On Mary Poppins and Calgary sidewalks

by Shaun Hunter


“Think – wink – double wink – close your eyes and jump!”

WordFest's Shelley Youngblut spraying a passage from Norman Ravvin's 1991 Calgary novel, Café des Westens, in front of the Central Library.

WordFest's Shelley Youngblut spraying a passage from Norman Ravvin's 1991 Calgary novel, Café des Westens, in front of the Central Library.

That’s Bert, the chimneysweep, trying to work his magic on the drawings he’s chalked on a London sidewalk. Of course, Mary Poppins is the one who has the right words, and poof! She, Bert and the children slide into an imaginary universe beyond the pavement.

I was thinking of Mary Poppins as I helped choose and lay down the words of writers on a few sidewalks around Calgary this fall.

The project was inspired by similar ventures in Seattle and Boston. The spray paint? A special recipe designed to protect cellphones from moisture. When you spray it on sidewalk cement, the image or words you spray disappear, only to become visible when the surface is wet.

Aritha van Herk unveiling her passage at the 8th Avenue entrance to the Glenbow Museum. "Late at night, under a stalking moon, our history sings behind closed doors." In This Place (Frontenac House, 2011)

Aritha van Herk unveiling her passage at the 8th Avenue entrance to the Glenbow Museum. "Late at night, under a stalking moon, our history sings behind closed doors." In This Place (Frontenac House, 2011)

The Calgary Public Library and Wordfest teamed up to bring the idea to Calgary, and kicked off #YYCLiterarySidewalks on Alberta Culture Days. Four passages from Calgary writers were sprayed around town. Since then, six more have been added.

You can find a list at the Calgary Public Library website, along with author bios and sidewalk locations.

Next time the sidewalks are wet, go on a literary treasure hunt around town. You might think of Mary Poppins and the way, through art, you can be in the real, and the imagined city, at the same time.

Calgary's literature on city sidewalks? It’s magic.

(And, because now that Mary Poppins is in your head, you might just need a fix. The sidewalk scene.)

A few more pictures:

Rosemary Griebel (Calgary Public Library) sprays a quote from Yasmin Ladha's Blue Sunflower in front of the Crowfoot Library. 

Rosemary Griebel (Calgary Public Library) sprays a quote from Yasmin Ladha's Blue Sunflower in front of the Crowfoot Library. 

In front of Cadence Coffee in Bowness: the first line of Cheryl Foggo's 1990 Calgary memoir, Pourin' Down Rain.

In front of Cadence Coffee in Bowness: the first line of Cheryl Foggo's 1990 Calgary memoir, Pourin' Down Rain.

At the entrance to Sien Lok Park in Chinatown: Weyman Chan's poem, "Small hands."

At the entrance to Sien Lok Park in Chinatown: Weyman Chan's poem, "Small hands."

In front of the old Shamrock Hotel in East Calgary, a line from a Kirk Miles poem.

In front of the old Shamrock Hotel in East Calgary, a line from a Kirk Miles poem.

Outside the Louise Riley library, Will Ferguson's 419. 

Outside the Louise Riley library, Will Ferguson's 419. 

In front of Pages bookstore on Kensington Road, derke beaulieu's concrete poem, "kern."

In front of Pages bookstore on Kensington Road, derke beaulieu's concrete poem, "kern."

At the Fourth Street entrance to Knox United Church: a passage from Don Gillmor's 2015 novel Long Change. (Note: safety vests are required when handling literary works.)

At the Fourth Street entrance to Knox United Church: a passage from Don Gillmor's 2015 novel Long Change. (Note: safety vests are required when handling literary works.)

On launch day, a few members of the #YYCLiterarySidewalks team: Shelley Youngblut (WordFest), Bill Ptacek and Rosemary Griebel (Calgary Public Library), me, and Aritha van Herk (author). Missing: Micheline Maylor (Calgary Poet Laureate), and all the swell WordFest staff and Library people who helped bring this project to the streets.

On launch day, a few members of the #YYCLiterarySidewalks team: Shelley Youngblut (WordFest), Bill Ptacek and Rosemary Griebel (Calgary Public Library), me, and Aritha van Herk (author). Missing: Micheline Maylor (Calgary Poet Laureate), and all the swell WordFest staff and Library people who helped bring this project to the streets.