Calgary's Joint Encampment Team (JET)

by Mark Zaugg 17. May 2018 23:10

I haven't written in a while now. But tonight I discovered something truly incredible within this city I love.

First, let me commend my Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra and his team for getting an invitation out to me through his Ward 9 Newsletters. If you live in Ward 9 in Calgary, I encourage you to sign up for it. I find it interesting, informative, and worthwhile to receive. You can get on the list at Other wards have similar lists, go find yours.

Second, if you do NOT live in Calgary please don't stop reading. This is a really interesting approach to homelessness and encampments and there is a lot here worth sharing across Canada and around the world.


This story starts two years ago when my dog adopted me. Being the perfect dog that she is, she insists that I walk twice a day for a total time of no less than 60 minutes. As caring as she is, she is most insistent that I also spend a little time on my own in an off-leash environment so she can get her personal time sniffing about and doing her business.

This arrangement works great, we walk most nights in the off-leash area just south of my home along the irrigation canal in a beautiful grassy area with scrub brush and a few trees. Also a beautiful and convenient area for an illegal encampment. It's somewhat secluded, but still has access to water, a short distance to services which can be found downtown or in the more local area. Now, encampments are a big problem all over the city and are a notoriously hard problem to solve.

The wrong answer has been out there for years: Go arrest the people, ticket them, take away their stuff, run them out of the neighbourhood so it becomes someone else's problem a couple miles down the road, meanwhile someone else from a couple miles up the road moves into the newly vacated spot and the cycle repeats itself.

So at some point last year, I came across a newly set up encampment. I didn't like that it was there, but at least it was better than being under the tree in my front yard. And, quite frankly, it was a nice looking set up that looked more like a camp site than a squatters camp. I certainly didn't want to get them in shit and get their stuff confiscated, so I walked on. A week or so later, I noticed that things were looking a little more ramshackle and blown about. "I hope someone's okay," I thought, "Someone needs to tidy that place up or they're going to catch Hell" while I kept walking. Three weeks or so in, the place began to take on that unkempt and abandoned look. It was now time to call. I called 3-1-1 (Calgary City Services phone line) and reported an abandoned camp. It wasn't dangerous, it wasn't an emergency, at best is was a bunch of junk left behind and at worst there was someone hurt or dead down there, so 3-1-1 was the right number to call.

A day or two later, I got a call from Jody. He started by asking me questions I wasn't quite expecting. Now, I don't remember the exact conversation, but it went something like:
"Can you see anyone there?"
"No, I think it's an abandoned site."
"Have you seen someone coming back and forth lately?"
"No, it looks like it's falling down."
"How long has it been there?"
"About three or four weeks."
"THREE OR FOUR WEEKS? And you're just calling now?"
"It didn't look like a problem until recently."

I could feel his exasperation through the phone. I didn't know why. So when I got the email a couple weeks ago from Councillor Carra, I put it in my calendar and made a point to attend to find out what I should have done.


Things I learned:


The very first thing I learned was that I'd be terrible at estimating how many "rough sleepers" (people who don't have proper shelter overnight) there are in Calgary. In a city of roughly 1.4 million people, I would have guessed there would be about 1000 to 2000 people camping out every night. Maybe more in the summer, less in the winter. I was way wrong, it's more like 120. And most of them are nice people with some big problems, although there are definitely criminals and drug addicts we don't want in our neighbourhoods, too.

The second thing that shocked me was that Calgary has about 60% of the overall homeless population in Alberta. Probably in part due to our climate and having the Trans-Canada Highway run east-west through the city. It did not surprise me to hear that homelessness is a problem throughout all parts of Calgary (and Alberta, and Canada, and North America, and... well, you get it.)

The third thing that truly surprised me is that all of those numbers are uncertain. We just don't track the data well. Previously in Calgary, an encampment may be called "road side debris" when it fell under the Roads department, or a "pathway disturbance" on the pathway system, or just plain trespassing when it was on private property.

Calgary's new pilot project is building from a lot of the work that's been done over the past 8 or so years, and they've rolled it up into the Joint Encampment Team. Their web page reads as so sterile compared with the enthusiasm I feel about it. (It's actually not that bad, I'm just really excited about it and thinks it needs more trumpets.)

First off, that Jody I spoke to earlier: He is Jody St. Pierre and he is flat out incredible. He is the person who has been working at finding solutions for the past 8 or so years and I am incredibly proud to have met him. Together with his partner Melanie Thomas (I hope I got that right, I didn't meet her tonight) they are trying hard not to simply kick the can down the road into the next neighbourhood. I found a nice write up on them from the Calgary Homeless Foundation's website. They have been on the front line, know how to interact with people, try to set up contacts and supports and get people out of encampments and back into their lives. Life's real capeless heros.

The approach is basic.
Respond to an encampment complaint.
Try to provide immediate help for the person.
Try to find alignments for the person's needs and an agency that provides support services.
Encourage the person to follow up with the services they need.
Follow up as well as possible to keep the person moving forward.

In the meantime, this program is helping bring a lot of other pieces in the puzzle together, too. Agencies have been always been meeting to help each other out, but this is another specific means to find those places where all the organizations can find synergies. The Joint Encampment Team is also focusing on data collection and serves as a centralized place to collect meaningful data which will be massively helpful with determining the true size of the problem and how we should set our priorities. Knowing where encampments are helps to follow up and ensure people are actually getting the services they need. We can track problem sites and do a better job remediating them. When the can does get kicked down the road to the next neighbourhood, the JET team can understand better who is just playing for time and who is serious about getting help and getting on with their lives.

My fears of getting someone in shit - now I think they're pretty much unfounded today in Calgary. We do have support for people in this city. Now it's not enough, but it's a start. The focus is less on handing out tickets then taking away their stuff and much more on resolving the homelessness. Not that we don't have problems with drugs and crime and people who are going to get themselves in shit on their own. But quite simply the first step is to try to help first. "We can't enforce our way out of this problem," said Jody. He's absolutely correct.

Three things to do:

Remember when I said I called Jody and he sounded frustrated that I called so late? I could have handled it so much better had I only known.

1) When you discover an encampment in Calgary, the very first thing you should do is to call 3-1-1 and report it. When you make your report, it is more helpful if you can give GPS coordinates to the exact site. (The 3-1-1 app will automatically do this for you!) Encampments should be called in to 3-1-1 unless a crime is in progress (then call 9-1-1). Simple, central, and helpful to everyone.

2) Record the serial number from your bikes, mark your property, and should it be stolen, report it. If my bike got stolen and chopped up, I may not want to get the parts back. However it gives the police more options when they can show someone has property which is known to be stolen from you. It may not be much, but it may give more tools to the good guys so they can get help for the bad ones.

3) Donate directly to the agencies that help people instead of giving money to panhandlers. It's a big problem to resolve, get the resources into the hands that make a difference. Yes, I'm overdue to sending a donation to the Mustard Seed or the DI, but find someone who you can support and actually donate to help out if you can. Everything helps.


Finally, at the end of the night I spoke to Jody and said I was sorry I called too late and I promised to do better next time. I told him I'd write a blog tonight and asked if there was anything particular he'd like me to say.

"Mention that it's just junk. It doesn't hurt anyone if it's left alone. Please be patient and we'll get it cleaned up properly as soon as we can."

Mayor in 2017

by Mark Zaugg 9. October 2017 23:07

One thing I was really looking forward to was the showdown this year. Even before the election was on I was asked, "What do you think about Chabot running against Nenshi?"

Not to spoil the punchline, but Nenshi has absolutely met my expectations and I have absolutely not a single hesitation endorsing him again. I have a good view of Councillor Chabot. I absolutely dislike everyone else in the race.

I'm a guy out here that chose Mayor Nenshi in 2010 after some hard soul searching. I'm just another slob that should have no meaning with him whatsoever, but Mayor Nenshi actually knows who I am and cares that I accomplish something positive in my neighbourhood. He is one of six current members of city council that has spoken with me directly on Twitter.  Frankly, I could do with never hearing at all from a couple of them. I very much appreciate that communication and willingness to be open and transparent.

For those who aren't aware, I was part of my Community Association for about five years, culminating with a year as CA president. This came, in part, at Mayor Nenshi's challenge to do three things for Calgary.  That meant working directly with Councillor Chabot and that brought quite a few nice surprises with it for me. My relationship with Councillor Chabot started with him ignoring my offer to get him on Twitter, and help him feel comfortable enough to answer the Tweet Debate held in 2010. He continued to unimpress me at the Ward 10 debate that year. But after knowing him, I can say Councillor Chabot works hard, he is very earnest in his efforts, he is a true fiscal conservative and he is unquestionably very knowledgeable about Calgary and my neighbourhood in particular. He has definitely earned my respect and I view him favourably. But there are two points where Mayor Nenshi stands out more.

I strongly believe in Mayor Nenshi's views about secondary suites in Calgary. Councillor Chabot has opposed them from the start and has at best proposed vastly inferior options.  In fact, years back I originally lived in an illegal secondary suite in this very ward - long since repaired and made legal, but I'm still grateful I don't have to live there any longer.  I argue long and hard that our current system is not working, is not safe, and it magnifies the problems by dumping all the secondary suites into fewer neighbourhoods. The push for affordable housing is very much what causes the over-the-top problems that we see over here in my area.

I believe secondary suites need to be allowed city wide, and not be restricted to specific areas. I'm believe a secondary suite registry is a good idea, but inspections should be required. Registering is not enough - I don't think a registry alone will be enough to ensure homes meet building code and safety code standards. That's going to cost more.  Maybe not as much as it costs us now to waste time in City Council meetings as a homeowner pleads for the right to rent out their basement.  I really do believe our current system is unbelievably stupid and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

As I discussed last week, my primary concern is the working relationship in City Council. Mayor Nenshi has had his hands full with what appears to me to be a divisive council with childish infighting. (Right now I'm specifically thinking of the "knife-in-the-back" gesture, but there are plenty of terrible examples.) It hasn't looked good to me and I expect much better from my representatives overall. I've seen Mr. Chabot directly in high conflict situations, and I do not have confidence in his ability to bridge differences and actually resolve conflict.  Hey, our entire Community Association was a high conflict situation, worse than City Council -- I hope! Mayor Nenshi was the one to offer advice and encourage me to try my best. I thank him for his effort. I felt somewhat abandoned by my Councillor.

I cannot imagine a better communicator than Mayor Nenshi during a crisis. He needs that skill daily. Could you imagine the zoo City Council would be without strong, respectful leadership? Respectful matters in that phrase. Voting down the other side time and time again is just tyranny of the majority and is a sign of poor judgement lacking any thought from council. We need those viewpoints represented and heard, we need to have all the options on the table! Nenshi's my guy to do that.

My shock has been seeing the swell for Bill Smith. I have serious doubts on that swell and very serious questions about his skill, ability and leadership.

Mr. Smith doesn't have a City Council record to stand on. His stance on secondary suites is shocking vague for something discussed in Calgary for literally decades.  In fact, his stance on everything is vague. The Green Line needs a rethink? We've been working on this project for a while now, and yes I would like more, but I want to see it happen. Mayor Nenshi and Councillor Chabot have both put significant time and effort into making the Green Line a success and I trust either one of them over someone taking pot shots at a very high budget line item. His take on affordable housing entirely skips secondary suites and focuses on the private sector. The private sector sometimes performs terribly, please see the above note of living in an illegal, dangerous secondary suite. Let me copy his section on "Biking" directly from his website:


Biking is one of those issues that is important to some, and not important to others.

We need to balance bike traffic with road traffic. A lot has already been invested to make Calgary bike-friendly. We can’t just rip it up.

But, I only support bike paths where it makes sense. Safety and community must always come first.  Any new paths must also be built at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

First, this is critically important to some of us who are afraid to cycle and be killed on the streets. This is also critically important to drivers who don't want to kill cyclists they can't see and can't predict. The separation between cars and bikes makes it better for all of us.
Secondly, "We need to balance bike traffic with road traffic" is terribly disingenuous. There has been little to no accommodation of bicycle traffic in the past. Bicycles have been shunted to out-of-the-way side roads or the MUP along the river we are told is for enjoyment and not commuting. We need to twin all major routes of the MUPs and make safe routes for bicycles that go where cyclists need to commute. Those are Cycle Tracks in the downtown area.

This is where bike paths make sense! And the cycle tracks are cheaper to build than equivalent roadways and much cheaper to maintain. Don't give me crap about reasonable cost to taxpayers. I'm a taxpayer too!

As for my primary concern of City Council getting along well enough to function, Mr. Smith may add a cheery section of political dialogue and fair treatment, but his and his team's behaviour has belied that. Sketchy polls being released is not respectful political dialogue, you are throwing up your elbows trying to make yourself the conversation. Mr. Smith's presidency of the Progressive Conservative party during one of it's least transparent and least productive periods does not give me confidence. My dealings with that government are some of the most frustrating, agonizing processes I've been through ever, without any hint of exaggeration.

Mr. Smith is throwing out FUD -- that stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. It's relatively easier to whip up FUD over what we have instead of putting forward real ideas of your own. There is nothing in his record or on his policy statement that says he has the smallest interest in what's important to me, in the services I require, or in a true ability to actively listen to the full diversity of Calgarians instead of his own circle of influence.

I'm open to a conversation, I'm willing to have Mr. Smith turn my opinion around as Councillor Chabot has. But there's a lot deeper hole that you're starting in.

I won't end on a negative note, but I feel this past council performed poorly. The counterbalance to that has been a city administration, city staff, and some truly incredible city employees that have shone. As a citizen, I have received better, more relevant, generally helpful services over the past seven years than I ever had before.
3-1-1 remains fantastic.
The people who worked with our CA with me were genuinely top notch.
I especially have praise for Councillor's Chabot's office staff who are second to none and bent over backwards to make this part of the city a better place.

We are on the right track. We need to stay there.

Vapour lock at City Hall? The 2017 edition.

by Mark Zaugg 1. October 2017 17:12

Back in 2010, I figured I had my city council vote figured out when Dave Bronconnier decided not to run again.  I was quite frustrated with what seemed to be constant fighting between the aldermen (as they were known at the time) and my sense that city council was lost in the wilderness and not accomplishing what it should. There was one guy on city council that stood out to me: his nickname was "Dr. No" and I thought he would be the guy with the fortitude to end the bickering and get things back on track.  Until the time when I thought of the "street festival" guy opposed a street festival that didn't match his parameters. It turned me off when he qualified what made a good street festival strictly to his own standards and divisively diminished a festival I thought was pretty neat. The harder I looked, the more our views diverged, so I decided to look at my other choices.

To make a very long story short, I made an alternative choice, got behind him early enough to campaign, and got to participate in seeing this guy who was barely on the radar become the mayor I'm still proud to support. A lot has changed in seven years; I've become involved in different ways, I've met a lot of great people along the way and got a very different perspective on how the city actually operates (and needs to operate!) in order to function. I'll write on the mayoral side of things in a week. This week I'm focusing on the councillors.

Snap forward to 2017. A continual theme I'm hearing again is that city hall is dysfunctional - AGAIN. It's not a small concern, it costs every one of us when we don't have representatives working collegially and effectively together. I have no particular insight into how big or how small the issue is now, but this was my concern in 2010 and remains my concern today.

One thing I've heard often is a Calgarian from any given part of the city claiming their councillor is not the problem; it's always some particular other councillor from the other side of the city. Some of this rang true to me: I didn't love my councillor, nor did I outright dislike him. However I hold very strong opinions of some councillors in other wards.

The difference is I don't have to work with them every day. Our councillors must work together better.

I'm aiming to make two points today: How I think we can help as voters, and second what I hope from my councillor.

First, Calgary is a big city. We are well beyond our small city status and we absolutely need to acknowledge that the city continues to change as it's grown. Some of us are four-generation Calgarians whose great-grandparents rode across the prairie to settle here. Some of us just arrived looking for a home safe from war and literal chemical weapons. Who we are and the way we all live differs here, in the very same city.

That diversity is very much our strength. This is a city wide enough for us all to live here, with enough opportunity for all of us. There are Calgarians much more exceptional than me that come from every single corner of this city. Our city hall needs to be big enough to allow a voice be heard from everywhere. But it could be more receptive to each of our needs along the way.

The challenges of inner-city life are very different from a new community in the suburbs. My back alley is unpaved, and was likely built 100 years without a proper base ever being laid. It cannot be graded frequently enough to prevent massive potholes forming.  Fixing that will be expensive, time consuming, and a hard sell in this neighbourhood. On the other hand, my commute to downtown takes somewhere between 20 and 35 minutes and I have four good, convenient choices of how I'd like to get there.

Or how about a more topical issue: Green carts were just delivered to our neighbourhood. I live in a four-plex. We now have 12 different carts to line up along the alley. Seriously! This is just six of them, we can't fit all of them in.
Garbage carts in the alley
And here's a picture of how much garbage I generate over two weeks.

Two weeks of garbage right here!

This is crazy! Now in all fairness, most of my waste consists of glass jars, tin cans, cardboard or plastic that goes into the blue recycle bin. But any organic matter will be coming out of that half-bag of trash - it would take me a full six months before the garbage man would even consider stopping for me! Even if I didn't compost (which I do). And I have to pay full freight for a service from which I will barely benefit. I'm not getting a discount because I throw out so little.

It's fact: City Council has to make these decisions. They must balance the cost of pickup, the cost of expanding or replacing landfill sites, the cost of waste management (including mass composting), the cost of trucks, maintenance, and staffing to remove garbage. That was not going to be an easy choice.

I personally am getting screwed over by the green carts. I simply don't create enough waste and will never get fair return for what it will cost me, and no, I'm not happy about it. But if your thoughts simply end there, you've entirely missed the bigger picture. It would be utterly irresponsible and insane to continue to buy new farmland on the perimeter of Calgary in order to build new landfills. Also, there are people in the city who need the green cart service desperately who generate more organic waste than they could ever compost.  Our capability to compost more items when we pool our organic waste increases with the volume, as we can use better equipment to compost bones and dog waste I cannot compost safely at home. Less goes into our dumps, extending their lifespan. I may be overpaying for what I get, but overall this is a good thing for Calgary.

We need people in city hall that can spot that when I'm getting a raw deal on green carts, I at the very least deserve consideration to getting the back alley where those carts are sitting fixed to modern standards so my car doesn't get rattled apart every time I drive down it.

So now is the time where we, the citizens, have our opportunity to try to fix the jam at City Hall. Maybe you can't fight City Hall, but there are precious moments in time when you can fix it - if only a little, for a short period of time.

This is the time to grill your candidates. If your candidates only complain about sky-high taxes, it's time to press that candidate on the services that matter to you.  Don't forget to mention the services that don't matter to you, too.
If your candidates have grandiose plans about residential snow clearing or new yellow carts for your oil collection or building a new manicured park and pathway along your front yard, it's time to press them about how they'll fund it and how their ideas will benefit us, as Calgarians, as a whole.

Every single candidate that gets elected to City Hall this year should be able to recognize inner city and suburban issues and be able to speak coherently on real issues for Calgarians regardless of the ward they come from. They need to be able to understand facts presented to them, and to be able to communicate both what those facts mean to them and to their constituents. It would be fantastic for every councillor to be able to separate themselves from their ward and be capable of empathizing the opposing position. It would be over-the-moon fantastic to have all councillors speak respectfully towards one another, but I fear I carry myself away.

Please, please think carefully when you vote for city councillor this year. And please consider adding another criterion to your decision process: How well will each candidate work with City Council at large? Will that candidate add productively to the debate or will the candidate behave with immaturity and intolerance? Can that candidate speak to you clearly, does the candidate baffle you with B.S. or does the candidate simply insult and degrade any opinion that varies from his or her own?

Most of you can stop reading here. The remainder is applicable for Ward 9 residents.

With the shuffling of boundaries, my neighbourhood was moved to Ward 9, and I am truly ecstatic about it. I was on-board from even before the change was official and I'm optimistic again to live in my neighbourhood.

There's not much mystery here, Gian-Carlo Carra has been my favourite councillor for years. I see him as a highly productive, highly knowledgeable member of council.  We both hosted Jane's Walks, on attending his I got a glimpse of his expertise of urban planning and I admire and respect his viewpoints. I also value his knowledge because I see my neighbourhood potentially getting hammered by redevelopment and gentrification on a level this community is not even remotely prepared for. I know of several occasions where Mr. Carra has had to deal with high conflict situations and while I don't think he's always been perfect I feel he's done a good job overall.

Councillor Carra was the second councillor I followed on Twitter (the first being Brian Pincott who found me first!) where I consider him to be interesting, helpful and a good communicator. Twitter happens to be my favourite social media venue - he can communicate where I am rather than making me come to him. Being a good communicator matters to me when we disagree on an issue. I don't want to be written off, I don't want to be spoken down to, I want to be informed about whatever information I'm missing that has convinced him. No, we don't always agree, I respect that.

We've never really had a conversation about what I want from Mr. Carra as my councillor. To me, it's an easy question: I love my neighbourhood, as dysfunctional as it can sometimes be. We have some things that need to be improved - alleys for one, an out-of-touch CA for another. I don't expect miracles, but making things better would be great. Otherwise, I very much want you to continue as councillor as before, and represent me proudly at City Council again.

Thank you for making my choice for Councillor an easy one this year.

So you want to be a Calgary Band Parent?

by Mark Zaugg 18. June 2016 22:01

Well, chances are, you may or may not want to be an actual "band parent" but maybe your child is interested.  There are a number of routes to getting here.  If you've played in a marching band while you were growing up, you'll probably already know much of what I'm talking about and this is probably not meant for you.  But if your child comes home clutching an application to join the band and you don't really know what you're in for, I want to share some of my experience over the past three years to encourage you to say, "Yes, absolutely you can join!"

A little background: I've always been musical, but I've never played in a marching band myself, so almost everything I came across was new.  Everyone who knows the Calgary Stampede knows of the Calgary Stampede Showband, but I wasn't sure of the relationship of the two or how Calgary Round Up Band or Stetson Showband fit into the mix.  I knew they were in the parade each year, and they popped up all over the place during Stampede.  I also know that musically, they're pretty good performers and you have to be talented to play with them.  Beyond that, I filled in a lot of the detail with supposition.

Going to the parent orientation meeting helped me and if you have a child remotely interested in band, attend one if you can.  A couple meetings have just wrapped up, but ask the bands if you're interested, there will probably be more over the summer.  You're going to hear glorious stories about how wonderful of an experience it is for the students, you might not hear how great it feels to be a Band Parent, too.

On commitment

Participating with a marching band is not (and should not) be for everyone.  It takes a lot of time and effort from your child and if they lose their desire to be part of it, it's completely fine to say, "That's okay, let's find something else that is for you."  As a parent, please understand you'll probably see the most apprehension over the first three months.  If it's totally not for them, you'll both recognize it quickly.  However, by the time you get to about Christmas the butterflies start settling out, you all start understanding the rhythm and flow around you, and it becomes more enjoyable and the waffling tends to go away.  In our case, I knew my son loved it once he started talking about what it would take to audition for Showband.  There has been no looking back, and I'm grateful he stuck through the early apprehension.

Practising at home

Part of commitment is the desire to become good at what you play.  My musical career ended when practice became unenjoyable rather than just playing what I loved.  I never have to tell my son to practise.  Usually I'll hum along and he'll correct me when I get a part wrong.  Or he'll stick a melody in my head and catch me whistling one of his songs while I'm washing dishes.  Playing his instrument is fun - it is play!  The people who go are interested in bands will find it within themselves to practise.  The rest of the band rallies to help everyone around them get better.  Let that encouragement come from the band, all you need as a band parent is a little patience and willingness to let them play the songs in their heart.  The squawks and screeches you loathe vanish quickly when they love what they're playing.

Flutes are pretty easy on the ears played at home.  The brass instruments can use mutes to keep it bearable in the house.  I feel a little for drumline parents who don't like constant drumming.  Personally, when I rode the bus with the drumline, I slipped into the groove and bopped along all the way home.  It can be comforting having a steady rhythm tapped out around you.  Find enjoyment in your son or daughter's practise.  Which leads to:

Instrument choice

In my case, my son had to carry his instrument up a steep hill every day so he chose something light.  Smart kid.  There is an instrument and role for every child - leave it up to them as much as possible to choose what they like.  It leads to better commitment and makes the practising easier.  Choosing an instrument might happen in school, long before you have any input.  That's a good thing!  Let your kid find something that works for them.

Rent your instrument through the school program, at least to start with.  Give your child the flexibility (and the safety) to change instruments as their interests change -- or even grows!  Multi-instrumentalists are fantastic musicians, but there's no way you can afford to buy everything up front.  When they settle on a favourite, buy one if you can.  There are some great beginner's instruments available.  Don't settle on the cheapest either, they're going to have to sound good out there.  In our case, we got a beginner's flute and we're currently saving for an upgraded model.  It's been a bargain for the amount of time he's got on it.

And most importantly, I've heard of a band member deciding to stop playing an instrument and join the Colour Guard.  You do not need to be a musician to be part of a marching band, Colour Guard is an essential role, too.  The work put into choreographing the Guard got my attention early - they work every bit as hard as the musicians into honing their craft.  The visual effect during a parade or a field show makes the difference between a good band and a great one.  My stereotype was crushed early:  Colour Guard is not for girls in goofy outfits.  They carry replica guns for good reason!  Boys in Colour Guard can massively increase the range of things Colour Guard can do.  If your son is interested, encourage him to try it!

As an aside, this post is very much inspired watching the Stampede Showband's Colour Guard come off the field beaming triumphantly after a performance, then I saw them go through 30 seconds of recovery realizing they spent every ounce of energy they had, then forming up and proudly leading the band to their muster area.  I will never think of Colour Guard as anything but gifted, graceful, talented, and elite endurance athletes.  Which leads me to:


I have always believed that everyone needs to do one sport passionately throughout their entire life.  Sometimes the sport will change, sometimes you'll do more than one or play sports seasonally, but one's physical and mental well-being requires a sport.  If you're concerned about raising a console crazed couch potato because they're not interested in sports - encourage them to join a band.  To paraphrase Matt Dunigan, "Nothing goes together better than marching bands and football!"

Marching band fully qualifies as a life sport.  Those kids are working hard, not only exercising chest and lungs but also stepping in time, sliding to one side or walking backwards - all at the same time!  They don't just walk a parade, they are walking a parade blowing full tilt into a tuba!  When's the last time you walked a couple miles?  How about doing it at a set pace, carrying something heavy, while modulating your breathing and embouchure?  (Your embouchure is basically using your face muscles to provide a good sound.)  They are all athletes.

Personal development

I touched on it a bit when I talked about practice, but much of what I've observed is the band improving by supporting other band members and a growth of the people within it.  If I told you that in just three years your 12 year old kid will turn from awkward and apprehensive to a solid, upright person who is proud of who they are and confident in their skills would you be shocked and amazed or clamouring to sign up?  All adolescents are going to grow leaps and bounds over those years, but kids in Round Up are light years ahead of the average kid.  Having been around Round Up these past three years makes me proud of each and every one of them.  They are well behaved, polite and decent people - it is my honour to know those people.

The practical

Okay, you're child's interested, you're convinced it's a good idea to give it a shot.  What are the practical things to know?

Calgary Round Up is for students Grades 7 through 9 and Stetson Showband takes students Grade 10 through 12.  Both bands will accept any student, and you can (and should!) join even if your child missed the first year of eligibility.  Stampede Showband requires auditions, and I see a lot of interest in wanting to eventually play with them.  Round Up and Stetsons each have great pages on joining the band and I'll send you there to answer your questions.  The instructors are mostly people who have been through the program and are professional and top rank musicians.  This is a Grade A, top class organization from instructors to support staff to parent volunteers.  In my experience, the board is always thinking about what's best for the band families.

Fees this year are $850 for both bands.  On top of that you'll be paying for tour and some incidentals like show tickets.  Tour varies each and every year - my recollection is Round Up tours have cost $1200 - $1500 depending on the year.  They have optional fundraisers to help defer tour costs, they have been high quality fundraisers and I usually buy plenty of burgers, Spolumbo's sausage and steaks to help me get through performance season.  The fundraisers helped me out on several levels.

Call it around $2500 that I spent last year on band.  I'm not wealthy by any stretch, so that's a significant cost to me, however the outright value behind that has been immeasurable.  Not only has it been a weekly (and towards Stampede, daily!) activity, but it's been a fantastic way to plug kids into events in and around Calgary.  Parent's don't go on tour as a rule, but the kids have gone to fantastic summer adventures where they become better musicians and fantastic people.  I think most band parents will tell you they get extraordinary value for what band costs.

Time-wise you'll have to get back and forth to practice every week.  Thursday for Round Up, Wednesdays for Stetsons.  The bands try to keep it as central as possible for parents across the city and you will learn the venues very quickly.  Most months they will hold a band camp over a weekend.  Band camps are often centrally located, but treat them all as special, weekend-long events you could potentially chaperone (more on that soon!)  You will also need to set aside time to work 7-10 Bingo's, possibly a casino, and one day during Stampede to help with Kinsmen lotteries.  If you have a flexible schedule, it's easier to pick up Bingo's on short notice.  I try to book about half my bingos early on, and half later in the year on weekends or evenings (if possible).  It has always worked out, so far.  Extended family helps a lot (and I thank them for the help!), but if you're like me, you'll find all of the Round Up community becomes an extended family in it's own right.

The performances are incredible.  Yes, there's the Calgary Stampede, but there are also parades in several towns around Calgary that are also fun and fabulous.  There is an annual Christmas concert at the Jubilee.  There are several "Field Show" competitions in and around Calgary where the bands put on a themed performance.  They're a joy, and bands compete against each other - usually as a way to test their own progression.  You'll regularly see six or seven really great bands playing one after another.  You're going to want to attend as many as you can to watch the band play.

It all takes volunteer time and effort to put the whole thing together.  You can offer as much of your time as a volunteer or chaperone as you wish.  I really enjoy being around the band and love being a parent chaperone on weekend band camps and as many performances as I can hit.  "Hell Week" occurs just before the band puts together their final performances, and the kids work incredibly hard to polish their show and make it as wonderful as possible.  The final opportunity of the year is to chaperone on tour.  I haven't made it yet, but I know a bit about how much work and fun those tours are by the photos and the stories.  Show your kid how proud you are, go volunteer and make it possible for them to be part of a magnificent band.

My son is moving up from Round Up to Stetsons this year.  Ultimately, this is a thank you letter to everyone involved with the Calgary Round Up Band for the incredible program they've put together.  I sincerely hope that I can encourage other parents to let their kids enroll and be part of something historic in Calgary, current in song and style, and one of the best things imaginable for your child's future.

Let them try it.  It'll be magically for them and you.

Join the band.

Cycle Tracks: An open letter to the Calgary Eyeopener

by Mark Zaugg 12. March 2014 07:03
Dear Eyeopener,

Earlier today Michael Stark did a opinion piece on why bicycles should not get separated bike lanes.  It started poorly and went downhill from there.

I cycle.  I drive.  I ride the bus.  I walk.  I commute back and forth to work, but also move around and about my neighbourhood a number of ways even when I'm not commuting back and forth to work.  The point of travelling using multiple means of transportation is not to give an air of authenticity to my argument, it's very much to emphasize getting around is much easier when I can travel in the most appropriate way possible.  When I have my children or heavy loads with me, it is far easier to drive.  When I am commuting on my own, driving is wasteful, expensive and slow.

Mr. Stark decried those bikes zipping past him while he was stuck in traffic.  It's true, cycling is faster downtown in rush hour.  Sometimes much faster.  In real numbers, it takes me 20 minutes to ride from my home to my office at 8:00 am every morning.  Driving that same route at the same time took me 35 minutes the last time I tried it.  Then I had to find parking and walk from my parking stall to work on top of that time.

My office does not have showers, however we do have enclosed parking for bicycles and we have a change area.  I can wear appropriate clothing for cycling then change into something appropriate for work.  Or those who know me better know I somewhat underdress for work and stay comfortable and productive all day.  It's true that I'm fortunate to work at a great office.  Days when I have to dress in a suit means I'd have to slow down and not get to work all sweaty.  Suits on bikes are not uncommon.

Lack of showers or secure lock up areas are a reason to improve available facilities downtown, and are not a valid reason to eliminate cycle tracks.

As for cyclist behaviour, I ride daily along 9 Avenue SE through Inglewood.  I strictly follow the law while hundreds of drivers each and every day break the law.  Let me reiterate that, literally hundreds of people breaking driving laws by speeding, driving in incorrect lanes, cutting off other drivers, or failing to yield to pedestrians.  I ride safely and legally.  I'm more than willing to take the lane when safe to do so.  Sorry for your luck if you are tailgating me in your car, driving in the bus/bike lane on 9 Avenue, blowing your horn and blowing your gasket.  Drivers are not supposed to be in that lane whatsoever and they are at fault, not the cyclists.

Yes, all travellers need to follow law and get about the city safely.  There is a dangerous imbalance when a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds meets a bicycle.  Separating lanes means we have a clear segregation where bicycles are expected and cars can travel.  It prevents overly aggressive or overly timid interactions between commuters.  It's beneficial to me as a cyclist and it's beneficial to me when I'm driving.

Mr. Stark chooses to drive and not cycle.  His choice and his perceived suitability for commuting choices has no bearing on the need for segregated bicycle lanes.  Those of us out there appreciate the safer, quicker, standardized routes to ride and many of the drivers out there appreciate cyclists being in their own lanes where they are not likely to swing into their driving lane.  It's necessary.  We need to encourage more ways to commute into downtown so more people can make more appropriate commuter choices.

We can't keep expanding roads without starting to eliminate the very downtown the roads are built to serve.  Better cycling infrastructure is just one of a number of great ideas aimed at improving access to downtown.

 - Mark Zaugg

Dziadek's Tie Pin

by Mark Zaugg 17. September 2013 04:24

This is my grandfather's tie pin.  Dziadek's tie pin.

It is beautiful and my favourite memento of him.  I know it was a gift to him.  It is real gold, I have no idea the quality, and has six birth stones set in a circle.  I don't even remember which belongs to whom.  One is Dziadek's, one is Babcia's.  Two are for my uncles, one is for my Aunt. One is for my Mom.

I love it.

Dziadek was a Russian artillery officer in World War II.  Assuming I have the story right and assuming he told the full truth to my Mom when she recorded and then translated his history.  (We know he didn't.)  We also know he had a hard life.  I have no idea how he survived starvation, hypothermia and extreme poverty as a child.  I assume he joined the Russian army to escape the poverty but it's equally possible he was conscripted - I just don't know.  I have no idea how he survived the war.  His war stories were horrifying.  He said he had it good - he was flown around to fight where needed.  And yet he still told a story of his buddies running forward to strip boots from fallen soldiers so they could have footwear.  Some truly horrifying stuff, and as most veterans I assume I only heard the nicest of the horrible stories.  He was taken as a prisoner of war.  The stories of being in POW and concentration camps weren't much better.

For the record, he was welcomed to Canada and became on of our own, but to his dying day he was afraid the KGB would find him and take him back to the Soviet Union and later Russia.  He went to his grave grateful to be on Canadian soil.  I try to remember the blessing of being here.

At his eulogy my Mom called him a survivor.  There was never a description more apt.  He was a flawed man, but he was unquestionably a survivor and kept trying to keep his family cared for.  Today when I think of him, I think of the word "survivor" first.  Through starvation, through a war, through being stuck in post-war Germany, through coming to Canada and setting up a new life as an immigrant to a new land.  He always got through.

His tie pin gives me strength.  I wear it to court when I fight to stand up for our rights against the depravations of liars.  I wear it to weddings to remember the strength and resiliency of families.  I wear it to dinners when I want to keep my tie out of my meal.

With that tie pin, I walk with his strength and stubborn determination to survive, but also the humility of a man who had pulled through ridiculous odds against him and made his surroundings just a little bit better.

It is very special to have worn Dziadek's pin today.  I attended the Calgary Foundation's Vital City 2013 event.  It was amazing and I am very honoured to have attended.  I said on Twitter that I literally could not walk 10 feet without meeting a friend, a colleague or a person who inspires me.  I stand behind it, that was an amazing moment.  I have no idea how many people were there, but each and every one of them were actively involved in making Calgary a better city.  People I had met once or twice, to friends long standing and much admired.  Names I had admired from afar and felt honoured to just shake their hand, other folks I rub shoulders with regularly - although perhaps nowhere near as often as I would like.

I think I can safely say that the highlight of the evening was being addressed by David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada.  I'm not entirely particularly certain of where I stand with regards to the office of the Governor General, but I most certainly understand how Mr. Johnston is both inspirational and deserving of the role.  He spoke with clarity, with enthusiasm and with a deep respect for Calgary, for Canada and for the people here.  I was most impressed with his inclusivity of the community as a whole.  Calgary and all it's people.  You could feel his inspiration from how Calgary pulled together magnificently to respond to a difficult flood.  We are not a perfect city, but we have set a standard on how to be resilient, how to build community, how to create a place that is more than the sum of us all.  He genuinely transferred caring and concern for our Aboriginal peoples throughout the night.  He recharged my soul tonight and reminded me that the efforts of us all have been noticed and admired.  We are smart, or caring, but either way we're part of this city.

Dziadek's tie pin was there through it all.  From the meekest survivor in front of the emblematic head of government in Canada.  We truly do all have a role to make Calgary, and in fact our world, a better place.

Make Helping a Habit

by Mark Zaugg 30. July 2013 06:07

I am a fixer.  I want to repair things that are broken.  I want to right what is wrong.

It's part of why I value my career.  Each and every day I get to fix something, or stop something from breaking, or make sure I can recover something in case of loss.  It requires attention to detail, keeping yourself organized with good notes, and a lot of foresight.  When I make a mistake in the foresight department (and I do that a lot!) I have lessons to learn, usually they're serious at that stage.  Serious lessons are painful to learn.  You can wallow in it or you can pull yourself up, learn and move on more prepared for the next time.

I've made a lot of mistakes, some have nearly broken me.  Some have taken years to recover from.  The biggest lesson I've learned along the way is from the great Murray Walker who said, "Never, ever give up."  I've decided that in my immediate world that means I should never, ever give up trying to make things around me just a little bit better.

It's not always easy.  I still let all the stress and crap get me down sometimes.

Shit does happen.  A woman was mistreated in my neighbourhood this past weekend.  I can't change that.  I can't fix that.  I can't make it better.  It bugs the hell out of me to be helpless.  But I can work to make our neighbourhood more cohesive.  We can improve things around us.  We can help each other.  It is what a community would do.  We must continually work to strengthen our communities - be they physical communities on a map or virtual communities on the internet or temporary communities that come together to meet then flit apart.

I've done my best to teach my children to respect others, I do my best to set the example daily.  Quite often I fail, or screw things up, or come across as disingenuous.  Tonight I was told, "It must be nice to be so colourblind."  Then I thought of Naheed Nenshi saying, "Calgary is the city where no one cares who your Daddy is."  That's the place I want to live, that's the interpretation of colourblind I long for.  I want to respect all my neighbours - my neighbourhood wouldn't be anywhere near as awesome without them here.  I want my neighbours to bring their best efforts forward, I'll put my best on the table too, and together we'll make a difference.  Some days are better than others, but the sum total needs to be moving forward.

Positive, directed change.  It's not a line I'm trying to feed anyone, it is very much an idea I've dedicated myself to working on daily.  I'm not a hero.  I'm not a genius.  I'm just an average guy trying to make things better each and every day.  Trying to learn something new each and every day.

Make helping a habit.  Sooner or later we'll run across each other and together we'll accomplish great things.  The rest of the world will have to look after itself until we get around to making it better, too.

Provide Proper Flood Maps Now

by Mark Zaugg 19. July 2013 07:42

The difference between 'right' and 'wrong' is an uncrossable chasm.  But the difference between 'right' and 'kinda right' can be a very, very large gap too.

I've spent the past couple of days trying to reconcile the details from over the past month.  It's been tough, it's been inspiring, it's been hot and sweaty work followed up with sweet refreshment.

The flood has unquestionably been unprecedented.  No one has seen a flood this bad before, this was truly major.  Full credit to those involved from the start.  We have jumped in and slogged through the mud and the water.  We've done what we could to make things safe.  We've done what we can to make things right.  We aren't done, but we're still trying.

We knew it was going to be bad ahead of time.  We weren't sure how bad and we didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.  When the river flows jumped to five and ten times above regular levels in less than a day it became nearly impossible to predict accurately what was going to happen.

But poor advance warning is a far cry from no warning whatsoever.  If you were in an area affected in 2005 you had fair reason to be worried.  We didn't expect it to extend nearly as far or be nearly as dangerous.  Do not take the warnings lightly.  Be prepared ahead of time and act on it before you have to react to an emergency.

That uncertainty that has the ability to really wear people down, especially right now.  I will never forget these are good people's lives.  I am honestly trying my best to do what I can for them while keeping myself safe, healthy and functional.  These people need as many answers and reassurance as we can give them right now.  Some have the resources and ability to buy a new home, replace their possessions and begin picking up the pieces.  Others are struggling with having lost all but the clothes on their backs.  They need as much help as we can give them.

The flood maps are a good idea.  We know that we can't just keep sinking resources into a home that will be flooded in the next rain event.  We need to make sound decisions based on the best information available to us right now.  Those people deserve the best answers we can give them so they can begin making wise decisions about their futures.

The problem is that we already know the best information available is not presented in the maps as drawn now.  We know they are already outdated, based upon old data.  We know that they don't necessarily take into account floods that creep up along McLeod Trail.  We know they cannot take into account changes the river has carved into it's own channel.

I come from the world of technology, specifically from the faction that believes in "Release early, release often."  You have to pick a starting point, so rather than waiting for everything to be perfect you put out something that's good and spend time improving it.  Allow yourself the opportunity to throw away the first attempt - if it turns out great then all the better, but be prepared right from the start to throw away the first attempt if you can learn lessons and make the second version considerably better.

The flood maps are a good starting point, but they must be considered incomplete.  We do not have time for the arrogance of faux finality when there are people's lives in the balance.  Right now the maps as presented are no more than working documents, open to redesign and discussion.

A house in danger of getting washed into the river may not be worth saving and we need to be honest with the owners and residents.  We simply can't save everything in perpetuity.  But the red, pink and yellow zones are not carved into the bedrock, either.  It is far too early to say we have put due consideration into the maps at all.

We are Albertans.  We know how to work hard.  We know how to volunteer.  We know how to give.  We know how to cooperate and help.

Now is the time to state forthright that we are starting with the maps we have, but we are about to release our best and brightest minds on finding solutions for those affected.  We have people who are capable and willing to do the work.  We have experts willing and able to put in the time and effort to help our neighbours.  Let them do their work and produce the best maps possible for our Flood Friends.  They deserve answers now.

Stop pretending the maps are final and let loose the next batch of flood heros: Those who can help the affected plan the next stage of their cleanup.  No more lame meetings like we saw in High River tonight.  Get those who understand the area together with those who know how to design towns to protect against floods and get the proper maps out to those who are affected as soon as we are possibly able.  In days or weeks, not months or years.  We need the right answers now, not the 'kinda right' answers.

We have proven that we can pitch in and help each other.  Now is not the time to stop.

Building Resiliency Through One Positive Action Every Day

by Mark Zaugg 9. July 2013 13:52

Why do I believe in doing one thing every day to make Calgary a better city?

It isn't because I have had a long abiding love of the city. If you do not know the story, I was planning on staying in Calgary until 2018 and then leaving it behind for good.  "Calgary had become too big, too unfriendly, it had lost touch with what it what it had been," I once thought not too long ago.  I had struggled to find good work, I had felt the slow crush of debt and the difficulty of finding a decent home in a tight rental market.  I have lived bunkered in my home against the horde of strangers in the neighbourhood who cared nothing beyond complaining of how horrible we all were as neighbours. 

Aspects of that may still be true for many people in this city.  That is a part of Calgary that may exist literally anywhere in the city, it's just a mentality and not a place.

I hope everyone who lives in that part of the city finds the place where I live now, where we like our neighbours and love our neighbourhoods.  A place where even if we took a hit we have a thousand people showing up to help.  Sometimes quite literally.


Over the past month many Calgarians who have discovered what it means to be Calgarian.  If you were flooded, neighbours volunteered to help.  If you couldn't volunteer to tear out drywall or lift heavy things or make sandwiches you found a way to donate or contribute.  But the most important thing is that you contributed!

It goes back to a tweet I received long ago.  "Report to yourself.  Take the ownership to make change.  Don't wait for permission."

That created my new address in Calgary and I know precisely what it means to get what you give.

We will get through the flood because we haven't questioned if we should participate, we just helped.  We got through the immediacy of helping Calgary and then responded to the surrounding areas because it is the right thing to do. 

It remains so because we've baked it in that way.  You need to report to yourself.  You need to take ownership of that sphere of influence around you and change it for the better.  Nobody else is going to say yes or no, so just take on what you can.  You can't fix everything, but you can make it better, and only you will know what "better" looks like once you are finished.

That is what builds resiliency.  That is what makes us strong and keeps us moving forward.  The next phase is where we develop those immediate relationships we have formed, check in on our neighbours and rebuild our city.  Yes, we are up to this.

I saw it yesterday with Thomas, the Gutter Doctor who took pride in his work to fix the slapstick mess left behind by someone else.  I saw it with friends who simply appeared in order to make things right and are determined to see it through.  Pride in your work, giving a little extra, helping a friend: This is the better Calgary I envision. 

It happens by doing one thing, each and every day, to make Calgary a better city.  Take on the challenge for yourself.

Hey #FloodFriend

by Mark Zaugg 30. June 2013 06:14

Hey #FloodFriend,

Sorry 'bout your stuff.  If you didn't lose any stuff, sorry you had to leave your home for a while.  Or if you got through unscathed, thanks for helping out.  It's cool - it's only stuff and you matter so much more.  In fact, over the past week or so I've discovered so much more cool about you.

I genuinely like you.  I think of you as a true friend I've had for years now.  I like that feeling a whole lot more than just seeing your face pass by on the street once in a while.  We're not best buddies or anything, but I'm open to hanging out or going for beers once in a while or maybe we can hit the next Stamps game, or Flames, or Hitmen or Roughnecks.  Or something in the minor leagues or whatever you're into because, you know, you're kinda cool and I figure you like cool stuff.

Hey, those beers, let's go for something local.  I'm longing for a Brew Brother's Black Pilsner, may I offer you something from Village Brewery, Minhas, Wild Rose or Big Rock?  I'm up for anything good and local, what's your favourite?  Let's head down to the Ironwood or Mikey's Juke Joint or the Blues Can and catch a show.  Although your regular haunt would be just fine too.  I'm up for something different.

Or let me buy you dinner.  There's a great family run restaurant down the block.  We can go just after we go trolling through the galleries looking for a new painting for your feature wall.

Ya know, it is festival season too.  Canada Day is going to be kinda different at Shaw Millennium Park this year.  Different is good.  That's the whole point of meeting you through the flood, isn't it?  There's hardly a week that goes by that we can't find something to do.  Let's go find something and kick back a while.

Maybe instead we'll just say hi to each other by name instead of grunting or dodging eye contact in the hall.  The important thing is knowing we've got each other's back when the chips are down.

So, for the next little while, mi casa es su casa.  Let's just muddle through this for now and once we dig out we'll all be better off.  We're a different city now, let's keep this feeling going.

As a charter member of the Eternally Loyal Order of Flood Friends, I solemnly swear to share my food, water and sustenance (okay, I'll share my coffee but maybe not the really, REALLY good stuff), rubber boots, tools and cleaning supplies come Hell or High Water, under risk of Stampede Breakfast Banishment, forever and anon until Nenshi doth nap.



Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.


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