Laura Swart's Blackbird Calling

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In 1946, when Austin and Norma Burt opened their store at the corner of Elbow Drive and 50th Avenue SW, Burt's was at the city limits. Its offerings included a post office, an ice cream bar and a hitching post for customers on horseback. Burt's was demolished in 2015 to make way for a 5-storey commercial building. (Photo: makecalgary.com)

In 1946, when Austin and Norma Burt opened their store at the corner of Elbow Drive and 50th Avenue SW, Burt's was at the city limits. Its offerings included a post office, an ice cream bar and a hitching post for customers on horseback. Burt's was demolished in 2015 to make way for a 5-storey commercial building. (Photo: makecalgary.com)

In the 1960s suburbs of Calgary, every night after supper a girl and her brother play hide-and-seek with the other kids on their block. The game has rules, and boundaries: no going past Burt’s store at the top of the hill, the woodlands behind their place, and what the kids call the double houses. Their own lives have boundaries, too. Their father has told them to stay away from the duplexes and the Indians who live there. But hide-and-seek involves breaking the rules. The girl disobeys her father and becomes fast friends with a Blackfoot girl named Gloria Little Chief.

 

One girl who came out to play looked like my brother – she looked Indian. And the thing about her was this: she always wore a braided linen belt wrapped twice around her waist and fastened with a brassy buckle. Sometimes she had pants on, sometimes a cotton dress or skirt, but the linen belt was always around her waist. She was only allowed to stay out until the streetlights came on, and sometimes after a few rounds of hiding she would suddenly jump up from our hiding place and run home, because the lights had come on. She came from the double houses at the end of the street, and I wondered if her parents ever watched out the window for her. Father told me to stay away from the double houses. Who knew what went on inside them, with their unpainted fences and junky yards? There were rows and rows of them – crooked boxes on a dead-end street that ran perpendicular to everything else.

 

Laura Swart, Blackbird Calling (Toronto: Quattro Books, 2016)