Robert Kroetsch's Alberta

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Husky Tower under construction, 1968 (Photo: Calgary Tower website)

Husky Tower under construction, 1968 (Photo: Calgary Tower website)

“What does it look like to you?”

“What’s it really for?”

“What does it make you think of?”

It's 1968 and the brand new Husky Tower rises twice as high as the city’s tallest building. To celebrate Canada's centennial, Marathon Realty and Husky Oil have commissioned a concrete and steel observation tower that transforms the city's skyline. Author Robert Kroetsch, then a university professor in upstate New York, has returned to Alberta to write a centennial travelogue about his native province. In Calgary, he contemplates the tower.

They gather at its base and tilt their heads up and back, their mouths opening, their gaze following the slender bone-white curve to where its high point swells against the sky. They watch it from old verandas and new patios, and from the balconies of glittering high-rise apartments. They see it from far out on the prairie and marvel at what they behold.

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.

To a child, it is a turret that makes his home a castle. To a preacher outside the gate of the Calgary zoo, it is a beacon that draws the innocent to this new Babylon. To a young man who soars six hundred feet above his high city to be served and pampered, it is proof to his date that he deserves her pampering too. To a student at the university, it is an embarrassing symbol of his city’s materialism and raw taste. To the oilmen, it is higher than the Rockies on the horizon far to the west; it is the axle-tree of God’s universe, and they, by God, built it.

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 Kroetsch, Alberta (NeWest Press, 1993, 2nd edition)