Out West

I grew up out west. Quite a culture shock on arrival. The prairies in the late 1960s were the bedrock of homogeneity. Anything foreign was viewed with suspicion. Main street was marked by establishments such as Lucifer’s and Hudson’s Bay. Chateau Lacombe was starting to look run down and attracted a shady crowd.

Bistro Praha appeared on the scene shortly after our arrival. Apple strudel and cappuccino, little Europe in the wild west. We made the weekly trek to Praha, trudging through snow and braving the cold. Once inside, warmed by the conversation around us.

The I found Holly’s. It had some vintage, some new stuff that didn’t look like the things in other stores.

My mom found Mr. Donovan’s. High fashion women’s clothes, somewhat conservative, but beautifully made and with a one-of-a-kind look. In the beginning of our western adventure, she couldn’t afford anything there, but eventually she got a few outfits that hang in her closet to this day.

I was in high school, during the Dazed and Confused days, but being FOB, I missed all of that. Black Sabbath and Nazareth were blasting in the halls and people were falling off their platform shoes. I listened to Lighthouse. My friend Julia listened to Elton John. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Whyte Ave was just starting to happen. Its proximity to the university helped. Out west was evolving.

A decade later, I only came during the summers. I studied in the big city where it was easier to fit in without having to be the same. I was changing, but out west was also different each time I came back. New wave bands were local. They looked brighter and more brash than the TO bands, but they sounded good. Lucifer’s closed. The huge suburban mall opened, diverting traffic from downtown. Little art galleries held on. It was so intriguing to us to see Canadian art, admire its uniqueness.

And then my family moved to the belly button of the universe (TO) and I no longer had a reason to go out west.

I was reminded of that time today. A long-haired musician playing his electric guitar in front of a midtown mall. He looked like a 1970’s dude from that place, except that he was playing today’s music, something like Buckethead might play. Cerebral, but sneaks up on your soul anyway.

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