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…
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…
As a fiercely devout skeptic I have little patience for incorporating any spiritual routine into my life apart from my daily dose of Otis Redding and/or Etta James, both of whom possessed vocal talents that by their very nature taunted non-believers with their otherworldly oomph. Religious rituals, from Cree to Christianity and all points in between, hold little appeal for me. But as a professional anthropologist (and by ‘professional’ I mean the exact opposite of that), I possess a healthy curiosity for the spiritual to-do list of all my fellow humans.
I have been to a couple Native American round dances, and while I can’t speak with any praise to the music – there’s no backbeat, no groove, no emphasis on the ‘1’ – I admire the grace and harmonious tranquility in the process. It really jounces my think-meat to learn that this same dance directly led to an unthinkable slaughter.
I suppose it’s the old cliché of fearing what one doesn’t understand. Perhaps one can attribute the Wounded Knee debacle to abject stupidity or the tense national atmosphere due to the wretched economy under that spend-heavy rascal president, Benjamin Harrison. Mostly I think the massacre came about due to that tragic chemical collision between two of the most devious elements in the universe: ignorance and assholery.
By 1889, the bulk of the hostile skirmishes between Natives and Americans had subsided. The “old west” was beginning to peter out, and the new president was stubbornly set on filling in all that ‘territory’ space in the nation’s abdomen with legitimate states. On that list was South Dakota, which at the time was loaded with Sioux who had been “cordially assigned” chunks of land there by the US government. The government’s plan was to integrate the Native Americans by whatever means necessary. Read more…
Last week, while another icy winter blast was gossiping through our beloved city streets, I heard a familiar question discreetly uttered in my office tower elevator. It’s a question that inevitably falls from the cliffs of quivering lips every year when the onset of March is mocked by November-esque climate.
“Why did anyone decide to settle a town in this spot?”
It’s true that, while our swirling stripe of river valley parkland is an emerald jewel among modern urban nature triumphs, and while we perpetually possess a bountiful bevy of artistic talent that vastly supersedes expectations, our winters also display a wicked longevity. And the earliest Edmontonians had half a country of gorgeous parkland to sift through, none of which had an established arts scene. So why here? Why plant one’s flag amid such an unforgiving tundra?
Money, baby. A businessman goes where the customers are, and in 1795 there were scads of Blackfoot and Cree folks in the region, not to mention a raucous cavalcade of settlers headed west. No one knew there was a generous cauldron of bubblin’ crude below our terrestrial waistline (that surprise was 150 years away); back then our town was all about hocking pelts to the locals.
Today, Edmonton’s premier tourist attraction is inevitably our monstrous Mall, which sucks more than 30 million shoppers and gawkers inside its yellow brick shell each year. Ironically, a mall is exactly how Edmonton started out. The North West Company picked out the spot where the North Saskatchewan River shook watery hands with the Sturgeon River (near modern-day Fort Saskatchewan) and opened up a trading post in 1795. The Hudson Bay Company joined them shortly thereafter, giving us two anchor stores. For all your pelt and survivalist needs. Read more…