Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

"Calgary, Alberta," (1955) by Edward John Hughes. A different view than that in Alistair MacLeod's novel, but one that captures the same Calgary light. (Photo: Calgary Herald)

"Calgary, Alberta," (1955) by Edward John Hughes. A different view than that in Alistair MacLeod's novel, but one that captures the same Calgary light. (Photo: Calgary Herald)

A middle-aged orthodontist, Alexander MacDonald is pulled into the past. He travels from southwestern Ontario to visit his twin sister in Calgary. On a sunny afternoon, they sit in her living room “high upon one of the more prestigious ridges of the new and hopeful Calgary.” They talk of family: their childhood, their parents and grandparents, their ancestral homeland in Scotland. The Calgary sunlight infuses the conversation, sharpening memory, clarifying the past. Perched above the city, Alexander MacDonald looks out his sister’s picture window at the sweep of landscape: to the west, the Trans-Canada Highway heading into the Rockies; to the north and east and south, the burgeoning city. Even here in this new place, the past is present. 

 “Did you know,” his sister says, “that Calgary gets its name from a place located on the Isle of Mull?”

“No,” he says. “Well, I’m not sure. I guess I haven’t thought about it very much.”


In the modernistic house in Calgary, we held hands across the table the way we used to do as children. Held hands the way we used to do on the Sunday afternoons after we had finished tracing our wistful fingers over the faces of our vanished parents: the faces looking up towards us from the photograph album spread out upon the table… The Alberta sun came through the window, infusing the amber liquid and the heavy crystal glasses with particles of light.

 

Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief (McClelland & Stewart, 1999)