St. Patrick's Island

Calgary, Alberta 

Photo Credit: Civitas


Initial Research by: Krista Renwick

Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2019



Project: St. Patrick's Island

Type of Urban Strategy: Industrial Landscapes, Ecological Infrastructure

Type of ProjectPark Revitalization / Parks and Recreation / Naturalization 

LocationCalgary, Alberta 

Date Designed/Planned: 2010

Construction Completed2015

Designer: Civitas with W Architecture, IBI Group, and Matrix Solutions 


St. Patrick's Island Park in downtown Calgary is one of the city's oldest parks, but in 2010 when this revitalization project began, the park was in a state of disrepair, underused, unsafe, and a hub for criminal activity. Growth of the East Village neighbourhood provided an opportunity to fund the revitalization of the park as a placemaking feature for the growing community and greater population of the city. Ecological history was used to guide the restoration of the island, which then serves to connect the community to the park, and in a biophilic approach to nature, strengthens these connections, the community, and the biodiversity of the island.


St. Patrick’s Island is located in the heart of downtown Calgary, North of the East Village and south of Bridgeland neighbourhoods. It is part of the scenic bow river that is part of a river system that connects all the way from Saskatchewan to the Rockies (Civitas, n.d.). A pedestrian bridge connects the island with both sides of the mainland: the growing, trendy East Village with the Island and the Bridgeland Memorial C-Train Station (Parks and Recreation, n.d.).


The organization of the site is driven by the decision to expose the backfilled river channel, restore the breach and original topography; all other park elements were built around this feature (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.). The excavation from the channel was reused to create the rise, which is a strong feature on the site and is designed to accommodate for large events such as concerts and movies (Ibid.).

The new George C. Kind pedestrian bridge was a feature that helped to define the layout of the park and makes the park accessible from both the south and north mainlands. The pedestrian bridge brings you to the westernmost side of the park and immediately into the area called “the tip”. Attracted by the large, permanent art installation, this part of the park features a vantage point to downtown Calgary and welcomes visitors to the park (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). Adjacent to The Tip is the restored channel and seasonal beach where the shallow water and sandbar make the water fully accessible, visitors are invited to wade and interact directly with the water (Ibid.). The preserved cottonwood forest is over 80 years old and was naturally revitalized following the flood in 2013.

A direct and meandering path carry visitors through the forest to come upon “the Rise” that is surrounded by cottonwoods; scaling this tall mound takes the visitor’s gaze up and level with the tree canopies (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The Rise is sloped on the west side and features stairs on the east. The path at the bottom of the stairs leads to the Play Mound, lowland channel, a seasonal wetland with an elevated boardwalk, accessible picnic spots, stage, and amphitheatre (W Architecture, 2015).

An accessible transect cuts through the forest on the west to connect the pier where visitors are able to view the cove where the river is accessible for activities such as swimming or rafting (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The parking lot is located on the west side of the park as well, more of the programmed amenities are concentrated around the vehicular access point and unprogrammed spaces are closer to the pedestrian access with the Rise serving as the central point of the park. The design of the park is meant to give visitors a “flowing” experience that brings people through the four separate restored and integrated ecosystems of the park (LAM, 2016).


The MacLeod mine has been a landmark at the entry to the town of Geraldton in northwestern Ontario since 1943, when Highway 11, one of the province’s two trans-Canada highways, was completed. When the mine was operating, it was a symbol that signalled prosperity. This changed in 1972 when the MacLeod mine closed after 34 years of continuous gold production. It was the last mine to operate in the area.

From then on, many people viewed the landmark as an eyesore, a reminder of the past. The site was not pretty: some of the surface infrastructures were left standing and it was not until 1986 when the tailings were vegetated. For over 20 years, the MacLeod mine and its owners presented this less-than-flattering face to the travelling public.

The transformation that began in 1995 was the result of a co-operative effort among a far-sighted community, a mining company and the government ministries that shared their vision. Today, the face presented to the travelling public on the Trans-Canada Highway is much improved. It includes a substantially rehabilitated historic mine that serves as a backdrop for a community tourism enhancement project. Features on the rehabilitated mine site that entice travellers to stop are a refurbished headframe, a Forest Fire Interpretive Centre, a Heritage Interpretive Centre situated on eight hectares of landscaped tailings, and, soon, a nine-hole expansion of the Geraldton golf course.

When Barrick Gold’s predecessor, American Barrick Resources Corp., purchased Lac Minerals Ltd. in 1994, it also acquired the liability of Lac’s closed mine sites, including MacLeod. Barrick has enlisted a world-renowned landscape architect, Prof. Martha Schwartz of Harvard University, to develop the landscape design for the tailings on which the Heritage Interpretive Centre is situated. This involved developing conceptual designs and obtaining the input and approval of the citizens of Geraldton. The result will be a dramatic and colourful entrance to the town, with terraced scrolls of alternating green and gold grasses, and ramps carpeted with red wildflowers.


As a general strategy, the project was based around “a landscape approach that nurtures the bond between people and nature” and was based on the idea that cities are part of nature (East Village Calgary, 2016). It aimed to create a naturalized landscape that restored the historical ecology, improve resistance to flooding. The designers wanted to make the park accessible to all people in all seasons including the waterfront and river access (East Village Calgary, 2016). The ultimate hope was that the park would not only create a destination for the entire city but a neighbourhood park that provided an identity to the surrounding community and fostered a sense of stewardship (LAM, 2016).


The design was based around a biophilic approach; using the ecological history as inspiration, to increase biodiversity, and the opportunity for connecting to the neighbouring communities. The designers began by researching the ecological history of the island and discovered that the island used to be a seasonal breach that cut through the island before it was backfilled 80 years prior (d-red). The big move for the island was to uncover the seasonal river channel, restore the previous topography and function of the breach wetland (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.) (Civitas, n.d.). Features were then created to build on and support this initial design move. The breach itself was made accessible and includes a gravel bar where visitors can safely wade into the water. Access to the recovered wetland is created through the implementation of a no-impact elevated boardwalk. The excavation from this was used to create “the rise”, a nine-meter-high grassy hill that elevates people into the treetops and provides views of the river and downtown Calgary (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015) (Civitas, n.d.). It was also considered in the design that the mound would not only serve as a viewpoint from the island but as a feature that shows activity in the park and entices viewers to cross (Civitas, n.d.). Other features include pathways, children’s playground, picnic grove, amphitheatre, and confluence plaza (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). A strong, linear, multiuse path cuts across the island with the purpose of linking the different areas and fostering a social experience (IBI Group, n.d.). Several features were incorporated to improve safety in the park, specifically considering views, wide sidewalks, open areas, lighting and help phones (Klingbeil, 2015). The design considered opportunities for programming all year; the rise makes for an excellent tobogganing hill in winter and the channel is proposed to double as a skating rink (Civitas, n.d.).


The designers were tasked with reviving the old park to create a space that would fit into a placemaking initiative and become part of the identity of the Red River District and the East Village neighbourhood (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). They were provided with the community engagement material collected by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation in 2010 and used this to develop a design strategy that would resonate with the community. This ultimately leads to envisioning a restored ecological landscape that would connect people through biophilia, revive biodiversity, and increase resilience to flooding (IBI Group, n.d.). The design of the park required a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in a variety of specialities including social issues, ecology, soils, and flood patterns (LAM, 2016).


Architizer, n.d. St. Patrick’s Island Park. [web] Architizer. Availablet at: (Accessed March 2019) Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015. St. Patrick’s Island: 31 acre island park destination. [web] CMLC. Available at: (Accessed March 2019) Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d. St. Patrick’s Island: The true nature of city life. [web] East Village. Available at: (Accessed March 2019) Civitas, n.d. St. Patrick’s Island, Calgary. [web] Civitas. Available at: (Accessed March 2019) East Village Calgary, 2016. St. Patrick’s Island: the true nature of city life. [video] Video: (Accessed March 2019) I BI Group, n.d. St. Patrick’s Island Park. [web] IBI Group. Available at: (Accessed March 2019) Klingbeil, A., 2015. Take a tour of the new St. Patrick’s Island. [web] Calgary Herald. Available at: (Accessed March 2019) LAM, 2016. LAMCAST: St. Patrick’s Island Park. [video] Available at: (Accessed March 2019) Parks and Recreation, n.d. St. Patrick’s Island park. [web} City of Calgary. Available at: (Accessed March 2019) W Architecture, 2015. St. Patrick’s Island. [blog] W Architecture and Landscape Architecture LLC. Available at (Accessed March 2019) Welch, A., 2017. St. Patrick’s Island Bridge Calgary. E-architect. Updated July 11, 2018. Available at: Accessed March, 2019.


The impact of this project has been both social and environmental. When it was reopened to the public in 2015, the park became an instant attraction, hosting 5,000 on the opening weekend and 20,000 people per year since (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). Due to its proximity to downtown, the park is exceptionally located to serve the local neighbourhood and act as a city-wide destination, there are no comparable spaces accessible within the city, it is a unique place. The programs and events are well attended, locals can be found using the park for daily exercise or recreation, and school groups are often seen gathering here to explore the island as an educational tool (LAM, 2016) (Welch, 2017). The park provides a direct and accessible connection to the river that was missing for this community as well as free recreation which improves the health and wellbeing of the local neighbourhood (Architizer, n.d.). The park has also been successful in restoring ecology and biodiversity on the island through the creation of the wetland as well as restored avian nesting habitat (Ibid.).


The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation recognized the potential of St. Patrick’s Island to become a key element of the growing East Village Neighbourhood. Its revitalization became part of a strategy for placemaking initiatives for the Red River District (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The natural topography and conditions of the site had been severely altered over the last century by infill, development, roads and pavement, this resulted in a loss of ecological habitat and contributed to flooding risk (East Village Calgary, 2016). Due to the persistent crime on the island, it was important to create a safe, vibrant, and inviting place. It was equally important to take into consideration that Calgary is a winter city and to provide a space that can be used all year (East Village Calgary, 2016).


The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation is currently fully responsible for the maintenance, programming and management of the park while the East Village Revitalization project continues (Parks and Recreation, n.d.).


All the funding including the $25 million for the new George C. King pedestrian bridge was provided by a community revitalization levy fund that was obtained through property taxes on new developments in the East Village (Klingbeil, 2015).


The project development began in 2010 through extensive public engagement sessions led by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation that involved more than 6000 Calgarians (Parks and Recreation, n.d.). The results of this engagement became the springboard for the design team. It was identified that the city of Calgary valued nature within the city and the landscape was an important part of their identity (LAM, 2016). Some other main points that were taken from the engagement were the desire to make the island accessible, keep it “wild” and provide places to feel a connection with nature to foster learning (Ibid,). Civitas is a proponent of the hypothesis of biophilia, the idea that humans have the innate desire to connect with nature, other animals and plants, and seek to design with this as a strategy and this is what lead to their biophilia based masterplan (Ibid.) (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.). Due to the large-scale changes, there was a concern that it would be difficult to get a permit for the work but because of the extensive restoration proposed, everything went through (LAM, 2016). Design development included categorization of all species of flora and fauna to plan the restoration component (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.). Construction began in 2013 but was then interrupted by the historic flood that occurred in that same year and was handed over to the public in 2015 (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015).


Since the island is isolated from residential areas, it is important to at least in part address safety concerns through adequate programming that helps to keep the park populated. There are several programmed spaces: picnic areas, amphitheatre, the rise, children’s playground, and Confluence plaza. Additional programming is organized within these spaces; over 75 annual events per year are comprised of everything from festivals to guided nature walks (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The park also puts on a variety of free events such as concerts, movies, fitness classes, workshops, art and children’s programs (Klingbeil, 2015). Although recognizing the importance of programming, especially initially, Susan Veres, spokeswoman for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation noted that “the success of the park won’t be how we program it” (Ibid.). It is the hope of the project that the community will develop agency and responsibility and keep the park a vibrant space.