Robert E. Gard's Johnny Chinook

by Shaun Hunter

Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

“You know how it is,” the folklorist Robert Gard writes. “You can’t exactly explain the way you feel except to say, ‘this place is different from any place on earth.'”

In the early 1940s, Gard came to Alberta from the US to teach playwriting at the Banff School of Fine Arts. The next year, he toured the province, gathering stories – the first time Alberta folklore had been captured in book form. He invents Johnny Chinook as his Alberta muse. On a crisp fall day, he stands with Johnny on a rise above Calgary. “This is it,” says Johnny Chinook, “this is my town. This is Calgary!” Gard begins his exploration of Johnny’s hometown on Eighth Avenue with Bob Needham, a columnist at the Calgary Herald.


We walked slowly, enjoying the mild November night and the hundreds of service men and women who crowded the movie house doors or just walked along the street, glad for a little holiday and looking for a good time.

As we went east on Eighth, the noise quieted down, the crowds thinned out, and the buildings diminished in height. The shops were smaller. The darkness closed slowly around us.

“This is a street of ghosts,” Needham said. “Back the street there – is today. Along here there’s still a faint memory of yesterday.”


Robert E. Gard, Johnny Chinook: Tall Tales and True from the Canadian West (M. G. Hurtig Ltd, 1967, 2nd edition)