Cool Jobs in Calgary



Let’s be honest: for many of us, showing up to work every day is a dreaded affair — something we do to simply pay the bills.

As the workday slowly clicks by, we dream about winning the lottery, or perhaps lounging on a tropical beach, stress-free, sipping on a cocktail with one of those funny little umbrellas.

And yet, for some of us, showing up to work isn’t that bad. In fact, you might even say it rocks. (Yes, it’s true: dream jobs do exist.) On the other hand, mopping up crime scenes, hunting mice or busting bad parkers might seem like the worst job ever, but they aren’t all bad, and some people even love doing them.

Cool Job: Fire Eater

As a sideshow performer, Carisa Hendrix does everything from eating fire to walking on broken glass and hammering nails into her face

When I was about 15 years old, I was this insanely nerdy volunteer superstar. I worked for five or six different youth volunteer organizations, and one of them was the Abilities Arts Festival. There was a gentleman there, who was deaf, and he came to the festival, needing a little bit of help. We got to know each other and, eventually, I found out he was a sideshow performer in Europe. We trained together for a few months. I started meeting other people and got into magic. When I was 18, a magician spotted me at one of my shows. I started working with him as a magician’s assistant and then with another magician and, eventually, I thought, I can do magic, so I started to put together some tricks of my own.

I moved out of my parents house and ended up moving in with a friend, and I felt powerless. I was a nerdy little girl, I didn’t have a lot of friends. The friends that I did have were amazing, but I just kind of felt that I didn’t have my place in the world. With entertainment, it gave me an outlet, where I could be impressive, I could be interesting, I could be part of this new community. Even when I was 16, when I would do a show, I would go backstage and the dancing girls and the magicians and all those people would talk to me. There was a sense that we were all in this together.

There’s a lot of competition for fire eaters, but not a lot for sideshow performers, which is how I define myself. Fire performance isn’t seen as high an art form as sideshow or magic. There’s lots of work for sideshow performers. Demonica shows, which are these sort of Goth burlesque shows. There’s the tattoo convention, Screamworks, Halloween and there’s a significant amount of corporate work and parties.

Calgary is interested in different kinds of entertainment. I do sideshow stuff for weirder kinds of organizations; I even did a Christmas party for car mechanics. They wanted something a little sexy, so I ate fire, I walked on broken glass and I hammered three-and-a-half-inch autopsy pins into my face.

The coolest part of my job is that I get to eat fire; it was the first thing that I ever learned how to do. I love it more than anything. I would do it for free; it’s amazing that I get to do it and get paid for it and maintain a lifestyle I want. I want to be the best at everything that I love.

I want to be considered the world’s best fire eater. I want to elevate the entire art form, I want to take magic, sideshow and fire arts and make it into one performance style that’s crazy and new, very Nouveau Circus. —as told to Tracy Johnson

Cool Job: Stylist and Personal Shopper

One of Calgary’s premier stylists, Leah Van Loon’s work has taken her to a glacier in the Yukon for a shoot that had models driving dogsleds

Barbie never got to go anywhere when I was a kid. She would get dressed, she would leave with Ken in the Corvette and then she would come back and have to get dressed for something else. It was a very quick party. It was always more about getting ready. It turned out I was putting together outfits at age seven.

When I was in my 20s, I thought about being a fashion designer. But I realized that I don’t like making things. I like putting things together, and that’s what fashion styling is. I started in theatre. I did everything from making hats to costume design for plays. I soon realized there wasn’t any money in theatre, but there was a film industry that did pay money. I pursued that and was lucky that there were people who were willing to take me on as a trainee. I was exposed to every job on a film set, from the costume designer right down to set supervision and the wardrobe truck. I was also fortunate to hit it off with a costume designer and was invited to Los Angeles to spend some time with her, seeing how the business works there.

They were opportunities I was lucky to have. I’ve worked with many different stylists from as far away as Germany, which allowed me to learn how different people work. I’ve flown in a helicopter to the top of a glacier in the Yukon to shoot models driving dogsleds. I’ve been in places not generally open to the public and done styling in places like New York.

I’ve done a lot of different types of styling, including costume work for independent film, a commercial for Disney, a print campaign for Energizer, fashion editorial for magazines, and commercial art direction. And all through that I do fashion shows and personal styling. Personal styling is a one-on-one type of thing. Some people need help getting one specific look for an important event, while others want a whole makeover and shopping sessions. It is entirely dependent on the client and what she or he requires.

The best thing about my job is that I get paid to shop. Not many people can handle shopping for eight to 12 hours at a time, or searching the malls for something really specific. The job title of stylist is something fairly new. I first heard about it in the ’90s. If you’re interested, try to work with people already in the business as that is the best way to learn. At the very least, speak with professionals about their work and find out if it is right for you. Many people think it is a glamorous job but, I assure you, it is 95 per cent schlepping stuff around. —as told to Tracy Johnson

Cool Job: Brewmaster

Through his work with Big Rock Brewery, Paul Gautreau has created beers including XO lager, Gopher lager and Lime Light lager

I started at Big Rock in February 1986 on the end of the bottle line, stacking cases, and worked my way through all the different positions in the brewery. I was made brewmaster in March 2007.

I was in the navy, so I spent a lot of time overseas. I tried a lot of beers in Europe and I started to develop a palate and an understanding of what beer should taste like. I brought that home to Calgary and tried to reproduce those things in my basement. I turned into a bit of a beer geek at that time. I built my own machinery and brewing equipment and experimented with malts and hops and different ingredients.

That was in the mid-1980s and there weren’t a lot of craft breweries around. It was so exciting for me seeing Big Rock pop up right in the city I’m living in, while I’m trying to produce those same kinds of beers in my basement. So I came knocking on their door. I didn’t give them any choice; I just kept coming and coming. I was down there three times a week until they hired me.

To get my accreditation as a brewmaster, I did a two-year program with The Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London, England. Brewing is a science. There’s a lot of microbiology and chemistry — yeast metabolism, working with enzymes. To create a new beer, I’ll start off in a certain style. I’ll throw in my version of what the flavours might be, the alcohol, the hopping, the body. I’ll create that first in my mind, and then I do the calculations on things like colour, alcohol, CO2­­ , flavour and bitterness. I work it out on paper to get a general look at it. Then I’ll do some tighter calculations to formulate it into an actual recipe. Then we’ll do some trials and do our “sensory analysis,” because taste is the most-important analysis you can do on a beer.

I taste beer off and on throughout the day. In the mornings, I come in and taste the beers that are being produced and packaged that day and I keep up to date with the condition of the product all the way through. There’s a tasting panel that’s held every day at 11 o’clock. If we’re creating something new, everybody’s involved. We’ll put it on tap and the boys from the brewery, people in marketing and sales, they’re all free to try it.

XO lager has my stamp on it. I also created Winter Spice ale, Gopher lager and Lime Light lager. We have an innovation brewery on site where we’re producing funky craft beers and I’ve created quite a few of those: Dunkelweizen, Scottish Heavy ale, a smoked Rauschbier, fruit beer.

I have to pinch myself sometimes. I just wanted to do this because I loved it. I never thought I’d become the brewmaster. I enjoy being here. I enjoy the people. I’m proud of the product we put out, I’m proud of the company. What else could a person want? —as told to Shelley Arnusch

Cool Job: Book Picker

Anne Marie Fryer’s work with the Calgary Public Library has her mulling through some of the hottest and most controversial titles to see what books the library will put on its shelves 

I’ve always loved the public library. The first time I remember using the library was when I was eight years old. My father took me to the semi-trailer that pulled up in Sudbury, Ont., and that’s how we got our books. I especially remember large-format picture books of Babar the Elephant and Madeline. Those titles have enduring value since they are still on our shelves today, being read by new generations of children.

You shouldn’t have to buy everything; you should be able to borrow and give back — that whole concept of sharing resources. I believe that the public library is a great “leveller” of the playing field in a democracy, as well as a protector of intellectual freedom. We want everyone in our community, regardless of income, status and education to be empowered to live the best life they can and to have access to information, whether that’s for a school project or how to cut your child’s hair or how to fix your car.

I graduated from university with a Bachelor’s in History and there weren’t a lot of historian jobs out there. I wanted to do something interesting, so I did a Masters in Library Science. I came to Calgary and worked at the Macleod Branch, which doesn’t exist anymore.

I have spent 20-some years finding out what people like and what people don’t like. For example, in Calgary, outdoor books — on hiking, climbing and mountaineering — are hugely popular. It never ceases to amaze me how varied people’s interests are.

The library almost always buys pre-publication. We’re always looking at catalogues, and we also use review journals, and the number is huge. The library’s budget for all material is $7.5 million a year. Discovering what speaks to our varied constituent groups involves not only fielding specific questions and requests but also using hard data, such as how often books on, for example, kayaking get checked out.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to some wonderful authors like David Suzuki and Philip Pullman, who wrote The Golden Compass. When I met Pullman, his books had generated some controversy regarding their treatment of organized religion. I also met Robert Munsch long before he was a headliner; he did some wonderful storytelling in the library.

I really enjoyed the buzz around the Harry Potter books, which were always subject to a publisher’s embargo that really amped up the excitement on the release of each title. It was difficult, but we always managed to keep the Library copies under lock and key until the appointed time that they could be released to our customers.

For me, finding out about “hot” new books well in advance of their actual publication is, well, cool, especially if they are hyped to be groundbreaking. Getting a “hot” galley of a new title in my hand is like opening a birthday present!

I think the cool part of my job is buying for the vast array of interests of our public, whether it’s a book on hiking the West Coast Trail or a DVD on sharks — my own curiosity is sparked. Perhaps my job is a facilitator of curiosity? —as told to Tracy Johnson

Cool Job: Trail Guide

As an owner and operator with Moose Mountain Adventures, Neil MacLaine’s workplace is the beautiful mountain trails of Alberta

I always enjoyed adventure sports: mountain climbing, whitewater canoeing, skiing and things like that. When I was in the army they posted me to Wainwright, Alta., where I was a long way from mountains and rivers.

Rather than get all depressed, I went down to the local auction and bought myself a green-broke horse for $500. It sparked a fire and I decided I really enjoyed horses. When I was posted to Calgary, I bought property in the foothills so I could keep horses in my life.

When the base closed in Calgary, I was faced with the question of whether I wanted to follow the army to Edmonton, or stay where I was, so I got out of the army. The idea of guiding adventure trips appealed to me and was there in the back of my mind. I had no idea how to make a living doing it, but I guess over the last 20 yearsI figured it out.

I’m doing for a living what other people do for a holiday. When my family and I take holidays, we go on riding tours in Spain or Ireland or other parts of the world. It’s something I really enjoy, spending time on a horse in beautiful places. Everybody [in my life] from my wife to my best friends are people I met on rides. You spend enough time around the fire, out on the trail together, it’s very easy for a friendship to develop.

The trips I enjoy most are the multi-day ones because you get into more-dramatic countryside and, over time, you get to know people better. Most of our trips take place in the Upper Elbow and Upper Sheep areas of Kananaskis, and I’d say without hesitation that’s some of the best horseback riding country in the world. But we also do trips that take us further afield, across Southern Alberta along the Milk River and up into the Cypress Hills.

The Prairies have a beauty all their own ... You feel like you’re discovering something for the first time. You ride over a ridge and look down into an empty coulee, and it’s easy to imagine seeing Sitting Bull and 5,000 Sioux because it just hasn’t changed.

Seeing wildlife up close really makes the ride for me. Animals like deer or moose aren’t alarmed by horses. They just look at them and think, “There goes a giant deer with a parasite on its back.” You can get quite close.

The people who come on rides with us, you can tell this would be their dream lifestyle. They’re making their money in some other field, but they spend it by riding in the mountains. The smiles on their faces and the conversations around the fire tell you they’re envious. Frankly, I’d be jealous of me, too. —as told to Shelley Arnusch

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