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)

 


Sarah L. Johnson's "A Ballad for Wheezy Barnes"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Midway at the Calgary Stampede (Photo:  Calgary Stampede blog )

Midway at the Calgary Stampede (Photo: Calgary Stampede blog)

 

Meet Wheezy Barnes: a man who cleans up messes at the Stampede, sells pot to arthritic hippies, and is in love with a celebrity impersonator. For seven years, he’s timed his breaks so he can catch Tammy Whynot’s show at Nashville North. When he crashes a corporate chuckwagon party to see Tammy perform, Wheezy gets a glimpse beneath her country and western façade, and his Stampede week begins to slide. 

 

Wheezy squinted as silver fire blazed from the spurs of Tammy’s pink boots. The fringe on her vest danced like hundreds of energetic fingers playing piano. Her eyelashes and breasts were clearly mass-produced. But the way the corner of her mouth chased that elusive dimple… One of a kind, thought Wheezy.

“Howdy, y’all!” Tammy trilled when the last chord of “long Time Gone’ faded. “Now’s the time to grab a cold one, folks. About to get mighty hot in here!”

The opening riff of ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’ blasted. Tammy sang and worked the stage in a series of slinky moves Wheezy had no names for. Growling out the chorus, she ripped her vest and skirt right off. Her new outfit consisted of a white bikini top and short-shorts, both studded with rhinestones. Wheezy eyed the discarded vest and skirt, crumpled like dead animals. This was not his Tammy.

 

 

Sarah L. Johnson, “A Ballad for Wheezy Barnes,” Suicide Stitch: Eleven Stories (EMP Publishing, 2016)


Hiromi Goto's Chorus of Mushrooms

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Texas bull rider J. W. Harris at the 2013 Calgary Stampede. "I don't ride bulls for the money," his colleague, Douglas Duncan told the Herald, "I ride them for fun."  (Photo:  Calgary Herald )

Texas bull rider J. W. Harris at the 2013 Calgary Stampede. "I don't ride bulls for the money," his colleague, Douglas Duncan told the Herald, "I ride them for fun."  (Photo: Calgary Herald)

A naked old woman carrying a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth loaded with cowboy equipment slips past security into the Stampede grounds. The rodeo has drawn her back to Calgary, “the sweet smell of horsehide and green grass sweat. Sour mash shit and hot dogs and coffee.” She is no ordinary Japanese granny from Nanton, Alberta: she is the Purple Mask, the rodeo announcer exclaims, “a mysteeeerious bullrider… a legend in these parts come Stampede time.” She makes her way to the chute, climbs on a brindled bull named Revelation and prepares herself for the ride.

 

The gate is pulled open from the outside, but the bull crashes it to get out faster. Clang of horns on metal. The first lurch is shocking, like always, and I push against the rope so I won’t fly over the bull’s head, his curving horns. He lurches upward and twists into a belly roll and I pull back to keep my position. The clang clang of cowbells only a dim sound in the pounding of heart and heaving pant of animal breath. The brine of his sweat, the lean muscles of his back. He lunges on and dives into a sunfish. I push and pull, my strong arm reaching for that place of balance.

 

Hiromi Goto, Chorus of Mushrooms (NeWest Press, 1994)


W. O. Mitchell's For Art's Sake

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A ski jump on the roof of the old grandstand: part of a scheme to hold a mid-winter exhibition at the Stampede grounds. Weather interfered. A Chinook forced organizers to cart in snow from Lake Louise, and a snowstorm on the day of competition meant smaller than predicted crowds. The debt took a decade to write off. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library )

A ski jump on the roof of the old grandstand: part of a scheme to hold a mid-winter exhibition at the Stampede grounds. Weather interfered. A Chinook forced organizers to cart in snow from Lake Louise, and a snowstorm on the day of competition meant smaller than predicted crowds. The debt took a decade to write off. (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

P. T. Brockington is president of a Magna Meat Packing company, past president of the quarter horse association, and owner of the city’s NHL and CFL teams. As chairman of the Great North-west Stampede, he has big plans for this year’s opening celebrations. After the parade, a fleet of hot air balloons will lift off from the rodeo infield. Dignitaries, including the Mayor of Calgary, will ride in a balloon shaped like a fleur-de-lys and captained by a Catholic monsignor from Paris: an expert balloonist who does not speak English. The balloons will set sail just after the crowd has sung O Canada. The mayor, in keeping with his nickname, Harry Come-Lately, is late. He is also afraid of heights. As the balloons fill with hot air – “Mickey Mouse, a Labatt’s beer bottle, a Re/Max ranchstyle house, a Whopper hamburger, a Shell gasoline pump, A Dairy Maid triple-decker vanilla soft-ice cream cone, even a Great North-west Stampede ten-gallon Stetson” – P. T. Brockington looks on from his box in the grandstand with the Duchess of Kent, watching the beginning of what will turn out to be an unforgettable ride.

 

The weather bureau had forecast moderate prevailing northwesterly wind for most of Dominion Day. They had been wrong. The wind was moderate, but it was also northeasterly, which blew them toward the grandstand. The balloon cleared it, just, but the hoot and toot of the carnival grounds came next. Heat from the hot dog stands and the ride motors of the Red River Shows as well as that from black asphalt and almost as many milling humans below as Wellington led into the Battle of Waterloo created a strong updraft that sent the balloon soaring.  

 

W. O. Mitchell, For Art’s Sake (McClelland & Stewart, 1992)


Ruth Scalplock's My Name is Shield Woman

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Postcard of the Indian Village at the Calgary Stampede, date unknown. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library )

Postcard of the Indian Village at the Calgary Stampede, date unknown. (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

In her memoir, Siksika elder Ruth Scalplock writes of her childhood in the 1950s on the reserve east of Calgary. From the age of six, Scalplock lived away from her family at residential school. In the summers, she returned home. Her father would cut hay for Stampede money, and when he was paid, the family would catch the train into town.

 

Calgary’s wasn’t a big city then. Where 50th avenue and MacLeod Trail is, this, to my knowledge was the edge of town, and 16th avenue to the north. Forest Lawn wasn’t even part of Calgary. We camped right in the Indian Village for a few days with my Dad’s cousin and her husband – Betsy and James One Gun. In the Blackfoot way, they were like my Grandparents. They had a campsite, One Gun and his wife, where the Calgary Stampede Corral is, where the Indian Village used to be. We stayed in their tipi…

Sometimes we had a tent and camped down in Manchester, around 50th avenue. That is where some of the Siksika had their tents. There was a street car that we used to take… Later we stayed at another place, over by where the Zoo is now, by Nose Creek… There were lots of people from all over the world at the Stampede. They used to come around and take pictures. There was no drinking in the Village. It was so nice, so good when there was no drinking.

 

Ruth Scalplock, My Name is Shield Woman (DayTimeMoon, 2014) 


Nancy Huston's "A Bucking Nightmare"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

"Waiting for the Parade" by Calgary artist Stan Phelps (Photo:  Arcadja Auctions )

"Waiting for the Parade" by Calgary artist Stan Phelps (Photo: Arcadja Auctions)

In the summer of 1993, Paris-based, Calgary-born novelist Nancy Huston returns to her hometown. She's been away for 25 years, and is about to see her first Alberta novel, Plainsong, published. On Stampede parade day, she and her young family head downtown. After the first band marches past, Huston bursts into tears. As a girl, she dreamed of being in such a marching band, wearing a short pleated skirt and twirling a baton. In an instant, she pulls herself together. “Roland Barthes, I tell myself (using French theory to protect myself from Albertan emotion), could have written a ‘mythology’ about this strange event.”

 

What unfolds before our eyes for a full three hours, in the freezing rain, is a succession of bands and floats celebrating every ethnic group in this province’s population: Indians of all tribes, proudly decked out in their traditional costumes (“You see, Daddy?” says Sasha. “You told me Indians didn’t wear feathers any more, but you were wrong!”), Ukrainians, Irish, Hungarians, Dutch, Scots, Germans – and the one and only message conveyed to the enthusiastic audience is: “We are here.” On the spectators’ side, the one and only response to this message is the cry of “yahoo!” endlessly reiterated… “Yahoo!” As far as I can tell, this word is my city’s one distinctive contribution to the history of humanity.

 

Nancy Huston, “A Bucking Nightmare,” Saturday Night (June 1997)


Aritha van Herk's "Pancake banquet"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Stampede breakfast downtown Calgary, circa 1970-90. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library )

Stampede breakfast downtown Calgary, circa 1970-90. (Photo: Calgary Public Library)

“Stampede coming,” Aritha van Herk writes, “always in the seventh month, the off-centre pivot of the year.” van Herk immerses herself in the city’s signature event. Observer and participant, she writes a poetic primer on the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Infield and midway, princesses and parade, chuckwagons and hangovers. Through her poet’s eyes, Stampede is a prism through which to consider the city, and the westness of west. But first, breakfast. Pancakes served up on a street corner. A kind of Calgary communion.

 

The breakfast shuffle. A queue of weary clerks and landsmen waiting for

their servings of pancakes and bacon, some fat to fight the nausea, some

carbs to play it forward. A conga file, a column of supplicants salivating for

the hew of dough, the sweet melt of syrup and butter under the tyranny of

a plastic fork and knife, an inadequate napkin, the buckling paper plate.

One sausage for reward.

 

Aritha van Herk, Stampede and the Westness of West (Frontenac House, 2016)


Frances Backhouse's Once They Were Hats

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Employees at Smithbilt Hats in circa 1958 at its factory on 1208-1st Street SW. The site is now marked by  a historical plaque  at Hotel Arts. In 1946, Smithbilt produced its first white cowboy hat for city oilman Bill Herron. Two years later, it supplied Calgary's delegation with white hats to wear during Grey Cup festivities in Toronto, and a tradition was born. (Photo: Glenbow Archives)

Employees at Smithbilt Hats in circa 1958 at its factory on 1208-1st Street SW. The site is now marked by a historical plaque at Hotel Arts. In 1946, Smithbilt produced its first white cowboy hat for city oilman Bill Herron. Two years later, it supplied Calgary's delegation with white hats to wear during Grey Cup festivities in Toronto, and a tradition was born. (Photo: Glenbow Archives)

A week before Stampede, Frances Backhouse tours the Smithbilt Hats factory, a non-descript, one-storey building in Ramsay – an unassuming shrine to “one of the West’s most beloved symbols,” the cowboy hat. Standing in the gravel parking lot, Backhouse can almost smell the livestock pens at the Stampede grounds a few blocks away. Inside, she learns about Morris Shumiatcher, the 27-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant who, in 1919, bought Calgary Hat Works. He changed his surname to Smith, and the company’s to Smithbilt. The business quickly became known for making all manner of hats, including those for working cowboys. In the shop, Backhouse watches a woman tie black ribbons around the crowns of white cowboy hats, and feels a twinge of nostalgia. Her first cowboy hat was a white straw model supplied by her parents as a “key to the city” when the family moved to Calgary from Montreal in 1972. Twelve years old, she avoided wearing the hat for fear of looking “uncool.”

 

Before I left Smithbilt, I lingered for a while in the showroom and tried on some of the inventory. The elegant dress hats seemed full of possibilities, transforming me in the mirror as I switched from bowler to Prince Albert to fedora. But the allure of the western hats, with their soft, sensuous beaver felt, was even stronger. Unlike the straw cowboy hat of my adolescence, the midnight-black 100x Cattleman I tried on sat extremely comfortably on my head. I would have cheerfully worn it out of the store, if not for $895 price tag. Reluctantly, I set it back on its hook, said my goodbyes and set the cowbell clinking again as I departed.

 

Frances Backhouse, Once They Were Hats (ECW Press, 2015)


Chris Turner's "Calgary Reconsidered"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

“I was never going to live in Calgary,” journalist and author Chris Turner says. And he certainly wasn’t going to write about it. But life had other things in store. A dozen years ago, he and his family moved to Calgary. In 2012, he wrote an essay for The Walrus about the changes he has observed in his adopted hometown. Turner considers six old truths about the city that still hold true, including this one: “Calgary is (still) Cowtown.”

If Stampede was just Stampede, a ten-day summer festival with calf roping and fireworks and those addictive mini-doughnuts, a free pancake breakfast in the parking lot of the nearest mall, and some overzealous boozing with co-workers – if that’s all it was, it wouldn’t inspire such spite. But it isn’t just that. It won’t just stay there on the flat land below Scotsman’s Hill, won’t keep quiet after the last explosion in the Grandstand fireworks show. You can’t just take it or leave it while the carnival is up and running. It insists on being everything to everyone everywhere, Calgary by proxy, the default iconographic setting for any discussion of the city and the province and the Canadian West in general. And to question its value, to argue that Calgary is a much more interesting city than its monomyth, is tantamount to blasphemy.

 

Chris Turner, “Calgary Reconsidered,” How to Breath Underwater (Biblioasis, 2014)

 


Cecelia Frey's "Ode to Fireworks During Stampede"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Fireworks over Calgary (Photo: Calgary Public Library, Postcards from the Past)

Fireworks over Calgary (Photo: Calgary Public Library, Postcards from the Past)

The poet sits atop Nose Hill watching the Stampede fireworks. She surrenders to the “electric air,” sees in the darkness “night flowers/blossoming/gone.”

 

I imagine the trillions of human beings

that exist, have existed, will exist

marching through pre-history

history, post-history

imagine them as spurts of colour

jetting into the sky

flowering, facing

disappearing

as black takes them

absorbs them

but there is always another

another

and another flower opening with such intensity

 

Cecelia Frey, “Ode To Fireworks During Stampede,” Under Nose Hill (Bayeux Arts, 2009)


Will Ferguson's 419

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary Stampede midway (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Calgary Stampede midway (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

In the wake of her father’s apparent suicide, Calgarian Laura Curtis is “cataloguing memories, compiling an inventory of loss.” Who was this flawed, beloved man who got tangled in the deadly web of a Nigerian 419 scam? She remembers a childhood trip to the Stampede: the rough-and-tumble of the chuckwagon races, the clang and noise of midway rides, carneys touting games of chance. “Throw a ball, win a prize! It’s just that easy.” In her memory, Laura finds traces of the man her father was.

While waiting in line for mini-doughnuts – moist and warm and dusted with cinnamon, the highlight of any Stampede midway visit – Laura had walked ahead, down the line, while her dad held their spot. She’d peered seriously at the menu-board options, decided after great deliberation to get the Big Bag, and was hurrying back when she kicked something underfoot. A twenty-dollar bill.

She ran, breathless, back to her dad. “Look what I found!”

Her elation didn’t last, though. “Sweetie,” he said. “It’s not ours to keep.”

Will Ferguson, 419 (Penguin, 2012)

 


Dymphny Dronyk's "What Beer Can Do"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Stampede square dancers, 1982 (Photo: Rainer Halama, Wikimedia Commons)

Stampede square dancers, 1982 (Photo: Rainer Halama, Wikimedia Commons)

Nashville North. The air is thick with the “sweaty cologne of drugstore cowboys/with undertones of puke,” and she’s dancing.

 

Shine my buckle, baby, he yells in my ear,

pulls me tight against him,

and two-steps me around backwards,

sloooooooow, sloooooooooow, quick-quick

one body with too many feet

we stumble, no gliding here

 

Dymphny Dronyk, “What Beer Can Do,” The Calgary Project: A City Map in Verse and Visual (Frontenac House, 2014).


Jackie Flanagan's Grass Castles

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Game of chance, Calgary Stampede midway (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Game of chance, Calgary Stampede midway (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Maureen’s family is barely making ends meet. It’s the 1950s and they’re living in a new house at the edge of Bowness, a small town beyond the western edge of Calgary. In the evenings, Maureen’s mother pores over her budget book. With five children to raise, there is never enough money. Her father squanders his pay on booze and loses his job. When her mother goes to work, Maureen and her father set out in his old green Pontiac. Wilf Carter croons the bluebird song on the radio as they drive into Calgary. They make the rounds, visiting her father’s friends, letting the summer day play out as it will.

It was about closing time so we all head down to the Stampede.

Marcel and Dad worked the nickel slot machines – Gold Diggers. Dad won some money. They played the Roulette Wheel. I made patterns in the sawdust at my feet. When it was very dark Dad bought me a corn-on-the-cob.

At midnight he put me on his shoulders above the noise and smells of the Midway and I looked up at the clear clean sky, so calm, and fireworks exploded breaking its smooth blue skin.

Dad lifted me out of the car cradling me in his arms like a baby.

“This beats everything, John,” Mom hissed. “You’ve pulled some real stunts in your time but this beats them all.”

Jackie Flanagan, Grass Castles (Bayeux Arts, 1998)


Catherine Moss's "Ruby Wedding Anniversary"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Heavy horses at the Calgary Stampede (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Heavy horses at the Calgary Stampede (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

At the gates, the young woman waves them in – free Stampede passes for the couple in their fortieth year of marriage. They make their way through “a clamour of fried onions” toward the Big Top and the “sweet hay-sweat/of Percherons dappled and black.” When the heavy-horse show is over, her husband jumps from the bleachers.

 

I watch him drop

stumble

on a cardboard box

lurch backward

two inch bolt

slices

scalp

wound flows

into a bystander’s pack of tissues

my hand

sticky and scarlet

his shirt soaked

blood

dropping on straw and the upturned brim

of my new white

cowboy hat

 

Catherine Moss, “Ruby Wedding Anniversary,” Swallowing My Mother (Frontenac House, 2001)

 


Aritha van Herk's Mavericks

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary Stampede bull rider (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo, Wikimedia Commons)

Calgary Stampede bull rider (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo, Wikimedia Commons)

On the first page of her popular history of Alberta, Aritha van Herk shows her cards: she is no historian. Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta will be idiosyncratic, a story born out of her life in Alberta and her life-long impatience with Central Canada’s clichéd notions about her home province. There are multiple lightning rods for the liberal Torontonians she is trying to educate; near the end of the book, she gets to the Calgary Stampede. There is no tiptoeing into the subject. Best to begin in the centre of things. Feel the heat of a July afternoon, taste the dirt in your mouth, watch a man riding a bull.

On a sweltering July afternoon, the grandstand at the Calgary Stampede groans under the weight of thousands of tourists and locals, intent and sweating in their costumes of blue jeans and cowboy hats. I’m there, bent toward the dust of the infield where a Brahma bull churns and fishhooks, horns swiping a parabola in the air, the man fastened to his back like a burr exercising some insane ritual that believes this ton of moving muscle can be subdued.

Aritha van Herk, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta (Penguin Canada, 2001)


John Ballem's Alberta Alone

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Pierre Trudeau rides in the Stampede Parade, 1978 (Photo: Calgary Herald)

Pierre Trudeau rides in the Stampede Parade, 1978 (Photo: Calgary Herald)

It’s Sharon’s first Stampede parade and she’s anxious about parking and crowds. Leaving her Chevy Vega in an impromptu parking lot, she guides her five-year-old daughter to their reserved seats on one of the bleachers on Ninth Avenue. Soon, the cloudless sky is marred by a sense of menace. The crowd erupts into a thunder of boos and catcalls as the parade marshal approaches. Prime Minister Lambert sits rigid atop a golden palomino, glaring straight ahead. He ignores the banners and placards. STAY OUT OF ALBERTA… CANADA WHO NEEDS IT?... SEPARATE NOW. The parade continues and the tension eases. Sharon’s daughter delights in the animal mascots dancing down the street. Then a giant raccoon scoops the girl up and dances her into the parade.  

The laughter died on Sharon’s lips as the animal figure disappeared in the mass of prancing horses… In the distance she saw the furry figure with the small, pale face of her child peering over its shoulder. The blaring racket of the band still blotted out all other sounds but she could see Shelley’s lips forming “Mommy, Mommy!” They disappeared behind a flower-decked float.

 

John Ballem, Alberta Alone (General Publishing, 1981)

 


Yvonne Trainer's Tom Three Persons

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Stampede Corral (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Stampede Corral (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

On Labour Day weekend 1912, six hundred First Nations people arrive in Calgary for the first Stampede. The impresario Guy Weadick has persuaded the authorities to allow Indians off their reserves to participate in the six-day celebration. Among them is Tom Three Persons, a young Blood man from the Standoff Reserve southwest of Lethbridge. The poet Yvonne Trainer sees the Stampede through Tom’s eyes. Walking through the streets of Calgary, he notices the electric lights shining in windows.

Power

in Calgary

and none of it

carried in the bag

of the Medicine Man

or in the wisdom

of the chief

On parade day, Tom canters down Eighth Avenue on horseback.

Painted faces       war-whoops

and feathers

we rode like burning hell

through the streets of Calgary

We were stared at with wonder

 

and with more than a little fear

At the rodeo, all eyes are on the gifted Blood horseman. He mounts a black bronco named Cyclone, an outlaw horse known among cowboys as the Black Terror.

everyone was standing hands clapping

stone to stone

Then I knew

and walked out lake-quiet

into the shadows

of the motor-cars

 

but someone with a box camera

came and drew me into the sun

and I couldn’t help

smiling a little

when he snapped this picture.

 

Yvonne Trainer, “1912,” “Calgary Stampede, 1912” and “Snapshot,” Tom Three Persons  (Frontenac House, 2002)

 


Nancy Huston's Plainsong

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the Eyes of Writers

First Stampede Parade, 1912 (Photo: Milward Marcell, Calgary Stampede)

First Stampede Parade, 1912 (Photo: Milward Marcell, Calgary Stampede)

Twelve-year-old Paddon Sterling rides into Calgary from a ranch southwest of town. His father steers the democrat through the crowds of people streaming into the city for the first Stampede, September 1912.

Calgary had gone mad. A quarter of a million people surged together to congratulate themselves on their health and wealth, their young strong virile brawny land, the rich lore of the West.

Paddon and his father watch the parade – “a fantabulous re-enactment” of the province’s short history. The boy stands "in a throng that lined both sides of Eighth Avenue twenty people thick and all you could smell were armpits.” For the first time, Paddon sees Indians in all their finery, waving “perplexedly to the crowds who had defeated them and were now tossing thousands of white Stetsons in the air to hail their illusive comeback in near delirium.”

At the rodeo, Paddon’s senses are assaulted "by the loud voices, the pushing and the stamping, the smell of rank excitement and manure.” Later, as his father dances with a strange, beautiful woman, Paddon begins to retch. They head home in the democrat, his father cursing, the boy “desperate… to be anywhere in the world” but here. 

As you left the fairgrounds you began to sneeze again and [your father] burst out, For the luva God, Paddon, wot is the matter with yer… I go out o’ my way to give yer a treat and yer go an’ wreck the whole bleedin’ day. I’m tellin’ yer man, there won’t be too many more chances, if yer want to ride broncs yer better look sharp ‘cos I can’t be bothered with crybabies always snufflin’ in a hanky.

Nancy Huston, Plainsong (HarperCollins, 1993)


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)


Edna Alford's "Half Past Eight"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the Eyes of Writers

Bing Crosby at the Stampede Parade, 1959 (Photo: Alison Jackson Collection, Calgary Public Library)

Bing Crosby at the Stampede Parade, 1959 (Photo: Alison Jackson Collection, Calgary Public Library)

Stampede Parade Day, 1977. Tessie Bishop and Flora Henderson head out of the seniors’ lodge where they live and ride the city bus to Mewata Stadium. They’re an odd couple. Tessie, thin and petite in her best summer dress and Scarlet Fire lipstick, and Flora, tall and big-boned with fuzzy pin curls sticking out from under her straw hat. They find their seats in the midday heat, clutching Revels and paper cups of Orange Crush, Flora cursing as they go. “Why don’t you watch where you’re goin’, ya dirty bugger.” They’re just in time for the parade marshal: Prince Charles, riding an RCMP stallion. Almost as exciting, Tessie thinks, as the time Bing Crosby waved at her from his convertible when he was parade marshal years before.

By the time the parade finishes, the women are hot and thirsty. Tessie hails a Yellow Cab and they head to the Palliser Hotel. Inside, they settle into red velvet chairs in the Rimrock Lounge and order drinks: a Shanghai Sling for Tessie, a shot of whiskey – neat – for Flora. After their second drink, an old man in western clothes joins them and buys two more rounds. Unlike their friends back at the lodge, Tessie and Flora will be out well after half past eight.

“Well wha’ did you ladies think of it this year?” asked Hank.

“Stacks up, I’d say,” said Tessie. “Better than last year’s if you ask me.”

“Didya ever see so much horseshit in all yer life?” Hank shook his heavy hawk head.

“Never,” Tessie replied, emphatically.

“Seems to me it don’t all come from a horse’s ass neither.”

 

Edna Alford, “Half Past Eight,” A Sleep Full of Dreams (Oolichan, 1981) 

Anthologized in Alberta Bound: Thirty Stories by Alberta Writers, Fred Stenson, ed. (NeWest Press, 1985)