Barb Howard's "Still Making Time"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Completed in 1933 and costing $4 million, the Glenmore Dam was the largest public works project in the city's history, providing needed employment during the first years of the Dirty Thirties. The dammed Elbow River flooded 900 acres of land to create the Glenmore Reservoir. In the 1940s, the area was considered a "swimming, fishing and picnicking paradise." Later, the reservoir was closed to swimmers and power boaters, but not to the literary imagination. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past )

Completed in 1933 and costing $4 million, the Glenmore Dam was the largest public works project in the city's history, providing needed employment during the first years of the Dirty Thirties. The dammed Elbow River flooded 900 acres of land to create the Glenmore Reservoir. In the 1940s, the area was considered a "swimming, fishing and picnicking paradise." Later, the reservoir was closed to swimmers and power boaters, but not to the literary imagination. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Labour Day weekend. Scott pauses on a bluff above the Canoe Club and thinks about calling Nadia. It’s been twenty years since their summer on Glenmore Reservoir. He’s seen Nadia only twice since then, once with her two small children in tow, and once on the Stampede grounds. He unlocks the cellphone screen, and pauses. Nadia is at her parents’ house in Calgary, helping them pack up before they move to a condo. She sorts through a cardboard box of outdoor gear stowed away after her job at the Canoe Club twenty summers before. Each item sparks a memory. A late-night paddle up to the river’s mouth at the west end of the Reservoir. An accident involving the Canoe Club commodore. The Labour Day weekend when she and Scott met at the dock. “The water, the morning, the summer. The guy. She never wanted them to lose their pre-dawn shimmer.”

 

Scott sits on the bench, looks across to the patrol hut, shakes his head. He shouldn’t have stopped here. It makes him feel like some rube who can’t move on, like he wishes he was still twenty-four and working on the patrol and rescue boat. Pathetic. Because for all his first-responder courses, and water rescue training, and experience in jet boats and sailboats, for coming all the way from Muskoka, the job hadn’t required much more than putting around the reservoir. The patrol boat was the only jet boat allowed on the water, so there was some status attached to being in it, but driving slowly with that powerful engine always seemed like a waste. Sometimes he towed a canoe or sailboat back to shore. Mostly he drove around telling people not to swim in the water. He met Nadia on a Friday, which meant regatta day for all the canoe and sailboat camps on the water. He and Eddy – he was always on a shift with Eddy – spotted a group of kids standing in their canoes. One kid at the stern of each canoe, right up on the gunwales, bending their knees, swinging their arms, bobbing a crooked track across the reservoir. A swimming incident waiting to happen, Eddy figured.

 

Barb Howard, “Still Making Time,” Western Taxidermy (NeWest Press, 2012)


Barb Howard's "Saturday Afternoon at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, 1977"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary Stampede midway circa 1959 (Photo:  Calgary Public Library )

Calgary Stampede midway circa 1959 (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

Thirteen going on fourteen, Wendy Kettle visits the Stampede grounds with her parents and big brother Jamie. She’d rather be watching the disco dancer’s show. Her girlfriends are right: the dancer is the best thing at the Stampede this year,  leaping and sliding in his tight white pants and silky white shirt to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. At the noon show, he smiled at her. At the afternoon show, he gyrates, as if for her. In his final side-split, he points his index fingers at Wendy – “like guns, bangbang”– and she returns the gesture. When the show ends, the dancer slips away and Wendy heads to the corn dog tent where her family is waiting.

 

Wendy’s family spent a long time discussing which part of the grounds they should all visit next. Wendy thought the discussion was a waste of time since they always did the same thing every year anyway. Wendy’s dad liked to walk through the Stampede barns and look in every stall, and comment on the livestock as though he was raised on a Cochrane ranch rather than in the city. Wendy’s mother liked to tour the Big Four building to look at kitchen gadgetry like Popeil’s Kitchen Magician and the Showtime Rotisserie. After oohing and aahing at every single vendor, she’d whisper to Wendy, “I need that appliance like I need a hole in the head.” And Jamie would choose something, usually the Funhouse or a ride that the Kettles could handle, but enough out of their usual box so that they would have a hilarious time and talk about it for weeks.

It was all so predictable and unfair. The dancer took only a few minutes. Everything else took forever.

 

Barb Howard, “Saturday Afternoon at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, 1977” (Lofton8th, 2016)

 


Barb Howard's Whipstock

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

"Looking Ahead to Work in Alberta Oil Patch" (Photo: Khalid Calgary, Wikimedia Commons)

"Looking Ahead to Work in Alberta Oil Patch" (Photo: Khalid Calgary, Wikimedia Commons)

The oil patch is in Nellie Mannville’s blood. Her grandmother, an industry pioneer, used her cramping uterus to find oil, and Nellie’s mother is a cheeky, chain-smoking landman. Nellie works at an oil company cafeteria in downtown Calgary for a woman called Sauerkraut. She signs up for a new-employee rig tour. Her mother guffaws at her daughter’s sudden interest in the oil business and offers her own quick-and-dirty primer. (“Think of a dick. That’s the derrick.”) But Nellie is intent on going on the tour. She heads to the meeting place outside the company office tower downtown, past a large bronze statue in the lobby: a cowboy riding a bucking oil barrel. The sculpture hints at what’s to come. On the bus ride to the rig site, the landscape is the familiar parade of gas stations, car dealerships and lube shops. But soon after Nellie arrives at the rig, the terrain turns strange, and Nellie finds herself surrendering to the derrick.

 

The group photo of the rig tour participants appears in the July 1998 issue of the company newsletter. Nellie, thickish and sweaty, stands at the end of the middle row. Her jean shirt and jeans protrude from her open coveralls. Her big silver belt buckle catches the sun, twinkles like a magic egg on her belly. Sauerkraut cuts the photo out of the newsletter and pins it on the kitchen bulletin board, beside the safety chart.

“Did you enjoy yourself on that rig tour last month?” Sauerkraut asks Nellie.

“It was orgasmic.”

 

Barb Howard, Whipstock (2001)