Scarboro Hosts Heritage Event in Celebration of Olmsted 200

Frederick Law Olmsted designed parks and urban landscapes from New York’s Central Park to Calgary’s Scarboro neighborhood.


Residents of Calgary’s inner city community, Scarboro, will host an event Saturday to celebrate Olmsted 200, a North American-wide initiative to honor Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture and designer of two communities in Calgary: Scarboro and Sunalta. .

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“We really wanted to share the beauty of the neighborhood and acknowledge our connection to the father of landscape architecture,” says Sharon Nettleton, president of the Scarboro Community Association. “It’s not just about bricks and mortar; it’s also about how the neighborhood was physically designed, starting with the green space.”

As part of Saturday’s celebrations, Scarboro Avenue will be cordoned off to make room for a series of historic walking tours, garden tours and a luncheon served, to be held at the community center on 14th Avenue SW.

During its 50-year work history, which spanned the 1850s through the early 20th centurythe century, New York-based Olmsted designed 100 public parks, including New York City’s Central Park and Boston’s Franklin Park. In addition to Scarboro and Sunalta, his firm also designed many others in North America, including Montreal’s Mount Royal, Victoria Highlands, and Toronto’s original waterfront.

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Wide, curvy streets, along with deep setbacks and many parks are hallmarks of Olmsted’s community designs, which were a response to the concrete urbanity fueled by the industrial revolution. Its aim was to promote the value of public spaces and highlight nature and its ability to connect people and improve the physical and mental health of the public. He had that uncanny ability through design to tap into that part of us that yearns to relax and connect with others.

Nettleton knows firsthand the power of good design. “It’s what brought me back to the community,” he remembers. He grew up in Scarboro and attended Sunalta School, built in 1912, a historic sandstone landmark that stands proudly on the edge of the community, tying the neighborhood together. She remembers it as a joyful, family-filled experience: her grandparents also lived in Scarboro, as did many of her friends, including her schoolmate and neighbor Rob Mulloy, who would later become her husband. When she reconnected with him in Toronto years later and they married, she says it was the Scarboro community that drew them back to Calgary.

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“Design is absolutely important and influences everything in our lives, whether it’s the cars we drive, the appliances in our kitchen, or the communities we choose to live in,” says Nettleton. “The way Olmsted designed Scarboro fostered that sense of connection and longevity to enjoy the neighborhood,” he says, adding that much of its appeal comes from its abundance of green space.

A community of 328 single-family homes, many of which exceed 100the birthday, Scarboro enjoys eight parks and parklettes, areas of green space that cap off the end of a block or corridor. It also has seven book clubs, a supper club, and two social clubs.

“You take a lot of that for granted,” she says. “But during COVID, the importance of green spaces and the interactivity of nature was very important. We had so many places to go out, get some fresh air, keep our bodies healthy, and experience mental relaxation.”

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And that is just what Olmsted would have wanted. He said that when he spoke of green spaces and parks, “they were the most valuable of all possible forms of public space.”

The park and green space design and beauty is more like why the Scarboro and Sunalta sales were unprecedented when the communities were developed, beginning in 1909.

Kate Morisset, a long-time Scarboro resident and community volunteer, says, “Oral history tells us that lot sales in Sunalta between 1909 and 1911 were so rapid that plans continued to develop more further up the hill in Scarboro, what was then known as Royal Sunalta, or Sunalta Extension,” he says, noting that when lots in Scarboro went up for sale on April 24, 1911, demand was so great that people camped out overnight. “Over $100,000 worth of real estate was sold that day and people paid $1,100 for a lot. To put that in perspective, the average salary at the time was $30 a month,” says Morisset.

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Fast-forward to today and Olmsted’s 125-year-old community design still shows its adaptability and longevity as developers, community planners and Scarboro residents have worked together to integrate Bow Developments’ Scarboro 17, a multi-family development of 52 houses. offering plenty of green space in the streetscape of century-old Craftsman and Tudor-style homes.

“It was really about creating density without losing that sense of space that the community has; there’s a real fluidity to it,” says Morisset.

Although tickets for Saturday’s festivities are sold out, if you’d like to learn more about Frederick Law Olmsted and his designs, the Scarboro Community Association is planning a lecture series this fall. Visit for more information.

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