U of C instructor’s book chosen for city

By Colin Minor

This month Calgarians are urged to come together and engage with their history through reading one book, Mavericks — An Incorrigible History of Alberta, by University of Calgary creative writing professor Aritha van Herk, has been chosen as the first One Book, One Calgary reading project.

One Book, One Calgary was established to promote a city-wide discussion of the past, present and future. Similar programs exist across North America.

“It is a daunting task to pick a first book for this,” said Calgary Public Library community services manager Cathy Freer-Leszczynski. “It is a challenging book. It is not an easy read, but it is the ideas that are inherent in the book that we felt best portrayed what we wanted to achieve with this program in our first year.”

One Book, One Calgary is a collaboration between the CPL, the U of C, Calgary Parks and the Calgary Herald with support from the municipal and provincial government.

Calgary Parks are celebrating their 100th anniversary and partnering with the CPL in a geocaching program. GPS units loaded with historical points are available to borrow free of charge at all library branches.

“What I hope people take away when they read Mavericks is how interesting our history is,” said author van Herk. “I don’t need to write fiction, Alberta history is crazy stuff. You couldn’t make it up, it really is. If you put it in a novel people would say it’s not humanly possible and it’s real.”

Van Herk believes that learning Calgary’s stories will help Calgarians new and old better understand their city. It took van Herk three years with significant time spent in the Glenbow Museum archives to research and write Mavericks.

“The first thing I did was read my face off. I read everything that had been written about Alberta’s history. I read a lot of primary materials, diaries, local histories,” said van Herk. “It’s a bit overwhelming. I mean history books are overwhelming at the best of times but Alberta’s history is pretty crazy so you want to be sure you got it right.”

Van Herk does not expect people to read the book cover to cover. She encourages Calgarians to read sections that interest them personally.

“I hope that people take away a sense that we don’t live in a dull, white bread city,” she said. “We live in a place that is full of tall tales and that is in many ways a product of those great stories.”

In Mavericks, van Herk explains the Calgarian phenomenon of speeding on Deerfoot or Crowchild Trail. Many Calgary roads are named after the ancient native trails they were built upon. The natives who lived here before Europeans loved riding fast horses more than anything explained van Herk.

“You know what? That gets in the wind, that old Chinook wind picks that up, carries it 200 years later and you know what? We still love driving fast.”

Jay Michi read Mavericks as an undergraduate at the U of C. He enjoyed both the book and taking friends to see the Glenbow Museum exhibit adapted from it.

“I think very few people are able to name 10 famous Albertans so One Book, One Calgary would obviously help improve our collective knowledge and understanding of the people in Alberta that make up the historical tapestry,” said Michi.

“People are amazed by the amount of very interesting characters that there are and the variety of places that people have come from to Alberta and made a difference here and made their homes here,” said Glenbow Museum senior curator of cultural history Lorain Lounsberry, “Each one takes away something different because everyone is bringing something different to it.”

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