By Chloe Chan, February 3 2022—
At this point, little more needs to be said about the state of Calgary’s downtown. Our core is dominated by monstrously tall office towers, unappealing blank building facades and empty streets — and COVID has only made everything worse.
I’ve read the latest revitalization plan and was disappointed by how “publicly available recreation” was only understood in terms of what happens on playgrounds, walkways or the Plus 15. Readers, why are we so limited by the boundaries of the ground? We must think beyond walking, running and biking. We must think upwards. We must think — Jumbo Downtown Climbing Rock.
Bouldering is the sport of climbing a big rock or a short wall. As there’s no rope or harnesses, you rely on crash pads to break your fall. It is an inherently goofy sport but it is undeniably popular among younger people as illustrated in its recent inclusion into the Olympics and packed climbing gyms.
There are few accessible bouldering spots for Calgarians. The bouldering fields are few and far between and generally require a drive to Kananaskis or down to Crowsnest Pass. Gyms are physically closer, though the cost of membership may give some pause.
The benefits to having a publicly accessible Massive Rock are twofold. It helps both climbers and the city.
First, the sport’s accessibility would increase. The cost of gyms is likely deterring hidden talent from the sport. Let’s not forget that Ashima Shirashi, the American phenom, started by bouldering in Central Park. As climbing becomes more popular, the quantity and quality of gyms and outdoor routes will only increase. Not only that, you’d be able to get a quick outdoor session in after work without having to drive to Kananaskis.
Secondly, having a Very Large Rock in Downtown Calgary is a cheap way to bring some interest to the core as it provides an option for social and low-cost recreation. Wherever I climb, there’s always a curious hiker or a family that hangs around to watch and ask questions. Not only is climbing fun to do, it’s also incredibly entertaining to watch people dedicate so much energy to something as inane as scaling a rock. Huge Rock can bring what the Core lacks — a bunch of people having fun in public.
Other plans to revitalize the Core are expensive and timely but the Hefty Rock is simple and relatively cheap. All it takes is one company to drill a few cool edges and another to drag it downtown. Beyond the upfront cost, the operational and maintenance costs are essentially zero. It’s just a rock. Onsite, the company that designed Montreal’s granite “Urban Boulders,” estimates a cost of about $50,000–$100,000, depending on how many climbing routes the rock has.
Location is key to the Colossal Rock’s success. It should be accessible by transit so that everyone can join in on the fun. I have pondered the question of its optimal placement for literal months. I now propose to you: The Century Gardens as the home to my Humungo Rock and as the new place for groups of giggling climbers to gather.
The Century Gardens is a newly renovated park a few blocks west of the Core Shopping Centre. Next to a set of decorative stairs and a splash pool is a patch of grass where the Hulking Rock could sit inconspicuously. Not only is it close to several BRT lines but it’s also connected to a C-train station. It’s also only a few blocks away from MEC which facilitates easy crash pad rentals. Best of all, there is a public washroom on-site, which means the rock can stay dry.
I’ll admit, the Giganto Rock thought experiment started at the height of my 2020 insanity. Although the weather was perfect, I didn’t have a car to drive out to the mountains and all the gyms were still in lockdown. I spent that season climbing around my neighbourhood — I have conquered Buffalo Rubbing Stone, Split Rock and the aptly named, Garbage Rock. But I was always left wanting more. I’ve since returned to my gym but this idea continues to nag at me. Paris has their Eiffel Tower and New York has the Statue of Liberty.
Let’s make Calgary known for having a Great Rock that I can climb.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.