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)

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)