The Calgary Tower in downtown Calgary, Alberta has been an icon of the city since 1968. At the time, it was built by a petroleum company to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. But since then, it has come to mean so much more to the people of Calgary, all of Alberta and really, the whole world.
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Exploring the Calgary Tower
Located in downtown Calgary, a city of more than one million people, you can pretty much see the tower from everywhere, although there are buildings a bit taller. It is 190.8 meters or 626 feet tall. For Americans who don’t know the metric system (ya, that’s most of us) and for comparison purposes, the St. Louis Arch is 630 feet tall.
On a clear day, you can see the beautiful Canadian Rockies to the west. Banff National Park is just 45 minutes from downtown Calgary. Unfortunately, it was not a clear day when we had time to go up in Calgary Tower, but we still enjoyed our visit.
Here’s why: We learned things that we didn’t know.
Just before Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988, the observation tower was retrofitted to become a gas-burning cauldron to host the Olympic flame. The torch that traveled across Canada to light the flame was shaped as the Calgary Tower. How cool is that!
Today, this remains the world’s tallest Olympic flame. And when the Olympics are underway anywhere else in the world, the flame burns atop this tower in Calgary Canada. It burns for other national celebrations as well.
Other things we learned:
- The carillon bells in the tower were a gift from the Dutch Canadian community of Calgary.
- When building it, construction workers poured concrete non-stop for three days.
- There’s an LED light show at the top of the hour every night.
- There’s such a thing as the World Federation of Great Towers.
- There are 802 steps in the Calgary Tower.
Climbing the Stairs of the Calgary Tower
You want to know why we know there are 802 stairs in the Calgary Tower? Sure, there’s a sign that tells you that and you can google it, but we walked down the 802 stairs. Every one. Some a couple of times.
I share this story with you with a degree of caution. There’s nothing to be concerned about but, you know, occasionally the world does not function as perfectly as it should. Sometimes, elevators don’t work.
That was the case the morning we visited the Calgary Tower. We made it up just fine, but after walking around, taking a few pictures and looking down, we got in line to ride the elevator back down.
Since we were waiting, we walked down one flight of stairs to see the restaurant. It looked lovely, but wasn’t open yet. So I pushed the elevator button and nothing happened. We waited and pushed it again. And then, punched it a dozen times real fast, because that was going to make a difference.
So, we walked back up the flight of stairs to punch that elevator button. All of the same people were in line and nothing was happening, despite several punches to the button.
We sat down to wait. Thank goodness the bathrooms were functioning, right?
The Colorful Stairwells of the Calgary Tower
After a while, a Calgary Tower employee announced that yes indeed, the elevators were not working. The repair company was on its way, but if we wanted to start walking down, we could.
So we did.
The first thing we noticed was the colorful, whimsical murals painted on each landing. They were painted by school children throughout the Calgary area.
For 25 years, the Alberta Wilderness Association had hosted a big fundraising event at the tower. Each year, they invited school kids to paint murals with messages that celebrate Alberta’s abundant wild spaces and things. Their messages, ideas and talent made the climb down so entertaining, and gave us a good reason to stop and rest our knees, hips, quads and other seldom used muscles.
Unfortunately, most visitors to the Calgary Tower don’t get to see what we saw. They don’t just let anyone climb up and down those 802 stairs any day of the week.
However, on Tuesdays in March, the stairwell and its charming art gallery are open to anyone who wants to climb up all 802 stairs and back down again.
The city of Calgary also hosts a Tower Climb, like many other cities around the world do, on 9/11 each year to honor the firefighters who died that day in New York.
We are so grateful that the elevators failed when we visited the Calgary Tower, allowing us to learn about this hidden treasure in downtown Calgary Alberta.
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