Eugene Meese's A Magpie's Smile

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Workers (circa 1960s) construct an electric vault on 17th Avenue in front of present-day Mount Royal Village. This spring, the City begins a controversial year-long rejuvenation project for the landmark avenue. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

Workers (circa 1960s) construct an electric vault on 17th Avenue in front of present-day Mount Royal Village. This spring, the City begins a controversial year-long rejuvenation project for the landmark avenue. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

May 1977, Calgary is booming, and on edge. Traffic jams, construction, drought. And a serial killer who preys on people living on the “flip side of the boom.” A Magpie’s Smile wanders Calgary’s old neighbourhoods alert to the city “changing, being changed.” In this scene, a freelance photographer considers his newest assignment: a profile of Seventeenth Avenue West.

 

But for the stubbornly natural intrusion of the Bow River and the stubborn, anachronistic presence of the Stampede Grounds, Seventeenth Avenue would have sliced Calgary neatly in two, a continuous line of east-west asphalt, almost exactly, and appropriately, seventeen kilometres from city limit to city limit. Seventeenth was Calgary’s Yonge Street, its Broadway and Strand, a kind of summing up, a socio-development cross-section of the city: what it had been, what it was, what it was becoming.

Seventeenth Avenue. Calgary in cross-section.

That was the idea. Actually, the idea was take a page from the oil patch and take and “above-ground core sample” of the city. That was what he was supposed to do. That was his assignment.

 

Eugene Meese, A Magpie’s Smile (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2009)