Tour de Bowness Street Festival puts the spotlight on cycling and the community of Bowness

Tucked away by the river in the city’s northwest is the community of Bowness. Many people know it merely for its amazing park and ice skating in the winter, but here’s a little bit of history: Bowness used to be it’s own town, independent of Calgary, and has been in existence for over 100 years, celebrating its centennial in 2011. In that time, the community has seen many changes while still maintaining its “small town” charm, including wide roads, free street parking and many locally-owned and operated small businesses. Six years ago, the Bowness Business Improvement Area decided to hold an annual street festival to showcase the community, the residents — many of whom lovingly refer to themselves as “Bownesians” — and the many local businesses of Bowness.One of the most celebrated and popular of these businesses, not to mention one of the most long-standing in Bowness, is Bow Cycle. Celebrating 60 years this year, Bow Cycle continues to be a cornerstone in the community, not only through their business of selling and servicing bikes, but in bringing the community together and celebrating their neighbourhood. Sixteen years ago, Bow Cycle started the annual Tour de Bowness bike race, and has seen it grow into the three-day race that is held today, including criterium, road race and hill race.

In an effort to bring more attention to the Tour de Bowness and to the street festival, Jacqui Esler of the Bowness BIA decided that it might be a good idea to combine the two events, with the street festival held on the third and final day of the bike race. To Esler, the pairing of the two events made perfect sense.

“I think the tie-in for both the BIA and Bow Cycle is that Bowness has been a cycling or bike community for so long, and Bow Cycle has been here for 60 years – which I think is amazing – and because (the race) is a very well-supported community event. I think that what I’ve tried to do with this festival for the last two years is to try to get as many Bownesian artisans and people from Bowness to be a part of it.”

How popular is the Tour de Bowness bike race? Bob Grunewald, Tour de Bowness race director, is quite proud of how far the race has come. “We’ve increased over the years, we are averaging 236 – 250 racers for the weekend, I’m trying to increase that – the capability of the race is 360 just because of how many people are allowed in each category of the race.

In the last 10 years, (people in the community) are like, ‘Hey (the race is) this weekend, awesome!’ They have friends coming to town, they set up their lawn chairs in their yard and watch. Last year … we had people lining the entire main street. The attendance is just as important, and the participation has definitely grown. It helps bring more people into, and helps show off, the community.”

And what is in it for the winners of the Tour de Bowness? Aside from bragging rights, a winner’s jersey and trophy, the Tour de Bowness awards over $20,000 in money and prizes, with the top prize being $1,200. “We are the richest race in Alberta” Grunewald adds.

With the race taking place over three days, the actual street festival will occur on Monday, Aug. 7, running east alongside the race. Esler is eager for the chance to show her community off to the rest of the city. “I want people to come on down to Main Street Bowness and see what we’ve got to offer. We’ve got exciting businesses here, we’ve got a great atmosphere and we want to show people what we’ve got. Bow Cycle is a staple in this community and they’re 60 years old – that’s something that we all need to be proud of. We’re all businesses working together to make (the community) a great place, and we want our festival to celebrate that and build the community.”

Bow Cycle is also using the Tour de Bowness Street Festival as an opportunity to support their community and local charities. “We’ll also have some 50/50 raffles going on for our 60 for 60,” says Grunewald, “we’re trying to raise $60,000 (this year) for Wellspring Canada, for cerebral palsy adapt-a-bike programs and Huntington’s. Our people will be wandering around the festival and hopefully that will get us a little farther with our fundraising. So far we’ve raised $12,000, but we’re still a ways from our goal.”

Other entertainment to look forward to at the Tour de Bowness Street Festival, aside from cycling (is there anything else, asks the cycling fan?) is music by Dr. Z and the Boys, Waltzin’ Matildas, Peter and the Wolves, and The Wild Rose Band. In addition to music, there will be Bownesian vendors and businesses promoting their community, as well as those from the rest of Calgary, a mobile escape room, Irish dancers, food and more. A great event and opportunity to take in one of Calgary’s great communities.

“It’s definitely a way to help bring people down to Bowness, not just the locals” says Grunewald. “These businesses need more people than just what is in Bowness to thrive. They can probably survive off of Bowness, but to thrive, then you have to show off.”

See Bowness show off with The Tour de Bowness bike race August 5-7, and The Tour de Bowness Street Festival August 7. Sign-up for the bike race is open to licensed racers on up until August 3rd at 11:59pm. Check out their site for more details,

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at