W. O. Mitchell's The Vanishing Point

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Blue-Bird Motel and Trailer Court, 3912 MacLeod Trail, circa 1955. "Modern, comfortable and well furnished cottages, for summer and winter comfort. Close to the City Centre on Highway No. 2. Calgary's Finest Trailer Court. Pleasant quiet and courteously managed. Your Hosts: Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Pahl." (Photo:  Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past )

Blue-Bird Motel and Trailer Court, 3912 MacLeod Trail, circa 1955. "Modern, comfortable and well furnished cottages, for summer and winter comfort. Close to the City Centre on Highway No. 2. Calgary's Finest Trailer Court. Pleasant quiet and courteously managed. Your Hosts: Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Pahl." (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

After years teaching school on the Paradise Valley reserve eighty miles southwest of the city, Carlyle Sinclair wonders if he might be bushed. His time with the Stoney people on the eastern slopes of the Rockies has changed his perspective. Caught in downtown Calgary traffic, he sees the city as a carnival, its buildings and crowds put on display for his occasional visits, and taken down when he leaves. As he heads back to the reserve on the main north-south road out of town, traffic thins but the city continues to clamour.

 

Banners and neon lights signaled hamburger and root beer stands – used-car dealers’ car herds – fried chicken – fish and chips – pizza and pancake palaces. The city was briefly industrial and superlative: ZENITH–ACME–UNIVERSAL. The speed zone changed – the Bluebird Motel – Shirly-Dan – Round-Up – Arrow – Pioneer –Stetson – Mecca – Oasis. He accelerated at the city limits – PEERLESS EXTERMINATORS FOR SPARROW, PIGEON, STARLING, SILVERFISH, MICE, RAT, BAT AND SKUNK CONTROL. He flashed by your goddam tootin’ Luton, lifting a fluorescent flamingo into an estate wagon by the pumps. SID’S VIRGIN LOAM, PEAT MOSS AND ROTTED MANURE–CHARLIE’S GOLD STAR DRAIN CLEARING AND SEPTIC TANK INSTALLATION – WES’S TRENCHING, BACK FILLING, BRUSH CUTTING, EXCAVATING, LEVELLING AND CRUSHING. Arnold’s, Pieter’s, Vern’s, Les’s, Oscar’s, Walter’s…

 

 

W. O. Mitchell, The Vanishing Point (Macmillan, 1973)


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)