, I made my first personal appearance on the website. I changed the format to a personal blog, writing about myself and my life in Calgary. I began to speak about Calgary from my point-of-view: my favourite destinations and activities; my experiences and perspectives; the people I’ve met and the initiatives they’ve taken to generate wealth and create a living for their families while pursuing their passions and dreams.
In the process, I’ve begun to discover the richness of other Calgarian’s stories. Calgary is populated with diverse people. Diverse people come with diverse stories. Boasting a population of more than a million, there’s more than a million stories to be heard. My desire is to share more of my story, to explore more of Calgary’s story, and to enjoy the stories of everyday life in, around and beyond Calgary.
Families form the rich fabric of communities. Sharing our stories, engaging with one another and spending time together is an invaluable way to remain strong. We all desire – and need – to be part of community. Amidst the challenging economic times our city and province have faced, people are bursting with entrepreneurial determination. I remain eager to explore some of these new gems, while continuing to appreciate the established treasures and city infrastructure that have stood the test of time. And, in my explorations, I hope to meet fellow Calgarians who, in turn, have their own unique stories to tell.
My home is Calgary.
I hope you, too, will enjoy discovering and exploring with me.