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Leo Gervais: The 'G-spot'
Leo Gervais
Leo Gervais
teaches journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. He can be reached at gervaislj@sympatico.ca.
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His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 08.18.04
Montreal

LEO GERVAIS

A trip West, through God's Country

"Wow..." she said, taking a deep breath, not quite believing the immense sight unfolding before her eyes. "That's great."

coupleAnd so the voyage through the Canadian Rockies began for my new wife Hetty and me, a journey that would serve to confirm a popular cliché that pisses off the evangelical flock back East every time --this is God's country.

We had arrived three days earlier in Calgary, Alberta, a place where reminders of the 1988 Olympics and the ever-present oil business dot the landscape. Thanks to the recent oil boom Alberta has no provincial tax, something which Calgarians were happy to point out to two Quebecers who hail from the most taxed jurisdiction in North America.

Calgary is a surprisingly wonderful city to walk in, and the growing population has created a demand for better restaurants and amenities, as well as a splendid system of bike trails and walking paths.

This is now a city of walkers, bladers, and cyclists -- hordes of people go to work downtown or exercise at lunch on these well-kept paths.

New developments are springing up in several districts, jobs are plentiful, and the future seems bright for Canada's third-largest city famous for chinooks (warm winter winds) and the Stampede. But no one will ever dispute that this is still cowboy country where, as one wag put it, "The white collars cover the red necks."

Our two fabulous hosts, Aunt Paulette and Uncle Sid, showed us around the city for a couple of days. They are longtime Torontonians who have decided to retire here and are always espousing their adopted city.

The highlights of our personal tour included the Bow Valley Ranch in the south part of the city, a reconstituted property that is now a walking and nature park and moves from cultivated lawn to natural grasslands. There is also Fish Creek (the ranch is actually in Fish Creek National Park) and the historic Bow Valley Ranch house and its associated buildings, a bunkhouse and cookhouse, which add a touch of history to the place. I highly recommend a visit here.

Another less amusing but still impressive stop was the Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre, which provides meals, shelters and training 1800 homeless "clients" and has an interesting graduated system of helping people get off the street. Paulette and Sid have long been involved in "giving something back" and this is one of their favorite charities.

The venerable Centre works like this: there are four levels to the building, and no matter what state you are in you can get to stay in the first floor shelter.

As you improve your status (come in sober, etc.) you move up through the floors in what they describe as "increments of joy."

As you work to improve your situation (e.g. look for work, take courses, become more responsible) you get better accommodations and facilities. And even if you have a relapse, you can always start again on the first floor-they never give up on anyone.

It's a system that seems to work very well and the Centre has become a well-respected part of the community and would be a good example for other cities to follow.

horseHetty and I even got to sample the famous Alberta beef a few times (which was excellent, despite a few maddening cows) and I even tried bison. It is similar to horsemeat, very lean and not to be cooked past medium well done.

I'm not ready to wear a Stetson, but I will admit the Stampede is not just in July anymore; it may very well be the number of people wanting to live here.

And so we left the gateway to the Rockies. The mountains strained to touch the clouds and Hetty and I pressed on towards Banff...

Coming up: Banff and a visit to the Columbia River Valley.

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