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)


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)