Tag Archives: Banff

Thoughts on Alberta

I haven’t lived in Alberta for a long time so that now when I go back I notice the difference. I am just a tourist in the place of my birth. Calgary is an immensely spread out city. In the middle of the prairies there is room to grow like a slowly encroaching disease. Alberta itself is known as Big Sky Country. When you compare it to BC, which is mountainous all the way to the coast (we are part of the Rockies), there is a huge difference.

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Calgary is in the foothills, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. You come out of Banff, if you’re driving from BC and the sky just opens up. It is rolling hills and flat patches. There is nothing but sky and fields. I can see how someone growing up in the mountains or heavily wooded areas could find that great blue expanse disconcerting. I find it noticeably different in comparison to Vancouver.

Calgary, years ago, built their downtown core fairly compacted with buildings set close together. It made the downtown darker and colder than the outlying areas. The city center is also in a dip or a bowl and the city rises up out of the bowl on all sides. Keeping the downtown in that dip served to concentrate the center but the rest went its own way. There are major thoroughfares that crisscross the city north to south and east to west. They have such names as Sarcee Trail, Crowchild Trail, Deerfoot Trail, John Laurie Boulevard, Shaganapi Trail, Edmonton Trail, McKnight Boulevard, etc. Many, as you can see are reminiscent of the First Nations bands that originally occupied that area.

These roads are two to three lanes (there are others I haven’t named) and though they have lights at intersections, those lights are spaced very widely apart. Many of these freeway style roads are bordered by giant boulevards. It would be better to call them small inclines rather than boulevards because they often slope up (or down) and are 20 to 30 feet wide. Many of these roads are also bordered by large walls, used to keep sound out of the residential areas.

I grew up in the northwest (Calgary works on a quadrant system of street names and numbers split into NW, SW, SE, and NE) and at one time it was bordered by Spy Hill, or Nose Hill. I believe there are still houses on the other side of the area but it is protected land. Once I believe it was ranchland and may still have be partially privately owned but it is the only true hilly region (small part of the foothills) in Calgary. We used to go up there and do bow and arrow shooting at targets or just explore.

Just these major “trails” alone in Calgary take up a lot of space. Without them it would take far longer to go from one side of the city to the other. The last time I was there it took two hours one day to go from NW to SE, and I’m not sure we even hit the farthest reaches of the city. I cannot fathom how I managed to live on one side of the city and used to take the bus to work on the other side, before they had rapid transit.

One place to go for hikes is Bragg Creek. I went with my friend for a hike. Some uphill and some flat Picture 141spaces and a very nice view from other parts. Bragg Creek has a meandering creek that has never been particularly high from what I remember. Farther away is Elbow Falls. We didn’t go that route but did a three-hour hike (or a bit less) which gave us good cardio but was not hard. Runners are all you need but watch out for the bugs. Something bit my arm while we were walking though it neither itched nor swelled up.

Back in Calgary, one thing I did notice was the very high price of food, comparable to what I’ve seen in Seattle. Onions here are between .69 and .79/lb. In Calgary, $1.49/lb. Other fruits and vegetables were similarly expensive. Ouch.

The weather was hot, pulling in a short and fierce windstorm that killed two people and injured about 100 others and yet we missed it going from building to house. It lasted no more than a half hour. It poured one night, growing toward thunderstorm, but that never happened. Thunderstorms are common in Alberta and tornadoes are not uncommon in the southern parts of the province.

After so many years, I saw the differences in weather and land and city structure. I still prefer my home in Vancouver where usually the summers aren’t as hot, nor the winters as cold.

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Outhouse Terrors

I talked about squat toilets and scary, dark toilets last week. They’re their own form of horror but none of them were that rustic, wooden box called the outhouse.

Many years ago when I was but a wee tyke, we visited some relatives out in Lac la Biche, Alberta. (I think it means deer lake in English.) They had a farm replete with chickens, cows, cats, hat and raspberry canes. And of course, like many farmsteads, there was running water in the house but it was built in an era before plumbing, and the toilets were outside.

I suppose as biffies go, these were probably higher class. There was a wooden boardwalk from the house to the outhouse. And it was a two-seater with toilet seats. My relatives were obviously comfortable sitting side by side and doing their business.

And so were my sister and me. During the visit we had to go out to the outhouse, at night. We took the flashlight and while sitting in the outhouse we were shining the lights about and making shadow puppets. I’m not sure how old we were. I’m thinking I was six and my sister twelve.

Anyways, after we were done peeing and playing, we went to leave…and couldn’t. The door was latched tight. On the outside was a simple wood toggle to keep the door shut when no one was in it. It had fallen down while we were inside and we started pounding and yelling. My sister, ever one to freak out easily, was screaming and crying, and of course I followed along. Here we were stuck in the dark, in a dreaded outhouse (luckily the fumes weren’t so bad) and with visions of perishing there.

Obviously that wouldn’t have happened. Someone would have missed us sooner or later and we weren’t going to die in there. But we were in the moment and hysterical. Of course the adults were inside yukking it up, talking and laughing and heard nothing until there was a lull in the conversation. They eventually came out (I’d say it was twenty minutes but it was more likely ten) and let us fly free, tear-streaked an terrified.

They laughed long and hard, and it’s laughable in retrospect but I wouldn’t go in an outhouse until I was about twenty-two. Scarred from that early memory, I refused any time we went to Banff or any outing, to use an outhouse and insisted on restaurants and gas stations. I was resolute. But as an adult, I met friends who had a cabin in Clinton, BC and of course, it was rustic. It took some effort but I finally got over my fear of outhouses, although they don’t rate highly on bathroom experiences as they are almost always smelly to downright gagarific, and often dangerous to tender skin.

In a pinch I can use whatever is available, including the great outdoors. I should also note that although I had been in Wazuubee of late I hadn’t gone to the bathroom there. I was there again the other night and they have in fact put brighter track lighting into their bathroom (although the whole place really needs an overhaul–it’s pretty shabby) so yay, less horrors there.

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