Dog days of Calgary: New communities designed for canine companions

Dedicated dog parks are becoming part of urban planning in Calgary — with spaces to run and even agility equipment to play on.

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Se’era Anstruther can’t imagine a day without her three-year-old border collie, Milo, by her side. So, when she received a job offer from the University of Calgary and she and her partner decided to make the move from Saskatoon to Calgary, finding a home that was dog-friendly in a community with plenty of amenities for her fur-baby was top-of-mind.

“We really had our eyes open for a place that was close to open spaces, where we could run Milo, as he is a really high energy dog, but we also wanted to be within walking distance of the Foothills Campus,” says Anstruther, who just completed her PhD and is working as a researcher in nutrition, public health and epidemiology.

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She and her partner searched online, touring places virtually from Saskatoon and made the decision to rent a one-bedroom plus den apartment at Truman’s Esquire project in University District (U/D), a multiple-award-winning master-planned community that feeds into the University of Calgary Foothills Campus and spreads across the University’s endowment lands.

“We really lucked out because we didn’t see the place in-person, but Esquire is very dog-friendly. It has a pet-wash in the lower level, which is really handy and the dog park at University District is amazing. We take him there every day, a few times a day, to run and play ball and Frisbee and then we take two walking routes: one towards the Children’s Hospital and up to the Foothills Campus and the other is through the South Pond; it’s a really pretty trail,” says Anstruther.  

Anstruther’s not alone in her love for the canine species. In Calgary, there are approximately 92,000 registered dogs. That equates to one dog for every 16 people. Or taking an average family to be four people, that’s one fur baby per every four families.  

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Many developers are taking note.

Travis Oberg, director of design at the University of Calgary Properties Group, the developer behind U/D, notes that the typical percentage of pet owners in new communities ranges from 30 to 60 per cent and that U/D is at the high end of that bandwidth. That said, integrating dog parks into the U/D landscape was an integral part of the community’s masterplan.

“It came down to looking at other dog parks and how they came up with creative solutions,” he says, noting that in the planning stages designers at U/D toured similar type communities at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and at the University of British Columbia (UBC), as well as looking at dog-park prototypes across North America.

“What we heard from the SFU and UBC Development Trusts was that there was a lot of dog ownership in these communities. So, we took a look at how they integrated the dog parks, making them a focal point and we landed on the concept of an urban dog park for University District,” he says. “We had our dog park open before our retail and it’s become a real meeting place for our residents; it’s how they get to know each other.”

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The first of two dog parks, the north dog park, now complete, is cosy and has a footprint of 12,000 square feet. It was designed to incorporate an existing set of tree stands and features two fenced areas: one for large dogs, the other for smaller dogs, plenty of seating and benches for people, and the use of textural, playful and easy-to-maintain materials like artificial turf, natural grasses and gravel.

“We designed it to be a smaller footprint, to bring neighbours together; you’re sharing space and a bench, but the park is big enough to throw a ball,” says Oberg.

A second dog park located in the south region of the community is in the planning stages.

“We’ve set the bar really high so that other urban developments can look to what we have done and respond to that. It’s something that we are really proud of,” says Oberg.

Matt Trayner, a home buyer in Wolf Willow as well as an area sales manager for Jayman Homes, plays with his dog Bjorn on the agility equipment at Wolf Willow’s dog park. Photo by Christina Ryan /Calgary Herald

Similarly, a brand-new dog park in the southeast community of Wolf Willow is turning heads. Located just off of Wolf Creek Drive and Wolf Creek Park S.E., the nine-acre fenced off-leash park was unveiled at the end of September with 1,500 humans and more than 800 dogs in attendance at the inaugural event.

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“We have found that for our buyers, having a dog-friendly space was just so important. Everything that we have done in the community design is to connect people to outdoor recreation and to drive people to the Bow River pathways that extend into Fish Creek Park and that lead to the dog park,” says Kalida Manarin, marketing manager for WestCreek Developments.

Manarin describes the new dog park as “huge” and “as big as an elementary school and its fields,” noting that it’s also chock-full of fun things like play structures and tunnels. The dog park, although located within Wolf Willow, is open to the public and services many communities in the deep south.

The aptly coined Woof Willow Dog Park was the catalyst for 30-year-old Matt Traynor to purchase a single-family home in the community. He’s watched the community grow and seen the dog park rise from its inception — he’s the laned home area sales manager for Jayman Built in the community. He also owns a three-year-old Australian Shepherd named Björn.

“Having the dog amenities in place are a real driving feature for the community. It wasn’t my original plan to buy in Wolf Willow, but once I began as the area sales manager, I fell in love with the community. When spring hit last year, people were out everywhere, walking their dogs and then when the dog park opened, everything fell into place,” he says.

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Although he hasn’t yet taken possession of his home (he purchased the Jayman Built Holly 24 model, a front-drive garage, single-family home and will move in sometime in the new year), he brings Björn to the dog park on a regular basis, just to hang out and enjoy.

“The community has such a nice charm to it and especially with the dog park open, it feels really connected. It’s really made it blossom,” says Traynor.

Other new communities with dog parks integrated into their masterplans include Greenwich in the northwest, a multi-family community adjacent to the new Calgary Farmers’ Market West. Designed by Melcor, it includes a two-acre public off-leash park, as well as playgrounds, a skating rink and community gardens. Canada Lands Co., developer of Currie in the southwest, opened its Bark Park three years ago. It’s an urban-style dog playground with plenty of fun equipment and features public art.

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