Arthur Stringer's The Prairie Child

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary's Coste House, 2208 Amherst Street SW. Ontario-born Eugene Coste, known as the father of the natural gas industry, bought the land for his 28-room Mount Royal mansion in 1911. The price of ten lots in Calgary's nouveau riche neighbourhood? $10,000. After the 1913 crash, Coste fell on hard times. The city turned down his offer to use the house as a children's hospital and the mansion sat empty until 1935. After the war, the now city-owned Coste House became the heart of the city's arts scene as home to the Calgary Allied Arts Centre.  (Photo: Glenbow Museum. Facts: Harry Sanders' Historic Walks of Calgary.)

Calgary's Coste House, 2208 Amherst Street SW. Ontario-born Eugene Coste, known as the father of the natural gas industry, bought the land for his 28-room Mount Royal mansion in 1911. The price of ten lots in Calgary's nouveau riche neighbourhood? $10,000. After the 1913 crash, Coste fell on hard times. The city turned down his offer to use the house as a children's hospital and the mansion sat empty until 1935. After the war, the now city-owned Coste House became the heart of the city's arts scene as home to the Calgary Allied Arts Centre.  (Photo: Glenbow Museum. Facts: Harry Sanders' Historic Walks of Calgary.)

In a last-ditch attempt to save her marriage, the one-time New England socialite, Mrs. Duncan Argyll McKail leaves behind her beloved ranch in southern Alberta and moves to Calgary with her two small children in tow. She’s not sure how her speculator husband has turned their dismal economic fortunes around, but he has promised her a comfortable new life in one of Mount Royal’s finest brick mansions, with “cobble-stone walls” and “high-shouldered French cornices,” grounds, gardens and a household staff of three. As she begins her life in the city, Mrs. McKail is struck by the “stubborn optimism” in the Calgary air.  When her attention turns to the new social circle she’s been parachuted into, she sees something else at play.

 

It’s the women, and the women alone, who seem left out of the procession. They impress me as having no big interests of their own, so they are compelled to playtend with make-believe interests. They race like mad in the social squirrel-cage, or drug themselves with bridge and golf and the country club, or take to culture with a capital C and read papers culled from the Encyclopedias; or spend their husbands’ money on year-old Paris gowns and make love to other women’s mates. The altitude, I imagine, has quite a little to do with the febrile pace of things here. Or perhaps it’s merely because I’m an old frump from a back-township ranch!

But I have no intention of trying to keep up with them, for I have a constitutional liking for quietness in my old age. And I can’t engross myself in their social aspirations, for I’ve seen a bit too much of the world to be greatly taken with the internecine jealousies of a twenty-year-old foot-hill town…

The women of this town remind me more and more of mice in an oxygen bell; they race round and round, drunk with an excitement they can’t quite understand, until they burn up their little lives the same as the mice burn up their little lungs.

 

Arthur Stringer, The Prairie Child, (A. L. Burt & Company, 1922)