Katherine Govier's The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary's iconic Palliser Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Katherine Govier's latest novel. This view from the 1940s looks east down Ninth Avenue with the hotel on the right. (Photo: University of Alberta Peel Collection, Prairie Postcards)

Calgary's iconic Palliser Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Katherine Govier's latest novel. This view from the 1940s looks east down Ninth Avenue with the hotel on the right. (Photo: University of Alberta Peel Collection, Prairie Postcards)

In the summer of 1941, nineteen-year-old Iona Wishart arrives in Calgary, her first night away from her home in the Bow Valley. Against her parents’ wishes, she has come to the Palliser Hotel to sing with her uncle’s band. In the hotel lobby, Iona recognizes the bellhop: a boy she talked to a few weeks before when she helped with a delivery to Camp 88 in Morley Flats. Iona couldn’t pinpoint the boy then – who he was and why he was at the “secret” camp everybody knew was a prison for German nationals. In Calgary, she finds out he is the son of a Japanese family, registered as aliens, relocated from the coast and on the run, just like she is.

 

I know you, she said, looking into the eyes of the bellhop at the Palliser Hotel. He wore a blue uniform and a pillbox hat with a wide chinstrap. He was lean and a little taller than she was. He bent from the hips to pick up her case. His ears, pushed out by the tight white band of the hat, were red. He walked away ahead.

She paused in the lobby and looked through the bar to the dining room. It was grand with elaborate plaster flowers over the doorways and a high ceiling. She took off her hat and shook out her hair, conscious that it was chestnut, that it shone, that the curls she had put in overnight bounced. She looked all through the bar and the lobby, scanning, as if for someone she knew: there was nobody; she was miles and miles – seventy-five, to be precise – away from home.

The bar was full of men. Ranchers in their Stetsons, soldiers from Currie Barracks, salesmen and travellers too old to be in uniform. A scattering of women stood in the foyer in high heels and tight little jackets with skirts that fluted around their knees. It was a clean, bright crowd, and for a minute her confidence collapsed. They looked prosperous. The women intimidated her. But she hadn’t met the man she couldn’t please. She turned back to the bellhop, who had called the elevator and was standing at its open door. She looked at him again and knew who he was and why he had not spoken.

Katherine Govier, The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel (HarperCollins, 2016)