17 things you need to know before moving to Calgary for university
So, you’ve decided that Calgary is where the future will take you on your journey for higher education?
That’s a great idea, considering that our city is home to some of the best post-secondary institutions in the country, and among Canada’s major cities, Calgary has the second highest level of educational achievement, just behind Toronto.
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Even so, there are a lot of need-to-know things for newcomers to discover, as it’s a whole new city with a unique culture. Lucky for you, we’ve got your back.
Your new favourite hockey team will be the Calgary Flames
We are very proud of our local hockey team, even if they haven’t won the cup since 1989.
Really though, the Flames are a fixture of our city’s culture. Everybody, and I mean everybody, pays at least some attention to how they’re doing in the season and it affects the whole city’s mood when they win or lose.
Just to be on the safe side, it might be a good idea for you to buy a Flames toque or scarf or something — just in case you get invited out to a game or end up on the Red Mile.
There are lots of cool neighbourhoods you should check out
Calgary has a lot of character spread across the city, but there are some streets and neighbourhoods that are especially rich in culture.
Bridgeland is a neighbourhood known for off-the-wall shops and a restaurant scene with all kinds of interesting options from creatively built burgers and delicious, scratch-made ramen.
Kensington is Calgary’s “urban village,” with more than 250 unique shops, restaurants, and services. It’s also hugely pedestrian friendly and is easily accessible by train.
Eau Claire is mainly known for the hotels and restaurants as well as Eau Claire Market Mall and Prince’s Island Park. The mall is home to one-of-a-kind shops and galleries, a six-screen theatre, and a food court.
Inglewood is a favourite for many young Calgarians. Eclectic and quirky, this neighbourhood is conveniently close to Calgary Zoo and downtown, and is the best place to check out if you want to get a feel for the city.
There are three (3) accepted ways to pronounce Calgary
We say “Cal-gree,” and a lot of Albertans do as well. Where it gets a little funny is that people born and raised here almost universally pronounce it “Cal-gary.” The third way largely accepted is “Cal-guh-ree,” but it’s not nearly as common.
Really plan ahead for parking
Parking anywhere near downtown Calgary is a nightmare. So much so, that tons of people take advantage of park-and-ride lots at CTrain stations. Paying for a couple train tickets is much cheaper than paying for parking downtown anyway.
Even if you keep that trick in mind, parking lots can get crowded quickly. Plan ahead, and be fierce in sticking to the plan.
There are lots of options for post-secondary
When it comes to post-secondary institutions, there are six options available to you.
The University of Calgary is the premier institution and is known internationally for offering quality education. The university is also known for helping build Calgary, with about 2/3 of alumni choosing to stay in the area.
Mount Royal University was a college until 2009, and its growth has been a significant part of its history. When it first opened in 1911, it welcomed only 179 students, but now sees about 12,000 students every year.
The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) is a skill-oriented school that prepares students to leave their programs and enter the workforce. There are over 1,600 courses taught at SAIT with curriculum made in conjunction with industry leaders so students have relevant skills for their chosen fields.
The Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) is one of four accredited art and design colleges in the country. Right across the train tracks from SAIT, ACAD has about 1,200 full and part-time students enrolled in programs including bachelor programs in fine art, design, media arts and digital technologies.
Bow Valley College has a campus located right downtown and is the city’s only comprehensive community college. About 14,000 students study in career-focused programs. Certificates can be achieved in less than a year and diplomas are offered for two-year programs.
Saint Mary’s University is an independent Catholic liberal arts university known for small class sizes with an average of 25 students per class. As a university, they’re also known for providing affordable and valued degrees in Liberal Arts, Sciences, and Education.
There are awesome towns just an hour’s drive away (or less)
Need a break from the big city?
Within an hour’s drive or less, you’re back out in the wide open Alberta country and you can take in one of the satellite towns. Okotoks, Airdrie, High River, Priddis all deserve articles on their own. They’re awesome places for local tourism and while you’re in Calgary you should do yourself a favour and check them out.
Western is our culture
There’s a reason Calgary is jokingly known as “Cow Town.” Our city was originally built as a trade centre for Alberta’s cattle industry, and that heritage is still a living part of our city.
For that reason, when you live in Calgary you’re going to see people wearing western shirts and cowboy hats. You don’t have to join in, but there is a particular time of year when all Calgarians are invited to take part in a celebration of western heritage. Which brings us to our next point…
The Calgary Stampede is the premier summer event
Being a student doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, and over the summer there’s the biggest celebration of western culture in Canada right here in town.
The Calgary Stampede is the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and Calgarians measures their lives by how long it is until the next Stampede.
The festival features incredible food, the best shows, and fireworks every. single. night. The Stampede spans for ten days every summer and it’s always incredible. While you’re having a summer break anyway, why not take some time to enjoy the most Calgary thing you possibly could do? It’ll be a great time.
The winters are bitter but chinooks bring relief
Over the course of Calgary’s winters, the average low is -13°C. However, this number can fluctuate wildly. There are days when, if you include windchill (and you definitely should if you want to survive) it can become colder than -30°C.
If you read that and thought to yourself, “well forget this whole Calgary business, I’m moving somewhere warmer,” I have something else to tell you.
Our winter isn’t a relentless barrage of frozen wasteland weather. There are some weeks during our winters where we experience what’s called a chinook wind.
Unique to this region, chinooks are a warm wind that descends from the mountains, and can melt 30 cm of snow in a single day. It might be windy, but we have winter days in Calgary where the temperature can hover around 10 degrees, thanks to these absolute life-savers.
There are pandas in the Calgary Zoo
The adorable panda family that lived in the Toronto Zoo for four years has moved to Calgary for a turn at housing the Chinese bear-raccoon creatures for another four years before they have to be moved back to China. Lucky for you, the zoo is super easy to get to as well, with its own train station on the blue line.
Student discounts are everywhere
There are tons of student discounts all over the place in this city. Many city attractions offer discount prices for students, including The Calgary Zoo and The Military Museums.
It’s not just attractions and fun things to do that offer student discounts. There are bookshops, electronic shops, and tons of publications that really want to get students on board with whatever they offer — and are offered at a discount as an incentive.
The secret to getting those sweet, sweet student discounts is simply to ask. You’re going to have to be that annoying person who, during any given purchase, stops to ask if they offer a student discount… but you’re also going to find a lot of success.
17th Ave is the place for a party
It’s the heart of downtown, the very pulse of the city. 17th Avenue is super pedestrian friendly and is home to more pubs and restaurants in one place than anywhere else in Calgary. Famous locals like The Unicorn, Donegal Irish Pub and Pop’s Tophouse are all here along this strip.
Banff is right in our backyard
Banff, a paradise in the Canadian Rockies, the envy of the world, is about an hour and a half’s drive away.
Driving there yourself isn’t the only way to get there, either, as there are quite a few shuttle options from Calgary to Banff and most of them are very affordable.
The craft beer scene here is the best in the country
There are 20 breweries within the city limits, and if you expand your search to the region there gets to be even more than that.
Do you want beer that tastes like pumpkins? We’ve got that. You want a beer that tastes like grapefruit? Got that too. You want beer with hemp in it? You can bet your breeches we’ve got that. Want a beer that tastes like good old-fashioned beer? No doubt about it!
If you like a cold brew at the end of a long day, there’s nowhere better in Canada to get one than Calgary.
We’ve got some amazing patios
Speaking of beer, where else would you want to drink one but outside during our brief, sweet summer?
Any pub worth its taps has a patio in this city and they’re usually comfortable places to enjoy a brew. We’re pretty defensive of “patio season” here, and we stretch it out for as long as possible. Lots of places have heaters on their patios so you can tolerate going out when it’s still gently snowing on you during the extreme end of spring or start of autumn.
Alberta is home to the best dinosaur fossils in the world
In the Mesozoic era, Alberta was home to the reptilian kings and queens of the world.
This was their home, but it was also their grave. Thanks to Alberta’s soil composition, lots of these creatures were amazingly well preserved in the earth and you can learn all kinds of amazing things about the history of our planet at the Royal Tyrrell Museum just a couple hour’s drive away in Drumheller.
You may just fall in love with this city
To outsiders, this city can seem dark and cold, largely because the winters are long and things get pretty grey around here.
Even in that long winter, there will be days when you look out the window and see the lights of the city shining.
The winter bliss will set in, and you’ll check your weather app and see temperatures above zero are in the forecast.
Before you know it, you’ll find yourself owning a pair of cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, smiling when you see the buses flash “Go Flames Go” on their displays, and using the hashtag #yyclife… and you’ll be in.
If you decide to make Calgary your home, even on a temporary basis, it will stick with you. This city has a way of charming people, especially if you’re a student.