As I was driving away from Calgary it started to rain.
I was on my “C Canada tour,” promoting my new book in Cochrane, Calgary, and Cranbrook. The Calgary event was a reading at Pages — a funky bookstore in the type of funky neighbourhood that doesn’t exist in the minds-eye view most Canadians have of the city best known for hosting its annual Stampede.
Calgary’s mayor busts stereotypes the way their champion rodeo riders bust broncs. If you don’t know who their Mayor is — and at this point that’s hard to imagine — try to picture what a Calgary Mayor would look like. I’m thinking you’ve conjured up an image of Rob Ford with a stetson and a stogie, as opposed to the 41-year old Muslim who actually fills the job, and who has served as Grand Marshal in the city’s Gay Pride Parade and recently stayed up 43 straight hours to help flood victims.
Pages is in a neighbourhood known as Kensington that isn’t quite as funky as the one CBC’s King made famous in Toronto. It’s the type of bookstore every city in the world ought to have and so few still do, with the kind of idiosyncratic, mind-catching mix that transforms browsers into readers and readers into hermits. One of my literary heroes, John Vaillant, read at pages the night before I arrived. The night I was there, a couple of Alberta authors — Art Norris (Succession) and Stephen J. Hunt (The White Guy: A Field Guide) — showed up to cheer me on.
The Alberta cultural scene is like that. I’ve never been anywhere else where the theatre community not only embraces strangers, but does all they can to help those people succeed and, if they want to, move to Alberta and become part of the gang. I’ve been told the music scene is equally welcoming.
The weather was stunning as I arrived in Cranbrook for Sam Steele Days. I didn’t realize, until I received an email from the friend I’d stayed with in Cochrane, that the rain that started the night I’d left Calgary had never stopped. The city was practically underwater. My friend and his family had voluntarily evacuated the home I’d stayed in two nights before.
Since water and books don’t mix, I checked to find out if Pages was okay and was relieved to hear they’d survived the floods intact. Another local bookstore wasn’t so lucky. Tom Williams Books — a store specializing in rare and second-hand publications – was literally swamped. Their entire inventory was destroyed.
A group known as Alberta Arts Flood Rebuild estimates that the cultural community of southern Alberta took a hit of close to $3 million or, by arts standards, more funding than most cultural organizations will see in a decade. AAFR is looking to raise $500,000 to help the cultural community deal with “damaged or destroyed venues, offices and homes; loss of equipment or supplies vital to their livelihoods; cancelled contracts, refunded tickets and other lost revenue due to cancelled events.”
I know Alberta is where Canada keeps all the money, but it’s tough to believe that, as the province rebuilds infrastructure — and structures — cultural funding will be at the top of the to-do list.
Based on my experience with the generosity of Albertans, my guess is that, if this had happened to anywhere else in Canada, they’d be the first ones writing cheques to help out — even the artists there, who aren’t any richer than the artists anywhere else in the country. So if you can send a few dollars, or spread the word to your friends via social media, here’s the link to the fundraising campaign again: Alberta Arts Flood Rebuild.
Check out this video for more info: