Eugene Meese's A Magpie's Smile

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Workers (circa 1960s) construct an electric vault on 17th Avenue in front of present-day Mount Royal Village. This spring, the City begins a controversial year-long rejuvenation project for the landmark avenue. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

Workers (circa 1960s) construct an electric vault on 17th Avenue in front of present-day Mount Royal Village. This spring, the City begins a controversial year-long rejuvenation project for the landmark avenue. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

May 1977, Calgary is booming, and on edge. Traffic jams, construction, drought. And a serial killer who preys on people living on the “flip side of the boom.” A Magpie’s Smile wanders Calgary’s old neighbourhoods alert to the city “changing, being changed.” In this scene, a freelance photographer considers his newest assignment: a profile of Seventeenth Avenue West.

 

But for the stubbornly natural intrusion of the Bow River and the stubborn, anachronistic presence of the Stampede Grounds, Seventeenth Avenue would have sliced Calgary neatly in two, a continuous line of east-west asphalt, almost exactly, and appropriately, seventeen kilometres from city limit to city limit. Seventeenth was Calgary’s Yonge Street, its Broadway and Strand, a kind of summing up, a socio-development cross-section of the city: what it had been, what it was, what it was becoming.

Seventeenth Avenue. Calgary in cross-section.

That was the idea. Actually, the idea was take a page from the oil patch and take and “above-ground core sample” of the city. That was what he was supposed to do. That was his assignment.

 

Eugene Meese, A Magpie’s Smile (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2009)


Louis de Bernières' "A Brit Falls in Love with the 10th Street Bridge"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge continues to carry the name of the deceased daughter of William H. Cushing, mayor of Calgary in 1900-01. According to the Calgary Herald of the day, Louise Cushing was considered "one of the best known young ladies of the city." (Photo: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

The Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge continues to carry the name of the deceased daughter of William H. Cushing, mayor of Calgary in 1900-01. According to the Calgary Herald of the day, Louise Cushing was considered "one of the best known young ladies of the city." (Photo: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

When it comes to the bridges spanning the Bow River, the poet notices the LRT crossing – “its whimsical red contraptions… perky, and adolescent, cheerful and innocent” and the Centre Street bridge and its lions, waving him “into Chinatown with ironic politesse.” When he notices the understated structure we call the Louise Bridge, he begins to fall in love. 

 

But once upon a morning, early, I noticed the 10th St. Bridge. I woke to the line of her arches flattened and softened, like breasts of a woman reclining, the line of her span, the modest curve of the shy girl who hunches her shoulders, and wears loose clothes, the better to hide that new paradise, that New-grown-land that mens’ eyes seek in passing. She is named Louise, she is prone to sulks, she is suspicious of flattery, she is easily hurt by teasing, she is wary of boys and confiding with girls, she doesn’t wear make-up because she has puritanical leanings, and at her age it’s self-defense, but really she wants to, and she will when she’s older, laughing, and saying “I’m not so serious now.”

 

Louis de Bernières, “A Brit Falls in Love with the 10th Street Bridge,” (Alberta Views, 1998)


Margaret Gilkes' Ladies of the Night

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary's old police headquarters at 323 - 7th Ave SE, taken in the 1920s. The building was demolished in 1962 to make way for an addition to old City Hall. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Collection)

Calgary's old police headquarters at 323 - 7th Ave SE, taken in the 1920s. The building was demolished in 1962 to make way for an addition to old City Hall. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Collection)

After the war, 29-year-old Margaret Sadler returns to Calgary to begin a career as one of the city’s three female beat cops. Her territory will centre around “The Drag” – a stretch of Ninth Avenue East frequented by prostitutes and their pimps. She’ll frequent the rundown hotels, ladies’ beer parlours and seedy apartment blocks of the city’s East End, and visit a smoky den above a hardware store her colleagues call the Gonorrhea Race Track. She will quickly come to know the people who haunt these streets by name. But here she is on her first day in February 1946, reporting for duty at the “glowering old police station” behind City Hall.

 

It was six o’clock on Saturday night. Swirling pebbles of dirty snow stung my face and a biting February wind sliced through my newly purchased civilian cloth coat. I pulled my light felt hat further down over my eyes and shivered as I stood hesitating at the foot of the worn concrete steps leading to the small entrance porch of the City Police Station.

The old tight feeling hit my stomach. I’d thought I was through with that quick stab of fear when I left England and the V-bombs behind. “It’s watching me,” I muttered, looking from the pale-eyed, barred basement windows of the jail glowering up at me, to the narrow leering ones above.

The city police station had done a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about-face since two days ago when I had come to be sworn in at an old four-story brick building sitting solidly on its sandstone foundation. Now it was a living breathing thing in the gloom of the street, daring me with hostile eyes to step inside.

 

Margaret Gilkes, Ladies of the Night: The Recollections of a Pioneer Canadian Policewoman (Hannah, AB: Gorman & Gorman, 1989)


Lori Hahnel's Love Minus Zero

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, as it once was. This week, city councillors renamed this historic river crossing the Reconciliation Bridge. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the the Past)

Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, as it once was. This week, city councillors renamed this historic river crossing the Reconciliation Bridge. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the the Past)

Kate’s old high school friend, Maggie is in town from Seattle. They meet at the Unicorn to catch up. It’s been fifteen years since they hung out together in Calgary's seedy National Hotel. Since then, both women have built new lives, and Maggie’s is swerving sideways. Her business partner has cheated her and there are dark shadows in her past. The two friends leave the Unicorn and find Maggie’s red Lexus rental. As Maggie screeches through downtown, little does Kate know that Maggie has decided to end her life on the Langevin bridge.

 

I dug my fingernails into the black leather seat, tried to find something to hold on to, as Maggie floored it and steered hard to the left. Suddenly we seemed to move in slow motion, and the car ripped surprisingly easily through the guardrail with a sickening grinding of metal against metal. Then we were airborne, sailing like a hang-glider over the Bow River.

In a strange moment of calm, fear left me. I realized I’d been over this bridge maybe a thousand times before, but never noticed the view until now, late afternoon sun sparkling on the surface of the green river. I also realized that this was big. This would be in the papers the next morning and on TV that very night. A-Channel was probably somewhere down there with a camera already. No doubt they’d interview the group of homeless men who enjoyed the weather on the grassy south side of the river, oblivious to the strange sight above them. Then the solid ground of the north riverbank rushed up toward the car and fear gripped my drunken heart once more. Oh, to be able to speak, to be able to articulate the terror, the now almost certain knowledge that the last taste ever tasted in my mouth would be beer. Only it wasn’t the taste of National Hotel draft, that sweet taste I’d never know again on this earth.

 

Lori Hahnel, Love Minus Zero (Oberon Press, 2008)


John Ballem's The Barons

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

The lobby of the Palliser Hotel, sometime after 1930. According to one character in John Ballem's novel The Barons, "the Palliser is the real reason why Calgary ended up being the oil capital of Canada instead of that other place up the road." (Photo: University of Alberta Peel's Prairie Provinces)

The lobby of the Palliser Hotel, sometime after 1930. According to one character in John Ballem's novel The Barons, "the Palliser is the real reason why Calgary ended up being the oil capital of Canada instead of that other place up the road." (Photo: University of Alberta Peel's Prairie Provinces)

It’s 1956 and junior geologist Mark Hunter is looking for drilling money. His landman roommate, Dave invites him to lunch with business associates at the Palliser Hotel. “The Paralyzer,” as Dave calls it, is one of the hubs of the city’s nascent oil business – a place thick with Texan accents. “If a brass band came in here and struck up the Star Spangled Banner,” Dave says, “I’d be the only one who wouldn’t have to stand up.” Before the men head into the Rimrock Room for lunch, they linger in the lobby with their host, a Louisiana oilman. Louis LaPierre is happy to show his young Canadian colleagues “the ropes.” As they watch “the parade of oilmen” walk through the hotel’s revolving doors, LaPierre alerts them to Jesse Johnson and one of his signature techniques.

 

“Place is filling up nicely,” he murmured. “Time for ol’ Jesse to go into his act.” He had barely finished speaking when a bellboy walked through the lobby, singing out, “Call for Mr. Johnson. Call for Mr. Johnson.”

“Over here, boy.” A tall man with a senatorial head of silver hair rose impressively to his feet. The bellboy told him he could take the call at one of the public phones near the lobby entrance.

“Jesse Johnson at your service,” he boomed into the mouthpiece in a voice that could be heard throughout the lobby. “An oil well, you say? What was the name of that company again? Silver Star Petroleums? Hang on a minute while I write that down – Silver Star Petroleums. Got it. How many barrels a day? Say, that’s great. I’m much obliged to you, sir. I truly am. That’s very encouraging news.”

While the two old pros exchanged knowing smiles, several businessmen sidled across to the pay phones and began to dial. Brewster winked at Mark. “They’re calling their brokers. That should be good for a couple of points before the market closes. Like the man says, there’s one born every minute. Thank the good Lord,” he added with a pious glance heavenward.

“I’ve never heard of this Silver Star company,” said Mark. “Do you know anything about it”

“Only that Jesse will be long on its stock.”

“Oh? That’s how it works, eh? Still, it sounded like a pretty exciting well.”

“You called that one right, boy. It sounded like a good well. It’s probably as dry as a popcorn fart.”

John Ballem, The Barons (Hanna, AB: Gorman & Gorman, 1991)


Laura Swart's Blackbird Calling

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In 1946, when Austin and Norma Burt opened their store at the corner of Elbow Drive and 50th Avenue SW, Burt's was at the city limits. Its offerings included a post office, an ice cream bar and a hitching post for customers on horseback. Burt's was demolished in 2015 to make way for a 5-storey commercial building. (Photo: makecalgary.com)

In 1946, when Austin and Norma Burt opened their store at the corner of Elbow Drive and 50th Avenue SW, Burt's was at the city limits. Its offerings included a post office, an ice cream bar and a hitching post for customers on horseback. Burt's was demolished in 2015 to make way for a 5-storey commercial building. (Photo: makecalgary.com)

In the 1960s suburbs of Calgary, every night after supper a girl and her brother play hide-and-seek with the other kids on their block. The game has rules, and boundaries: no going past Burt’s store at the top of the hill, the woodlands behind their place, and what the kids call the double houses. Their own lives have boundaries, too. Their father has told them to stay away from the duplexes and the Indians who live there. But hide-and-seek involves breaking the rules. The girl disobeys her father and becomes fast friends with a Blackfoot girl named Gloria Little Chief.

 

One girl who came out to play looked like my brother – she looked Indian. And the thing about her was this: she always wore a braided linen belt wrapped twice around her waist and fastened with a brassy buckle. Sometimes she had pants on, sometimes a cotton dress or skirt, but the linen belt was always around her waist. She was only allowed to stay out until the streetlights came on, and sometimes after a few rounds of hiding she would suddenly jump up from our hiding place and run home, because the lights had come on. She came from the double houses at the end of the street, and I wondered if her parents ever watched out the window for her. Father told me to stay away from the double houses. Who knew what went on inside them, with their unpainted fences and junky yards? There were rows and rows of them – crooked boxes on a dead-end street that ran perpendicular to everything else.

 

Laura Swart, Blackbird Calling (Toronto: Quattro Books, 2016)


Richard Wagamese's A Quality of Light

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In early 1988, two years before Wagamese's novel takes place, 150 First Nations protesters gathered peacefully in front of the Glenbow Museum. They were part of the Lubicon band's move to boycott the Glenbow's Spirit Sings exhibit, part of the 1988 Winter Olympic Arts festival. (Photo: Calgary Herald)

In early 1988, two years before Wagamese's novel takes place, 150 First Nations protesters gathered peacefully in front of the Glenbow Museum. They were part of the Lubicon band's move to boycott the Glenbow's Spirit Sings exhibit, part of the 1988 Winter Olympic Arts festival. (Photo: Calgary Herald)

In the summer of 1990, Mohawk protesters are defending their barricade at Oka, Quebec. In downtown Calgary, Johnny Gebhardt has wired the Harry Hays building with explosives. Johnny is a white man but has always considered himself an Indian warrior. In a 4th floor boardroom in the federal government Indian Affairs office, he holds twelve people hostage. His demands? A House of Commons solution to the Oka crisis, and an International Human Rights Tribunal into the conditions of indigenous people in Canada. Johnny has also insisted that his childhood friend and blood brother, Joshua be flown in from Ontario. Joshua is an Ojibwa adopted at birth by a white farming family, now working as a Christian pastor committed to peace. At Calgary police headquarters, a few blocks away from the Harry Hays building, Chief Inspector Dodge and Detective Nettles bring Joshua up to speed on the hostage-taking. As Joshua prepares to meet his friend, he recalls not only their childhood oath of loyalty, but what Johnny has taught him over the course of their long friendship about being an Indian. Joshua knows what he must do: he will help disarm his friend, but will not denounce Johnny’s crusade.

 

We entered a war zone that morning. We left the city and all I’d come to accept as normal behind us and slid silently into a panorama of tension. It’s difficult to equate the words we use to describe society – civilized, democratic, just – with automatic weapons, bulletproof vests, camouflage, rocket launchers, helicopters and hordes of personnel. The flicker of police lights, the crisp bustle of movement, the frantic whir of chopper blades and the crush of the crowd beyond the police tape did not heighten things, they merely slowed them down.

I existed in a frame-by-frame world. Nettles handing me a bottle of pills. Dodge leaning close to talk with officers near the front doors. Waving us over. Nettles placing a hand over my shoulder. Cameramen hustling in a bow-legged trot. Native people under banners waving fists of encouragement. Officers kneeling behind cruisers with hands on their holsters. The police creating an opening in their huddle that Nettles and I eased into. All heads turning towards the glass doors. Frantic motion all around. A vested constable duck-walking with a hand-held radio, handing it to Dodge. Dodge gesturing to me. Nettles grim-faced, eyeing me. Sudden emptiness around me. The glass doors looming larger and darker with each step. A woman’s face behind the glass, ashen, shaking hands peeling duct tape from the handles. The door cracking open. Stepping out. Eyes pleading. Gone. A yell of victory. The unmoving air of the lobby. Johnny’s voice yelling something about the package on the floor. I tape it securely to the door handles and turn to see him, yards away cradling a rifle, point its barrel towards the elevators. We enter and feel the push of the lift. I see his eyes. Blue. Impossible blue.

 

Richard Wagamese, A Quality of Light (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997)


A Bob Edwards Christmas story

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A Calgary Christmas card, courtesy of Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

A Calgary Christmas card, courtesy of Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

On Christmas Day, 1920, Bob Edwards offered his readers a seasonal story of sorts in his weekly newspaper, the Eye Opener. Calgary’s legendary journalist-provocateur recalls a road race through the streets of Calgary in 1906. According to a few old timers, Edward’s account could be invention, or it might just have happened.

 

The Eye Opener Road Race of 1906 was in the nature of a novelty and afforded intense amusement to the populace. Contestants started from the corner of First Street and Eighth Avenue, underneath our office in the Cameron Block, to the shot from a pistol fired, as now, by Captain Smart of the Fire Department. On this occasion there were fifteen starters, all of whom had agreed to abide by the rather unique conditions. At the crack of the pistol they were off in a bunch, with a contestant from High River slightly in the lead and the Olds entry close up.

Running west up the avenue, according to the terms of the race, the contestants raced up to the Royal Hotel, where each had to drink a glass of whiskey at the bar; thence helter-skelter up the street to the Alberta, where a snort of dry gin was the next condition laid down; from there they flew around the corner to the Dominion to put away of schooner of beer, speeding on and on from bar to bar the whole length of Ninth Avenue, drinking horn after horn, no two alike. A corps of umpires followed the runners the whole length of the course. Rounding into Eighth Avenue, it was noticed that only three were left in the race, and these just barely managed to make the Queen’s Hotel. Only one emerged ten minutes later to finish the race. He had just one block to go, and it was indeed fortunate for him that Eight Avenue is a narrow thoroughfare, for he came along bumping against the buildings on either side and stotting from one side of the street to the other. This was the only thing that kept him on his feet. He was the Macleod entry and had been training for just such an event as this for years.


Bob Edwards, Eye Opener (Dec 25, 1920), as cited in Grant MacEwan’s Eye Opener Bob (Brindle & Glass, 2004) 


Barbara Scott's "A Fragile Thaw"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

"Chinook Arc," an interactive, illuminated sculpture in the Beltline's Barb Scott Park (12th Ave & 9th St SW). Scott (no relation to Calgary author Barbara Scott) served as a city alderman from 1971 to 1995. She died in 2014, a few months before the park named in her honour was opened. Barbara Scott, the Calgary writer, is the author of a collection of short stories called The Quick. (Photo: City of Calgary)

"Chinook Arc," an interactive, illuminated sculpture in the Beltline's Barb Scott Park (12th Ave & 9th St SW). Scott (no relation to Calgary author Barbara Scott) served as a city alderman from 1971 to 1995. She died in 2014, a few months before the park named in her honour was opened. Barbara Scott, the Calgary writer, is the author of a collection of short stories called The Quick. (Photo: City of Calgary)

On Christmas Eve, Lily and her husband Martin go for a walk. A chinook is blowing in, taking the edge off the bitter cold. In the park, Lily tells Martin to carry on to the video store while she stays to watch the sunset. It is the first Christmas since their oldest daughter, Brenda died, and Lily is angry, picking for a fight, her emotions as cold and hard as steel. The night before, she and her family sat around the table for her mother’s pork roast dinner. A Norman Rockwell scene on the surface, but for Lily, a “wounded family suturing itself with remarks on the tender flesh of pork.” In the park, Lily thinks about her younger daughter, Melanie’s offering at dinner: a scene from Robert Graves’ memoir, Goodbye to All That. But Lily is no mood for a story about a Christmas Eve ceasefire on a World War I battlefield. The sound of shouting pulls her from her thoughts: three children are hurling insults at her from the top of the toboggan hill. Enraged, Lily decides to hold them accountable. She corners the trio and, after confronting the ringleader, lets them go.

 

It’s almost completely dark now but, with that wonderful irony of the chinook, the wind is warmer. The ice is crisping along the edges with the fragility that comes just before thaw. I press gently with my boot, hear the splinters trace spidery cracks along the thinning surface, think of spring runoff, summer mudholes and warm mud squishing between toes.

I think about Melanie’s story of the soldiers in the trenches. About the first soldier to make a move into no man’s land. The kind of courage it would take to walk out there, hoping the other side would understand the signals, wouldn’t blow you away with a careless round of ammunition. Or maybe the poor bugger had just gotten to the point where living and dying were all one to him. Blast away. Or not.

So I am standing in the looming darkness, watching it make a no man’s land of this park, and Martin lopes into my circle of vision. Melanie resembles him more and more. Right now she is tall and thin and gawky, but eventually she will move with that loose-limbed grace. I turn and look full at Martin, at Melanie in Martin, and I hope she has also inherited his patience, his strength. I step forward, not knowing whether he will embrace me or blast me. Knowing only that it’s time to lay down my arms.

 

Barbara Scott, “A Fragile Thaw,” The Quick (Dunvegan, ON: Cormorant Books, 1999)


Lynette Loeppky's Cease

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In the 1960s, the backroom of the historic Cecil Hotel was known as a lesbian hangout. The Cecil was demolished in December 2015, but the iconic neon sign graces a wall not far away from its original East Village site, inside the refurbished St Louis Hotel.  (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

In the 1960s, the backroom of the historic Cecil Hotel was known as a lesbian hangout. The Cecil was demolished in December 2015, but the iconic neon sign graces a wall not far away from its original East Village site, inside the refurbished St Louis Hotel.  (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

In early 2005, Lynnette Loeppky’s partner Cec lies in hospital in Calgary, her pain, severe and undiagnosed. Lyn travels back and forth from their hobby farm an hour’s drive northeast of the city. She wrestles with her decision to leave their eight-year relationship. She hasn’t told Cec about her intentions, and now, it’s too late. She remembers the day she met Cec, a petite executive several years older than her. Lyn was late for the meeting: it was not the last time she would feel Cec’s appraising eyes upon her. Now, as Cec’s life hangs in the balance, Lyn considers the many constraints her lover has imposed upon her over the course of their relationship. The first one? That they live their lives as a lesbian couple in secret.

 

I called work and left a message for Euphemia who tracked vacation and sick days. I said that my husband had been taken to Emergency and I wouldn’t be coming in.

My husband.

Because I wore the ring Cec had given me on the fourth finger of my left hand, Euphemia assumed I was married. I didn’t want to lie but Cec was insistent.

“The minute I quit my job, I won’t care,” she said. “But the business world in Calgary is small. Someone will figure it out. I’m the only woman at my level in management and I have enough to deal with, without adding that.

“But it comes up. They ask.”

“You don’t have to answer. It’s none of their business.”

Easy for her to say. She was mistress of the side step, the master of evasion. She could redirect a conversation with a wrinkle of her nose and a blink of her eyes.

I, on the other hand, was a horrible liar, a fumbling evader. Cec said she was afraid to send me out into the world because I wore my feelings so plainly on my face, anyone could read me like an open book.

Which was my point exactly. How did she think they wouldn’t know?

 

Lynette Loeppky, Cease: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Desire (Fernie, BC: Oolichan Books, 2014) 


Cathy Ostlere's Lost

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary's River Park. In 1956, shortly after city oilman and philanthropist, Eric Harvie established the Glenbow Foundation, he gave Calgarians a parcel of land. Harvie’s 20 acres of riverside property across the Elbow River from Britannia were designated as “a park for rest and relaxation in a natural setting.” Since then, some would say River Park has gone to the dogs: in recent years, it has become a popular off-leash park.  (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

Calgary's River Park. In 1956, shortly after city oilman and philanthropist, Eric Harvie established the Glenbow Foundation, he gave Calgarians a parcel of land. Harvie’s 20 acres of riverside property across the Elbow River from Britannia were designated as “a park for rest and relaxation in a natural setting.” Since then, some would say River Park has gone to the dogs: in recent years, it has become a popular off-leash park.  (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

Cathy Ostlere sits at her kitchen table in Calgary with her family. It is her younger brother, David’s birthday and they are waiting for his call from abroad. Only Cathy knows that he has embarked on another of his grand adventures: sailing with his girlfriend from Ireland to the Azores across the open Atlantic. The voyage is risky, and the phone call never comes. Weeks after David goes missing, Cathy travels to Madeira, the islands where her brother may have landed. The trip stirs up memories of her own youthful travels, and the sharp criticism her brother delivered in her Calgary living room. “Everyone here is wasting their lives. Everyone is the same. No one daring to think that there may be an entire world to move through, not just this sprawling grid of land scraped of all reminders of geography.” When she returns from Madeira, Cathy drops her children off at school on a dull November morning. In River Park, she considers the landscape of her Calgary life.

 

In the front foyer of the school I wave off invitations for coffee at Bell’s. I can no longer sustain a conversation. I hear only the echo, not the speaker’s voice. Sometimes I catch the conjunctions –the, and, or – the connecting words, but to what? The sentences are unrecognizable, like a foreign language I’ve never bothered to learn. Someone asks a question, a reply is expected, but I don’t know what we’re talking about.

I park the car at the end of 14th Street, dodge the unleashed dogs running like greyhounds and head for the ravine. I walk as close to the edge as I dare. My feet slide. Clumps of crumbled earth slide down to the river.

I have returned to a land with three horizons. The first is a line of stubbled earth – the prairie fields broken and turned, lying fallow until spring. The second is the ragged bit of mountains, the stately wall of rock running north and south. But the third line is made of air: A Chinook arch – purple and grey clouds smudged across the upper half of a clear sky, the underside marked with a dark band as blue as a vein under the tongue. It reminds me of another demarcation not visible here – the sea-darkened curve where sailors fall off and women stare over the edge.

I still look for you. Keep my eye out for a boat with red and white sails, hovering along ahorizon.

A magpie flies over my head, mocking my despair with a piercing tongue. I pick up a stone and fling it at the plump black body. I miss but the bird leaves, crying. The colour blue flashes under its wing.

 

Cathy Ostlere, Lost: A Memoir (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2008)


Esi Edugyan's The Second Life of Samuel Tyne

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A glimpse of the Calgary Esi Edugyan's protagonist Samuel Tyne might recognize: a 1960 parking lot at 14th Street and 16th Avenue SW. Edugyan was born in Calgary in 1978, years after this picture was taken. She grew up in Glamorgan, a ten-minute drive west of this intersection, borrowed books at the Shaganappi library, and graduated from Central Memorial High School. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

A glimpse of the Calgary Esi Edugyan's protagonist Samuel Tyne might recognize: a 1960 parking lot at 14th Street and 16th Avenue SW. Edugyan was born in Calgary in 1978, years after this picture was taken. She grew up in Glamorgan, a ten-minute drive west of this intersection, borrowed books at the Shaganappi library, and graduated from Central Memorial High School. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

Samuel Tyne sits at the workbench in his backyard shed in Calgary, soldering an old radio. It’s 1968, a “cold, vague day, with the dull feel of a hundred others,” and the weather matches his mood. As a young man from West Africa with a classical English education, he was precocious, ambitious. Now, after toiling for years at a dismal civil service job, he feels exiled and despondent. Samuel has spent the prime of his life in Calgary, and it has been filled only with “meager achievements.” Three days ago, he quit his job. He hasn’t told his wife and he doesn’t have a plan. He thinks of the decrepit house his uncle bequeathed him in a small town northwest of Edmonton, a region settled decades before by freed African-American slaves. In his shed, a decision works its way through Samuel’s gloom. At the dinner table, he announces to his wife and twin daughters that they are leaving the Calgary. “We are moving. That is final.”

 

Crossing the dark slush to the shed, Samuel felt exalted. He didn’t regret what he’d just done; in fact, he looked upon it as the truest gesture of his life. Had he been a man given to poetry, he might have said that something both stark and glorious had got hold of his future. That after fifteen years of the leash he’d finally seized it.

 

Esi Edugyan, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004)


Pauline Johnson's "Calgary of the Plains"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the eyes of Writers

Pauline Johnson's costume was an integral part of her "Indian princess" stage persona. Her outfit remained largely the same over the course of her career. Johnson willed the costume to the Museum of Vancouver.  (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Pauline Johnson's costume was an integral part of her "Indian princess" stage persona. Her outfit remained largely the same over the course of her career. Johnson willed the costume to the Museum of Vancouver.  (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The acclaimed Mohawk poet-performer, Pauline Johnson visited Calgary early in her stage career. In July 1894, during her first cross-Canada tour, she played two shows in the city. Calgary audiences were treated to her two-act recital: in the first, Johnson appeared in an elaborate buckskin costume; in the second, she stepped onto the stage in an evening gown. As Johnson traveled across the “velvet browness” of the prairies she was moved by the Western landscape and by its cities. She would return to Calgary several times before she retired from the stage, finding Western audiences more welcoming that those back home in Ontario. On a least one of her visits to Calgary, she stayed at the Alberta Hotel where she likely reconnected with Bob Edwards, the notorious Eye Opener editor she met while performing in High River in 1902. She experienced “the steam-pipe breath of the Chinook wind,” and connected with members of the Blackfoot nation when her train broke down at Gleichen. Not long before she died, she wrote, “I have always loved Calgary, and how it is loving and loyal to me.” It is unclear when Johnson penned this Calgary poem, but she chose to include it in her final volume of poetry, Flint and Feather.

 

Not of the seething cities with their swarming human hives,

Their fetid airs, their reeking streets, their dwarfed and poisoned lives,

Not of the buried yesterdays, but of the days to be,

The glory and the gateway of the yellow West is she.

 

The Northern Lights dance down her plains with soft and silvery feet,

The sunrise gilds her prairies when the dawn and daylight meet;

Along her level lands the fitful southern breezes sweep,

And beyond her western windows the sublime old mountains sleep.

 

The Redman haunts her portals, and the Paleface treads her streets,

The Indian’s stealthy footstep with the course of commerce meets,

And hunters whisper vaguely of the half forgotten tales

Of phantom herds of bison lurking on her midnight trails.

 

Not hers the lore of olden lands, their laurels and their bays;

But what are these, compared to one of all her perfect days?

For naught can buy the jewel that upon her forehead lies –

The cloudless sapphire Heaven of her territorial skies.

 

E. Pauline Johnson, “Calgary of the Plains,” Flint and Feather: The Complete Poems of E. Pauline Johnson (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1912)


Winnifred Eaton Reeve's Cattle

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Armistice Day in Calgary, November 11, 1918. The crowd gathers in front of City Hall to celebrate the end of the war. Look closely: only a few citizens are following the "mask order" issued to stop the spread of the Spanish flu. Later in the evening, the hanging effigies of the German Kaiser and Crown Prince were burned in bonfires on the North Hill and overlooking Elbow Park. (Photo: Peel's Prairie Provinces)

Armistice Day in Calgary, November 11, 1918. The crowd gathers in front of City Hall to celebrate the end of the war. Look closely: only a few citizens are following the "mask order" issued to stop the spread of the Spanish flu. Later in the evening, the hanging effigies of the German Kaiser and Crown Prince were burned in bonfires on the North Hill and overlooking Elbow Park. (Photo: Peel's Prairie Provinces)

Calgary lies at the edges of this story set in the ranching country west of town near Morley. The city sends out ripples of economic change. The oil and real-estate booms are “as a boomerang to the land,” bringing in “the wild-cat speculator, the get-rich-quick folk, the gold-brick seller and the train of clever swindlers that spring into being when a boom is in swing.” For the young farm woman, Nettie Day, the city offers escape from the cattle king who rapes her and the scandal of her resulting pregnancy. It also brings “eternal speed and noise, a feverish, rushing activity which would bewilder and terrify.” By late 1918, Nettie will see Calgary as “the city of gloom and plague” – a magnet for the sickness that is spreading from the battlefields of Europe. 

 

Calgary might have been likened at that time to a beleaguered city, on guard for a dreaded enemy attack. The widely printed warnings, in newspapers and on placards in public places and street cars; the newspaper accounts of the progress of the sickness in Europe, the United States and the eastern part of Canada, with the long list of death’s grim toll, threw the healthy city of the foothills into a state of panic.

Schools were closed; people feared to go to church. Disinfectants were sprayed in all the stores and offices. Every cold, every sneeze was diagnosed as plague, and the mounting fear and hysteria awaited and perhaps precipitated the creeping enemy. For slowly, surely, pushing its way irresistibly over all the impediments and prayers to hold it back, the dreaded plague encroached upon Alberta.

The first definitely diagnosed cases came in early summer, which was raw and cold as always in that country. Only two or three cases were discovered at this time, but all of the medical and nursing profession volunteered or were conscripted for service to the city. Curiously enough, no means of protection were taken for the vast country that abounded on all sides of the city of the foothills.

The warm summer brought an abatement of the menace; but when the first chill swept in with the frosty fall, the plague burst overwhelmingly over the country.

Calgary, the city of sunlight and optimism, was now a place of pain and death. Scarcely a house escaped the dreaded visitor, and a curiosity of its effect upon its victims was that the young and strong were the chief sufferers. A haunting sense of disaster now brooded over the city. Hospitals, schools, churches, theatres and other public buildings were turned into houses of refuge. No one was permitted on the street without a mask – a piece of white gauze fastened across nose and mouth.

In this terrible crisis, the shortage of nurses and doctors was cruelly felt. An army of volunteer nurses were recruited by the city authorities, but these failed to supply adequate help for the stricken houses, and many there were who perished for lack of care and attention. The hospitals were crammed, as also were all the emergency places that had been transposed into temporary hospitals.

Despite almost superhuman efforts, the death lists grew from day to day. The ghastly sight of hearses, carts, automobiles and any and all types of vehicles, passing through the street freighted with Calgary’s dead, was an everyday occurrence.

 

Winnifred Eaton Reeve, Cattle (Toronto: The Musson Book Company Limited, [1923?])


H. Nelson Dickson's "The Sack of Calgary"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Say goodbye to the Venetian arcade. The cover illustration of H. Nelson Dickson's pamphlet illustrates the fictional destruction of the Hudson's Bay store depicted in his story. (Source: Glenbow Library)

Say goodbye to the Venetian arcade. The cover illustration of H. Nelson Dickson's pamphlet illustrates the fictional destruction of the Hudson's Bay store depicted in his story. (Source: Glenbow Library)

A year after the war begins in Europe in August 1914, Calgary is caught up in the conflict. Young men crowd recruiting centres. Relief efforts and war bond drives kick into gear, and Calgarians feel the pinch of food and commodity shortages. As the conflict enters its second summer, a military tent city springs up on land leased from the Sarcee Indians southwest of town. Immigrant settlers deemed "enemy aliens" board trains at Calgary Station on their way to the internment camp at Castle Mountain. And a fearful Calgary bookkeeper pens and publishes a 14-page pamphlet called The Sack of Calgary. H. Nelson Dickson sets his tale in the near future, hoping to propel civic leaders into taking action against a possible German attack. The story begins with an assault on the city at daybreak. By sunset, countless citizens are gunned down in the streets. Soldiers are massacred at Sarcee Camp, and the city surrenders. Meanwhile on Eighth Avenue, the Hudson’s Bay store smolders.

 

Exactly at 6:5 [sic] o’clock the sharp reverberating report of a gun was heard and a shell came screaming across the river from the northern heights and crashed in the Hudson’s Bay Co’s. Store on the sixth floor. The shell ceased its flight on coming into contact with a roll of carpet, burst with a terrific crash, blowing out the windows, and a tongue of fire shooting upwards like a flame from a furnace showed that the store was alight. This shell was followed by two others turning the building into a roaring fiery furnace. The fire spread until not only was the Hudson’s Bay Store building a mere blackened and twisted skeleton but Eight Avenue from the Alexander Block to Second Street West on its north side was a mass of smoking ruins. The fire was stopped only by the iron and concrete framework of the uncompleted Mackie building at the west corner of Second Street West. The lower part of this building, used as a market, being mostly wood, was burnt out but the fire spread no further.

Three shots were fired at the Hudson’s Bay Store, six were fired in all from that gun on the heights. The fourth struck the Lougheed Building shattering the corner near First Street West and starting a fire which burnt itself out. The fifth struck the tower of the Herald Building crashing through the brickwork but failed to explode, and the sixth struck the Robin Hood Mill, starting a fire that burned over twenty-four hours and left the mill a wreck.

 

H. Nelson Dickson, The Sack of Calgary (The Avenue Press, 1915)

Notes:

Hat tip to Harry Sanders and his article, “The Sack of Calgary” (Avenue, 2005)

For a fictional account of Ukrainian settlers interned at Castle Mountain, check out Calgary author, Pam Clark's novel Kalyna (Stonehouse Publishing, 2016).


Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Last Crossing

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Built in 1891, Beaulieu, James and Belle Lougheed's sandstone mansion announced Calgary's aim to become a great city. From the fashionable Lincrusta wallpaper and customized stained glass windows, to the wood-panelled library stocked with literary classics, the Big House was intended to show the world that Calgary had the makings of a cultivated metropolis. (Photo, taken in 1956: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

Built in 1891, Beaulieu, James and Belle Lougheed's sandstone mansion announced Calgary's aim to become a great city. From the fashionable Lincrusta wallpaper and customized stained glass windows, to the wood-panelled library stocked with literary classics, the Big House was intended to show the world that Calgary had the makings of a cultivated metropolis. (Photo, taken in 1956: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

London, England, 1896. The renowned English painter and poet, Charles Daunt sits in an elegant hotel lobby and studies the young journalist who has come from Canada to interview him. Gaunt offers Thomas Harkness a cigarette from his silver case, and asks, “Does a newspaper in … in Calgary, is it? Remind me, that is the place?... Does a newspaper in Calgary maintain a correspondent in London?” Harkness explains he is on honeymoon in Europe, and Calgary is home. “I believe that our little out-of-the-way place ought to learn something about Charles Gaunt the poet.” Gaunt is unmoved by the flattery, and wary. The young man’s visit stirs up memories of his arduous travels in the West twenty-five years earlier when there was no such thing as a city named Calgary. Desperate to track down his lost brother, he followed the half-breed guide, Jerry Potts across the western plains – a harsh and hostile land. Now, Potts is dead and the West Gaunt remembers exists no longer.

 

Gaunt, seeking breathing space, remarked, “Lately, one sees a good deal in the British press of your part of the world. Advertisements for settlers, much talk of boundless opportunity.”

“One could say Western Canada changes by the hour,” Harkness said with fervor. “Towns and cities arise almost overnight. Why, Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba, already has a population of several hundred thousand and is a bustling rail centre. There are those who say that in a decade it shall surpass Chicago. And Calgary, only a short time ago, it was nothing but a whisky post on the Bow River, and now it is the coming place. Hotels, businesses, it boils with activity.” He paused. “You might pay us a visit. The better class of citizen is very eager to attend lectures on literary topics. We do not wish to moulder in a cultural wasteland. You should give it your consideration.” 

 

Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Last Crossing (McClelland & Stewart, 2002)

 


Catherine Simmons' "A Man's House Is"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary's Boyer family on the porch of their home at 819 - 5th Ave NW. As the crow flies, this house is not far from the peninsula in what Catherine Simmons calls one of her Calgary porch stories. The Boyers' house was scheduled for demolition in 2013. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Calgary's Boyer family on the porch of their home at 819 - 5th Ave NW. As the crow flies, this house is not far from the peninsula in what Catherine Simmons calls one of her Calgary porch stories. The Boyers' house was scheduled for demolition in 2013. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Martin and Martha live in a house on the peninsula of land between University Drive and Crowchild Trail, “the point of decision for a stream of travellers” heading north. They planned to stay for only a couple of years, until their son Don graduated from university. At first, the constant traffic noise made them yearn for silence. Gradually, the rumble of traffic began to affect them like ocean waves: lulling them, making them feel secure. Their son thinks his parents are crazy. To him, the cars are “[d]irty stinking traffic.” He urges his parents to give up their strange nighttime habit of staring out their windows at the steady flow of vehicles. Find a hobby, Don suggests, take a trip, go on a cruise. But Martin and Martha resist.

 

[I]t was the evenings, the long summer evenings that made this house their home. For, as dusk fell they would sit at the west window where road-dust caught the sunset, their street a red haze, watching that warm stream of lights drift and bob. Car beams and bronzed metal pulsed as they passed, flickering gold shadows and line light on the walls of their living room. And, in cooling darkness, Martha said that the car lights that swam like floating fire-flies were their private show: “The lights,” she said, “are just for us, Martin.”

Then they would shift their chairs to the other side of the room to watch the traffic that moved by their east window. And sitting, knowing the movement of traffic on both east and west sides of their home, they longed to see the lights from the south bobbing directly towards them.

Martin could not fix in time the drift from knowing only the dust-drone of cars to seeing, finally, metallic light dance. Nor could he discern when he no longer said to Martha, “Just for a couple of years.” In seasons of tranquil cars on grey roads and color streams on spring pavement, in hours of sharp cacophony, red light and evening soft-motor hum, it simply became obvious that this was their home.

 

Catherine Simmons, “A Man’s House Is,” The Dinosaur Review (Fall 1985)


Fred Stenson's "The Hockey Widow"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In 1983, three years after Calgary secured an NHL franchise, a new arena changed the city's skyline. To its architects, the roof was a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid. To the majority of Calgarians who participated in a naming contest, it looked like something more familiar. 735 saddle-themed names went into the hat. The winning name received mixed reviews, but Saddledome has stuck. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

In 1983, three years after Calgary secured an NHL franchise, a new arena changed the city's skyline. To its architects, the roof was a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid. To the majority of Calgarians who participated in a naming contest, it looked like something more familiar. 735 saddle-themed names went into the hat. The winning name received mixed reviews, but Saddledome has stuck. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)