It’s autumn – fall colours are out and days are noticeably shorter. Before the snow falls, it’s time to visit the Calgary Zoo!

Yogi Bear has directed Calgarians to St. George’s Zoo Bridge since the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Anthony Imbrogno

The Zoo is located on St. George’s Island. In 1887, the Bow River islands were leased for development as parks. A ferry serviced them from 1891 until St. George’s Zoo Bridge was constructed in 1908.

An animal park popped up in 1917, which became the Calgary Zoo in 1929. Dr. Omer Patrick from Ontario practiced medicine in Michigan before arriving in Calgary to develop Drumheller’s coal fields. He took an interest in the city’s beautification and natural spaces and was the founding president of the Calgary Zoological Society, until 1944.

Published in The Albertan, November 14, 1956, page 21. John Kanerva, builder of the prehistoric animals at the Calgary Zoo, posing with some of his models of flesh-eating reptiles and dinosaurs. (CU1139955) by De Lorme, Jack. Courtesy of Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

An early addition to the Zoo was “Dinosaur Gardens”. Lars Willumsen (president of the Zoological Society, 1959 – 1965) suggested it to Dr. Patrick after visiting a dinosaur park in Hamburg, Germany. Work on Calgary’s Natural History Park began in 1935. German sculptor Dr. Charlie Beil designed the first dinosaurs, with Finnish engineer Aarne Koskelainen and Finnish sculptor John Kanerva constructing them.

The only survivor of these 56 pieces is Dinny the Dinosaur. In 1983, Prehistoric Park was created north across the river to make room for more animal enclosures. The original concrete figures were too costly to move during the recession. They were destroyed and replaced with fibreglass ones. To preserve the 110 tonne Dinny, it was designated a provincial historical resource in 1987 and recently underwent repairs thanks to donations from Calgarians.

Family outing to the Calgary Zoo, April 2023. Photo courtesy of Anthony Imbrogno

Part of Calgary’s conservation heritage is the Zoo’s work. The Calgary Zoo is the oldest registered charity in Alberta (since 1967). It was among the first in Canada accredited by three zoo associations, who provide support for animal care, conservation, and environmental education. In 2013, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums wrote, “the Calgary Zoo sets itself apart as one of the top zoos in the world”.

Donations from Calgarians have preserved Dinny for future generations. Photo courtesy of Anthony Imbrogno

The Zoo continues its conservation work as part of the Wilder Institute and is a prime destination for enjoyment and education. A favourite is ZOOLIGHTS, a holiday tradition for many that celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021.

ZOOLIGHTS heralds the Christmas season, Calgary, Alberta, no date ID 204322376 © David Butler |

– Anthony Imbrogno is a volunteer with The Calgary Heritage Initiative Society/Heritage Inspires YYC

– All copyright images cannot be shared without prior permission