Susan Calder's "Adjusting the Ashes"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

View of Calgary from Scotsman's Hill circa 1906 (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

View of Calgary from Scotsman's Hill circa 1906 (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Carol, an insurance adjuster, is wide awake at 4 a.m. Her doctor tells her perimenopause is making her restless. In her den in West Hillhurst, she glances at the line of cards celebrating her 50th birthday. CAROL BEFORE… reads one. CAROL AFTER? She turns her attention to the insurance claim on her desk. Harvey Ashe swallowed a mouse in his beer. She’s arranged a meeting at the claimant’s house in Ramsay. Little does she know that during her visit, this working-class couple’s insurance claim will not be the only thing that will be adjusted.

 

Two-storey cottages with porches and peaked roofs slope up the street toward Scotsman’s Hill, where Carol and Andy used to bring the girls to watch the Stampede fireworks. A trio of brightly painted homes, with neat flower boxes, suggest that the neighbourhood, like her West Hillhurst one, is moving upscale. But it’s far from there, Carol thinks, as she parallel parks behind a beat-up Civic. A Handi-bus rumbles past the claimants’ house, which looks in desperate need of new siding and windows. A plastic sheet covers the upstairs dormer. Carol grabs her briefcase and clacks up the sidewalk and uneven front steps, thinking, if she falls, she’ll file a countersuit against the Ashes. After scanning the chipped paint for a doorbell, she knocks and waits on the porch, where the mouse eating incident occurred.

 

Susan Calder, “Adjusting the Ashes,” Alberta Views (Nov/Dec 2003). A revised version of the story appears in Writing Menopause (Toronto: Inanna, 2017).


David A. Poulsen's Serpents Rising

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Aerial view of Inglewood from 9th Avenue SE, 2009. Poulsen sets much of the action in his mystery novel in and around Inglewood, Calgary's oldest neighbourhood.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Special Collection)

Aerial view of Inglewood from 9th Avenue SE, 2009. Poulsen sets much of the action in his mystery novel in and around Inglewood, Calgary's oldest neighbourhood.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Special Collection)

Adam Cullen, a freelance crime journalist has two investigations on the go: searching for a teenage crack addict and finding the person who killed his wife eight years before. As Cullen scours the city for clues, he always stops to eat. His favourite spots? Calgary landmarks like Kane’s Harley Diner, Peters’ Drive-in and Diner Deluxe. In this scene set near the Harley Diner in Inglewood, Cullen meets his private investigator friend at a used bookstore (Fair's Fair?) before heading back into Calgary’s quirky geography.

 

He nodded a couple of times, then pointed a thumb back in the direction of the bookstore.

“This guy mentioned an old warehouse not far from here. Some company was supposed to turn it into lofts. When the economy softened, the company folded and the place has been sitting vacant. Mostly squatters there now.”

“Worth a try,” I said.

“My thinking exactly.”

We headed for the car, walking fast. The cold was intensifying. I was hoping Jeep made good heaters.

I didn’t have time to find out. The drive to the warehouse didn’t take long enough for the heater to generate more than cold, then merely cool, air. We were on a street that whoever built it had forgotten to finish. South of 9th Avenue a couple of blocks, then left. A sign told us it was Garry Street. Looking east, we could see that it just kind of stopped. Dead-ended up against a hill that probably shouldn’t have been there. I pictured a gaggle of 1930s engineers working on their drawings and noticing the hill after the street was started. Saying screw it and moving on to another project.

 

David A. Poulsen, Serpents Rising (Toronto: Dundurn, 2014)


Bob Stallworthy's "Reading about Life"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Annie Vigna (aka Wesko) ran her bookstore on 16th Avenue North between 1996 and 2007. The widening of the avenue in 2005 contributed to her decision to wrap up the business. Annie's Books lives on in the hand-crafted lectern at the Alexandra Writers' Centre. (Photo: Annie Wesko)

Annie Vigna (aka Wesko) ran her bookstore on 16th Avenue North between 1996 and 2007. The widening of the avenue in 2005 contributed to her decision to wrap up the business. Annie's Books lives on in the hand-crafted lectern at the Alexandra Writers' Centre. (Photo: Annie Wesko)

Sixteenth Avenue North: a 26.5-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, an urban artery, and in the 1990s, on a few blocks near 10th Street West, a neighbourhood of bookstores. Bob Baxter was first on the block, opening his used bookshop in 1960. In 1996, Annie Vigna, with a degree in Russian literature in hand and a sense of entrepreneurial adventure, bought the shop and made it her own – a place for bookhounds, Red Hatters and writers. On a spring weekend, poet Bob Stallworthy takes us inside a literary reading at Annie’s Book Company where art mingles with the avenue.

 

in a bookshop on sixteenth avenue

we spend the first nice Spring Sunday

poets tell us about somebody else’s life

 

hell there is life here too

the shelves in this store are stacked

floor to ceiling with it

 

we take it all very seriously

words in shouts    squeals   whispers

from the mouths of readers

backdropped by the street

that screams in blue and red flashing lights

going east

rumbles in eighteen forward gears

heading west

 

while quietly shelved second-hand words

and windows focus sunlight

from out there

on our word dust

hanging in the air in here

 

Bob Stallworthy, Optics (Frontenac House, 2004)


Ali Bryan's "The Rink"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgarians skating on the Elbow River, circa 1913. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Calgarians skating on the Elbow River, circa 1913. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

All winter, Ali Bryan watches her husband build a skating rink in their Calgary backyard. Hoses take over the kitchen; the back gate is frozen shut. She wonders what he is thinking as he stands night after night in the cold adding a new layer of water on top of a plastic tarp. When the rink is ready, Bryan marvels at what her husband has constructed. In spring, the ice thaws but the dream of his rink endures.

 

It is April and the un-bungeed part of the tarp blows in the wind, at one point folding itself in half over the portion of the rink that has not yet melted. Along the fence, the ice is still eight inches thick. From the neighboring road it’s an eyesore. I pull back the tarp; anchor it down with rocks like it’s a picnic blanket. Methodically, I chip away at the remaining ice. Assaulting it with a shovel, then flinging the blocks into the green space beyond the yard. It is both therapeutic and exhausting. I work alone in the quiet of the afternoon, undoing the layers. Stripping away the hours of time my husband spent in the darkness of winter building the rink. I can’t tell if the ice looks negative or positive, beautiful or deformed. It is just heavy. Weighed down by the private thoughts of its maker, those profound and those superficial. Him. I debate whether to stop because it feels like I’m dismantling something sacred. Like I’m cutting down a tree. But I keep working because it’s almost May and the grass beneath the tarp has been buried for almost six months. I suspect it craves sunlight and air the way we all do after a long winter. I detach the tarp, fold it into a shapeless heap by the edge of the fence and stand ankle deep in the yard. The remains of the rink, now a watery graveyard of thoughts, from which summer will emerge.

 

Ali Bryan, “The Rink,” 40 Below: Alberta’s Winter Anthology, Volume 2 (Edmonton: Wufniks Press, 2015)


Nancy Jo Cullen's Pearl

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Pearl Miller ran her brothel in this house at 526 - 9th Avenue SE in the late 1920s. Today, Loft 112 remembers Miller with its Pearl's Place Creative Residency, a program that operates in the Loft's literary/creative space located directly behind what used to be Pearl Miller's house.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

Pearl Miller ran her brothel in this house at 526 - 9th Avenue SE in the late 1920s. Today, Loft 112 remembers Miller with its Pearl's Place Creative Residency, a program that operates in the Loft's literary/creative space located directly behind what used to be Pearl Miller's house.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

“I don’t suppose it’s a surprise,” poet Nancy Jo Cullen writes in her preamble to Pearl, “that the details of a whore’s life have been lost to history but I find her story emblematic of the renegade individualism Alberta claims to love.” Calgary-born Cullen imagines the life and times of Pearl Miller, a legendary brothel owner, madam and early Calgary entrepreneur. Miller arrived in the city in 1914 and embarked on a 28-year career operating a string of city bordellos, including one near Calgary’s posh Mount Royal neighbourhood. Around 1926, Miller purchased a wood-frame house on 9th Avenue East. In 1942, after three months in jail, Miller’s career shifted: she spent the remainder of her days saving women from a life of prostitution. Miller died in 1957 and her storied house was demolished sometime after 1971.

  

Oh fairest house to shelter easy girls,

That thereby carnal lust shall never die,

And thy parlour shall host the tender churl,

Who leaving wife at home with whore doth lie.

Six hundred square feet and no mortgage due,

Although the city starves, thy walls shall flourish.

Harlots give proof of what man will pursue

Though work be lost and children be malnourished.

 

An excerpt from Nancy Jo Cullen's “526 – 9 Avenue SE,” Pearl (Calgary: Frontenac House, 2006)


Tom Clancy's Endwar

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

This eagle landed on the J I Case building (349-351 10th Ave SW) in 1894. The threshing machine business closed in 1969, the eagle made its way to the Glenbow Museum, and Rodney's Oyster House serves seafood in the old Case premises. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

This eagle landed on the J I Case building (349-351 10th Ave SW) in 1894. The threshing machine business closed in 1969, the eagle made its way to the Glenbow Museum, and Rodney's Oyster House serves seafood in the old Case premises. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

The Calgary Tower has been seized by Russians who may have a nuclear bomb. US Navy Seals swarm the streets of downtown. Helicopters hover around the tower. Sergeant Marc Rakken, of the US Joint Strike Force, has an impossible job: getting a team of civilians and their detonating devices up a 191-metre tower controlled by the enemy and onto the observation deck.

 

He’d been ordered to cause minimal damage to the tower. Well, tell that to the troops up there, four on the top landing now, dishing out a steady stream of rifle fire punctuated with the occasional smoke and fragmentation grenade. The Russians had already destroyed several landings that the team had strung ropes across.

Another explosion rocked the stairwell, and suddenly three of Rakken’s men tumbled by, having been blown off the stairs. Two had probably been killed by the explosion, but a third had keyed his mike as he fell, screaming at the top of his lungs as he plummeted to his death.

“Sergeant, we can’t go on,” cried one of his grenadiers.

Rakken, his face covered in sweat now, the MOPP gear practically suffocating him even as it protected him, could stand no more. “Sparta Team!” he barked loudly. “Follow me. We’re going in!”

 

Tom Clancy/David Michaels, Endwar (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2008)


Marika Deliyannides' Bitter Lake

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Two women, two girls and a baby carriage, in Calgary circa 1910. (Photo: U of A Peel's Prairie Provinces)

Two women, two girls and a baby carriage, in Calgary circa 1910. (Photo: U of A Peel's Prairie Provinces)

The day of Zoe’s pregnancy ultrasound, a chinook wind is blowing. She senses the barometric change: she’s more anxious than usual, feels the onset of a migraine. Her pregnancy is unexpected. A professional closet designer, Zoe has curated a careful life for herself and her husband, Calvin in Calgary – one that does not include children. In her well-appointed inner city home, she has stowed away the messy memories of her own childhood. But in booming Calgary, it is hard to avoid other people’s children. The city teems with toddlers. “You couldn’t enter a restaurant these days without tripping over a row of high chairs.” As Zoe lies on the clinic examining table, the chinook does nothing to melt her resistance to the prospect of motherhood.

 

Calvin arrived in time to watch the sonographer push the ultrasound wand across the cool gel that coated my bare belly. He stood at the head of the examination table, his arms folded across his chest while he rocked back and forth on his heels. So far I’d felt nothing. No quickening, no nausea. If I could ignore what was going on in my body I wouldn’t have to deal with the apprehension of childbirth that bobbed to the surface every time I passed a pregnant woman. There were expectant women everywhere, it seemed. Calgary was in the middle of a maternity boom. Women were being sent to hospitals in High River and Okotoks to deliver. The health care system was bulging under the weight of so many babies.

 

Marika Deliyannides, Bitter Lake (Porcupine’s Quill, 2014)


Maureen Bush's The Veil Weavers

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

An image of the Highland Valley wetland painted on the side of this protest truck evokes the entry to a magical realm underneath Calgary in The Veil Weavers. (Photo: Save The Highland Valley Wetlands) 

An image of the Highland Valley wetland painted on the side of this protest truck evokes the entry to a magical realm underneath Calgary in The Veil Weavers. (Photo: Save The Highland Valley Wetlands

Magic is leaking from the realm underneath the city. On Halloween night, Josh and his sister Maddy are summoned by the giant of Castle Mountain: he needs their help repairing the veil that separates his world from theirs. In Confederation Park, crows open a secret doorway and, in the company of two otter-people, the siblings begin their journey toward Nose Creek and the Bow River beyond.

 

Even in the dark I could feel the difference between Calgary and the magic world. It was both brighter and darker, with no city lights, a gazillion stars, and a luminous moon. This world was rougher and wilder than the human world, with a power I could feel deep in my body. Maddy and I grinned at each other. We were back!

[…]

A boat rested on the bank of the creek. It was like the one we’d travelled in last summer, bark stretched over an oval ring of branches. We all climbed in, the smallest crow perching on the edge of the boat beside my shoulder.

Their paddles were magical and could travel upstream or downstream with equal ease, but tonight the otter-people were working extra hard, paddling in a fast, smooth rhythm as if they were in a hurry.

We followed the creek down a deep, treed valley, and crossed a marsh alive with the rustling of animals and the fragrance of mint and mud. A wolf howled as we slipped around a beaver dam. When Maddy shivered, I pulled her close to me.

She watched everything through the engraved silver band Keeper had given her. When I borrowed it, I could see magic strong and golden on Eneirda and Greyfur, and on the boat and paddles. It flashed off the wings of the crows and glowed softly on everything.

The stream carried us down to the Bow River. As soon as the boat slid into it we could feel the power of the current. Eneirda and Greyfur murmured to their paddles – the boat turned and we headed upstream.

 

Maureen Bush, The Veil Weavers (Regina: Coteau Books, 2012)


Glenn Dixon's Juliet's Answer

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Another pair of storied Calgary lovers: Florence Ladue & Guy Weadick (Photo: Calgary Stampede)

Another pair of storied Calgary lovers: Florence Ladue & Guy Weadick (Photo: Calgary Stampede)

In a Calgary high school, Glenn Dixon introduces his students to Shakespeare’s timeless love story, Romeo and Juliet. At home, he struggles with his own story of unrequited love – a story he tells in his memoir, Juliet's Answer (Simon and Schuster, 2017). He fell for Claire when they were both working on their graduate degrees at the University of Calgary. As the years pass, Dixon waits for Claire to fall in love with him. That love story ends on a pathway beside the Bow River, but it sends Dixon to Romeo and Juliet's Verona where a new love awaits.

 

A pathway runs along the riverbank where I live. You can walk across a footbridge and off into a forest of Douglas fir trees. Claire and I walked there dozens of times, maybe hundreds of times over the years. She always had cold hands. Her fingertips would go white and then purple. Even on the brightest spring days, her fingers lost their color. She’d hold them up for me to see, shaking her head, surprised at their hue. On the far side of the river, train tracks run along a ridge. Long trains thumped through, carrying wheat and canola to the Pacific markets of China and Japan and India. Claire always waved to the conductors. They leaned out of their tiny windows above the roaring engines to make sure the tracks were clear ahead. She raised a hand with fingertips the color of amethyst and the conductors waved back at her. Once, after a long train had passed, she turned to me, glowing. “You’re my best friend,” she said, and I didn’t know what to say in return. So I said nothing at all.

 

Glenn Dixon, Juliet’s Answer (Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2017)


Natalie Meisner's Double Pregnant

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Memorable encounters on Calgary's Stephen Avenue, this one at First Street East where Milestone's now stands.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage & Family History Collection)

Memorable encounters on Calgary's Stephen Avenue, this one at First Street East where Milestone's now stands.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage & Family History Collection)

Natalie Meisner and her wife Viviën have decided to start a family. Now, they need to find some sperm. One of their first meetings with potential donors takes place at a tapas restaurant on Stephen Avenue. On paper, Natalie and Viviën have everything in common with this gay couple from Vancouver – travel, cooking, sports, culture. But when they meet them outside the restaurant, Natalie is taken by surprise.

 

As we are introducing ourselves in a four-square formation, I can feel them craning their necks to look up at Viviën, and I register her own surprise as she looks down.

Height alone is no reason to count them out. There’s no call to go discriminating against the less-tall of the world. And besides, height isn’t always passed down biologically, is it? And even if it is, so what? Have we let our overactive imaginations about our future daughter or son the basketball star run away with us? Are we height bigots? I already feel that a wholesale interrogation of my heretofore unexamined prejudice against the vertically challenged is in order when suddenly I am rescued.

These two cannot be our donors, it becomes clear before the appetizers arrive, and it has nothing to do with their height. It isn’t their shortness that disqualifies this couple. No, it is the foodie blogger treatise we are bludgeoned with on the art of the vinaigrette before the menus come. It is the rehearsal of each and every entry for each and every restaurant the slightly taller one wrote in the past six months. The excoriation he gave the Italian restaurant for serving herb-infused bread. The wrath he has for the new French place on Fourth that served something they call a pissaladière when it was clearly a tourtière. And on and on.

 

Natalie Meisner, Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2014)


Bob Edwards' "Society Notes"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Passengers in an automobile, Calgary, Alberta, circa 1915 -- perhaps off to the Mariaggi. The Stephen Ave restaurant was a landmark in frontier Calgary, and briefly home to The Ranchmen's Club. In the background: William Roper Hull's mansion, Langmore, on 6th Street & 13th Ave West.  (Photo: University of Alberta Peel's Prairie Provinces)

Passengers in an automobile, Calgary, Alberta, circa 1915 -- perhaps off to the Mariaggi. The Stephen Ave restaurant was a landmark in frontier Calgary, and briefly home to The Ranchmen's Club. In the background: William Roper Hull's mansion, Langmore, on 6th Street & 13th Ave West.  (Photo: University of Alberta Peel's Prairie Provinces)

Money, Bob Edwards wrote, “has a curiously snobbifying effect in codfish society.” What better place to skewer it than in a social column in his weekly newspaper? A century ago, Edwards filled the Eye Opener’s “Society Notes” with fictitious names, but attentive Calgary readers may have recognized, if not themselves, then the city’s social climbers. As Will Ferguson notes, Edwards was an egalitarian when it came to his social page: women and men would be roasted equally.

 

Last Wednesday night a charming dance was given at the charming residence of the charming Mrs. W. Sloshcum-Kachorker. Old Sloshcum-Kachorker, who had inadvertently got drunk at the Mariaggi that afternoon was unable to be present, but a pleasant time was had nevertheless. The rooms were tastefully decorated with flowers and ferns. Among those present were:

A beautiful gown of blue satin with net trimmings and touches of gold.

A gorgeous creation from Paris, Saskatchewan, of sequin trimmings and sage and onion stuffing.

A charming gown of white crepe de chêne [sic] with apricot trimmings and apple dressing.

A cream brussels sprout net over silk, trimmed with old point lace.

A lovely gown of green satin, edged with point d’esprit and old rose silk, with touches of burlap.

There were many more beautiful gowns present and they appeared to be having a good time. It really does not matter who were inside the gowns.

 

Bob Edwards, Eye Opener (Feb. 19, 1910)


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 Race and afforded intense amusement to the populace. Contestants started from the corner of First Street East and Eighth Avenue, underneath our offices 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 round the corner to the Dominion and 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 Eighth 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.

When the enthusiastic crowd grabbed the winter and hoisted him on high amid loud acclaim, calling on him for a speech, what do you think he said? He wagged his head sagaciously from side to side and asked if anybody was going to set ‘em up. Much sorrow was expressed over the untimely demise of two of the runners, both of whom succumbed on Ninth avenue.


Bob Edwards, Eye Opener (Dec 25, 1920),


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)