Aritha van Herk's Mavericks

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary Stampede bull rider (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo, Wikimedia Commons)

Calgary Stampede bull rider (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo, Wikimedia Commons)

On the first page of her popular history of Alberta, Aritha van Herk shows her cards: she is no historian. Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta will be idiosyncratic, a story born out of her life in Alberta and her life-long impatience with Central Canada’s clichéd notions about her home province. There are multiple lightning rods for the liberal Torontonians she is trying to educate; near the end of the book, she gets to the Calgary Stampede. There is no tiptoeing into the subject. Best to begin in the centre of things. Feel the heat of a July afternoon, taste the dirt in your mouth, watch a man riding a bull.

On a sweltering July afternoon, the grandstand at the Calgary Stampede groans under the weight of thousands of tourists and locals, intent and sweating in their costumes of blue jeans and cowboy hats. I’m there, bent toward the dust of the infield where a Brahma bull churns and fishhooks, horns swiping a parabola in the air, the man fastened to his back like a burr exercising some insane ritual that believes this ton of moving muscle can be subdued.

Aritha van Herk, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta (Penguin Canada, 2001)