Aritha van Herk's Places Far From Ellesmere

by Shaun Hunter

Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Union Cemetery (Photo: City of Calgary)

Union Cemetery (Photo: City of Calgary)

“A place,” Aritha van Herk writes in Places Far From Ellesmere, “is counted for the people buried there.” She wanders the cemeteries of Calgary, her chosen place, a city with a turnstile history of arrivals and departures. But Calgary’s cemeteries are crowded with the people who stayed. “Graves elbowing each other awake, saying ‘move over.’” Why leave, she asks herself, "when everything is here?"


To dare to stay here to die, to dare to stay after death, to implant yourself firmly and say, “Here I stay, let those who would look for a record come here.” You want a death more exotic than it is, would choose repose in the arms of foreign grass, odd moles rather than gophers. But the lengths of darkness measured metre for metre are shorter here and the pinhole photography of death as immobilizing as east or west. The graveyards of Calgary are your grottos, and even ashes scattered and unburied settle here with the mosquitoes and the rippled gusts of wind off the foothills.


Aritha van Herk, Places Far From Ellesmere, (Red Deer College Press, 1990)