Unlike ROC, Albertans have the freedom to be themselves
Troy Media – by Mike Robinson
What a week! As the 28th Alberta General Election campaign winds down, the mainstream media (MSM) are full of reports of doom-predicting, lake-of-fire admonishing anti-gay pastors, public radio statements of Caucasian candidate advantage in the electoral process, ‘Tea Party’ conscience rights for government appointed marriage commissioners, and generalized warnings about election hysteria overtaking the public realm.
And eastern Canadian reporters are gleefully playing up the “redneck Alberta” angle once again.
Get a grip Alberta; it ain’t a pretty sight. Courtesy of Twitter, Facebook, and the MSM message boards, the whole world is watching. As a member of the BC-based Alberta diaspora, it affects me too. In fact, a lot of your displaced sons and daughters are wondering what the hell is up? Redneck Alberta ‘bozo eruptions’ are hard to explain to the Asian and Indo-Canadians I work with in Vancouver. Many find them frightening.
In Alberta nobody cares who your daddy was . . .
So, in an act of fealty to the land of the great buffalo fescue commons, and the silent black spruce of the Boreal forest, I write in support of the notion that a hell of a lot of Albertans are sweet-souled, hard-working, hockey playing, volunteering, arts loving and well educated folk ‘who came from away.’
These folk in the largest measure aren’t crackers, hillbillies, or rednecks. Neither are they bigoted, loutish reactionaries opposed to all things modern. Quite simply, they are part of the last great wave of western Canadian immigration – this time mostly (but not all) internally generated. Like our family, they’ve come to Alberta to risk finding fame and fortune, to get a fresh start, and to escape predetermined outcomes and predictable futures. They are the people who love Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi’s observation, “In Alberta nobody cares who your daddy was . . .”
It’s simple history that if you aren’t Cree, Blackfoot, Stoney Nakoda or Sioux, you have followed the Metis trail into these territories from back east, or arrived more recently from tidewater on the Pacific coast. In all likelihood you are a first generation ‘settler,’ and your children are born Albertans. You don’t live in a sod house but, for many, the stucco on the particleboard is still drying in the sprawling suburbs. Whether ‘out here’ is Edmonton, Lac La Biche or Lethbridge, you are more than likely in your first house and proud of it. Your children, sons and daughters, know all about Tykes and Atoms, and you know all about car queuing at Tim Horton’s at 6 a.m. to get coffee and muffins on Saturday morning before the game starts.
You also probably know a great deal about something else too. Albertans per capita collectively hold more degrees, professional qualifications and trades certification than citizens of any other province. They value the sciences, mathematics and the arts highly, and their children out-perform other Canadian kids on international aptitude tests. If you don’t know this, it’s because Albertans don’t brag about this sort of thing. They just do it.
Albertans also practice big philanthropy. Oil patch corporate and individual altruism is measured in very large figures. When I was CEO of Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, the Board members were our strongest contributors; their close friends were second. When we needed $1,000,000 to finish the new Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta permanent exhibition, I invited the Board Chair for lunch at a small café and asked for a contribution. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Thanks for asking,” and wrote a cheque for the full amount.
From a visual or performing Arts perspective, Alberta is arguably now producing more ‘first run’ cultural product than Ontario or Quebec. Small arts venues abound in the province and many are self-sufficient without government budget umbilical chords. It astonishes me that Vancouver doesn’t have an organized Cultural District like Calgary. The Vancouver Playhouse just went bankrupt.
By way of comparison, the Alberta Ballet, directed by Jean Grande-Maitre, is now an international dance phenomenon, and recent collaborators include Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan. Grande-Maitre also choreographed the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.
Where does the Redneck reputation come from?
Given the above behaviours and actions, where does the Redneck reputation grow from? What prairie soil gives it root? Ironically, I think the uncaring, thoughtless and just plain stupid outbursts reflect both a new found and age-old frontier freedom to be oneself. They are frankly the unchecked yelps of mostly Caucasian, right-wing males who, in coming to Alberta, left daddy and the woodshed far behind. I suspect they are sourced in unresolved anguish from away, and old grievances most have long forgotten. They are the unsophisticated back-chapters of the new book of the west.
As the expatriate Saskatchewan author Wallace Stegner observed in the chapter entitled False-Front Athens, in his masterful and autobiographical Wolf Willow (1955), “Give it a thousand years.” He was writing about the fictional prairie village of Whitemud (in reality Eastend), in the lee of the Cypress Hills, where he spent his youth. He meant that prairie civilization takes awhile to take root; that ancient Greece wasn’t built in a day, and that with the passage of time the rough edges of frontier society will soften like the contours of buffalo rubbing stones.
Sometimes I just wish the process would speed up. Alberta voters have the opportunity to goose progress on Monday. I hope they do.
Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in BC. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO. Now back In Vancouver, he is still a cultural CEO, but also has business interests in a resource company and mutual funds. He is an anthropologist and lawyer by training, cuts his own firewood, and wants more time to write.
Category: Alberta Election