Arriving at the Fairmont Palliser, the Houston Control of the WordFest operations, I immediately set off to the Avenue Diner, my morning local on the visits I make here, for the steadying experience of something constant in a city that is still headily changing. At the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st was a banner on a street barricade that read CALGARY WORDFEST, only around it were half a dozen squad cars and cops clearing the streets. Always knew literature was revolutionary, only was used to it being at the forefront of a revolution nobody noticed, let alone talked about. Very pleasing.
Aritha Van Herk, the novelist, critic and author of Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta, opened the festival this morning in discussion with John Boyko, the political historian whose biography of Canada’s 11th Prime Minister, Bennett: The Rebel Who Changed a Nation, was published earlier this year.
This was a wonderfully astute and even provocative way to kick off the festival—Creative Director Anne Green’s last. Aritha van Herk’s Mavericks was the astute selection, this year, of the city’s One Book, One Calgary campaign (see the Calgary Public Library’s One Book website for the evocative responses the choice has engendered) and Boyko’s thorough highly readable biography has been very well received—which does not for a moment mean that the talk was going to be a literary love fest of any kind.
Bennett, you’ll remember, was born in New Brunswick in 1870 and moved to Alberta in 1897—where, among other accomplishments, he became the first leader of the provincial Conservative Party when, in 1905, Alberta became a province and helped to establish the Calgary Public Library three years later, before his entry into federal politics in 1911. He became Prime Minister in 1930, defeating William Lyon Mackenzie King, and was at the helm for five years—five Depression years (when the economic slowdown was not, as it is in Canada today, a matter of speculation but one of painful, visible reality). Bennett was truly a maverick. He was “another carpet-bagging Easterner,” according to Van Herk’s irreverent history—a card-carrying Albertan Conservative (and a founding one at that), who, albeit come from away, leaned well to the left of the Liberal Party and was responsible for a number of pioneering programs of social relief. He was revolutionary, you might say. Maybe that’s why the cops were around.
– Noah Richler, WordFest’s Official Festival Blogger
Noah Richler is a writer and broadcaster. His book, This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada won the 2007 B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. He blogs for WordFest and his column,“The Writing Life,” appears here and on roverarts.com.