In the cocaine-streaked corridors of Calgary's East Village the ideas that formed the foundation of the most powerful and unquestioned administration in the history of organized government were born. As the story goes, a then-much-younger Ralph Klein stewed in bars such as the King Eddy and St. Louis hotel for years, gnashing his teeth at the latest Peter Lougheed blunder and grinding Players Light cigarettes into the table with terrifying repetition. Slowly, over many years and many thousand gallons of Molson Canadian, Klein found the courage to voice his dissent--and as his boozy rhetoric drowned out the greatest of blues legends, he accumulated the followers that would aid his stunning ascent to power.
Thirty-odd years later, the birthplaces of Klein Conservatism still stand defiant against the ravages of time. The King Eddy has lost a little lustre and the Cecil is worn (almost imperceptibly) around the edges. But you can still smell Klein. Every sticky brass rail, square inch of carpet and busted toilet roll dispenser whispers tales of his glorious rise to power--if one only listens carefully enough.
The Klein legend is not lost on today's youth; it is passed from one generation to the next in reverent tones. With these stories fresh in their minds, a dozen young student journalists recently braved the mean streets of Calgary's worst neighbourhoods to discover for themselves the sights and sounds that gave birth to the leader and the legend that is Ralph Klein.
8:35 p.m. St. Louis Hotel
On this night, we discovered the St. Louis had everything an aspiring political leader could ask for--synthetic potato wedges, cheap alcohol and a sparse crowd from which ideological opposition is limited to the occasional muffled belch. In such dark surroundings, it isn't hard to picture Klein finding the regulars at worse indifferent to his firebrand and daily condemnations of the incumbent government. And not only did we find the Louis' vaulted ceilings and intimate tables ideal for voicing one's radical ideas, but the violent nature of certain patrons must have reinforced to Klein the dissuasive effect the cost of private health care has on those brandishing a broken beer glass.
10:02 p.m. King Eddy Hotel
According to longtime employees, King Ralph spent more time in the King Eddy than any patron since Jimmy Carleton (local celebrity and future mayor Chad Saunders has since surpassed them both). And it isn't hard to see why--this softly-lit palace offers privacy and the cheapest alcohol short of distilling it yourself. Student journalists and fiscally conservative leaders alike can relax at the Eddy--there ain't nothing quite like the blues to make you forget just how much money (or how little, depending on your level of education) goes to post-secondary in this province. But don't let the friendly bar staff fool you--the Eddy is as suitable to plotting coup d'etats as any Left Bank café or Harlem pastry shop. In fact, it is rumoured that in the bowels of the Eddy now-famous Kleinisms such as the "Alberta Advantage" and "Slash and Burn Fiscal Management" were coined. Yes, the Eddy is a place where dreams are kindled and revolutions born. These days, one never knows who might be slowly biding their time in the Eddy--that might just be a future Prime Minister jackknifed over a toilet with his head split open and covered in cess.
11:50 p.m. Cecil Hotel
As the story goes, Klein liked to wind down his evenings at the Cecil Hotel. While the beer may be watered-down at the Cecil, the atmosphere is hyper-concentrated. It's like eating frozen Hi-C right from the can, and I think we all know there ain't nothing wrong with that. The later it gets at the Cecil, the better--her charm grows with every passing hour. Late, late nights are known for a number of unique events--massive amounts of unwanted sexual attention, swarms of flies and blocked-up toilets chief among them. It occurred to us that these conditions scream "hotbed of future political leaders," for if you can't develop leadership skills under these circumstances, where can you? This place will truly test one's resolve. One must admire Klein for his adversity under such conditions.
As the night lurched to a close, one dozen student journalists gazed around at the late-night circus and drank in the scenery as well as a few high-fat creamers. It is safe to say that, to a person, we all felt prouder to be Albertan than in any other point to date in our wonderful, wonderful lives.