Tag: Calgary

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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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.

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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…

Day 922: Riding That Train, High On Cocaine & Pretty Much Everything Else

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Within a span of about five months, the notion of the Grand Hippie Music Festival had deteriorated from a three-day swoon of good vibes, great drugs and phenomenal tuneage at Woodstock into an angry and disorganized mess at the Altamont Speedway in northern California. I’ve written about the latter already, and I’ll have plenty to say about the former in an upcoming piece, but the question left unanswered by Altamont can only be: “what happens next?”

The digestible myth is that the disastrous Altamont concert nudged the nail in the sixties’ coffin, not only landing near the decade’s calendar terminus but also smushing into ash any hopes that the peace ‘n love generation could haul their good vibes into adulthood. But beyond Altamont you’ll still find the stellar 1970 Isle of Wight festival and the poorly-managed (but heartily rock-tastic) Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The dream wasn’t dead, it just took a nasty little hit in late ’69.

One of the first post-Altamont gathering of groups took place in Canada in the triumphant early days of 1970’s summer. Where festivals like Woodstock and Monterey Pop had previously lured fans from neighboring time zones and beyond to the event, the Festival Express was set to cruse across the country, bringing the idea of a super-conglomeration of super-groups to a myriad of cities. It was a concert game-changer, and solid proof that the perpetual party of the previous decade had not yet reached last call.

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Originally known as the Transcontinental Pop Festival, Ken Walker (above) along with his partners Thor and George Eaton aimed for four cities: Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. They secured a 14-car Canadian National Railways train for the artists, and booked a documentary crew to film the entire event. Walker and his associates booked passage for themselves on the train also, as no self-respecting businessman of that era was foolish enough to throw a party like that without attending it. Read more…

Day 756: The Little Town That Probably Wasn’t

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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.

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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…

Day 670: Tricking And Treating And Singing And Eating

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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’.

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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…

Day 606: Dining Up North

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Despite my locale in the dark frozen tundra of Canada (whose climate has actually been tolerably pleasant throughout August), the majority of my readership is located south of the border. That’s okay, I’m descended from hearty American stock – my grandfather actually played stickball in the streets of Brooklyn during the Great Depression, so I’m descended from hearty American cliché as well – and I have always cherished the glorious U.S. of A. as my second home.

Canadian culture is, to a large extent, the overflow reservoir for American culture. Our most popular movies and TV, most of our store chains, our meth-like dependence on Starbucks in the morning, and indeed our varied selection of westernized food styles are all derived from American sources. Sure, we’ll scoff at your Dunkin’ Donuts and revere Tim Hortons as the superlative choice, but come on – we’re all still eating donuts and drinking coffee.

But beyond back bacon, maple syrup and poutine, what do our southern (or northern if we are talking Alaska) neighbors know about true Canadian cuisine? I’m curious to see just how hungry you’ll be after you read this.

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The Turkish version of the Greek gyro – a frighteningly large slab of meat, skewered, cooked, then sliced into a fattening pita wrap – is known as a döner kebab. In these parts we call either variation a donair, and while it’s greasy, calorie-heavy and occasionally a trigger of regret and self-loathing, there are a few subtle differences that make the Canadian donair truly unique. Read more…

Day 492: Tasting With The Best

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Having been an avid wine drinker ever since I was eight days old and Jewish law demanded that I receive a belt of Manischewitz whilst some stranger slashed at my shvantz, I still can’t wrap my brain around wine reviews. Seriously, after spending my childhood sipping on dry red during every Sunday dinner at my grandparents’, you’d think I should be a veteran of vino, a veritable wine Jedi with an insight into the subtle nuances of every aspect of a wine’s intricate flavors.

But I just don’t have it. I look at wine review sites like this one, and I get lost in the ornate descriptions. “A savory and brooding red”. “Chalky tannins throughout and wild briary fruit layered with dark carob.” “Smoked notes underscored with dark chocolate and leather.” I’m sure with a bit of practice I could learn to tell a chiraz from a merlot, but this sort of intricate tastery is beyond me.

Also, this site invites readers to rate each wine on a scale of one to six. Six? What kind of pretentious scale is that?

On a scale of 1-2 tinted medieval goblets, I give this vintage a solid 1.25.

On a scale of 1-2 tinted medieval goblets, I give this vintage a solid 1.25.

Admittedly, I would rather contemplate the cavalcade of flavors bunny-hopping their way through an intricate craft beer than those waving their grapey hands in a bottle of wine. That’s simply a matter of preference. But I’m still swimming in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to acute flavor sensation. Read more…

Day 486: My Golden Ticket To Big Rock’s Wonka-esque House Of Magic

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Today, rather than order off my tired Wikipedian menu of kooky trivia, anecdotes from history or 990-word setups for a single joke about bacon, I’m going to cook up something special. I spent today (well, yesterday by the time my finger-tappings dance their way to my readers’ eyes) walking the sacred halls of that magic temple known as the Big Rock Brewery.

To be fair, I do have a business relationship with Big Rock, and for that reason I suppose any air of journalistic impartiality had best be taken with a grain – nay, a shaker-ful of salt. But the Calgary-based company’s enlistment of my services only came about because of a truly genuine word-spew of my affection for their product. Big Rock spared my young, thirsty palette from a dubious devotion to the blandness and banality of the big-name bores like Molson, Bud and Coors. When I turned 18 (yes, my American friends, there is a three-year advantage to living here in the tundra), the local beer landscape was rather morose.

But there was Big Rock. And today I visited the heart of the wonderful, fuzzy beast.

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My tour was conducted by the lovely and talented Brenda, my liaison in the marketing office, and Paul Gautreau, the flavor-Jedi behind the suds and science of the company’s delicious beverages. We trekked through the usual touristy corridors, craning our necks at the massive fermentation tanks and observing the speedy treadmill of bottles, where I yearned to drop a glove atop an amber vessel, Laverne & Shirley style.

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Day 392: My Journey To Helles And Bock

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Thursday night I was invited to my first beer release party. Having attended a few movie premieres, album releases, and even a release party for a crisper hue of goldenrod paper (the printing business is a savage and thrilling business), I was eager to go. Even more so because the beer in question was the latest offering from the nearly-local Big Rock brewery. Astute readers may recall that Big Rock is this site’s unofficial sponsor, in that they pay me no money, nor do they have any affiliation with whatever fanatical nonsense I choose to spout here. They simply provide the liquid inspiration and gustatory jubilance required to formulate a thousand words about plastic chairs.

On the surface, a beer release party is simply another night at a bar. There was a classic rock cover band playing loud enough that conversation was held in shouts, the warm lighting and busy décor distracted everyone from the hostile wind scratching at the windows, and the splash of choice on everyone’s palette was, for the most part, beer.

But the beer in question was the real star of the evening. It was the brand new Helles Bock, a lager mighty enough to kick Sisyphus’s stone over the mountain purely by accident. Read more…

Day 280: Big Rock Beer – Alberta’s Delicious Medal Of Honor

Many of my regular readers will remember that this website is sponsored by Rogue Ales, a fine purveyor of delicious delicacies out of Newport, Oregon. By ‘sponsored’, I mean that I receive no money for them, nor do they endorse anything I write or post. I do, however, write many of my articles through the hazy tint of their bottles, with the satisfying gurgle of meticulously brewed goodness slapping my liver around like a school bully.

But my loving relationship with Rogue is not exclusive. Rogue sees other drinkers and I see other breweries (though seriously guys, a sponsorship check here and there could change that). So when Ms. Wiki poured me a tall, frosty glass of a local brewery, I couldn’t resist shooting it back.

I need to be specific here – the Big Rock Brewery is located in Calgary, not Edmonton. It’s a three-hour drive, but I still consider this to be a local brewery since they appear to have more sponsorship presence at local events than any local beer-maker. They have made themselves the unofficial Beer of Alberta. And while we have some outstanding Edmontonian beer-fare (I’m looking at you, Alley-Kat), Big Rock holds a place close to my heart, and so they get a thousand words out of me.

Tragically written in the AM, hours away from my liberation from work and sobriety.

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