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…
Fans of American football are no doubt giddy with delight in the afterglow of last night’s victory by the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers – the first actual game we have seen in seven months. Non-fans of American football most likely stopped reading this article after the headline, or after they realized this has nothing to do with soccer-football. That’s okay, not everyone shares the same sports-page passions – a fact that becomes resoundingly evident every year as the city around me leaps to their feet at the start of hockey season.
Younger fans of the game might not recall that this 13-season stability we have seen in team names and locations is unprecedented in the history of the league. The 20th century saw several clubs shuffle around the country in search of a permanent home. Most every move was money-based, each one was reviled by fans, and some took place under dubious circumstances.
No team relocation was handled quite so strangely as the Baltimore Colts’ mysterious overnight disappearance to Indianapolis. It was a figurative stab at the collective heart of Colts fans, and a cloak-and-dagger escapade that would leave a gaping wound in the spirit of the city. A wound that would not heal for more than a decade, when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell was ready to inflict a similar agony upon the football devoted of his own city.
Memorial Stadium. Home of the Baltimore Colts since their inaugural year in 1953, and home of baseball’s Orioles for even longer. By the early 1970’s, it needed a facelift. 10,000 of the seats had lousy views, 20,000 seats were just wooden benches with no back support, and both pro teams had to share office space and locker rooms. Colts owner Robert Irsay tried to work with the city to land some new digs for his team. Read more…
For those of us who actively seek out ladders under which to stroll, or who have completely forsaken blessing those who sneeze, superstition is a delightfully goofy window into the obsessive-compulsive static residue of the mind. What racist hoodoo has condemned genetically black-furred kitties to the bad-luck pile? Why does connecting one’s knuckles to a slab of dead tree ensure misfortune will be avoided? Does crossing my fingers in my Edmonton living room whenever Peyton Manning drops back into the pocket ensure a likely touchdown catch? Judging by my aching digits after last February’s Super Bowl, I’d say that’s a hearty no.
But as strange and inexplicably arbitrary as our goofy good-luck rituals may appear upon introspection, they would no doubt appear even more bizarre to an outsider. To demonstrate, I’m going to take the outsider’s approach and have a look at some of the traditional placations of imagined magic within the borders of our neighbor to the west (just past Alaska, of course), Russia.
Many of these superstitions are documented on paganism.msk.ru, which appears to my untrained eyes to be a legitimate source. Others have been splashed onto a Wikipedia page with no reliable citation. So, any or all of these might be fictitious, but for the purposes of fuelling our xenophobic need to giggle at other cultures, we’ll just assume them all to be accurate and practiced by every living Russian citizen. That way we won’t feel so dumb for French-kissing the underside of our Molson Canadian cans to ensure our hockey team scores on a powerplay. Or whatever we do.
Russians get to work early on children’s self-esteem. It is considered an invitation to rotten luck if a stranger looks directly at a baby before that baby has reached a certain age (somewhere between two months and one year). If the stranger does make eye contact, complimenting the baby is an even greater transgression. One should instead say, “What an ugly baby!” And if you want to buy that ugly baby a gift, you’d best wait until after he or she is born, otherwise it’s bad luck. For someone. Maybe for the mother, maybe for you, maybe for the ugly baby. 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…
Chances are, if you’ve even so much as sneezed in the same room as a computer connected to the internet this week, you’ve absorbed some snippet of World Cup fever. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world – more so than the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Full-Contact Bare-Knuckle Finger-Jousting Championships combined. And due to the current impressive girth of our pudgy modern internet, which is just right for streaming the games to every interested PC, tablet and phone, they’re predicting this to be the widest audience for anything, ever.
Soccer is the ultimate sport to bridge together the citizens of this floating rock, mostly because the rules are simple and you can make a workable ball out of trash and/or roadkill. It’d be hard for a poor rural village to fashion together functional sticks to play hockey, hoisted-up hoops to play basketball or crudely-crafted anabolic steroids to play baseball. Soccer (or “football” – I know, I know) is where it’s at.
Apart from the degenerate wuss-bags who perform acts of atrocious theatre in hopes of drawing a foul for the other team, soccer really is a great game. And even though I’ll be spending the next few weeks getting caught up on the new season of Orange Is The New Black, I might allow myself to sip just a little bit of the tournament’s excitement. After all, soccer can – in rare cases – get a little weird.
In my neighborhood, local interest for the qualification round of the 1994 Caribbean Cup was pretty much nil. But for fans in Grenada, the January 27 game against Barbados was huge. Having lost to Puerto Rico already, Barbados would have to win by two points in order to advance to the final round and bump Grenada out. For a country perpetually mired in revolutions and/or hurricanes, this was a big deal. Read more…
If I were to ask you how far away France was located from Canada, the well-travelled among you might answer 3000 miles. The hopelessly cheesy among you might answer “only as far away as my lover’s eyes.” And those among you who value accuracy and specificity would come up with twelve.
Twelve miles. In a peppy little motorboat it would take you about twenty minutes. That won’t get you to the street-crepes of Paris of course, but it will take you to the shores of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a small archipelago just off the coast of the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. These eight little islands are the last vestige of pre-Canada and pre-America, when England and France (and to a lesser extent the Dutch and the Portuguese – anyone else who wanted a slice of New World pie) were jostling for control over the continent.
Because of their tasty position on the front porch of North America, these little islands were significant slabs of valuable real estate. They also played a tiny but significant part in the history of our continent, despite never officially belonging to either Canada or the United States. Let’s pull up a historical lawn chair and see if these little water-logged land-specks are worth fighting over.
By the time the Europeans dropped by Saint Pierre and Miquelon, no one was calling the place home. Native artifacts were eventually scraped from under the soil, but when Jacques Cartier and his French buddies swung by in 1536, the islands were empty. Even when the white folk showed up, the islands became little more than an overnight campground for cod fishers who were pillaging the sea creatures off the coast of what is now Canada. It took until around 1670 for the first year-round settlers to call the place home. Read more…
There comes a point in most people’s lives when they realize they will most likely never make a living as a professional athlete. That’s okay, we can still become owners, right? Well, for those of us awash in a life of government drone-dom, owning the team of our dreams is also a fantasy among the unattainable. But what if we could fake it?
ESPN is airing an interesting documentary tonight as part of its 30 For 30 program, documenting the wonky exploits of a man named John Spano, who sort of owned the NHL’s New York Islanders for a brief and weird period in 1997. In Canada we don’t get ESPN, and this program isn’t airing here until Saturday, November 2nd at 11:00am, when I’ll be busy in my Lamaze class (we’re not expecting a baby – I just like practicing my breathing). So instead of setting my PVR I’ll simply hop the boards and do my own research today.
Spano’s story would be deemed too unrealistic, too implausible for that of a fictitious villain. That’s what makes it so compelling. He had balls the size of hockey helmets and sufficient knowledge of how to manipulate the system to put together a pretty slick caper. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite have the knowledge to execute the caper successfully.
Therein lies my favorite ingredient of any story – the utter absurdity.
Back in the mid-1990’s, when hockey games would periodically pause for the occasional acoustic jam by the players, the New York Islanders were a well-respected franchise. Only a few years removed from a near-miss at the Stanley Cup finals (and with the memories of four Cups in a row in the 80’s still strong), it didn’t really matter that they’d stunk up the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the past couple seasons. When owner John Pickett decided it was time to sell the club and spend the rest of his years under the Florida sun, he felt an $80 million price tag for his 90% share in the team was a fair price. Read more…