Don Gillmor's Long Change

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Downtown Calgary in 1972, at the beginning of what novelist Don Gillmor has called the city's "decade of collective madness" (Photo: via BuzzBuzzHome News)

Downtown Calgary in 1972, at the beginning of what novelist Don Gillmor has called the city's "decade of collective madness" (Photo: via BuzzBuzzHome News)

“Nineteen seventy-nine had been a glorious year, a drunken march into the future, staggering under the weight of new riches.” The price of oil had skyrocketed and Calgary oilman Ritt Devlin was one of the many who had made a fortune. On New Year’s Eve, Ritt stands at the window of his office high above downtown Calgary and considers the city.

 

Behold the New Rome. Twenty-nine construction cranes were poised like carrion birds along the skyline. Every month, thousands moved here: welders, labourers from the East, professionals, criminals, women with tight jeans and damaged blonde hair who bought cowboy boots and drank shooters and hoped the city would shower them with love…

 

In three years, oil had gone from $14 to $35 a barrel, and that leap had made fortunes for a lot of people, including Ritt. Yet each time West Texas Intermediate crept up another fifty cents, he felt increasingly unsettled. One of the effects of expensive oil was it made people feel they were smarter than they were. Every half-baked junior with two producing wells was suddenly a genius. They convinced themselves it wasn’t market forces (and some manipulation) that made them rich; it was wisdom and insight and corporate courage. And this kind of instant wealth made them feel like they weren’t quite getting enough even as they were getting more than they ever had in their lives. It fuelled a sense of want, it redefined need, everyone living like Elvis. And the nagging remains of Ritt’s Pentecostal upbringing felt a judgment coming.

 

From his view on the nineteenth floor, the city resembled a huge toy, a model of an urban landscape some billionaire had bought for his useless child, the scale reading one inch = one inch. Ritt took his tuxedo off the hanger and laid it on his desk, then stripped to his underwear. He stood in the window and stared down at the city, ironically recalling Matthew 25: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

 

Don Gillmor, Long Change (Random House, 2015)