Fred Stenson's The Story of Calgary

by Shaun Hunter

Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Fred Stenson begins his history of Calgary with the words of a teller of tall tales, Robert E. Gard’s Johnny Chinook: “Anything can happen in Calgary and has.” In this slim volume published in 1994, Stenson recounts Calgary’s story of change over the course of the city's first century: from police fort to oil capital, and everything in between. He sees the city with a novelist’s eye, attentive not only to the characters that figure in Calgary’s past, but the way the city shapes the character of the people who call it home.


Calgary will always be a little out of sync with the rest of Canada. It did not originate in the fur trade. It is not situated in a forest. The people of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Europe were no more important to its development than the people of the United States. In the Great White North, Calgary is not even much of a winter city. The winter chinooks pull it out of the deep freeze into spring-like conditions again and again. The result of all this is that people either like or dislike Calgary a lot. It inspires little in the way of neutral opinion.

When Calgarians look to the future they tend to see brightness. This habit of optimism may be the key ingredient in the recipe that makes Calgary a pleasurable place to be. The expectation of good fortune lifts it up from the economic busts it is prone to, and helps it fly to record heights during the booms that are just as much its fate.

Fred StensonThe Story of Calgary (Fifth House, 1994)