Go west young man, go west
Debunking myth about Newfoundlanders
Go west young man go west. That’s an expression I’ve heard so many times in my life, ever since I was a lad. Although not young anymore I finally did go out west - west to Calgary.
Alberta is one of the most beautiful provinces I’ve ever visited. It is simply magnificent!
My recent visit there makes it the ninth of our ten provinces I have visited. The only one I’ve missed is Manitoba and that (Winnipeg for sure) is on our list for next time.
It is good to be back after seven months away from the old sod. Stepping off the plane at Torbay airport the night of May 29 and planting my feet firmly on the ground of my birthplace gave me flutters of joy. Five minutes into our taxi heading for the hotel listening to the cab driver (unsolicited) bringing us up to date on the latest provincial scuttlebutt proved instantly to me we were home. Those cabbies are so much a part of our culture. They’re unique, intelligent and different.
My time in Calgary put to rest what I always thought was overstated - the myth that Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans are the most friendly people in Canada.
A nephew who is a practicing lawyer out there appears very content and I can see why.
From the time we arrived until we left we found Albertans like us - friendly helpful and colourful. I was amazed with the mixture of cultures there. A trip to the Chi- nook shopping mall showed us people of all shapes, size and color, particularly from Asia.
If you visit look around and you will see interesting faces from India, Pakistan, China, South Vietnam, South Korea and a large number of workers from the Philippians. Business owners boast about their work ethic, reliability and frugality. Chinese and Korean families own some popular franchise restaurants like A & W.
Staying close to downtown Calgary we chose public transportation to get around.The magnificent C-train (Calgary Transit - built for the ‘88 Olympics) was within walking distance and very inexpensive. For $5 a day we could ride just about anywhere within a radius of about ten miles of the city. There are community stops along the way and the train is easily accessible and easy to exit.
Like in Newfoundland
Our first walk to the C-train system provided us an indication of the friendly people I mentioned above. We were seeking out the C-train’s departure location for a trip into the city. I asked a senior lady who was waiting at the crosswalk near our hotel how to reach the train. “Oh no problem dears,” she said, “I’m on my way there too, so follow me.”
Small talk along the way revealed her name was Judy. She was a retired civil servant, widowed and living in a nearby condo. She showed us the ABCs of using the system. She stood by ‘till we got our tickets from a CTC vending machine and she even made correct change for us. Departing at her stop in town, she smiled at us and wished us a “good day”!
Then there was the young student on his way to classes with his backpack full of books. We asked him if he knew where the CTS office was downtown. We wanted to drop by there and buy a monthly pass. “No problem he said, I’ll show you.” With that he exited at our stop and walked a short distance along the main street and pointed to the building where the office was located.
Then there was the young Chinese girl sitting on a bench who when asked about the schedule of the C-train that traveled out our way, gave us her personal schedule. “Take this,” she insisted, “I can pick up another one.”
A young waiter who works in the restaurant located atop of the magnificent Calgary Tower was very interested in our visit and about Newfoundland. He said he knew some Newfoundlanders in Calgary working at Fort MacMurray and liked them. He was quite knowledgeable about Calgary and pointed out various things he felt we would be interested in visiting ‘round and about the immediate area.
Rounding out our already impressive feeling about the people of Calgary was the young woman who offered us a free admission ticket she could not use to the very popular Heritage Village site. A single ticket cost $16. There are numerous other examples I could give but I think I’ve made my point.
Out and about
Calgary is a very impressive metropolitan city with progress on every corner. Despite the downturn in the economy, new construction is evident particularly in the downtown. Oil companies are building huge high-rise office complexes; the train system is being expanded and modernized and highways are being upgraded and widened. There is a massive project underway to improve airport access to the downtown and new sports complexes are popping up.
For our first visit we took in all the historic sites. The most memorable one was the trip up the steep mountainside to Banff and Lake Louise.
Words cannot possibly describe the beauty and splendor of that magnificent part of Alberta. It is something to behold and the really great thing about it is that it is Canadian.
We saw the venues built for the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Most impressive were the ski slopes.We saw the Stampede grounds, the Calgary dome where the Flames play host to visiting NHL hockey teams, visited the historic Drumheller archaeology museum (Royal Tryell) where million year old dinosaur bones and skeletons are displayed and where they are still unearthing fossils said to be five million years old. TELUS Corporation offered a terrific opportunity to visit their communications museum where you can experience technology that will amaze you. We were particularly taken with the IMAX theatre, where we watched two films on a giant screen with incredible surround sound. They were about the forces of nature.
There is so much to see in and around Calgary. We plan on going back again next spring. We chose not to go north to Edmonton and of course a journey to Fort Mac would be impossible to do in such a short visit.
All about the people
A chance visit to the new Calgary Municipal Building (City Hall) resulted in us sitting in on a council meeting. Meetings are open to the public. It was quite impressive and it is interesting to note that municipal politics appear to be all the same, taunts, jeers, interruptions, sarcasms and of course civic leaders out to make a name for themselves.
It was quite clear when you observed Mayor Dave Bronconnier talk about “his beloved city of Calgary” how passionate he is about it.
So what is it about Cowtown or the heart of the new west or the Stampede City that he says makes Calgary a cut above the rest?
Without hesitation, the feisty mayor leaves little doubt about what makes Calgary tick. “It’s the people, he says.
“Calgary is one of the most special places in the world, simply because of its people,” said Bronconnier, himself a third generation Calgarian.
“We’ve got people who believe in protecting the environment; we have people who believe in business success; entrepreneurs sharing and building.”
Calgarians have been heralded for their work on events such as the ‘88 Winter Olympics, the Calgary Stampede and the 2008 Junos, and how citizens raised $52 million for the United Way.
They have built what started out as a primitive unknown settlement of the west into a world class City. Take a look at photos of the Calgary skyline 25 or 30 years ago and see where it is today.
I really enjoyed my trip to Calgary and now more than ever, I am certain the thousands of Newfoundlanders employed with the oil sands project at Fort MacMurray are finding a little piece of home out there.
It’s a place like Newfoundland and Labrador where a friendly smile and a helping hand is priority No 1. Alberta’s low five per cent sales tax is easy to take too. We can only wish. A special thanks to Burton K. Janes of Bay Roberts for his interesting and thoughtful views, which appeared here over the past five weeks during my absence.
Bill Westcott writes from Clarke’s Beach
Scribblings of a Corner Boy