Archive for the ‘Regina’ 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.

Easter, circa 1966   Leave a comment

"I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."

One of my jobs these days is teaching what I would call “culturization” to a class of internationally educated professionals at a place called Alberta Business and Educational Services.  (Please see my post from last August, Work Work Work.) While we focus mainly on the English Language, we also spend a lot of time talking about the culture these new Canadians find themselves in.  Naturally this week we spent some time talking about Easter, which in turn got me thinking about Good Fridays and Easters past and how it was celebrated in this part of Canada when I was a child.

The religious aspect is very different now from when I was a kid, say 9 years old as I was in 1966, whereas the secular side seems pretty much the same. No big surprise there, as we have changed from a fairly religious society into a secular one over the course of my lifetime.

I was raised in an Anglican household which is hardly charismatic or fundamentalist, but even so I remember Good Friday being a very serious day. Certainly in my early years we attended church on Good Friday, although that seemed to taper off as I got into my teens. Well let’s face it, the whole thing tapered off when I got into my teens. The deal made was that after confirmation, around 13 or so, you could make up your own mind, and so like most of my friends, I made up my mind not to go anymore.

If I needed any “confirmation” that I was on the right track, it came when I got to college (around 1976) and read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  We all read it back then, us artsy types, as we shifted our sense of the holy from religion to art.  That book, maybe more than any other, influenced my decision to spend my life in the realm of aesthetics. Back in 1976, such a pursuit precluded religion of any description. At least for many of us it did. I don’t think much has happened to change that in the last 40 years or so.

And yet I remember with some lucidity St. Peter’s Anglican Church in the old north end of Regina on Good Friday as it was in the 1960’s. Obviously there was no theatrical tradition in Regina at that time to influence my decision years later to become a playwright (the Globe Theatre, like so many Canadian theatres, was founded in the early 1970’s), but the church provided plenty of dramatics. The image I remember most vividly was the black crepe that covered all of the crosses and other iconography on Good Friday morning.  “Somber” doesn’t begin to evoke the feeling it helped create in the church for that particular service. Although my mother was hardly strict, even at a young age I could tell that unwarranted displays of levity would not be appropriate and would be dealt with severely. I’m not sure that I was able to grasp the religious or theological significance of the day, but I knew something good was not happening, which in my youth made me question why on earth they called it “good” Friday in the first place.

But then things got turned around in a few days, thanks mostly the intervention of the secular component of the holiday, the Easter Bunny. This was Santa Clause’s leporine counterpart who as I understood it eschewed a reindeer-powered contrivance and simply hopped from house to house delivering chocolate bunnies and chickens and jelly beans and the like to all good children, everywhere! (We had no idea at the time that other children elsewhere in the world weren’t just like us.) He even took the time to hide them in shoes and under pillows and other places that were so clever some years we’d be still be finding stale confections well into the summer – the piano bench! My baseball glove!

It may not seem much but in those days, citizens of this part of the word did not regularly stuff themselves with sugar-based edibles. Chocolate was still something of a special treat. I read somewhere that the average serving of a Coke around that time was 8 ounces, and you might have one only a few times a week. Nowadays an average Big Gulp, a staple of some daily diets, is something like 32 ounces. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, or the slushy-berg.  (The need North Americans have developed for sugar is beyond the scope of this post, to put it mildly.)

On any account, Easter came. I’m not sure when I was young if I really understood the concept of resurrection – I probably didn’t understand the concept of death, if I even do now – but importantly, beyond the religious aspect, it came with chocolate and yes, the church was transformed, the black cloth all gone, flowers everywhere, the congregation belting out a wobbly Halleluiah Chorus, hugs and handshakes all round and even the minister was smiling down on us; back home some new clothes to wear, the big meal prepared, the Lenten abstinence having come to an end so the wine was flowing (but not too much!), the air blue with cigarette smoke and pipe smoke, my brother still alive and my grandma arriving and slipping a quarter into my hand which in those days went a long way at the candy bar or, if one was of a literary bent, and being already overburdened with chocolate, towards the purchase of two Archie Comics . . .

Easter truly was a time of joy.

Thanks for reading . . . .


%d bloggers like this: