W. Mark Giles' "Knucklehead"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The "Crestview" neighbourhood in Mark Giles' story resembles Calgary's Fairview: a community developed in the late 1950s in keeping with the principles of the "Neighbourhood Unit Concept." According to the then-city planning director, Fairview's various features would make it a "thoroughly desirable place to live." (Image & quotation from Robert Stamp's   Suburban Modern: Postwar Dreams in Calgary  , 2004)

The "Crestview" neighbourhood in Mark Giles' story resembles Calgary's Fairview: a community developed in the late 1950s in keeping with the principles of the "Neighbourhood Unit Concept." According to the then-city planning director, Fairview's various features would make it a "thoroughly desirable place to live." (Image & quotation from Robert Stamp's Suburban Modern: Postwar Dreams in Calgary, 2004)

Colm and his young family have settled down in a bungalow in the SE Calgary suburbs. But his post-war neighbourhood-in-transition near Heritage Drive is anything but peaceful: Colm and his next door neighbour are at war. There's the Harley Davidson fired up on Sundays and left to rumble in the yard. The steady stream of visitors – pizza and dial-a-bottle delivery guys, bikers, college students, business men, matrons – people dropping things off, and picking things up. And a yappy Yorkshire terrier that never shuts up. In the din of his neighbour’s life, Colm concocts a plan.

 

He will build a fence. The highest fence allowed by law. A thick, high, soundproof impenetrable fence. A fence without chinks or cracks between boards. He will allow no knotholes through which to peer, no handholds or footholds on which to hoist oneself. A fence sunk into the ground under which no small dog, no rodent, no child can burrow. A Berlin Wall, a Great Wall of China, a Hadrian’s Wall, a Maginot Line. When he finishes the fence, he will plant a high hedge, a hedge that will grow skyward past the fence, past the height of the house itself. A thick, high hedge.

He has downloaded the development permit application and all the necessary supporting documents from the city website (the same website where he accessed the Animal Control Bylaw). He spends every tidbit of spare time planning and designing the fence. He uses his laptop and the CADD tools from his work. He knows how much concrete he will need for the foundation and the pillars, how many pallets of cinder blocks, how much sand, how many cubic feet of earth he will need to displace. He knows how much it will cost. He develops a budget and construction schedule. He refines the design, consults his engineering references, revised and revised again. The fence will be a marvel. The fence will be a neighbourhood landmark. He will name it.

 

 

W. Mark Giles, “Knucklehead,” Knucklehead & Other Stories (Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2003)


Susan Calder's "Adjusting the Ashes"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

View of Calgary from Scotsman's Hill circa 1906 (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

View of Calgary from Scotsman's Hill circa 1906 (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Carol, an insurance adjuster, is wide awake at 4 a.m. Her doctor tells her perimenopause is making her restless. In her den in West Hillhurst, she glances at the line of cards celebrating her 50th birthday. CAROL BEFORE… reads one. CAROL AFTER? She turns her attention to the insurance claim on her desk. Harvey Ashe swallowed a mouse in his beer. She’s arranged a meeting at the claimant’s house in Ramsay. Little does she know that during her visit, this working-class couple’s insurance claim will not be the only thing that will be adjusted.

 

Two-storey cottages with porches and peaked roofs slope up the street toward Scotsman’s Hill, where Carol and Andy used to bring the girls to watch the Stampede fireworks. A trio of brightly painted homes, with neat flower boxes, suggest that the neighbourhood, like her West Hillhurst one, is moving upscale. But it’s far from there, Carol thinks, as she parallel parks behind a beat-up Civic. A Handi-bus rumbles past the claimants’ house, which looks in desperate need of new siding and windows. A plastic sheet covers the upstairs dormer. Carol grabs her briefcase and clacks up the sidewalk and uneven front steps, thinking, if she falls, she’ll file a countersuit against the Ashes. After scanning the chipped paint for a doorbell, she knocks and waits on the porch, where the mouse eating incident occurred.

 

Susan Calder, “Adjusting the Ashes,” Alberta Views (Nov/Dec 2003). A revised version of the story appears in Writing Menopause (Toronto: Inanna, 2017).


David A. Poulsen's Serpents Rising

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Aerial view of Inglewood from 9th Avenue SE, 2009. Poulsen sets much of the action in his mystery novel in and around Inglewood, Calgary's oldest neighbourhood.  (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Special Collection )

Aerial view of Inglewood from 9th Avenue SE, 2009. Poulsen sets much of the action in his mystery novel in and around Inglewood, Calgary's oldest neighbourhood.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Special Collection)

Adam Cullen, a freelance crime journalist has two investigations on the go: searching for a teenage crack addict and finding the person who killed his wife eight years before. As Cullen scours the city for clues, he always stops to eat. His favourite spots? Calgary landmarks like Kane’s Harley Diner, Peters’ Drive-in and Diner Deluxe. In this scene set near the Harley Diner in Inglewood, Cullen meets his private investigator friend at a used bookstore (Fair's Fair?) before heading back into Calgary’s quirky geography.

 

He nodded a couple of times, then pointed a thumb back in the direction of the bookstore.

“This guy mentioned an old warehouse not far from here. Some company was supposed to turn it into lofts. When the economy softened, the company folded and the place has been sitting vacant. Mostly squatters there now.”

“Worth a try,” I said.

“My thinking exactly.”

We headed for the car, walking fast. The cold was intensifying. I was hoping Jeep made good heaters.

I didn’t have time to find out. The drive to the warehouse didn’t take long enough for the heater to generate more than cold, then merely cool, air. We were on a street that whoever built it had forgotten to finish. South of 9th Avenue a couple of blocks, then left. A sign told us it was Garry Street. Looking east, we could see that it just kind of stopped. Dead-ended up against a hill that probably shouldn’t have been there. I pictured a gaggle of 1930s engineers working on their drawings and noticing the hill after the street was started. Saying screw it and moving on to another project.

 

David A. Poulsen, Serpents Rising (Toronto: Dundurn, 2014)


Tom Clancy's Endwar

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

This eagle landed on the J I Case building (349-351 10th Ave SW) in 1894. The threshing machine business closed in 1969, the eagle made its way to the Glenbow Museum, and Rodney's Oyster House serves seafood in the old Case premises. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection )

This eagle landed on the J I Case building (349-351 10th Ave SW) in 1894. The threshing machine business closed in 1969, the eagle made its way to the Glenbow Museum, and Rodney's Oyster House serves seafood in the old Case premises. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

The Calgary Tower has been seized by Russians who may have a nuclear bomb. US Navy Seals swarm the streets of downtown. Helicopters hover around the tower. Sergeant Marc Rakken, of the US Joint Strike Force, has an impossible job: getting a team of civilians and their detonating devices up a 191-metre tower controlled by the enemy and onto the observation deck.

 

He’d been ordered to cause minimal damage to the tower. Well, tell that to the troops up there, four on the top landing now, dishing out a steady stream of rifle fire punctuated with the occasional smoke and fragmentation grenade. The Russians had already destroyed several landings that the team had strung ropes across.

Another explosion rocked the stairwell, and suddenly three of Rakken’s men tumbled by, having been blown off the stairs. Two had probably been killed by the explosion, but a third had keyed his mike as he fell, screaming at the top of his lungs as he plummeted to his death.

“Sergeant, we can’t go on,” cried one of his grenadiers.

Rakken, his face covered in sweat now, the MOPP gear practically suffocating him even as it protected him, could stand no more. “Sparta Team!” he barked loudly. “Follow me. We’re going in!”

 

Tom Clancy/David Michaels, Endwar (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2008)


Marika Deliyannides' Bitter Lake

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Two women, two girls and a baby carriage, in Calgary circa 1910. (Photo:  U of A Peel's Prairie Provinces )

Two women, two girls and a baby carriage, in Calgary circa 1910. (Photo: U of A Peel's Prairie Provinces)

The day of Zoe’s pregnancy ultrasound, a chinook wind is blowing. She senses the barometric change: she’s more anxious than usual, feels the onset of a migraine. Her pregnancy is unexpected. A professional closet designer, Zoe has curated a careful life for herself and her husband, Calvin in Calgary – one that does not include children. In her well-appointed inner city home, she has stowed away the messy memories of her own childhood. But in booming Calgary, it is hard to avoid other people’s children. The city teems with toddlers. “You couldn’t enter a restaurant these days without tripping over a row of high chairs.” As Zoe lies on the clinic examining table, the chinook does nothing to melt her resistance to the prospect of motherhood.

 

Calvin arrived in time to watch the sonographer push the ultrasound wand across the cool gel that coated my bare belly. He stood at the head of the examination table, his arms folded across his chest while he rocked back and forth on his heels. So far I’d felt nothing. No quickening, no nausea. If I could ignore what was going on in my body I wouldn’t have to deal with the apprehension of childbirth that bobbed to the surface every time I passed a pregnant woman. There were expectant women everywhere, it seemed. Calgary was in the middle of a maternity boom. Women were being sent to hospitals in High River and Okotoks to deliver. The health care system was bulging under the weight of so many babies.

 

Marika Deliyannides, Bitter Lake (Porcupine’s Quill, 2014)


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)


Lori Hahnel's Love Minus Zero

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

96 
  
    
  
 Normal 
 0 
 
 
 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
 EN-US 
 ZH-CN 
 X-NONE 
 
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 
 
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
    
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-priority:99;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0cm;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:Calibri;
	mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
    Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, as it once was. This week,  city councillors renamed  this historic river crossing the Reconciliation Bridge.  (Photo: Calgary Public Library  Postcards from the the Past )

Calgary’s Langevin Bridge, as it once was. This week, city councillors renamed this historic river crossing the Reconciliation Bridge. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the the Past)

Kate’s old high school friend, Maggie is in town from Seattle. They meet at the Unicorn to catch up. It’s been fifteen years since they hung out together in Calgary's seedy National Hotel. Since then, both women have built new lives, and Maggie’s is swerving sideways. Her business partner has cheated her and there are dark shadows in her past. The two friends leave the Unicorn and find Maggie’s red Lexus rental. As Maggie screeches through downtown, little does Kate know that Maggie has decided to end her life on the Langevin bridge.

 

I dug my fingernails into the black leather seat, tried to find something to hold on to, as Maggie floored it and steered hard to the left. Suddenly we seemed to move in slow motion, and the car ripped surprisingly easily through the guardrail with a sickening grinding of metal against metal. Then we were airborne, sailing like a hang-glider over the Bow River.

In a strange moment of calm, fear left me. I realized I’d been over this bridge maybe a thousand times before, but never noticed the view until now, late afternoon sun sparkling on the surface of the green river. I also realized that this was big. This would be in the papers the next morning and on TV that very night. A-Channel was probably somewhere down there with a camera already. No doubt they’d interview the group of homeless men who enjoyed the weather on the grassy south side of the river, oblivious to the strange sight above them. Then the solid ground of the north riverbank rushed up toward the car and fear gripped my drunken heart once more. Oh, to be able to speak, to be able to articulate the terror, the now almost certain knowledge that the last taste ever tasted in my mouth would be beer. Only it wasn’t the taste of National Hotel draft, that sweet taste I’d never know again on this earth.

 

Lori Hahnel, Love Minus Zero (Oberon Press, 2008)


John Ballem's The Barons

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

The lobby of the Palliser Hotel, sometime after 1930. According to one character in John Ballem's novel  The Barons , "the Palliser is the real reason why Calgary ended up being the oil capital of Canada instead of that other place up the road." (Photo:  University of Alberta Peel's Prairie Provinces )

The lobby of the Palliser Hotel, sometime after 1930. According to one character in John Ballem's novel The Barons, "the Palliser is the real reason why Calgary ended up being the oil capital of Canada instead of that other place up the road." (Photo: University of Alberta Peel's Prairie Provinces)

It’s 1956 and junior geologist Mark Hunter is looking for drilling money. His landman roommate, Dave invites him to lunch with business associates at the Palliser Hotel. “The Paralyzer,” as Dave calls it, is one of the hubs of the city’s nascent oil business – a place thick with Texan accents. “If a brass band came in here and struck up the Star Spangled Banner,” Dave says, “I’d be the only one who wouldn’t have to stand up.” Before the men head into the Rimrock Room for lunch, they linger in the lobby with their host, a Louisiana oilman. Louis LaPierre is happy to show his young Canadian colleagues “the ropes.” As they watch “the parade of oilmen” walk through the hotel’s revolving doors, LaPierre alerts them to Jesse Johnson and one of his signature techniques.

 

“Place is filling up nicely,” he murmured. “Time for ol’ Jesse to go into his act.” He had barely finished speaking when a bellboy walked through the lobby, singing out, “Call for Mr. Johnson. Call for Mr. Johnson.”

“Over here, boy.” A tall man with a senatorial head of silver hair rose impressively to his feet. The bellboy told him he could take the call at one of the public phones near the lobby entrance.

“Jesse Johnson at your service,” he boomed into the mouthpiece in a voice that could be heard throughout the lobby. “An oil well, you say? What was the name of that company again? Silver Star Petroleums? Hang on a minute while I write that down – Silver Star Petroleums. Got it. How many barrels a day? Say, that’s great. I’m much obliged to you, sir. I truly am. That’s very encouraging news.”

While the two old pros exchanged knowing smiles, several businessmen sidled across to the pay phones and began to dial. Brewster winked at Mark. “They’re calling their brokers. That should be good for a couple of points before the market closes. Like the man says, there’s one born every minute. Thank the good Lord,” he added with a pious glance heavenward.

“I’ve never heard of this Silver Star company,” said Mark. “Do you know anything about it”

“Only that Jesse will be long on its stock.”

“Oh? That’s how it works, eh? Still, it sounded like a pretty exciting well.”

“You called that one right, boy. It sounded like a good well. It’s probably as dry as a popcorn fart.”

John Ballem, The Barons (Hanna, AB: Gorman & Gorman, 1991)


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)


Richard Wagamese's A Quality of Light

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In early 1988, two years before Wagamese's novel takes place, 150  First Nations protesters  gathered peacefully in front of the Glenbow Museum. They were part of the Lubicon band's move to boycott the Glenbow's Spirit Sings exhibit, part of the 1988 Winter Olympic Arts festival. (Photo: Calgary Herald)

In early 1988, two years before Wagamese's novel takes place, 150 First Nations protesters gathered peacefully in front of the Glenbow Museum. They were part of the Lubicon band's move to boycott the Glenbow's Spirit Sings exhibit, part of the 1988 Winter Olympic Arts festival. (Photo: Calgary Herald)

In the summer of 1990, Mohawk protesters are defending their barricade at Oka, Quebec. In downtown Calgary, Johnny Gebhardt has wired the Harry Hays building with explosives. Johnny is a white man but has always considered himself an Indian warrior. In a 4th floor boardroom in the federal government Indian Affairs office, he holds twelve people hostage. His demands? A House of Commons solution to the Oka crisis, and an International Human Rights Tribunal into the conditions of indigenous people in Canada. Johnny has also insisted that his childhood friend and blood brother, Joshua be flown in from Ontario. Joshua is an Ojibwa adopted at birth by a white farming family, now working as a Christian pastor committed to peace. At Calgary police headquarters, a few blocks away from the Harry Hays building, Chief Inspector Dodge and Detective Nettles bring Joshua up to speed on the hostage-taking. As Joshua prepares to meet his friend, he recalls not only their childhood oath of loyalty, but what Johnny has taught him over the course of their long friendship about being an Indian. Joshua knows what he must do: he will help disarm his friend, but will not denounce Johnny’s crusade.

 

We entered a war zone that morning. We left the city and all I’d come to accept as normal behind us and slid silently into a panorama of tension. It’s difficult to equate the words we use to describe society – civilized, democratic, just – with automatic weapons, bulletproof vests, camouflage, rocket launchers, helicopters and hordes of personnel. The flicker of police lights, the crisp bustle of movement, the frantic whir of chopper blades and the crush of the crowd beyond the police tape did not heighten things, they merely slowed them down.

I existed in a frame-by-frame world. Nettles handing me a bottle of pills. Dodge leaning close to talk with officers near the front doors. Waving us over. Nettles placing a hand over my shoulder. Cameramen hustling in a bow-legged trot. Native people under banners waving fists of encouragement. Officers kneeling behind cruisers with hands on their holsters. The police creating an opening in their huddle that Nettles and I eased into. All heads turning towards the glass doors. Frantic motion all around. A vested constable duck-walking with a hand-held radio, handing it to Dodge. Dodge gesturing to me. Nettles grim-faced, eyeing me. Sudden emptiness around me. The glass doors looming larger and darker with each step. A woman’s face behind the glass, ashen, shaking hands peeling duct tape from the handles. The door cracking open. Stepping out. Eyes pleading. Gone. A yell of victory. The unmoving air of the lobby. Johnny’s voice yelling something about the package on the floor. I tape it securely to the door handles and turn to see him, yards away cradling a rifle, point its barrel towards the elevators. We enter and feel the push of the lift. I see his eyes. Blue. Impossible blue.

 

Richard Wagamese, A Quality of Light (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997)


Barbara Scott's "A Fragile Thaw"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

"Chinook Arc," an interactive, illuminated sculpture in the Beltline's  Barb Scott Park  (12th Ave & 9th St SW).  Scott  (no relation to Calgary author Barbara Scott) served as a city alderman from 1971 to 1995. She died in 2014, a few months before the park named in her honour was opened. Barbara Scott, the Calgary writer, is the author of a collection of short stories called  The Quick . (Photo:  City of Calgary )

"Chinook Arc," an interactive, illuminated sculpture in the Beltline's Barb Scott Park (12th Ave & 9th St SW). Scott (no relation to Calgary author Barbara Scott) served as a city alderman from 1971 to 1995. She died in 2014, a few months before the park named in her honour was opened. Barbara Scott, the Calgary writer, is the author of a collection of short stories called The Quick. (Photo: City of Calgary)

On Christmas Eve, Lily and her husband Martin go for a walk. A chinook is blowing in, taking the edge off the bitter cold. In the park, Lily tells Martin to carry on to the video store while she stays to watch the sunset. It is the first Christmas since their oldest daughter, Brenda died, and Lily is angry, picking for a fight, her emotions as cold and hard as steel. The night before, she and her family sat around the table for her mother’s pork roast dinner. A Norman Rockwell scene on the surface, but for Lily, a “wounded family suturing itself with remarks on the tender flesh of pork.” In the park, Lily thinks about her younger daughter, Melanie’s offering at dinner: a scene from Robert Graves’ memoir, Goodbye to All That. But Lily is no mood for a story about a Christmas Eve ceasefire on a World War I battlefield. The sound of shouting pulls her from her thoughts: three children are hurling insults at her from the top of the toboggan hill. Enraged, Lily decides to hold them accountable. She corners the trio and, after confronting the ringleader, lets them go.

 

It’s almost completely dark now but, with that wonderful irony of the chinook, the wind is warmer. The ice is crisping along the edges with the fragility that comes just before thaw. I press gently with my boot, hear the splinters trace spidery cracks along the thinning surface, think of spring runoff, summer mudholes and warm mud squishing between toes.

I think about Melanie’s story of the soldiers in the trenches. About the first soldier to make a move into no man’s land. The kind of courage it would take to walk out there, hoping the other side would understand the signals, wouldn’t blow you away with a careless round of ammunition. Or maybe the poor bugger had just gotten to the point where living and dying were all one to him. Blast away. Or not.

So I am standing in the looming darkness, watching it make a no man’s land of this park, and Martin lopes into my circle of vision. Melanie resembles him more and more. Right now she is tall and thin and gawky, but eventually she will move with that loose-limbed grace. I turn and look full at Martin, at Melanie in Martin, and I hope she has also inherited his patience, his strength. I step forward, not knowing whether he will embrace me or blast me. Knowing only that it’s time to lay down my arms.

 

Barbara Scott, “A Fragile Thaw,” The Quick (Dunvegan, ON: Cormorant Books, 1999)


Esi Edugyan's The Second Life of Samuel Tyne

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A glimpse of the Calgary Esi Edugyan's protagonist Samuel Tyne might recognize: a 1960 parking lot at 14th Street and 16th Avenue SW. Edugyan was born in Calgary in 1978, years after this picture was taken. She grew up in Glamorgan, a ten-minute drive west of this intersection, borrowed books at the Shaganappi library, and graduated from Central Memorial High School. (Photo:  City of Calgary Archives )

A glimpse of the Calgary Esi Edugyan's protagonist Samuel Tyne might recognize: a 1960 parking lot at 14th Street and 16th Avenue SW. Edugyan was born in Calgary in 1978, years after this picture was taken. She grew up in Glamorgan, a ten-minute drive west of this intersection, borrowed books at the Shaganappi library, and graduated from Central Memorial High School. (Photo: City of Calgary Archives)

Samuel Tyne sits at the workbench in his backyard shed in Calgary, soldering an old radio. It’s 1968, a “cold, vague day, with the dull feel of a hundred others,” and the weather matches his mood. As a young man from West Africa with a classical English education, he was precocious, ambitious. Now, after toiling for years at a dismal civil service job, he feels exiled and despondent. Samuel has spent the prime of his life in Calgary, and it has been filled only with “meager achievements.” Three days ago, he quit his job. He hasn’t told his wife and he doesn’t have a plan. He thinks of the decrepit house his uncle bequeathed him in a small town northwest of Edmonton, a region settled decades before by freed African-American slaves. In his shed, a decision works its way through Samuel’s gloom. At the dinner table, he announces to his wife and twin daughters that they are leaving the Calgary. “We are moving. That is final.”

 

Crossing the dark slush to the shed, Samuel felt exalted. He didn’t regret what he’d just done; in fact, he looked upon it as the truest gesture of his life. Had he been a man given to poetry, he might have said that something both stark and glorious had got hold of his future. That after fifteen years of the leash he’d finally seized it.

 

Esi Edugyan, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004)


H. Nelson Dickson's "The Sack of Calgary"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Say goodbye to the Venetian arcade. The cover illustration of H. Nelson Dickson's pamphlet illustrates the fictional destruction of the Hudson's Bay store depicted in his story. (Source: Glenbow Library)

Say goodbye to the Venetian arcade. The cover illustration of H. Nelson Dickson's pamphlet illustrates the fictional destruction of the Hudson's Bay store depicted in his story. (Source: Glenbow Library)

A year after the war begins in Europe in August 1914, Calgary is caught up in the conflict. Young men crowd recruiting centres. Relief efforts and war bond drives kick into gear, and Calgarians feel the pinch of food and commodity shortages. As the conflict enters its second summer, a military tent city springs up on land leased from the Sarcee Indians southwest of town. Immigrant settlers deemed "enemy aliens" board trains at Calgary Station on their way to the internment camp at Castle Mountain. And a fearful Calgary bookkeeper pens and publishes a 14-page pamphlet called The Sack of Calgary. H. Nelson Dickson sets his tale in the near future, hoping to propel civic leaders into taking action against a possible German attack. The story begins with an assault on the city at daybreak. By sunset, countless citizens are gunned down in the streets. Soldiers are massacred at Sarcee Camp, and the city surrenders. Meanwhile on Eighth Avenue, the Hudson’s Bay store smolders.

 

Exactly at 6:5 [sic] o’clock the sharp reverberating report of a gun was heard and a shell came screaming across the river from the northern heights and crashed in the Hudson’s Bay Co’s. Store on the sixth floor. The shell ceased its flight on coming into contact with a roll of carpet, burst with a terrific crash, blowing out the windows, and a tongue of fire shooting upwards like a flame from a furnace showed that the store was alight. This shell was followed by two others turning the building into a roaring fiery furnace. The fire spread until not only was the Hudson’s Bay Store building a mere blackened and twisted skeleton but Eight Avenue from the Alexander Block to Second Street West on its north side was a mass of smoking ruins. The fire was stopped only by the iron and concrete framework of the uncompleted Mackie building at the west corner of Second Street West. The lower part of this building, used as a market, being mostly wood, was burnt out but the fire spread no further.

Three shots were fired at the Hudson’s Bay Store, six were fired in all from that gun on the heights. The fourth struck the Lougheed Building shattering the corner near First Street West and starting a fire which burnt itself out. The fifth struck the tower of the Herald Building crashing through the brickwork but failed to explode, and the sixth struck the Robin Hood Mill, starting a fire that burned over twenty-four hours and left the mill a wreck.

 

H. Nelson Dickson, The Sack of Calgary (The Avenue Press, 1915)

Notes:

Hat tip to Harry Sanders and his article, “The Sack of Calgary” (Avenue, 2005)

For a fictional account of Ukrainian settlers interned at Castle Mountain, check out Calgary author, Pam Clark's novel Kalyna (Stonehouse Publishing, 2016).


Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Last Crossing

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Built in 1891, Beaulieu, James and Belle Lougheed's sandstone mansion announced Calgary's aim to become a great city. From the fashionable Lincrusta wallpaper and customized stained glass windows, to the wood-panelled library stocked with literary classics, the Big House was intended to show the world that Calgary had the makings of a cultivated metropolis. (Photo, taken in 1956:  Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection )

Built in 1891, Beaulieu, James and Belle Lougheed's sandstone mansion announced Calgary's aim to become a great city. From the fashionable Lincrusta wallpaper and customized stained glass windows, to the wood-panelled library stocked with literary classics, the Big House was intended to show the world that Calgary had the makings of a cultivated metropolis. (Photo, taken in 1956: Calgary Public Library Alison Jackson Collection)

London, England, 1896. The renowned English painter and poet, Charles Daunt sits in an elegant hotel lobby and studies the young journalist who has come from Canada to interview him. Gaunt offers Thomas Harkness a cigarette from his silver case, and asks, “Does a newspaper in … in Calgary, is it? Remind me, that is the place?... Does a newspaper in Calgary maintain a correspondent in London?” Harkness explains he is on honeymoon in Europe, and Calgary is home. “I believe that our little out-of-the-way place ought to learn something about Charles Gaunt the poet.” Gaunt is unmoved by the flattery, and wary. The young man’s visit stirs up memories of his arduous travels in the West twenty-five years earlier when there was no such thing as a city named Calgary. Desperate to track down his lost brother, he followed the half-breed guide, Jerry Potts across the western plains – a harsh and hostile land. Now, Potts is dead and the West Gaunt remembers exists no longer.

 

Gaunt, seeking breathing space, remarked, “Lately, one sees a good deal in the British press of your part of the world. Advertisements for settlers, much talk of boundless opportunity.”

“One could say Western Canada changes by the hour,” Harkness said with fervor. “Towns and cities arise almost overnight. Why, Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba, already has a population of several hundred thousand and is a bustling rail centre. There are those who say that in a decade it shall surpass Chicago. And Calgary, only a short time ago, it was nothing but a whisky post on the Bow River, and now it is the coming place. Hotels, businesses, it boils with activity.” He paused. “You might pay us a visit. The better class of citizen is very eager to attend lectures on literary topics. We do not wish to moulder in a cultural wasteland. You should give it your consideration.” 

 

Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Last Crossing (McClelland & Stewart, 2002)

 


Catherine Simmons' "A Man's House Is"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary's Boyer family on the porch of their home at 819 - 5th Ave NW. As the crow flies, this house is not far from the peninsula in what Catherine Simmons calls one of her Calgary porch stories. The Boyers' house was scheduled for demolition in 2013. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past )

Calgary's Boyer family on the porch of their home at 819 - 5th Ave NW. As the crow flies, this house is not far from the peninsula in what Catherine Simmons calls one of her Calgary porch stories. The Boyers' house was scheduled for demolition in 2013. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Martin and Martha live in a house on the peninsula of land between University Drive and Crowchild Trail, “the point of decision for a stream of travellers” heading north. They planned to stay for only a couple of years, until their son Don graduated from university. At first, the constant traffic noise made them yearn for silence. Gradually, the rumble of traffic began to affect them like ocean waves: lulling them, making them feel secure. Their son thinks his parents are crazy. To him, the cars are “[d]irty stinking traffic.” He urges his parents to give up their strange nighttime habit of staring out their windows at the steady flow of vehicles. Find a hobby, Don suggests, take a trip, go on a cruise. But Martin and Martha resist.

 

[I]t was the evenings, the long summer evenings that made this house their home. For, as dusk fell they would sit at the west window where road-dust caught the sunset, their street a red haze, watching that warm stream of lights drift and bob. Car beams and bronzed metal pulsed as they passed, flickering gold shadows and line light on the walls of their living room. And, in cooling darkness, Martha said that the car lights that swam like floating fire-flies were their private show: “The lights,” she said, “are just for us, Martin.”

Then they would shift their chairs to the other side of the room to watch the traffic that moved by their east window. And sitting, knowing the movement of traffic on both east and west sides of their home, they longed to see the lights from the south bobbing directly towards them.

Martin could not fix in time the drift from knowing only the dust-drone of cars to seeing, finally, metallic light dance. Nor could he discern when he no longer said to Martha, “Just for a couple of years.” In seasons of tranquil cars on grey roads and color streams on spring pavement, in hours of sharp cacophony, red light and evening soft-motor hum, it simply became obvious that this was their home.

 

Catherine Simmons, “A Man’s House Is,” The Dinosaur Review (Fall 1985)


Fred Stenson's "The Hockey Widow"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

In 1983, three years after Calgary secured an NHL franchise, a new arena changed the city's skyline. To its architects, the roof was a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid. To the majority of Calgarians who participated in a naming contest, it looked like something more familiar. 735 saddle-themed names went into the hat. The winning name received mixed reviews, but Saddledome has stuck. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past )

In 1983, three years after Calgary secured an NHL franchise, a new arena changed the city's skyline. To its architects, the roof was a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid. To the majority of Calgarians who participated in a naming contest, it looked like something more familiar. 735 saddle-themed names went into the hat. The winning name received mixed reviews, but Saddledome has stuck. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Rita is a hockey widow. Come September, she loses her husband, Sid to the game. Then there’s her ten-year-old daughter, Lisa, who is intent on being as good a player as any boy on the rink. By January, hockey is eating into the household finances. The biggest expense? Sid’s season ticket to watch the Bisons, a team he claims to hate.

 

Five years ago when the Bisons came to their city, Rita had been caught up in Sid’s childish delight over it all. She had agreed about the season ticket, had even felt a measure of anxiety when he took his sleeping bag down to sleep outside the Bisons ticket office. What if they ran out just as his turn came? She had accepted it all so easily because, back then, Sid did work hard as a welder and was paying off his welding truck at record speed. At that time, it was also true that he had few amusements.

Well, things had changed. They had changed so completely it was impossible to believe Sid had failed to notice. Few amusements? Relative to whom, Rita wondered. Prince Andrew? His hockey drafts, his “fat man” hockey team, his going out to watch Bisons home games and the other games he watched with his buddies on the big screen down at the bar. Then there was his hockey card collection and his careful supervision of Lisa’s.

Sid played constantly, as far as Rita could see, but she also realized that, somewhere along the line, Sid had ceased to view any of it as play. The season’s ticket and the hockey cards were investments. the hockey pools were business. The fat man recreational hockey league (in spite of the gallons of beer and all the cigarettes afterward) was exercise. And the proof that none of it was play was that none of it was fun.

 

Fred Stenson, “The Hockey Widow,” Teeth (Coteau, 1994)


Katherine Govier's The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary's iconic Palliser Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Katherine Govier's latest novel. This view from the 1940s looks east down Ninth Avenue with the hotel on the right. (Photo: University of Alberta Peel Collection,  Prairie Postcards )

Calgary's iconic Palliser Hotel makes a cameo appearance in Katherine Govier's latest novel. This view from the 1940s looks east down Ninth Avenue with the hotel on the right. (Photo: University of Alberta Peel Collection, Prairie Postcards)

In the summer of 1941, nineteen-year-old Iona Wishart arrives in Calgary, her first night away from her home in the Bow Valley. Against her parents’ wishes, she has come to the Palliser Hotel to sing with her uncle’s band. In the hotel lobby, Iona recognizes the bellhop: a boy she talked to a few weeks before when she helped with a delivery to Camp 88 in Morley Flats. Iona couldn’t pinpoint the boy then – who he was and why he was at the “secret” camp everybody knew was a prison for German nationals. In Calgary, she finds out he is the son of a Japanese family, registered as aliens, relocated from the coast and on the run, just like she is.

 

I know you, she said, looking into the eyes of the bellhop at the Palliser Hotel. He wore a blue uniform and a pillbox hat with a wide chinstrap. He was lean and a little taller than she was. He bent from the hips to pick up her case. His ears, pushed out by the tight white band of the hat, were red. He walked away ahead.

She paused in the lobby and looked through the bar to the dining room. It was grand with elaborate plaster flowers over the doorways and a high ceiling. She took off her hat and shook out her hair, conscious that it was chestnut, that it shone, that the curls she had put in overnight bounced. She looked all through the bar and the lobby, scanning, as if for someone she knew: there was nobody; she was miles and miles – seventy-five, to be precise – away from home.

The bar was full of men. Ranchers in their Stetsons, soldiers from Currie Barracks, salesmen and travellers too old to be in uniform. A scattering of women stood in the foyer in high heels and tight little jackets with skirts that fluted around their knees. It was a clean, bright crowd, and for a minute her confidence collapsed. They looked prosperous. The women intimidated her. But she hadn’t met the man she couldn’t please. She turned back to the bellhop, who had called the elevator and was standing at its open door. She looked at him again and knew who he was and why he had not spoken.

Katherine Govier, The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel (HarperCollins, 2016)


Marion Douglas's Bending at the Bow

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

A steam engine crossing the Elbow River seen from a bluff in what we now call Ramsay, an area once known as Grandview. (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past )

A steam engine crossing the Elbow River seen from a bluff in what we now call Ramsay, an area once known as Grandview. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Annie Clemens is adrift. It has been two years since her lover, Sylvie was killed in a car accident and Annie is struggling to move on. She meets Martha Rigg, a widowed activist who is protesting the Mulroney government’s free trade campaign. She spray paints her message around town on the “things nobody really owns, hoardings and underpasses. Secret places.” Annie does not have strong feelings about free trade, but in Martha she sees a kindred spirit coping with grief. She decides to ride shotgun on one of Martha’s late-night painting sprees. From the Fort Calgary parking lot, the two women walk along the bike path toward the railway tracks in Ramsay. They carry a can of red spray paint and a stencil with a silhouette of Canada. SOLD, it reads. REALTOR OF THE YEAR: BRIAN MULRONEY. FREE TRADE ISN’T.

 

We arrived at the Elbow River, so still, as if it had come to a halt and were contemplating changing direction. The underpass was not far off. Lights had been installed and were permanently on; too many homeless in this part of the city, a dark dry place would be dangerously inviting. Best to illuminate. As we drew closer, in fact, the brilliance of the lights was repellent. I wondered if we might not be thrown backwards by the strength of the wattage or destroyed the way insects can be by light. But no, we entered the little tunnel unchallenged.

“This looks like a good spot,” said Martha. “Let’s cover this up, whatever this is. Let’s see, ‘Metallica fucking, fucking rules,’” she read. “I think a nice map of Canada would be more suited to this space.”

Martha fished out the stencil and held it against the concrete, then handed me the paint. I sprayed with abandon. Red streaks, immediately began to drip from the forty-ninth parallel. Overhead, on the tracks, voices could be heard. “Wake up, everybody,” one of them said. “Do you hear me?” he shouted. “Wake up ya bunch of fuckers.”

“Can you shut him up?” a female voice asked.

“Shut up, Mike,” said a third voice, male, tired.

“Wake up” was heard again, only quietly this time, conversationally, followed by the splattering of a stream of piss into the Elbow River.

Marion Douglas, Bending at the Bow (Press Gang, 1995)


Benedict & Nancy Freedman's Mrs. Mike

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The authors of  Mrs. Mike  never visited Alberta when they wrote their 1947 best-selling novel based on the life story of Katherine Flannigan. They did their research at the UCLA library, where they may have happened upon this 1907 map of Calgary. Flannigan, however, returned to the city in 1954 to visit friends, and died here at the age of 55. (Credit:  Calgary Public Library Historical Maps collection )

The authors of Mrs. Mike never visited Alberta when they wrote their 1947 best-selling novel based on the life story of Katherine Flannigan. They did their research at the UCLA library, where they may have happened upon this 1907 map of Calgary. Flannigan, however, returned to the city in 1954 to visit friends, and died here at the age of 55. (Credit: Calgary Public Library Historical Maps collection)

In 1907, a sixteen-year-old girl from Boston meets and marries a Canadian Mountie on her uncle’s ranch in the Alberta foothills. She and her husband will travel by dog sled to his post in the Peace River country, but the grand adventure of Katherine Mary O’Fallon Flannigan’s life begins in what her uncle calls the “mighty big” city of Calgary.

 

It was because of my pleurisy I was being sent to Uncle John, who lived in Calgary, Alberta. Up till 1905 Alberta had been part of the Great Northwest Territory, and it gave me a real thrill to go to a place that had been officially civilized for only two years.

My mother had had her doubts about letting me go into such a wilderness. We looked it up on a map of North America, and Alberta seemed awfully empty. Our part of the country, which was Boston, was covered with winding black lines meaning roads, and barbed-wire lines meaning railroads, and circles of all sizes meaning cities and towns. It was so crowded with these proofs of civilization that there was no room for the names, which were stuck out in the Atlantic Ocean. In Alberta there was none of this reassuring confusion. A couple of thin blue rivers, a couple of crooked lakes, and the map maker was through. My mother found the circle that was Calgary and carefully compared it with the circles of Massachusetts.

“A fine black dot it is, but not be mentioned in the same breath with Boston,” she said. Boston was a very distinctive city on our map, being a large dot with a ring around it. “And you’ll bear in mind, Katherine Mary,” she added, “that’s as far north as I want you to go. Don’t be letting your uncle take you up into this.” She waved in the general direction of Mackenzie and the North Pole. “My own mother lived and died in the house where she was born, and all the traveling she did was to the oatfield and back.”

We both sat and wondered at the size of the world until she folded it up and put it in the bureau drawer.

However, the doctors said the cold dry climate of Alberta would be good for my lungs, and Uncle John said it was a long, long time since he had seen one of his kin, and so at last my mother gave in and let me go.

 

Benedict and Nancy Freedman, Mrs. Mike (New York: Coward-McCann, 1947)


Deborah Willis's "Sky Theatre"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The dome of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium, under construction in 1966-67. The facility was built,  according to a city astronomer , to celebrate not only Canada's centennial but "the world's entry into the space age... and the marvel of the heavens." (Photo: City of Calgary Archives via  Alberta on Record )

The dome of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium, under construction in 1966-67. The facility was built, according to a city astronomer, to celebrate not only Canada's centennial but "the world's entry into the space age... and the marvel of the heavens." (Photo: City of Calgary Archives via Alberta on Record)

By her own admission, Caitlin is an ordinary kid growing up in the Calgary suburbs. In her neighbourhood, “each street looked like every other street: double garages, aerated lawns, pastel stucco.” Within this safe, predictable frame, Caitlin fantasizes about living anywhere but here, and about Mary Louise, the golden, mysterious girl a grade ahead of her in school. On the first day of Grade 11, Mary Louise returns to school paraplegic and Caitlin’s sense of the world begins to change. The accident causes Caitlin to consider the fragility of the reassuring patterns of her life in a city “that was always booming, or about to boom, a city that was sunny even in winter.” For the first time, she thinks about “that flimsy, moody thing” called luck. As she and her ordinary boyfriend Jay make out in the darkness of the domed theatre at the Planetarium, the projected night sky shimmers above them.

 

We kissed until our lips became swollen and raw. We kissed until we physically couldn’t kiss anymore. Then we straightened our clothes, breathed, leaned back in our seats, and looked at the stars. We held hands, our palms sweating against each other, as Andromeda sparkled or asteroids flew toward us. The Sky Theatre had a different show each week, but each was accompanied by a voice-over done by the same man. He had an accent that I couldn’t place but that I adored. The pattern of our days occurs because we live on a constantly spinning Earth. Because of this motion, day turns into night, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and summer turns into fall.

In my mind, the man who owned this gruff but gentle voice was named something foreign, like Pavel or Armand. I settled on Armand, and once I’d named him, I fell in love with him. I imagined that he was dashing and elegant and better-looking than Jay. I imagined that he was romantic and confident. I watched the complex movement of the heavens – there was a swirling nebula, there Orion’s belt – and everything Armand said seemed to be intended only for me.

For our earthbound view, stars appear to make a connected shape. But in fact the stars are not so connected, except in mythology and human imagination.

 Once, I forgot myself and said, “I love his voice. I would marry someone who talks like that.”

“That guy?” said Jay, with his Western Canadian accent – a form a speech so neutral that telemarketers in Delhi are encouraged to adopt it. “I think he sounds like an asshole.”

 

Deborah Willis, "Sky Theatre," Vanishing and Other Stories (Toronto: Penguin, 2009)