Tuesday, 29 December 2015
By W. Lacey Amy
From The Canadian Magazine, April 1913. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, December 2015.
“THE East is East, and the West is West” in spite of the politicians, and it requires more than party and patriotism to line up a Western town according to Eastern ideas: but it is to its credit that in some of its heterodoxy the West has reverted to the original simplicity of childhood.
For instance, a Western town has an expression. It laughs or grouches, or invites, or frowns with anxiety and haste, or glowers with disappointment and disapproval—just like the face of a healthy child that has not learned to hide its feelings. In the East the face of a town is like that of a mummy, dead, masklike, uninteresting; or, like
it presents a cold profile of dignity, indifference and snobbishness. Every
citizen, whether in East or West, reads into his town his own thoughts, but it
takes the stranger to read the expression aright.
Edmonton. From the open
arms of its wide streets to the frank interest of its pedestrians there is
invitation. It is the invitation of friends and home and happiness. Calgary—if
it is possible to bring the two cities thus close without a breach of the
peace—Calgary is different; and that does not detract from the virtues of the
It wasn’t always thus. Time was when
bit its finger nails and growled in impotent wrath at the southern city. When a
reached the end of the railway northward the bars had to be closed to modify
the riots. A few Edmonton papers travelled back,
but Calgary has
always had such supreme confidence in itself and its parts that nothing
essential could appear in an outside paper. Edmonton papers came to town only as
exchanges in the newspaper offices, where they were used as a text for
to-morrow’s red-ink editorials. When The Edmonton——and The Calgary——had
exchanged about two editorial remarks, the dictionary had to be combed for
novelty of epithet.
But that was at least three years ago; and six months in
is a cycle. Now the representative baseball teams sometimes commence to play
before the ambulance arrives, and through tickets are purchased from city to
city without criminal proceedings. Each has discovered that its future rests
with itself. Calgary
is there to stay and stay big and important. And Edmonton looks away north and west and smiles
contentedly. Once it was like the father of a large, young family, and had to
hustle hard to make both ends meet. Now it can afford to smoke good cigars and
let the family look after its dad.
About both cities there is infinite attraction.
citizens are always rushing to a fire, and you simply have to get in on the
excitement. Edmontonites are merrily skipping along to a rugby match, joyous,
expectant, beckoning, contagiously laughing; and you can’t and don’t want to
“Smile, damn it, smile,” says a card in a real estate window. There, that’s
The constituents of the city are as follows: Three real estate offices and a cafe, three real estate offices and a cafe, three real estate offices and a store. The figures may not be exact, but the principle is correct enough to show anxiety for the truth. They may not be the only ingredients of a universal appetizer, such as
Edmonton, but they are
the unpatented features and probably essential.
To the visitor the real estate office in
is not a cobweb with a seductive centre too enticing to be healthy, but a place
that revels in window display. The Edmonton
land office that confined itself to blue prints and maps would be only a
restaurant next week. Dry goods and toy shops and clothing emporiums take
second place in window dressing. One of three of the real estate offices fills
the space with a meshed paper anaglyph of the site for sale. Stores, streets,
rivers, bridges, railways with trains, steamboats, and even people, are there
for inspection, and there arises in you an ambition to be one of them. In one
window a few dollar bills protrude from a bit of the landscape, and it’s hard
to resist the appeal of the growing money. Whirligigs, revolving wheels and
lights, demand consideration. An unrushed passage down a street is punctuated
by a pause before every other window to see more of that which has caught the
The real estate agent of
is a brand-new brand of genius. But then Edmonton
has mapped out its own scheme of existence from the first.
Even the employment agencies are different. A doorway would mean delay. Therefore, the agent sits on the sidewalk and hands out work as a soup kitchen does steaming bowls—no questions asked, and room for all.
Edmonton has a waiting hand to grasp every
loose labourer and to place him at work before he has a mind to make a
selection. There is an opening somewhere within the rays of Edmonton
for enough workmen to stop the factories of Ontario—and then there’d be room still for
the unemployed employers.
Things up there are growing so fast that the place is always getting too big for its clothes.
On the streets is definiteness rather than rush. On the way to Strathcona a short train of a dozen cars holds up a score of rigs in its crossing of the roadway; but there is no swearing or disturbance. Every driver knows the time ahead of him. It takes more than a train to interfere with his destiny Each individual pedestrian is not an imminent menace; rather, he is a part of a steadily moving bulk, heavy, resistless, but following a definite course like a train. Only the street cars start and stop with a jerk, but that’s because there is not yet sufficient outlet for the over-supply of energy generated in that, vast northland.
There is no impression of dress. In the crowd mingles everything from the freshly shined tans to the hobnailed boots. There are many of the latter, for all the north radiates from
A khaki shirt and prospector’s boots attract no more attention than a loose
vest button. Everyone is a part of the whole, a part of a strong chain whose
links are every nationality in the world, and every style of dress and
The life is disconcerting. A raw girl rides astride along the main street leading a red and white cow at the end of a rope; and you’re the only one to stop and look at her. Just a mile back her father is plowing a farm worth three thousand dollars an acre. Next year it will bring four, and he knows it. Two men in overalls and soiled shirts drive past in a phaeton of the early nineties. They are returning from the purchase of a block or two just off
Jasper Avenue. The driver of the brick
wagon is wondering whether he ought to sell now or wait until spring. The newsy
on the corner has just made his last payment on a couple of lots and is willing
to stop and talk subdivisions with authority.
You can’t tell in
the hang of a coat or the grime on a face what the paper value of the owner may
be. Driving a delivery waggon, or finding the appendix is his business only for
the moment. Vocations are but the clothes. Inside, the clerk and the surgeon
have the same real estate dreams—and usually the same realisations. Next year
they’ll be racing automobiles and laughingly paying the fine. Even the bellboy
at the hotel is a burgess.
Sunday is a day lost—to those who observe it.
does not need rest; a thoughtful moving body like that does not wear out its
energies. Not that Edmonton
breaks the Sabbath. Oh, no! Such tireless, complacent force as Edmonton never breaks
anything. It just pushes it aside by sheer weight. The stores are closed, the
“movies” quiet, but that force cannot be stopped. It gets out on the streets of
a Sunday and tramps, tramps, tramps. It is there impressive as ever but more quiet
and dignified. Laws cannot reasonably stop Edmonton and smelters on the seventh day. So
the city moves on, principally along the heights, and looks across to
That is where
Edmonton possesses an
advantage over any other Western town. It has a view. Were there no other
reason for Edmonton, that drop to the Saskatchewan justifies
its location. The poolrooms and bars and other dens decried by reformers may be
filled; but along the height is a greater crowd, enjoying in innocence the
monopoly of the city at the northwest corner of civilisation. Some time, when
real estate relaxes, Calgary will set out to
deride that view, just as Toronto treats Hamilton’s mountain.
Derision is a popular covering for jealousy.
A married daughter, leaving her father at the
station, begged a return visit next year. “No,” he said stubbornly, “I’ll not
leave till I sell out.” He kicked the edge of the platform a moment thoughtfully
before he went on “And then I’ll never go back to Ontario.”
He was recalling the expressionless mask of an Eastern town, and it had no attraction for him after
smile of welcome.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.