A Visitor’s Guide to Alberta: Canada’s Misunderstood Province

There’s more to us than cowboys and crude oil. Did you know the Caeser was invented in Calgary? We also ran a eugenics program until 1972. Go Alberta go!

When you tell someone you live in Alberta, their face screws into a cubist collage of pity and loathing. Their eyes gleam with visions of nightmarish spires spewing toxic smoke in the north, hordes of Australian lifties herding skiers onto rickety metal chairs in Banff, and a yawning maw of geographical white noise that stretches, flat and bleak, all the way to the 100th meridian.

I mean, sure: we have those things. But there’s so much more to us than just cowboys and crude oil.

Did you know the beloved boozy seafood drink—the Caeser—was invented in Calgary? How about that Cowtown is the birthplace of both noble and principled X-man Wolverine, and the ancient undying mutant Ted Cruz? I’ll bet you didn’t know we also ran a eugenics program wherein people with mental disabilities were involuntarily (and often unknowingly) sterilized until 1972. Go Alberta go!

Clearly, it’s time for all of us to learn a few things about Canada’s fourth most populous province.

The Last Best West

A bit of history:

Between its past life as a primordial seabed and the colonial backwater it is today, the chipped-tooth stretch of land we call Alberta was home to the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Salteaux, Nakoda Sioux, Blackfoot Confederacy, Kainai, Piikani and Siiksika, Tsu Tiina, Stoney Nakoda, and—a little bit later on—the Metis. Under less than ideal circumstances, they agreed to share the land with the moniyaw under numbered treaties 6, 7, and 8. However, the moment a settler screws up a land acknowledgement at the start of their spoken word poetry night, there will be legal recourse to send us all back to Ukraine (every white person in Alberta is Ukrainian).

Alberta was named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta by her husband, Governor General of Canada John Campbell. Campbell was a roving homosexual troubadour who for the most part preferred to leave his wife back in Ottawa. While Alberta unfortunately did not become the rugged gay paradise he envisioned, it has remained, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, comparatively inhospitable for women.

In true Canadian fashion, after being given provincial status in 1905, Alberta’s first legislative gathering was held in a hockey rink. This proud tradition continues to be honoured whenever a city slashes infrastructure spending and raises taxes so they can use public money to buy a billionaire a new arena.

Which brings us neatly to modern, metropolitan Alberta.

The Battle of Alberta

Its major urban centres—Edmonton to the north and Calgary to the south—have had a longstanding rivalry, vying for educational, economic, and athletic superiority. The meeker, lefter, Edmonton is the provincial capital. It boasts a big park, the world’s tenth largest dolphin graveyard mall, and a hockey team that was successful in the mid-to-late 1980s. We will never, ever let you forget the 80s Oilers. ‘Twas a squad that combined the virtuosity of Gretzky, the grit of Messier, and the dreamy bedroom eyes of Paul Coffey to win five Stanley Cups in six years. The faithful still flock to the bronze statue of Wayne Gretzky outside of Edmonton’s arena (paid for by taxpayers, owned by a billionaire) that weeps blood every August 8th—the day he was traded to Los Angeles.

The slightly larger Calgary is the economic hub of the province. It hosts one of the world’s largest cosplay festivals, the Calgary Stampede, and a hockey team that was successful in the late 1980s. Equal parts menacing and alluring, the glorious rocky mountains are only an hour and a half drive away. Or, in a more standard measurement, this is one tank of gas in your extended cab, turbo charged, Ford F150 with aftermarket twin 8” exhaust and “Fuck Trudeau” (modern or vintage, your pick) bumper sticker.

Venture outside the hubs and be beguiled by austere farming hamlets, pulp mill towns, and the golf course villages where our rich elderly go to die with wrinkled dignity. The province is famous for its world-calibre Big Things, absurd and gaudy objects that puncture the monotonous country drive. The world’s largest Pysanka, beaver, and badminton racket all call Alberta home.

Perhaps most famous is the giant kielbasa (Polish sausage, pronounced “choo-‘Bah-ka”) of Mundare. Mundare’s great pronged 42 foot sausage shows that no matter how girthy and long the twin exhaust stacks on your trucks may be, the prairie sky has the biggest dick of them all.

So Right, It’s Wrong

Politically, Alberta is to the right of Saskatchewan, and to the left of an Alabama hunting shack. It may be a bit generous to call the province a democracy—no political party has ever lost an election and later returned to power. Instead, our politics are driven by a grudge-based, self-pitying victimhood.

One such grudge—the wellspring of our intergenerational Trudeauphobia—stems from the National Energy Program. The NEP has reverberated through hushed whispers across the windswept sheaves of wheat for nigh on four decades like the curs’d name Voldemort. Depending on who you ask, the National Energy Program was either an overreaching attempt to foster stability and sovereignty in the Canadian petroleum sector in the 1980s that was botched and hastily dismantled. Or, alternatively, it was legal permission for anyone living east of Manitoba to break into your home, steal your wallet, and shit on your carpet.

Upon implementation, Alberta flew into a petulant rage and threatened not to sell our precious oil to the eastern provinces. The practice continues to this day. We recently threatened BC with the same when they wouldn’t allow a Texan oil company to build a pipeline to their coast. Hopefully, as the planet simmers and oil is replaced with a more eco-friendly late-capitalist dystopian super-fuel, like human plasma or whatever, we will focus on more dynamic export sectors. Like horse meat! Alberta exports a LOT of horse meat. It’s a real growth opportunity.

Premier Jason Kenney is the apple cheeked, cherubic ringmaster of the United Conservative Party (UCP). It is the “Big Tent Conservative” party that catapulted him to power this April. He united a political right that all agreed it’s unfair to tax large corporations because they’re people just like anyone else, but was fractured over exactly how few rights youth, workers, and LGBTQ folks should have.

A cunning career politician, Kenney was able to win leadership of the party by (allegedly) paying his low-rent doppelganger Jeff Callaway to run as well. The two worked in tandem to defeat his primary opponent, ex-Wildrose leader Brian Jean, and Kenney became the leader of the UCP. The Alberta Election Commissioner has thus far leveraged tens of thousands of dollars of fines against individuals involved including Callaway himself for this egregious assault on democracy. But, as I said earlier, Alberta is not a democracy so nobody gives a shit.

I’m out of space and have barely tilled the viscous mixture of sand, water, and bitumen that form the rickety foundation of this great province. Did I mention we love oil? Well we do. Like, a lot. A lot. We really, really like oil. Those other fuckboys? They only like oil for its money and jobs. Not us. We love oil because it exists. Subsidies? Tax cuts? Publish climate change denying editorials in major newspapers? You bet. We don’t listen to the haters, naysayers, or shifting global markets. We’ll do anything for oil.

[whispers] Anything.

So come by for visit. I’ll be the first to greet you with a smile, a cowboy hat, and a friendly Albertan “Fuck Trudeau.”

Art by Charles Marion Russell.

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