Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Edmonton Casually


Edmonton Casually
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 Toronto, 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.
Take 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 southern city.
Calgary shows its profile, Edmonton its full face. Calgary is too much concerned in the future—not doubtful, but expectant—even to glance a welcome. You see, Calgary is busy every minute of its life making its future; Edmonton’s is there spread out before it. Edmonton can lie abed in the morning and watch itself grow. Nothing short of hari-kari can stop it; and even then its successor would arise within a few miles to the north.
It wasn’t always thus. Time was when Edmonton bit its finger nails and growled in impotent wrath at the southern city. When a Calgary paper 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 Western Canada 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. Calgary 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 resist.
“Smile, damn it, smile,” says a card in a real estate window. There, that’s Edmonton.
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 Edmonton 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 eye.
The real estate agent of Edmonton 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 Edmonton. 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 appearance.
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 Edmonton by 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. Edmonton 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 Strathcona.
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.
Edmonton is sure of itself. Geography, experience, eyesight and common sense teach content.
A married daughter, leaving her father at the Edmonton 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 Edmonton’s 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.