Archive for the ‘Jack Semple’ Tag

A Sense of Home in the Heartland   1 comment

I took this in Moose Jaw on a trip back a few years ago.

I took this in Moose Jaw on a trip back a few years ago.

Last weekend I gave a reading and conducted a workshop at the Rascals, Rogues and Outlaws Writers’ Conference presented by the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild and the University of Saskatchewan at the U of S in Saskatoon. My fellow readers were novelists Catherine Bush from Toronto and Rosemary Nixon from Calgary (currently living in Saskatoon) and poet Alex Porco who now hangs his hat in North Carolina. I believe we all acquitted ourselves admirably and those in attendance seemed to come away with something to think about. Maybe even some of them were inspired by what they saw on stage to go home and take another shot at writing the Great Canadian Novel.

Beyond the conference itself, the weekend hit at me at a deeper level, at more or less a patriotic or nationalistic level, as for me in going back to Saskatchewan, I was going back home. Of course I’m from Regina, the Capitol, the Athens of Saskatchewan, and as such am normally bound by the traditions of the province to sneer at Saskatoon, but in this instance I was only too happy to dispense with that rather empty ritual. (Just this once, mind you.)

I am of the finest Saskatchewan pedigree. My father’s people came over from England in the very early days of the 20th Century. Grandpa, whom I never met, set up a forge in the bucolically-named town of Maryfield in the south-eastern part of the province. My mother’s people had homesteaded around the same time in the Alsask region. My grandma and grandpa eventually bought a farm in the Broadview area and that’s where my mother was raised.

My mom’s dad, William Hunter, was said to have been a mover and a shaker in the formation of the CCF Party, precursor to the NDP. I once heard a rumour that the Regina Manifesto was actually typed on his typewriter, but I have no way of proving that.  You can see I came by my politics honestly.

By the time my sister and brothers and I came along, our mom and dad were living in the old north end of Regina, in the shadow of Taylor Field. Well, two blocks away. When they moved in, it was a prosperous working class (with pretensions to middle class) neighbourhood. By the time they moved out, down to the south end, it was called by Maclean’s Magazine the worst neighbourhood in Canada. Well, things change.

When I was in university, at the University of Regina, I was a pretentious, mustachioed, tweed-clad, pipe-smoking twit with no greater dream than to get the hell out of Regina and move to Toronto. And I did that. I went to York University and got myself an MFA in playwriting and dramaturgy at York University.

It grieves me, as a westerner at heart, to say that I had a great time in Toronto and that I believe it’s one of the best cities anywhere, in any country. But it really is a wonderful place, at least it was back in the ‘80’s. And yet, I looked around me one day, actually I looked above me, and I couldn’t see the sky, and I realized I hadn’t seen it for some time. So I moved back home in the late 1980’s.  Really, on account of the sky.

I tried to make a go of it, but those were disasterous times for Saskatchewan economically.  I tried to make it but I just couldn’t. So when I had an offer to have a play of mine produced in Calgary, I did like hundreds of thousands (yes, literally) of my fellow Saskatchewanians have done over the decades and took the Trans Canada west to Calgary. And here I have been now for 20 years.

Where does the time go?

Coming to Calgary led to two of the best writing gigs in the country, at the time. First, as playwright in residence at Alberta Theatre Projects and then as a feature columnist for the Calgary Herald. (Sadly, neither really exists anymore, in quite the same way. This blog is in many ways a continuation of that column. I haven’t figured out how to get them to pay me for it, though.)

When I began at the Herald, my publisher told me there are over 300,000 people in Calgary originally from Saskatchewan. It’s often referred to as Saskatchewan’s biggest city. “So govern yourself accordingly,” he said. And I did. I wrote primarily to a Saskatchewan audience. Well, pan-prairie on any account. But don’t get me wrong. I never would have had the type of career I’ve had if I hadn’t come to Calgary when I did. I was in the right place at the right time.

I have many good friends in Calgary and I love the city. It drives me nuts sometimes, but any city will do that. It’s a great city, a great place to live.  After all, 300,000 of us Saskatchewan immigrants can’t be wrong.

Still, in going back to the homeland, something tugs at the heartstrings, some kind of inherent sense of kinship, of belonging, that exists quite beneath the realm of thought or awareness. I suppose no matter where you grew up, you feel it when you get back to your original home.

It’s healthy, I think, to celebrate that feeling. I always say, if you want to know where your home is, look at your health card. That will tell you all you need to know. But when I look to my heart, I know that my true home will always lie a few hundred miles east of here.

There’s a poem that I made from a monologue from a play of mine that I meant to read on the weekend, but that I never got around to. Don’t worry, I’m not about to keel over and die, at least I hope not, but the poem sums up the elegiac feeling I’m referring to. So here it is again. (Looking over at my poetry page, I am reminded I read this as part of my eulogy for my mother at her funeral a few years back.)


It’s an issue of space.

You start out on the farm,

That great, vast prairie

To run and tumble in

The endless horizon

And the great dome of the sky

Boundless, unfettered.

But your mother calls you back

Back into the house

And it’s a big fine house

With many rooms

Sheltering a family, a home.

And then you muddle around and

The space around you expands and

Contracts to the seasons of your life

Your enterprise.

Yet at a certain point

You feel the walls begin

To close in around you

From a house

To an apartment

To a room in a home

Until finally

You are left

In just the smallest of spaces

A wooden box

And the prairie opens up

And you are lowered down into it

Home again

The circle complete.


Thanks for reading.

Here’s my old buddy Jack Semple, one of Saskatchewan and Canada’s finest musicians. This is from the Ironwood here in Calgary, but he still lives back home. We went to Scott Collegiate together, back in the day.

Exporting Alberta Art   4 comments

While it may be depressing for some of us that Alberta’s leading cultural export right now is probably Nickelback, Alberta is known for many artists working in many fields around the world.

A number of years ago, my daughter Hanna and I were in New York where we saw a performance of Calgary’s Old Trout’s Famous Puppet Death Scenes at the Public Theatre. I wrote about that event in my column in the Calgary Herald and I know many people were surprised to learn about this production taking place in the Big Apple.

Back then, there were people in Calgary and perhaps throughout the province who thought we were still importing our art from exotic places like Toronto, New York and London. While there’s still a bit of that going on, it hasn’t really been that way for 20 years or so.

Alberta art of all kinds is of a high enough quality to export. But it doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of hard work and some financial support and so I’d like to talk about an upcoming event that is near to my heart in many ways.

Every year, an organization called the Folk Alliance International puts on a conference for musicians and other individuals from all areas of music presentation to attend and participate in  —  and indeed to showcase their talents. Last year the event took place in Memphis, Tennessee and  this year it is being held in Toronto.

My friend Stewart Chyz (a fellow Saskatchewan expat) has been involved with this event through the Bow Valley Music Club, a great organization that, among other things,  brought in Jack Semple  last season . (Jack is another Saskatchewan boy, but not an expat, he still lives there. He and I went to high school together in Regina back in the day. But that’s another story for another day.) BVMC puts on 10 concerts a year at the Strathcona Community Centre. Full details can be found on their website,

The goal of the club is to help offset the costs incurred by Alberta musicians who wish to attend this event. Through their fundraising efforts, the club pays for at least a portion of the registration fees as well as providing presentation and showcase rooms for our musicians to perform in. The goal of course it to create awareness and even work for our artists outside of Alberta.

This idea of cultural exportation is important to our image in other parts of Canada and beyond; for providing a real sense of what is happening here for many people whose image of Alberta dates back to the 1920’s.

To help raise some funds for this event, Stewart has very generously (ie, out of his own pocket) produced a compilation CD called Toronto Bound, featuring songs by many of this year’s participants. These are no slouches on this disc – they are some of our finest musicians, including Ralph Boyd Johnson, Steve Pineo and Jenny Allen, to name but three.

Stewart isn’t looking to make his money back for himself, but he is looking to sell as many CD’s as he can to support this venture. One way to get them is through the BVMC website or through their Facebook page, but an even better way is to pick one up at the Ironwood on Sunday, October 21, from 2 – 6 PM, where there will be live entertainment, of course, including Pear, Steve Pineo, The Jenny Allen Trio and  John Wort Hannam.

The Ironwood is located at 1229 9th Avenue S.E. in Inglewood. It’s 20 bucks to get in, another 20 for a CD. In this way you can help support Alberta musicians showcase their talents in Toronto early next year.

PS. If you want to pick up a copy of the disc and support this worthy cause, they are available for $20.00 at Heritage Poster and Music on the NW corner of 11th Ave. and 14th St. SW.

Thanks for reading. I leave with you a little snippet from the Trouts . . .

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