Rupert Brooke's Letters From America

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

"The Civic Centre of Calgary as It May Appear Many Years Hence." In 1913, the city commissioned English landscape architect Thomas Mawson to design this plan for Calgary. Never realized, the plan was known as "Vienna on the Bow." (Image: Archives of Alberta)

"The Civic Centre of Calgary as It May Appear Many Years Hence." In 1913, the city commissioned English landscape architect Thomas Mawson to design this plan for Calgary. Never realized, the plan was known as "Vienna on the Bow." (Image: Archives of Alberta)

In the summer of 1913, the charming young English poet, Rupert Brooke toured Canada by rail. In mid-August, he arrived in Calgary. The city was booming. Population had soared from 4,000 in 1901 to over 63,000, and along with it, civic dreams of a thriving metropolis. Brooke visited one of the newest jewels in the city’s crown: the public library on Second Street West. “Few large English towns,” he wrote to British readers in one of his regular dispatches to the Westminster Gazette, “could show anything as good.” That summer, weeks before the economy crashed and the boom turned to bust, Brooke saw a city hell bent on the future. If he didn’t experience an August heat wave during his visit to Calgary, he clearly felt hot air of another kind.

 

These cities grow in population with unimaginable velocity. From thirty to thirty thousand in fifteen years is the usual rate. Pavements are laid down, stores and bigger stores and still bigger stores spring up. Trams buzz along the streets towards the unregarded horizon that lies across the end of most roads in these flat, geometrically planned prairie-towns. Probably a Chinese quarter appears, and the beginnings of slums. Expensive and pleasant small dwelling-houses fringe the outskirts; and rents beings so high, great edifices of residential flats rival the great stores…

The inhabitants of these cities are proud of them, and envious of each other with a bitter rivalry. They do not love their cities as a Manchester man loves Manchester or a Münchener Munich, for they have probably lately arrived in them, and will surely pass on soon. But while they are there they love them, and with no silent love. They boost. To boost is to commend outrageously. And each cries up his own city, both from pride, it would appear, and for profit. For the fortunes of Newville are very really the fortunes of its inhabitants.

 

Rupert Brooke, Letters From America (Charles Scribner, 1916)