Katherine Govier's Between Men

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

   The Calgary Herald arrived in the city days before the railway in the summer of 1883. The first issue was published in a canvas tent. In 1887, the paper moved into this purpose-built sandstone block on Stephen Avenue, where the Divino Bistro now stands. (Photo: Glenbow Museum)

 

The Calgary Herald arrived in the city days before the railway in the summer of 1883. The first issue was published in a canvas tent. In 1887, the paper moved into this purpose-built sandstone block on Stephen Avenue, where the Divino Bistro now stands. (Photo: Glenbow Museum)

February 28, 1889. A Calgary blacksmith called “Jumbo” Fisk mutilates and murders a Cree girl named Rosalie New Grass above a seedy downtown bar. A century later, a young historian, Suzanne Vail returns to Calgary, struggling to find her footing in her hometown after a decade in Toronto. She spends hours in the local history collection at the old sandstone library, a few blocks from the scene of that long-ago killing on Scarth Street. Puzzling through the facts and the missing pieces of the city’s Jack the Ripper murder, she decides to tell the story through a man she calls Murphy. He’s an outsider, and a meddler. In the days after the murder, Murphy hangs out downtown, eavesdropping and scheming. As his story about Rosalie New Grass unfolds, Murphy will reveal his own twisted part in her murder.

 

I went down to the little building where the Herald had its offices, east on Stephen Avenue past the Bodega restaurant. It was quiet in there. The editor was out, and the printers elsewhere. I thought an editorial would be the right idea at that point, as opinions were forming and reforming everywhere. But what would I write?

The town was divided on Rosalie’s case. Most of the top men wanted the whole thing hushed up, and quickly… I toyed with the title “Dead is dead, white or red,” on my sheet of paper, but decided against it. This was no time for word play.

The fact that our little murder came on the heels of London’s Jack and his last strike in Whitechapel had fanned the flames of panic; I suppose I didn’t want to encourage them any more. Mine is an academic interest; though some think me ill-willed, I’m just as happy to see right as wrong.

 

Katherine Govier, Between Men (Viking, 1987) 


Katherine Govier's Between Men

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary Stampede Ferris Wheel (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Calgary Stampede Ferris Wheel (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

After a decade in Toronto, Suzanne Vail has come back to Calgary. She wanted to settle in the east, but “There she’d had too little weight, no depth; she had passed along the streets like a shadow.” And besides, in Toronto she could never see the sky. “It’s like being up to your eyeballs in hills and trees. It’s like standing on a bed that’s gone soft.”

Coming home to Calgary in the mid-1980s is a bumpy ride. Suzanne is at odds with the city: the traffic, the construction, the macho culture of money. “It was a striving kind of place. Always trying and never, by accident of geography, arriving.”

She cowboys up for Stampede: fringed vest, beaded belt, white Stetson. Only her shit kickers are authentic: riding boots she wore as a teenager during her horsey phase. For old time’s sake, she goes down to the Stampede grounds. She rides the Ferris wheel and reacquaints herself with the view.

She was on the front of the wheel, gently swinging. It turned a dozen feet and stopped to load. She saw her years stacked beneath her in stages; she had ridden on that seat, and then that one. She could see up to the North Hill, down to the river. There was so much out there, in this large bowl offered of the city, much more even than she ever thought. The higher she got the more she could see. There was no need for limits. The wheel turned and stopped, turned and stopped. At last it was full. Grandly lifting to begin the descent, she rose up from the centre and went over the top.

Katherine Govier, Between Men (Viking, 1987)