Five Reasons to Visit the Glenbow Museum in Calgary

I first read about Calgary’s Glenbow Museum in The Globe and Mail as we were driving west from Ottawa, Ontario to Calgary, Alberta. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my luck, finding an in-depth piece about a museum in the city in which we were about to spend five days. Then, four of those days passed us by without a museum in sight so… (you know what’s coming) I put down my size six foot and said, “Museum! Now!”

1. The Big Gift (Temporary Exhibit, July 25 – September 14, 2008)
When Jeff Spalding arrived at the Glenbow in his new role as CEO and President, it was a homecoming of sorts. Earlier in his career he had worked at the Glenbow as an Art Curator. It seems that the people of the Canadian West are glad to have him back; since his return, in December 2007, art donations have poured in from artists and collectors. 900 pieces of art in total. I am no art historian but this seems a little out of the ordinary. Spalding and the folks at the Glenbow decided to share these donations, aptly titled “The Big Gift” with the public and, because there is so much yummy goodness to share, the work is being shown at the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary, the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design and the Glenbow itself.
We saw the 200 pieces on exhibit at the Glenbow. My favourite piece was Douglas Coupland’s six foot tall, army green, toy soldier. The soldier is deformed as though it did not come out of the mold just right. The two sides of its face don’t line up and this results in a sort of fun, Picasso-esque effect.

2. Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta (Permanent Exhibit)
The story of Alberta is told through the fierce men and women who settled it, tamed it, stirred things up, and led it politically. We read and watched the biographies of ranchers, cowboys, oil men, immigrants who worked on the railroad, soldiers and those who stayed at home. In one room, a ten foot sculpture of a stallion reared up on its hind legs. The miraculous part was that the horse was made of two miles of barbed wire. I saw some kids loving the train exhibit; they didn’t even seem to notice that they were learning about history! DP and I were entranced by a a long wall of hundreds of framed black and white photographs: weddings, funerals, a class picture taken in front of a one-room schoolhouse, a group of miners, a general store, and little kids playing. The ordinary people who created Alberta.

3. Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life (Permanent Exhibit)
This exhibit helps us understand the Blackfoot people, specifically how they lived within families, with the environment, and with their neighbours. Even if you walked through this exhibit without reading or interacting with the pieces, you would still be in for a sumptuous visual feast. On display are masks, ceramics, ceremonial clothing, and teepees. But those most richly rewarded will be the people who take time to watch short video clips, listen to an audio clip while sitting in the teepee, read about the residential schools native children were forced to attend, and feel the difference between an animal skin caught in the summer and one caught in the winter. This exhibit invites you to engage all of your senses in order to better understand the Blackfoot people and their way of life.

4. Crystal Sculpture
When you enter the museum on the ground floor, you cannot help but notice the bottom of an enormous crystal sculpture that hangs in the centre of the circular staircase. At first I thought it was a chandelier but it was not until we were actually on the stairs that I was able to see that the piece is actually a sculpture. Large glass crystals hang suspended from a height of four stories to the floor. The light from the museum dances all around the sculpture. I wish I could tell you more… who created it and when and what the inspiration was but I can’t find anything online. The photographer who took this photo calls it Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

5. Museums are good for us!
This one’s a little subjective (okay, not everyone is going to love Coupland’s green soldier either) but as an educator, I am passionate about learning and not just for kids. If you let it, this museum will take you on a great and memorable voyage and even Canadians will leave with a greater sense of Alberta’s rich and interesting history.

How to Get There:
Glenbow Museum is located in downtown Calgary in the heart of Calgary’s Cultural District, across from the Calgary Tower.

Glenbow Museum
130 – 9 Avenue S.E.
Calgary, Alberta
T2G 0P3

Phone: (403) 268-4100
Fax: (403) 265-9769

Practical Notes:
If you are driving to the museum, you might get lucky and find a parking space on the street. If not, you’ll be parking in a massive underground lot; be sure to make note of where you have parked. This parking lot is under the Calgary Tower, right next door to the Glenbow.

Leave yourself a lot of time. We were there for three hours and could have stayed much longer. (Also, it took us a while to find our car!)

Photo Credit: D’Arcy Norman at Flickr


  1. This is a great museum. I remember being a kid and thinking "museum" meant boring – a lot of looking respectfully and not touching. Museums have changed a lot. There were so many different kinds of experiences to have at the Glenbow, appealing to all of the senses, passively and actively. And it's nicely designed, too.

  2. The Aurora Borealis is by James Houston, noted Canadian artist & author,who was the main person credited with bringing Inuit art to world notice. I've been looking for examples of his glass art online, since he spent many years later in life designing at Steuben Glass.

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