Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.
Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.
Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.
But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.
The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…
As my fingers bluntly stab my keyboard, weighted down by a hangover from sun and loud music, I wonder how I’ll get through today’s chosen topic on Chinese science education without passing out. It wouldn’t be my first afternoon spent with the lopsided grid of a keyboard’s footprint etched into my forehead.
This morning has found me in the blissful yet listless afterglow of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, an annual celebration of everything that brings light into the universe: music, family, friends, sunshine, beer, and deep-fried foodstuffs. It has also found me ready to scrap my topic in favor of a drowsy reflection on what I feel is Edmonton’s most profound and spiritually elevating annual event.
For those who have never attended this magical collective, I hope you have found a similar event – an yearly renewal of your inner chi and a simultaneous escape from the humdrummery of life. Here’s how the dusty reset button of my inner balance was pushed this weekend, and why I recommend a hearty dose of Folk Fest to everyone I know:
One can make it through Folk Fest with very little actual folk music. I hardly ever listen to “hardcore” folk. From Joan Baez’s warbly vibrato to the up-tempo thump of modern Celtic music, I’d just as soon hide under my blanket with an old Muddy Waters record. But more often than not, that lyrical fruit-filling that gives folk its flavor can be found within the pastry shell of a myriad of styles. We watched Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite give folk music the blues; Cody Chesnutt threw folk into funk; the Blind Boys of Alabama raised folk into that holy and delicious confection of gospel. Read more…
What’s in a name? That which we call a prairie
By any other name would smell as grainy;
So Saskatchewan would, were it not Saskatchewan call’d,
Retain that weird insect surplus which it owes
Without that title.
So begins an unimpressively cutesy introduction to today’s discussion about the hallowed names that reach across my nation’s map. I’m aware, of course, that my American readers far outnumber my Canadian loyal, but in all fairness, covering the name origins to fifty states, a district, a country, and untold outlying territories would occupy much more real estate than my thousand words could afford.
And so I patriotically shmush my fingerprints against my keys and delve into the origin stories of my own origin story: Canada. Not her history itself – again, a thousand words only stretches so far across the table – but merely the names of the ten provinces and two territories I had to learn as a kid. There are three territories now, but I’ll happily include my Nunavutian brethren and sistren in today’s little missive.
That said, adhering to the proper essay format I spent the last eight years of my schooling attempting to shatter, we’ll open up big-picture-style: Why the fuck are we called Canada?
We have been known as ‘Canada’ since right around when the first European boot-heels clomped into the east coast mud in the 16th century and began to establish communities. It originates from Kanata, the Saint-Lawrence Iroquois’ word for ‘village’. Or possibly ‘settlement’. Or maybe it was ‘land’. I’m guessing some Iroquois folks made a sweeping gesture as they said the word and the settlers made their own call regarding the translation. That’s the official legend – however there are other theories out there. Read more…
Apart from a couple of quick overnighters in nearby Calgary and a 4-day excursion to my in-laws’ place in Kamloops last summer, I have not left the confines of my city since beginning this project. But while the burden of fiscal asphyxiation may have formed a tether around my proverbial ankle, I nevertheless spiral into the occasional exploratory fantasy, weaving through the streets of Paris on Google’s Street-View or drooling at the contoured geometry of New York skyscrapers.
I also find myself drawn to the world’s lesser-boasted attractions, from the world’s first UFO landing pad in the nearby bustling burg of St. Paul, Alberta to the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas. I want to see more of what the world has to offer – hell, our city’s most exquisite attraction is a large shopping mall. There have to be adventures out there more deserving of my exploring eye.
Then I stumbled onto Midgetville.
Don’t be offended – that’s what Wikipedia calls it, though the more appropriate term might be ‘Tiny Town’. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a metropolis of little people. And there are several to be found on the map, although most of them probably never existed. Historically, people have cruelly infused some strange mythos with the plight of little people. I can’t imagine their targets enjoyed the bizarre legends, but since when has the fear of offending others been the affliction of the majority? Read more…
Every so often in Canadian history, a certain chunk of land decides they might want to pull a Peter Gabriel and leave the progressive Genesis of our nation, possibly to collaborate with Robert Fripp. Of course I’m talking about Quebec, the province that has twice sent its people to the polls to vote on whether or not they’d slap a national border around their perimeter. I’ve often wondered how they’d fare without the relatively battleship-steady Canadian economy and the geyser of cash-flow from Alberta’s oil production. But I assumed somebody somewhere had a plan.
Actually there have been a lot of plans out there for provinces who have wanted to bank a hard turn out of this friendly little country. So why hasn’t it happened yet? Are they too polite to ask for permission to be excused? Has NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped in and nixed it? Why hasn’t this country fallen to pieces like a cheap set of wood beaded curtains?
Well, I’m glad I asked. Here’s how it could have all gone down.
There is no great movement afoot in Newfoundland to kick their island free from the mainland, politically-speaking. They’re the newest guests at our little national fiesta, province-wise, having flown the maple leaf since 1949. There was a skirmish in 2004 when the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador yanked all the Canadian flags from provincial buildings, but as far as gasp-inducing scandals go, it wasn’t much. Read more…
In a few hours I will be visited by a myriad of Captain Jack Sparrows and Spidermen, Walking Dead-types and three-and-a-half-foot Jedi. Some kids will get the good chocolate, while others will get the crap made with compound chocolate (damn you, Oh Henry!). The pathetic kids over 15 with dollar-store devil horns and an Insane Clown Posse shirt will get an icy glare and maybe a box of raisins. I should really pick up some raisins.
And I’ll probably think back to my own days of trick-or-treating. The two years I dressed up as Yoda, complete with a full-on latex mask. The year I went as Michael Dukakis (along with my friend, who dressed up as George H.W. Bush). My one outing as Beldar Conehead, ten years after the character had left TV and four years before they made that movie. It was fun, it was cold, and it sated my sweet tooth – often to the point of nausea – for at least a week.
It seems only logical then, rather than to prattle on about the Gaelic Samhain roots of Halloween, to poke instead around the archeological bones of the portion of the holiday that brought me mirth as a child. Today I loathe dressing up in costume for Halloween parties. But I still enjoy noshing on the goodies left over once the lights go out and the kids stop a-knockin’.
When Halloween began, the only acceptable costumes were clowns, floozies, and Batman.
Back in the late medieval days, when every day without the plague was a day worth celebrating, poor folks used to wander from door to door, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for food on All Souls Day, November 2. This tradition, called ‘souling’, started in Ireland and Britain, but was clearly happening in spots all around Europe. In Scotland, where they really know how to party, the act of ‘guising’ was recorded as early as 1895. This involved children in disguise carrying lanterns made from scooped-out turnips, walking around town and receiving cakes, fruit and money. Read more…
For an old building, the rumor of spectral haunting is a compliment. It’s one thing to have a turn-of-the-20th-century gothic hotel in your town, creeping out passing pedestrians. But if you can pepper the building’s history with the tale of a chambermaid whose head was decapitated by the dumbwaiter door in 1906, with hundreds of tourists swearing they’ve heard her muffled screams through the walls or spotted her headless spectre dusting the ballroom ever since… well, now you’ve got a municipal landmark.
It doesn’t matter if the so-called haunting is real. Like I pointed out in yesterday’s batch of five creepy spots lurking around the continental United States, our collective imagination and willingness to buy into paranormal lore will continue to feed these tales. Those among us who are cynics and skeptics can draw our own conclusions.
But this is not the time for debunking. It’s the time for spelunking, by which I mean we should traipse through the shadowy cave of that which tightens our veins and sets our skin a-crawlin’. There’s something tragically anti-visceral about embarking on a quest to expose the illusions behind the unexplained. In this spirit I’m going to poke and prod around my own Canadian backyard for some quality Halloween-week spookery.
To do this right I’m going to start with a notoriously spirit-heavy spot in Edmonton, just a five minute walk from where I went to high school. Once upon a time it was the Charles Camsell Hospital, but in the 1990’s the crown of urban decay was hoisted on its asbestos-laden frame. Naturally, hundreds of locals have crawled about the wreckage, looking for whatever it is people look for in toxic abandoned building-bones. But some have reported hearing screams from the fourth floor, where the psych ward used to be. Read more…
Ah, August. That first month of the year which marks the turning point, the crest of the hill after which my little northern town begins sliding on its heels toward that inevitable and forsaken pit of wretched winter.
But I prefer not to dwell on the meteorological implications of this dog-day month, not when there still exists the possibility (however fleeting and dream-like) of a warm summer sun roasting the cockles of my being to a shimmering simmer. Come on, Nature. I’m putting some good vibes out there; I bought an air conditioner back in late June and I’ve used it for four days. Four days. The rest of this summer has been room temperature or slightly warmer, and that’s at the sweaty peak of the afternoon.
Enough with my digression. August is not a month for mourning, it’s a month for celebrating! And if you’re looking for an excuse, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what’s on the calendar.
Remember when you were a kid and you asked why there was a Mothers Day and a Fathers Day but no Kids Day, and your parents told you every day was Kids Day and you quietly snarled under your breath that your parents were clearly full of shit and not afraid to shovel a little in your direction? Well, I’ve always believed that every day was Beer Day, but alas there is an actual International Beer Day and this year it unfolds tomorrow, August 2. Read more…
When Jacob Davis wandered into the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale dry goods company in San Francisco to buy some cloth, he had no idea he was going to change the world. Or maybe he did. People always ascribe an automatic naivety to the great inventors, as though everything had to be a happy accident.
Forget it – in my version of history, Jacob Davis walked into Levi Strauss’s wholesale store with a swagger, swinging his manhood in his hand like a pocketwatch. He’d had a dream the night before – he’d witnessed the future: greasers, stoners, cowboys, punks, hicks, and everyday everymen. And he saw the pale blue copper-speckled cloth that boldly enveloped their junk.
He saw jeans. And he knew Levi would be the guy who could hook him up with the materials he’d need to make it all happen.
There are no accidents.
Jacob Davis had been making a good living as a tailor, snipping, sewing and stitching without trying to reinvent the clothes he was tweaking to fit the Reno populace. Then one day in 1871, some woman whose name is lost to history wandered into Jacob’s shop and asked for a pair of pants that would hold up to the rigors of her husband’s work as a woodcutter. Jacob stitched together something out of heavy-duty duck cloth (which is not actually made from ducks – hey, I had to check), and reinforced the potential weak spots with copper rivets. Read more…