If you went to junior high and high school in Alberta, you’ve probably had your fair share of this province’s history beaten into you — although whether it is stuck or not is a different matter entirely. Even at the Glenbow museum, Alberta’s history is presented in a very certain, impersonal way. But a current Glenbow exhibit, which will be running into the spring, titled No Roads Here: Corb Lund’s Alberta, presents the history of our province in a different way. Of course, you will be interested if you are a Corb Lund fan, as Lund himself curated the exhibit. If you are curious about seeing a different side of Albertan history, albeit one that still involves plenty of cowboys, the exhibit is worth visiting. The exhibit isn’t especially large though, so don’t go expecting to spend three hours there — the size is the only disappointing part.
In the exhibit, eight of Corb Lund’s songs are brought into the material world so fans can gain a more in-depth appreciation and understanding of old favourites. “No Roads Here” is the flagship song of the exhibit, because it loosely traces Lund’s own family history. Two-thirds of the pieces on display are from the Glenbow archives and about one-third is from Lund’s family’s personal collection. The “Horse Doctor, Come Quick” display shows the history and importance of veterinarians, along with some tools they used. Lund’s father was a veterinarian, and Lund writes at the entrance that his father helped root him in Western life and history, and would have enjoyed working with him on the exhibit.
Alberta’s two periods with prohibition — 1873–91, when the area was still the North West Territory, and 1916–24 when it was a new province — are related to “Five Dollar Bill.” Lund alludes to the fact that his grandfathers, who lived near the border of Alberta and Montana, might have taken part in the bootlegging that was popular from 1916–33. Rodeo in Alberta is brought to life with a photo of 10-year-old Lund riding a steer with a priceless expression on his face. “A Game In Town Like This” has a trick pair of dice from the family’s collection that only roll seven. Both sides of Lund’s family have history in the Mormon migration from Utah to Alberta which settled the town of Cardston, and “Brother Brigham, Brother Young” is the song that accompanies this display.
A history of Alberta would be incomplete without a mention of the energy sector, or how we are “pulling dragons from the ground” as Lund writes in the song “Roughest Neck Around.” But the success of the energy industry is tempered by the final message in the exhibit: how more conservation efforts are needed to abate the deadly clash between Alberta’s wilderness with our modern civilization, as anyone who has listened to “The Truth Comes Out” will know.
Of course, a strong sense of pride and love for Alberta comes out in Lund’s music, so curating an exhibit to show fans the physical side of the stories that are woven into his music seems natural. There are notes written by Lund throughout the exhibit, which adds a personal touch. You see Alberta through the eyes and mind of an artist who is strongly rooted to and aware of the history of our province, a history that we are losing touch with in the busy metropolis that is Calgary today.