Family Lines

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Tag: Alberta

Gifts not presents

Woman sitting in Fanas, Switzerland.

My big ugly coat I can’t find. I’m in Fanas, Switzerland here.

Christmas is on the horizon and for many of us, that means lots of cookies and eggnog and family time. My immediate family (and family-in-laws) don’t live close enough to us to hop over for some seasonal cheer but my husband and I consider our friends as extended family.

It’s a gift we have these people in our lives in Calgary. This week though — this cold, cold week — I’ve been thinking about other gifts that I’m grateful for: and not expensive presents.

It’s super-duper freezing outside and I walk everywhere (most everywhere). Somehow, I’ve lost two winter coats. Oh I know they’re packed in boxes but I’m not sure which boxes. I didn’t label them when I loaded them full of housewares and clothing and knickknacks in preparation for a move. Well, that move hasn’t happened yet but winter has. I did know where one special winter coat was put and dug it out.

The special coat was my Nana’s. It’s pink and pure virgin wool (so says the tag) and has a fur-lined hood. Nana lived in northwestern Ontario and it’s cold there. The coat must have worked because she used it for a long time and then handed it to me before I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) about 10 years ago. I never used the vintage coat in the N.W.T. because I had a black, puffy parka that looked like a sleeping bag on steroids.

Now I can’t find that black coat nor another black parka that looks almost the same. I had to start using my Nana’s coat. I put it on today and walked downtown in the -33 (with wind-chill) weather. It worked! I was warm and cozy in the wool coat and I even got some compliments on it while I was shopping in the mall.

I never saw Nana again after she gave me the coat: she died soon after I went to the N.W.T. Her gift is finally being put to use 10 years later and I’m grateful for its warmth and the reminder of her as a flesh and blood person. She wasn’t always an old woman. She wasn’t always my Nana. She was young and had ideas and dreams and perhaps, in her coat, she lived some of them.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Another gift is the gift of nature in the city. Like I said and many of you know, it’s freaking cold. But have you seen how beautiful it is outside? The fog rolling off the Bow River in the morning turns everything around it silver. The fresh snow covering the brown leaves on the ground and ugly grey pavement convinces us that the streets are pretty and Christmas is just around the corner. At night, when the festive lights are turned on, they still can’t compete with the stars. The clear cold air only accentuates their brilliance, reminding me that I’m one small person on this large planet.

With the holidays comes goodwill. People hold doors open for me. They stop their vehicles to let me cross the street. They put down their mobiles to engage in conversation with me, a stranger. This is a great gift and I wish it continued all year long because this is an important gift: the gift of time. Taking a couple of seconds to be friendly doesn’t take much and you’ll never know how deeply your kindness was felt.

“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Fort Mac Ties

Biking into the Wood Buffalo.

Fort Smith, NWT borders the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Friends and I biked in RMWB a lot in the summer. If you enlarge the image, you can see the RMWB sign. Photo taken August, 2007.

While I have only been Fort McMurray once — passing through the airport a few years ago — I know a lot about the city. As the editor of what was then called the Slave River Journal (now the Northern Journal), I was responsible for covering the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. I talked to the politicians and business people serving the area as well as some of the residents. As the wildfire blazed through Fort Mac this past week, my heart has been hurting. I can’t even imagine how the people of Wood Buffalo must be feeling.

I have no family or friends in Fort Mac but I have ties there. I learned about its growing pains and other issues that often spilt the communities surrounding the city. It had drugs and crime but was also the setting for the TV comedy Mixed Blessings. (I love that show.) Fort Mac was where many Canadians found work and in turn, spent that hard-earned cash back home. In fact, when my husband and I were in Newfoundland two years ago, the first people we met while hiking on the East Coast Trail were two guys who had just returned from working in the oil sands near Fort Mac. They were home for a couple weeks off.

There are some who say Fort McMurray is getting its comeuppance, whether it be for pollution or the oil sands or its relatively wealthy residents. It’s BS and extremely hurtful to those who have made their home there, especially when some of those homes are gone.

The wildfire doesn’t wipe the environmental slate clean and there are still questions about energy processing there. However, let’s remember that people lived there and some have lost everything — homes, businesses, pets — and deserve to be treated with respect. Thankfully, Canadians everywhere, from LacMégantic to Cranbrook, are answering the call for help and pitching in to help the city rise again. To clear away the ashes and start rebuilding. To put pieces of lives back together.

Here are some details on how to help: http://bit.ly/1SYRRoC

In the news

Just like everyone can sing, I believe everyone can write. I’ve been teaching writing courses at Kerby Centre, a senior’s centre in downtown Calgary, for a few years now. This is the first time I’ve been interviewed for the Kerby Centre News. Here’s a story from Shelley Den Haan that talks about my memoir writing course. I also do a Life Writing class at Chinook Learning Services and offer private instruction too. I can help you shape your memories into stories.

Kerby Centre article.

The Maritime homing beacon

Scott's Bay, Nova Scotia.

Me being silly at Scott’s Bay, Nova Scotia. (the bay is actually the Minas Basin but it’s still salt water.)

“What is it with you Maritimers?” asked a friend born and raised in Calgary. “You always want to go home.”

Home.

Home, to Maritimers, can be Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Three provinces with proud distinctions on their own, but together, together they are a tight-knit community unfurled on the Atlantic ocean. When we were born, somehow, a bit of that ocean must have leaked into our veins. Made us salt brothers and sisters with the sea: a life-long bond.

Today I live in Calgary. The city has grown on me like a callous forming on the palms of my hands after hard work. Life is fast-paced and the way of the West comes with cowboy boots and big trucks. I love how the land lies flat before rising into gargantuan mountains. The Rockies are a spiked forest, an insurmountable ridge that wraps its protective arms around the Calgary.

The Rockies are brown in the summer. In the fall, while leaves are changing colour, I can see the tips of the mountains slowly turn white. It’s still winter up there today while the city gets a peek at warm weather.

Other than summer and winter, the mountains never seem to change. Unlike the ocean. Which changes with our every breath and sigh. Oh to be on the water on a calm, clear morning. Flat, motionless and still. Look down and what might you see? Fish perhaps. Seaweed for sure. And you. Your reflection staring back from the depths.

When the wind finally stirs the Atlantic in the afternoon, it will smear your image on the waves. The water will bounce you on its knee and send messages to lap up against your boat. It will also rock you to sleep if you let it.

Mount Yamnuska.

View from Mount Yamnuska.

Sometimes the waves thrash instead of dance and the sea boils and froths into a fierce monster. That’s when the ocean makes you forget that it loves you. It makes you frightened and scared and fearful. Because this sea has great power — tremendous power. Enough force to take you prisoner and smother you with its affection. You are angry and it is angry and you’d better leave it alone lest you get caught up in the bitter blue. Just for now. You can return later.

Alberta is being rocked right now by tough economic times. Maritimers know all about this. That’s why we headed west in the first place, when Calgary was the land of opportunity. A lot of us are still here today despite the change in fortune. We’re staying and mucking in while the goings aren’t so good. My Maritime roots will always be tugging me eastward, towards the ocean. But for now, my home is Alberta.

Media meltdown

Old Herald desk.

Drawer full of reporter graffiti. Names and doodles from an antique Herald desk drawer on display at the City of Calgary Corporate Records, Archives.

The newspaper industry across Canada was dealt a massive blow last week. It hit me personally as my husband was caught in the layoff tsunami. We need more trained journalists, not fewer.

I know there are other sectors hurting and the economy in Alberta is weak right now. At a Calgary Chamber of Commerce event a couple of weeks ago, I talked with a member about how she’s dealing with the tough economic climate. She said there have always been booms and busts and it’s part of the cycle. She’s been through it before and said she will weather this storm too.

I’ve been through it as well and was laid off from my newspaper job in 2009. I’m not employed as a journalist today. It’s a sad time for all media across North America and many don’t seem to see the worth in news anymore. I read the comments section of the CBC Calgary story on Postmedia’s move to combine and gut the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun newsrooms (as well as similar mergers in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa) and it made me sick to see what people were saying about papers. That news should be free and journalists only write what Big Business tells them to write. Conspiracy theories from commenters who don’t value the job of reporters.

Walking amongst the tall buildings and business workers in downtown Calgary on Friday, I overheard a woman telling another woman, “Change is good. Remember that.”

Change can be good and in fact, journalists live for change. It’s one reason why we get into the news business. But change can also leave spaces, voids, gaps in information. These holes deprive us of stories, stories that explain what’s happening in our city or country or world. Stories that unite us with other people and connect us to our neighbours.

Bloggers might be able to fill some of the cracks, but they’re not trained to follow and uphold time-honoured journalistic standards of accuracy and fairness. To separate fact from opinion. Being a journalist is not just an occupation: it’s a profession; it’s a calling. The newspaper landscape of Calgary has been indelibly changed and not for the better. As journalists disappear from newsrooms, so does the record of our city’s history, our stories.

The making of Loyalists

Book about Loyalists.

The United Empire Loyalists, Alberta Bound
Compiled by Linda McClelland U.E.

Calgarian Linda McClelland is proud of her heritage. So much so that she undertook an ambitious project to mark the centennial in 2014 of the incorporation of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC).

United Empire Loyalists were people loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution (1775-1783) – and they weren’t just white folk from the U.K. Other Europeans as well as Black and First Nations people who were among those considered Loyalists. Their descendants are recognized with the honorific U.E. and are found all over Canada. Linda traced her family back to the Loyalists and uses the U.E. after her name.

She also compiled the history and stories of United Empire Loyalists into a book called, The United Empire Loyalists, Alberta Bound. I helped edit this priceless historical collection and think it’s a worthwhile addition to any classroom or personal library.

To download a free ebook, please click here:

http://bit.ly/18uIYzV

To download a free PDF copy, please click here:

THEUNITEDEMPIRELOYALISTS

To buy a hard copy, please e-mail me at LeaStorry@ourfamilylines.ca and I’ll pass your information along to Linda.

 

 

 

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