Just three skips of a stone from East Village and the Simmons building, St. Patrick’s Island is one of Calgary’s oldest parks. Its development as a public space began in the late 1890s and gained momentum after a bridge to the island was built in the early 1900s. More than a century later, this all-but-forgotten treasure at the city’s centre is poised to re-emerge as an amenity-rich, family-friendly park space for all Calgarians to enjoy.
As part of the rejuvenation of the Rivers District, the redevelopment of St. Patrick’s Island is an important part of CMLC’s place-making strategy. Creation of infrastructure for public enjoyment has been central to our redevelopment efforts, and programming the public spaces has been central to bringing those places to life. Our goal is to ensure that infrastructure is being used to its fullest potential.
With that in mind, we embarked in 2010 on a master planning process to shape the future of St. Patrick’s Island. After nearly a full year of extensive study and public engagement, St. Patrick’s Island had a master plan based on the principles of “biophilia” – a landscape design approach that honours and nurtures the instinctive bond between people and nature. The overarching aims of the master plan include focusing on the island’s unique urban environmental context, generating a spirit and sense of place, nurturing strong emotional attachments to the island’s beauty, seeking balance and harmony between constructed and natural elements and providing opportunities for life-enriching experiences and activities.
In April 2012, CMLC announced the selection of New York-based W Architecture and Denver-based Civitas as the landscape development team that would realize the vision for St. Patrick’s Island. Selected by an evaluation committee through a competitive RFQ process, W/Civitas trumped 17 submissions from across North America with their extensive experience in waterfront design.
Ever since (save for a brief interruption by the high waters that flooded much of our city in June 2013), we’ve been making great headway in our improvements and restorative work on St. Patrick’s Island, which is on track to open to the public in summer 2015.
The revitalized island’s attractions and enhancements include:
• The Tip - Located at the westernmost edge of the island (west of the new pedestrian bridge), the Tip is designed to take advantage of the views of the river and downtown Calgary. Equipped with seating, all elements of the Tip are designed to withstand annual flooding while providing a respite area and vantage point for those recreational users who are seeking a natural experience at the water’s edge. The flood event of 2013, served to armour and reinforce the Tip, when large river rocks were deposited at the island’s edge. CMLC will leave the river rocks in place to act as a protective barrier during high water flow periods.
• The Seasonal Breach - At some point in the 1960s a channel on St. Patrick’s Island was filled in to accommodate construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting the island to the south bank of the Bow River. We’ve now restored this historic channel, which crosses the island between the Bow River’s northern (or southern?) channel and its main stem, to create the Seasonal Breach – a gravel bar that transitions up to a lawn area and small pedestrian plaza with seating and bike parking. In the summer months, visitors can wade into the water and venture safely out onto the gravel bar. Come winter, its ideal for outdoor skating.
• The Rise - Standing nine metres high, this grassy knoll slopes down to the west and south with views of downtown Calgary and East Village. It provides a perfect outdoor amphitheatre setting for community celebrations, performances or movies in the park; and in winter, bring your toboggan for some fantastic sledding.
• The Lowland Channel - In 1920, a channel between St. Patrick’s Island and St. George’s Island was filled in. We’ve now restored and deepened this Lowland Channel to create a seasonal riparian wetland at the heart of the island. An elevated boardwalk provides no-impact access to the wetland and an entryway to the Gallery Forest. Located along the south-eastern corner of the island the Gallery Forest was found to be the most important existing habitat on the island, with the potential to be the home to nesting bald eagles, great horned owls and songbirds. To protect the Gallery Forest and ensure its long term health and function, our design aims to encourage rest and regeneration of this area. The design also supports the removal of invasive species and repopulation of native species. Pruning and removal of deadwood and overgrown areas will allow a more natural balance of light to reach the soil thereby ensuring the ongoing health of the Gallery Forest.
• The Lookout Plaza – Located near the eastern edge of the park, the Lookout Plaza offers spaces created for many experiences. It includes seating areas, a small amphitheatre, water features, and overviews of the Lowland Channel, pathways and other areas of the park. It also serves as a meeting place and gateway into St. Patrick’s Island from the east or from the Calgary Zoo parking area. The Lookout can be used for small celebrations and impromptu gatherings and is serviced by washrooms, parking, maintenance sheds and electrical services which can be used by food trucks, ticket kiosks, and product display units.
• Change Rooms/Washrooms – Public washrooms are conveniently located near the Lookout Plaza. If you think the wood cladding on the exterior walls looks familiar, there’s good reason. The bridge deck of the old St. Patrick’s Bridge was repurposed as cladding for our public washrooms. In this way, not only are we being environmental stewards but we’re paying homage to the park’s history of use and access.
The real fun starts next summer.
CMLC will host a grand re-opening of St. Patrick’s Island in the summer of 2015. Given the feedback we received during our master plan public engagement, we anticipate the island will become a true Bow River recreational oasis for many Calgarians. We’ll be busy programming the space with festivals, guided nature walks, and family picnics to ensure you are comfortable with the amenities of the space and understand all that it offers. Continue to follow us here for more information.