Next weekend marks the return of Jane’s Walks to Calgary, where knowledgeable guides expose locals to interesting aspects of their cities. For Calgary, there are dozens of Jane’s walks to choose from, but only one promises to take you through a literary landscape as well as a real one. Writing the City, a walk led by local writer Shaun Hunter, takes Jane’s-walkers on a trip through the city of Calgary as seen through the pages of writers through the years.
Hunter first came to the idea two years ago when she gave similar walk during a nonfiction writing conference and found there was a lot more to Calgary’s bibliography than she’d first thought. “In researching those few blocks I could not believe what I had found,” she says. “That gave me momentum to do a Jane’s Walk the following year.”
Though we won’t give everything away, here are three of the encounters you can look forward to in Writing the City:
Bruce Hunter at the Olympic Plaza
Bruce Hunter (no relation) is a Canadian novelist and poet who grew up in Calgary in the 1960s, and a number of his stories make references to places around the city. One story evokes the block where Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza now stand, before it was all torn down and rebuilt in the late 1970s.
Photo courtesy of the Calgary Public Library Archive
The Strand theatre is one of many now-defunct institutions on Stephen Avenue mentioned in Calgary literature, including Bruce Hunter’s linked story collection Country Music Country.
Robert Kroesch at the Old Courthouse
Robert Kroetsch, an Albertan writer who taught at the University of Calgary for a number of years, was known for expounding the virtues of Albertan storytelling. His 1983 novel Alibi, about a millionaire oilman with an obsession for collections, is loosely based on the life of Calgarian Eric Harvie, whose collection of art and artifacts was the seed for the Glenbow Museum.
Nancy Huston by the Old Eaton’s Building
Nancy Huston, an ex-pat Calgarian, wrote a novel called Plainsong that came out in the early 90s. The novel’s protagonist, was a thwarted artists and intellectual born in 1900, lives through the depression in Calgary, suffering under a pioneer mentality that proved toxic for him. Many scenes feature Stephen Avenue as it used to be, Eaton’s and all.
The Writing In The City Jane’s Walk is May 7 at 10 a.m., beginning at Harley Hotchkiss Gardens. For more information, visit janeswalk.org. For more of Shaun Hunter’s literary history of Calgary, visit shaunhunter.ca.