The Old Central Library

by Shaun Hunter


Through the Eyes of Writers

 The Old Central Library in the 1970s (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Williams & Harris Shared History Centre )

The Old Central Library in the 1970s (Photo: Calgary Public Library Williams & Harris Shared History Centre)

This Friday, the W. R. Castell Library closes its doors to make way for the opening of Calgary’s New Central Library next week. After 55 years of service, the building will revert to the city. (I hope the city preserves Robert Oldrich’s enamelled metal sculpture installed on the MacLeod Trail side of the building. Calgary-based Oldrich [1920-1983] said his library mural “depicts pages of books, stained glass to show age, art… and the feeling of old and new.”)

Whatever happens with the old Central Library, it will live on in the city’s literature. Here’s a reading list, in homage to the Castell.

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Doris Anderson, Rebel Daughter: An Autobiography (1996)

The long-time editor of Chatelaine magazine, Doris Anderson grew up in 1920s Calgary on the block that would one day house the Castell Library. In her memoir, she describes the streetscape of her childhood. “A livery barn stood across the road from our house, and a blacksmith shop was just down the street. Horses were far more common than cars at that time and were used to pull milk, bread, and ice wagons.”

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Douglas Kennedy, Leaving the World (2009)

A suicidal American woman on the run from her past builds a new life in Calgary. Jane Howard finds work at the Castell as a rare book buyer. Her new circle includes the chief cataloguer and music librarian. Kennedy, a bestselling American novelist, worked on Leaving the World during a stay at the Post Hotel in nearby Lake Louise.

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Nerys Parry, Man & Other Natural Disasters (2011)

Set in 1990s Calgary, this novel tells the story of a middle-aged book repairer with a dark secret who has worked for 30 years in the basement of the Castell Library. This is how he describes his place of work: “If you looked at the library from the C-train stop at Seventh Avenue, you would be forgiven for confusing it with an upmarket whorehouse, the way the neon light runs up the grey brick side like a laced hem on a stockinged thigh, the words staining your retina like a pink-red kiss.”

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Lori Hahnel, “We Had Faces Then,” Nothing Sacred (2009)

“We do help people find books,” says the long-time library staffer who narrates this short story. “But a lot of other things go on, too.” Hahnel’s story explores the real and imagined dangers of working at the old Central Library.

The Castell Library also pops up in Rona Altrows’s short story collection A Run on Hose (2006), Suzanne North’s novel Flying Time (2014) and David A. Poulsen’s mystery novel Last Song Sung (2018).


Stephen Avenue

by Shaun Hunter


through the eyes of writers

 Calgary's Stephen Avenue circa 1907-1912 (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past )

Calgary's Stephen Avenue circa 1907-1912 (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

A few of the books (and one essay) I talked about on my literary walk of Stephen Avenue during Historic Week Calgary. If you have others to add to the list, please send them my way.

 

J. Ewing Ritchie, Pictures of Canadian Life (1886) – This English author was one of the first literary tourists to spend time on Stephen Avenue. After a short stay among the cowboys and wild dogs, he determined “it is clear I must not tarry at Calgary too long.”

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Rudyard Kipling, Letters to the Family (1908) – After a whirlwind tour down Stephen Ave, the man the Herald called “the greatest of all literary men” declared Calgary “the wonder city of Canada.”

Frederick Niven, Canada West (1930) & The Flying Years (1942) – This BC-based author captures the changing landscape of the street in two of his books about the Canadian West.

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Bob Edwards, “The Eye Opener Road Race of 1906,” Eye Opener (Dec 25,1920) – The bard of early Calgary describes a drunken romp down Stephen Avenue with his special cocktail of fact and fiction. You can read the full version in Grant MacEwan's Eye Opener Bob: The Story of Bob Edwards.

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Isabel Paterson, The Shadow Riders (1917) – In her first novel, Paterson draws upon her own experience as a single woman living in Calgary during the height of the pre-WW I real estate boom.

 

 

 

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Marina Endicott, The Little Shadows (2012) – A travelling vaudeville sister act performs at the Starland Theatre, one door west of today’s James Joyce Pub.

Nancy Huston, Plainsong (1993) – Calgary-born, Paris-based Huston takes us curbside for the 1912 Stampede Parade, held on Labour Day weekend on 8th Avenue.

Yvonne Trainer, Tom Three Persons (2002) – This biographical poem about the legendary Kanai bronco champion from Standoff, AB also touches down on 8th Avenue during the first Stampede.

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Doris Anderson, Rebel Daughter: An Autobiography (1996) – The one-time editor of Chatelaine grew up in a house where the W. R. Castell Library now stands, and writes about the Englishness of 8th Avenue during her 1920 and 1930s Calgary childhood.

Margaret Sadler Gilkes, Ladies of the Night (1989) – Post-war 8th Avenue and its surrounding blocks come to life in this memoir by one of city’s the first female beat cops.

Don McLeod, “Remembering Jaffe’s Book & Music Exchange,” Canadian Notes & Queries (Spring 2000) – McLeod recalls adolescent visits to this 8th Avenue literary landmark, demolished in 1980 to make way for the Performing Arts Centre.

Derek Besant & John Dean, EastEnd (2007) – Two Calgary artists explore the “sidewalk culture” of the 300 block of 8th Avenue in 1975, through a “cinemagraphic narrative” and black-and-white photographs.

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Bruce Hunter, “The Many Happy Returns of Kenny Dawes,” Country Music Country (1996) – Set circa 1980, this short story travels the 8th Avenue of Hunter’s own Calgary adolescence and a landscape of “ghost buildings.”

Aritha van Herk, Restlessness (1998) – On a walking tour, the novel’s narrator points out a few key sites on Stephen Avenue to her assassin companion.

Lori Hahnel, Love Minus Zero (2008) – The legendary Long Bar at the Alberta Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Hahnel’s punk rock novel.

Stuart Ian McKay, Stele of Several Ladies (2004) – In this long poem, McKay haunts Stephen Avenue, past and present.

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Katherine Govier, Between Men (1987) – Stephen Avenue circa 1889 winds its way through this novel about historic and contemporary Calgary.

Barry Callaghan, “A Sadness at the Heart of Calgary (Saturday Night, Nov 1983) – In this essay, the Toronto writer picks a literary fight on a street he finds as soulless as the city.

John Ballem, Alberta Alone (1981) – The violence in Ballem’s political thriller was a lightning rod for Barry Callaghan. Ballem would go on to write several novels about the city’s oil patch informed by his front-row seat as an oil-and-gas lawyer. On a previous walking tour, someone told me that Ballem’s secretary typed his manuscripts in his Scotia Centre office high above Stephen Avenue.

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Norman Ravvin, Café des Westens (1991) – Calgary-born Ravvin wrote his first novel set in and about 1980s Calgary in response to Callaghan’s claim that Calgary had no “imaginative shape.”


Calgary Tower

by Shaun Hunter


through the eyes of writers

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In honour of the Calgary Tower's 50th birthday, here's a literary tour of a city icon. If you know of other sightings of the Calgary Tower in fiction, poetry or essay, send them my way. 

For a little Tower trivia, check out CBC Calgary's 2017 photo essay. Photos of the Calgary Tower in my post come from the Calgary Public Library's Williams & Harris Shared History Centre.

 

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“Calgarians have invented for themselves a new Rorschach test. It is no ink spot on a folded page, but a smooth tower of concrete with a revolving restaurant on top."

-- Robert Kroestch, Alberta (1968)

 

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“Pretty nearly, the only six-hundred-foot concrete erection in the British Commonwealth. With a May basket balanced on its tip – that twinkled with coloured lights at night. […] And […] a red oil derrick to spear the last fifty feet.”

-- W. O. Mitchell, The Vanishing Point (1973)

 

 

“I ascend skeptically. But eat my lunch convinced by the voracious view. The mountains like giant white coral on the horizon. The Bow River winding as an ongoing park through the city. […] Capsule view of a metropolis aborning.”

-- Scott Symons, “Calgary: a Leacock town on the Prairies” (1979)

 

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“You go up the elevator expecting to get a panoramic view of the city and what do you find – goddamn pinball machines. Hundreds of them being played by a herd of juvenile delinquents whose only interest in life is getting three free games on the Big Whizzer.”

-- Tyler Trafford, Entropia (1980)

 

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“Anyway the tower looked to Tessie like a man’s you know what and she couldn’t resist telling Flora that it was the biggest one she’d ever seen – and she had seen a few in her time.”

-- Edna Alford, “Half-Past Eight” (1981)

 

 

 

 

“We talked a great deal over dinner that night, and our guest made a comment as we noted how the once solitary arrogance of the Calgary Tower, the subject of much local ribaldry, had been chastened by the competition. “Calgary,” he said, “seems to be under erasure.”

-- Ian Adam, Foreword, Glass Canyons (1985)

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“The building of his tower was pure Calgary. Calgary was serving notice that, while the city with the big Stampede was satisfied with its progress during Canada’s first century, it expected a much bigger piece of the action the second 100 years.”

-- Fred Stenson, The Story of Calgary (1994)  

 

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“The whole city lay like a map below him. It was still, as if no people lived in it. If you looked closely you could see cars moving, but they moved slowly and silently.”

– Martine Leavitt, Tom Finder (2003)

 

 

 

“We turn down an alleyway and slink past the bold black geometry of fire escapes, stage entrances, stairs fleeing back doors. A construction crane slowly revolves over the rooftops while the Calgary Tower preens in the flattering glass surface behind Ark’s pawnshop.”

-- Lesley Battler, “Calgarius Mundi” (2004)

 

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“When he reached downtown, it had grown dark. A young man in a tired baseball cap stood just outside the doors of the concrete tower, and sullenly, without any greeting, he began making arrangements with Samuel.”

-- Edi Edugyan, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004)

 

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“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.”

-- Tom Clancy & David Michaels, Endwar (2008)

 

 

Four city blocks away, through a high, thin gap in the monolithic concrete mass of downtown, he could see, suspended like a lighthouse in the sky, the beacon of the Calgary Tower.”

-- Eugene Meese, A Magpie’s Smile (2009) 

 

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“The convoy [of unicorns] pulls to a brief stop at the red light, in the deserted heart of downtown, under the ring of red lights on the alicorn that is the Calgary Tower.”

-- Suzette Mayr, Monoceros (2011)

 

 

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“the snow-white wall / the Cinderella sky/ the beauty and the beast light […] / I saw Rapunzel peeking out / her hair falling down"

– Emily Xu, “Rapunzel’s Tower” (2014)

“She’ll scale the Tower, / shoot the rapids below 14th Street, scramble through suburbs.”

– Angela Rae Waldie, “Lines Written on a Map of Calgary” (2014)

 

“And as the sun sets on the chatter and speculation, the Husky Tower burns splendid and tall in the warm soft night, in the caressing Chinooks that blow down over the Rockies. This is the city’s long, hard, and enduring dream.”

-- Robert Kroestch, Alberta (1968)

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W. O. Mitchell's Ladybug, Ladybug

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

 Cottonwood snow in North Glenmore Park, early June  (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

Cottonwood snow in North Glenmore Park, early June  (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

Read Ladybug, Ladybug and you will see the corner of Calgary where W. O. Mitchell once lived. The novel doesn’t name the neighbourhood but it is clearly Roxboro – a few square blocks tucked below an escarpment in a bend of the Elbow River – where Mitchell and his family lived from 1968 until his death in 1998, at 3031 Roxboro Glen Road SW. The action in Ladybug, Ladybug revolves around a retired university professor and a psychotic university student bent on revenge, but the Calgary landscape often steals the novelist’s attention. The ancient buffalo jump a stone’s throw from the professor’s house. The carillon from the Catholic church nearby. The inner-city wildlife – “And there goes the neighbourhood, you urban squirrels and field mice, mallard ducklings in river-bank nests, gophers and garter snakes, rabbits and Chinese ring-necked pheasants.” Calgary’s strange weather also makes an appearance: spring chinooks – “the season conning people into thinking the world was simply wonderful” – and the cottonwood snow of a Calgary June.

 

“It’s snowing!” She was right.

It was as though an absent-minded morning had forgotten it was June. The air was bewildered with white down freed from the cottonwood trees in the park to float and to fall and to drift against curbs and parked cars and house foundations, skiffing sidewalks, lawns, and hedges.

 

W. O. Mitchell, Ladybug, Ladybug (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1988)


W. Mark Giles' "Knucklehead"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

 The "Crestview" neighbourhood in Mark Giles' story resembles Calgary's Fairview: a community developed in the late 1950s in keeping with the principles of the "Neighbourhood Unit Concept." According to the then-city planning director, Fairview's various features would make it a "thoroughly desirable place to live." (Image & quotation from Robert Stamp's   Suburban Modern: Postwar Dreams in Calgary  , 2004)

The "Crestview" neighbourhood in Mark Giles' story resembles Calgary's Fairview: a community developed in the late 1950s in keeping with the principles of the "Neighbourhood Unit Concept." According to the then-city planning director, Fairview's various features would make it a "thoroughly desirable place to live." (Image & quotation from Robert Stamp's Suburban Modern: Postwar Dreams in Calgary, 2004)

Colm and his young family have settled down in a bungalow in the SE Calgary suburbs. But his post-war neighbourhood-in-transition near Heritage Drive is anything but peaceful: Colm and his next door neighbour are at war. There's the Harley Davidson fired up on Sundays and left to rumble in the yard. The steady stream of visitors – pizza and dial-a-bottle delivery guys, bikers, college students, business men, matrons – people dropping things off, and picking things up. And a yappy Yorkshire terrier that never shuts up. In the din of his neighbour’s life, Colm concocts a plan.

 

He will build a fence. The highest fence allowed by law. A thick, high, soundproof impenetrable fence. A fence without chinks or cracks between boards. He will allow no knotholes through which to peer, no handholds or footholds on which to hoist oneself. A fence sunk into the ground under which no small dog, no rodent, no child can burrow. A Berlin Wall, a Great Wall of China, a Hadrian’s Wall, a Maginot Line. When he finishes the fence, he will plant a high hedge, a hedge that will grow skyward past the fence, past the height of the house itself. A thick, high hedge.

He has downloaded the development permit application and all the necessary supporting documents from the city website (the same website where he accessed the Animal Control Bylaw). He spends every tidbit of spare time planning and designing the fence. He uses his laptop and the CADD tools from his work. He knows how much concrete he will need for the foundation and the pillars, how many pallets of cinder blocks, how much sand, how many cubic feet of earth he will need to displace. He knows how much it will cost. He develops a budget and construction schedule. He refines the design, consults his engineering references, revised and revised again. The fence will be a marvel. The fence will be a neighbourhood landmark. He will name it.

 

 

W. Mark Giles, “Knucklehead,” Knucklehead & Other Stories (Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2003)


Craig Davidson's Precious Cargo

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

 Calgary school buses at rest. (Photo: Calgary Sun)

Calgary school buses at rest. (Photo: Calgary Sun)

Craig Davidson’s year of a driving a special needs school bus in Calgary is almost over. He has come to love the six children on his route at the southern edge of the city. “A bus full of nerds,” he calls them: people as quirky as he is. Driving a school bus has changed him. When he started the job, he was facing failure as an aspiring writer and despair. Now he finds himself at the centre of a small, astonishing community. On his last week on the job, he wakes to the spring cawing of magpies. He drives up MacLeod Trail to the impound lot to pick up his bus, and, settled behind the wheel, joins the convoy of school buses, “a stately yellow flotilla, dispersing into the urban grid.” At his first stop, he picks up Jake, a wheel-chair-bound kid with cerebral palsy: a storyteller like Davidson, and a kindred spirit. As Davidson continues along his familiar route of “sleepy thorough-fares and cul-de-sacs,” he reflects on the kids on his Calgary school bus and his remarkable year.

 

They rode because their parents told them to and they obeyed. But, I thought: the odd moment may persist.

Maybe it would be that afternoon in January when I had to get the bus inspected, which made me late. Darkness was falling by the time everyone was on board. A flash squall touched down. Snow curled over the Rockies on a bone-searching wind that screamed through seams in the airframe, rocking the bus on its axles. We charted a path on roads frozen to black glass. Snowflakes glittered in the headlights like a million airborne razor blades. I’d merged with a rural highway on the city’s southernmost scrim. The glow of car headlights pooled up and across the night rises. The moisture of six bodies fogged the windshield; I’d rolled down the window and wind howled with such force that the tears forced out of my eyes were vaporized before they touched my ears. The tires lost traction on a strip of black ice and hit the rumble strips before returning to the tarmac. My fists were gripped fierce to the wheel – which was when Jake began to sing.

It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere

I’m all alone, more or less…

Darkness wrapped tight to the bus, snow pelted the windows, and Jake belted out the theme song to Red Dwarf in a high clear British-accented contralto.

…Let me fly, far away from here

Fun, fun, fun, in the sun, sun, sun…

 

Craig Davidson, Precious Cargo: My Years Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 (Toronto: Alfred A Knopf, 2016)


Nerys Parry's Man and Other Natural Disasters

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

 Cottonwood season in Calgary (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

Cottonwood season in Calgary (Photo: Shaun Hunter)

A middle-aged man who repairs books at the Central Library and lives in a Chinatown apartment with his frail gay lover. A young woman who comes to the city with a wave of Ontario migrants who “seed the city with fancy coffees and bagel bars.” A novel that wanders the streets of 1990s Calgary in all kinds of weather.

 

The poplars that line the residential streets are pollinating, and a snow of yellow covers everything – the roofs, the paths, the parked cars. It collects in gutters and eaves troughs, in the small cracks in the sidewalk. It is as though a second winter has descended on the city.

It is not so easy, here, to shake off the long months of cold. They cling to you like guilt, and for so long, you almost can’t believe there is such a thing as the forgiveness of spring.

 

Nerys Parry, Man & Other Natural Disasters (Winnipeg: Enfield & Wizenty, 2011)


Elaine Morin's "Digging in Heels"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

  Nose Hill Park : a centuries-old place for ceremony, burials and writers' imaginations. (Photo:  calgary.ca )

Nose Hill Park: a centuries-old place for ceremony, burials and writers' imaginations. (Photo: calgary.ca)

Four women climb Nose Hill at dusk. Gail leads the way, carrying the remains of a cocker spaniel named King Louie in her arms. It's her daughter's dog, but Hannah is travelling in Southeast Asia – out of contact and leaving Gail to bury King Louie on Nose Hill.

 

Gail shifted the knee supporting her bundle and glanced at the darkening sky. This was her walk, her undertaking, and there they were, without an ounce of solemnity, yakking away. She would have felt better if Corine hadn’t brought Tessa, another of her pet students in the Faculty of Education. Tessa in high-heeled boots of all things, and some sort of bohemian shawl. At this rate it would take them another hour to reach the site. She was used to being here with Hannah, maybe that was it. They’d begun these nocturnal walks together – had even agreed to bury King Louie up here when the time came. She supposed it was odd to discuss the dog’s death so much before the fact, as if Hannah was waiting. And to bury him here, and not the back garden with the hamsters, but here, on this desolate glacial drumlin. Maybe it was the precarious nature of Nose Hill that drew Hannah, the way it was situated in the city, besieged by an ever expanding mass of neighbourhoods. Or the way the weather could turn.

 

Elaine Morin, “Digging in Heels,” Castration Lessons and Other Stories (Calgary: Secret Layer Press, 2008)


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)