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)

Rita is a hockey widow. Come September, she loses her husband, Sid to the game. Then there’s her ten-year-old daughter, Lisa, who is intent on being as good a player as any boy on the rink. By January, hockey is eating into the household finances. The biggest expense? Sid’s season ticket to watch the Bisons, a team he claims to hate.

 

Five years ago when the Bisons came to their city, Rita had been caught up in Sid’s childish delight over it all. She had agreed about the season ticket, had even felt a measure of anxiety when he took his sleeping bag down to sleep outside the Bisons ticket office. What if they ran out just as his turn came? She had accepted it all so easily because, back then, Sid did work hard as a welder and was paying off his welding truck at record speed. At that time, it was also true that he had few amusements.

Well, things had changed. They had changed so completely it was impossible to believe Sid had failed to notice. Few amusements? Relative to whom, Rita wondered. Prince Andrew? His hockey drafts, his “fat man” hockey team, his going out to watch Bisons home games and the other games he watched with his buddies on the big screen down at the bar. Then there was his hockey card collection and his careful supervision of Lisa’s.

Sid played constantly, as far as Rita could see, but she also realized that, somewhere along the line, Sid had ceased to view any of it as play. The season’s ticket and the hockey cards were investments. the hockey pools were business. The fat man recreational hockey league (in spite of the gallons of beer and all the cigarettes afterward) was exercise. And the proof that none of it was play was that none of it was fun.

 

Fred Stenson, “The Hockey Widow,” Teeth (Coteau, 1994)


Katherine Govier's The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary's iconic Palliser Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Katherine Govier's latest novel. This view from the 1940s looks east down Ninth Avenue with the hotel on the right. (Photo: University of Alberta Peel Collection, Prairie Postcards)

Calgary's iconic Palliser Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Katherine Govier's latest novel. This view from the 1940s looks east down Ninth Avenue with the hotel on the right. (Photo: University of Alberta Peel Collection, Prairie Postcards)

In the summer of 1941, nineteen-year-old Iona Wishart arrives in Calgary, her first night away from her home in the Bow Valley. Against her parents’ wishes, she has come to the Palliser Hotel to sing with her uncle’s band. In the hotel lobby, Iona recognizes the bellhop: a boy she talked to a few weeks before when she helped with a delivery to Camp 88 in Morley Flats. Iona couldn’t pinpoint the boy then – who he was and why he was at the “secret” camp everybody knew was a prison for German nationals. In Calgary, she finds out he is the son of a Japanese family, registered as aliens, relocated from the coast and on the run, just like she is.

 

I know you, she said, looking into the eyes of the bellhop at the Palliser Hotel. He wore a blue uniform and a pillbox hat with a wide chinstrap. He was lean and a little taller than she was. He bent from the hips to pick up her case. His ears, pushed out by the tight white band of the hat, were red. He walked away ahead.

She paused in the lobby and looked through the bar to the dining room. It was grand with elaborate plaster flowers over the doorways and a high ceiling. She took off her hat and shook out her hair, conscious that it was chestnut, that it shone, that the curls she had put in overnight bounced. She looked all through the bar and the lobby, scanning, as if for someone she knew: there was nobody; she was miles and miles – seventy-five, to be precise – away from home.

The bar was full of men. Ranchers in their Stetsons, soldiers from Currie Barracks, salesmen and travellers too old to be in uniform. A scattering of women stood in the foyer in high heels and tight little jackets with skirts that fluted around their knees. It was a clean, bright crowd, and for a minute her confidence collapsed. They looked prosperous. The women intimidated her. But she hadn’t met the man she couldn’t please. She turned back to the bellhop, who had called the elevator and was standing at its open door. She looked at him again and knew who he was and why he had not spoken.

Katherine Govier, The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel (HarperCollins, 2016)


Marion Douglas's Bending at the Bow

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A steam engine crossing the Elbow River seen from a bluff in what we now call Ramsay, an area once known as Grandview. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

A steam engine crossing the Elbow River seen from a bluff in what we now call Ramsay, an area once known as Grandview. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Annie Clemens is adrift. It has been two years since her lover, Sylvie was killed in a car accident and Annie is struggling to move on. She meets Martha Rigg, a widowed activist who is protesting the Mulroney government’s free trade campaign. She spray paints her message around town on the “things nobody really owns, hoardings and underpasses. Secret places.” Annie does not have strong feelings about free trade, but in Martha she sees a kindred spirit coping with grief. She decides to ride shotgun on one of Martha’s late-night painting sprees. From the Fort Calgary parking lot, the two women walk along the bike path toward the railway tracks in Ramsay. They carry a can of red spray paint and a stencil with a silhouette of Canada. SOLD, it reads. REALTOR OF THE YEAR: BRIAN MULRONEY. FREE TRADE ISN’T.

 

We arrived at the Elbow River, so still, as if it had come to a halt and were contemplating changing direction. The underpass was not far off. Lights had been installed and were permanently on; too many homeless in this part of the city, a dark dry place would be dangerously inviting. Best to illuminate. As we drew closer, in fact, the brilliance of the lights was repellent. I wondered if we might not be thrown backwards by the strength of the wattage or destroyed the way insects can be by light. But no, we entered the little tunnel unchallenged.

“This looks like a good spot,” said Martha. “Let’s cover this up, whatever this is. Let’s see, ‘Metallica fucking, fucking rules,’” she read. “I think a nice map of Canada would be more suited to this space.”

Martha fished out the stencil and held it against the concrete, then handed me the paint. I sprayed with abandon. Red streaks, immediately began to drip from the forty-ninth parallel. Overhead, on the tracks, voices could be heard. “Wake up, everybody,” one of them said. “Do you hear me?” he shouted. “Wake up ya bunch of fuckers.”

“Can you shut him up?” a female voice asked.

“Shut up, Mike,” said a third voice, male, tired.

“Wake up” was heard again, only quietly this time, conversationally, followed by the splattering of a stream of piss into the Elbow River.

Marion Douglas, Bending at the Bow (Press Gang, 1995)


Benedict & Nancy Freedman's Mrs. Mike

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The authors of Mrs. Mike never visited Alberta when they wrote their 1947 best-selling novel based on the life story of Katherine Flannigan. They did their research at the UCLA library, where they may have happened upon this 1907 map of Calgary. Flannigan, however, returned to the city in 1954 to visit friends, and died here at the age of 55. (Credit: Calgary Public Library Historical Maps collection)

The authors of Mrs. Mike never visited Alberta when they wrote their 1947 best-selling novel based on the life story of Katherine Flannigan. They did their research at the UCLA library, where they may have happened upon this 1907 map of Calgary. Flannigan, however, returned to the city in 1954 to visit friends, and died here at the age of 55. (Credit: Calgary Public Library Historical Maps collection)

In 1907, a sixteen-year-old girl from Boston meets and marries a Canadian Mountie on her uncle’s ranch in the Alberta foothills. She and her husband will travel by dog sled to his post in the Peace River country, but the grand adventure of Katherine Mary O’Fallon Flannigan’s life begins in what her uncle calls the “mighty big” city of Calgary.

 

It was because of my pleurisy I was being sent to Uncle John, who lived in Calgary, Alberta. Up till 1905 Alberta had been part of the Great Northwest Territory, and it gave me a real thrill to go to a place that had been officially civilized for only two years.

My mother had had her doubts about letting me go into such a wilderness. We looked it up on a map of North America, and Alberta seemed awfully empty. Our part of the country, which was Boston, was covered with winding black lines meaning roads, and barbed-wire lines meaning railroads, and circles of all sizes meaning cities and towns. It was so crowded with these proofs of civilization that there was no room for the names, which were stuck out in the Atlantic Ocean. In Alberta there was none of this reassuring confusion. A couple of thin blue rivers, a couple of crooked lakes, and the map maker was through. My mother found the circle that was Calgary and carefully compared it with the circles of Massachusetts.

“A fine black dot it is, but not be mentioned in the same breath with Boston,” she said. Boston was a very distinctive city on our map, being a large dot with a ring around it. “And you’ll bear in mind, Katherine Mary,” she added, “that’s as far north as I want you to go. Don’t be letting your uncle take you up into this.” She waved in the general direction of Mackenzie and the North Pole. “My own mother lived and died in the house where she was born, and all the traveling she did was to the oatfield and back.”

We both sat and wondered at the size of the world until she folded it up and put it in the bureau drawer.

However, the doctors said the cold dry climate of Alberta would be good for my lungs, and Uncle John said it was a long, long time since he had seen one of his kin, and so at last my mother gave in and let me go.

 

Benedict and Nancy Freedman, Mrs. Mike (New York: Coward-McCann, 1947)


Deborah Willis's "Sky Theatre"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The dome of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium, under construction in 1966-67. The facility was built, according to a city astronomer, to celebrate not only Canada's centennial but "the world's entry into the space age... and the marvel of the heavens." (Photo: City of Calgary Archives via Alberta on Record)

The dome of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium, under construction in 1966-67. The facility was built, according to a city astronomer, to celebrate not only Canada's centennial but "the world's entry into the space age... and the marvel of the heavens." (Photo: City of Calgary Archives via Alberta on Record)

By her own admission, Caitlin is an ordinary kid growing up in the Calgary suburbs. In her neighbourhood, “each street looked like every other street: double garages, aerated lawns, pastel stucco.” Within this safe, predictable frame, Caitlin fantasizes about living anywhere but here, and about Mary Louise, the golden, mysterious girl a grade ahead of her in school. On the first day of Grade 11, Mary Louise returns to school paraplegic and Caitlin’s sense of the world begins to change. The accident causes Caitlin to consider the fragility of the reassuring patterns of her life in a city “that was always booming, or about to boom, a city that was sunny even in winter.” For the first time, she thinks about “that flimsy, moody thing” called luck. As she and her ordinary boyfriend Jay make out in the darkness of the domed theatre at the Planetarium, the projected night sky shimmers above them.

 

We kissed until our lips became swollen and raw. We kissed until we physically couldn’t kiss anymore. Then we straightened our clothes, breathed, leaned back in our seats, and looked at the stars. We held hands, our palms sweating against each other, as Andromeda sparkled or asteroids flew toward us. The Sky Theatre had a different show each week, but each was accompanied by a voice-over done by the same man. He had an accent that I couldn’t place but that I adored. The pattern of our days occurs because we live on a constantly spinning Earth. Because of this motion, day turns into night, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and summer turns into fall.

In my mind, the man who owned this gruff but gentle voice was named something foreign, like Pavel or Armand. I settled on Armand, and once I’d named him, I fell in love with him. I imagined that he was dashing and elegant and better-looking than Jay. I imagined that he was romantic and confident. I watched the complex movement of the heavens – there was a swirling nebula, there Orion’s belt – and everything Armand said seemed to be intended only for me.

For our earthbound view, stars appear to make a connected shape. But in fact the stars are not so connected, except in mythology and human imagination.

 Once, I forgot myself and said, “I love his voice. I would marry someone who talks like that.”

“That guy?” said Jay, with his Western Canadian accent – a form a speech so neutral that telemarketers in Delhi are encouraged to adopt it. “I think he sounds like an asshole.”

 

Deborah Willis, "Sky Theatre," Vanishing and Other Stories (Toronto: Penguin, 2009)

 


Roberta Rees's Long After Fathers

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of Writers

An early view of Calgary's exhibition grounds and race track, later home to the Calgary Stampede. Victoria Park is to the right, and the Elbow River is in the foreground. The Stampede Grill in Roberta Rees's story collection was located on 2nd Street East (aka MacLeod Trail), across the street from the entrance to the Stampede. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

An early view of Calgary's exhibition grounds and race track, later home to the Calgary Stampede. Victoria Park is to the right, and the Elbow River is in the foreground. The Stampede Grill in Roberta Rees's story collection was located on 2nd Street East (aka MacLeod Trail), across the street from the entrance to the Stampede. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)