This here’s Alberta, boy-where a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

Allan Fotheringham May 17 1976

This here’s Alberta, boy-where a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

Allan Fotheringham May 17 1976

This here’s Alberta, boy-where a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

Allan Fotheringham

The key to understanding Alberta is androgen. Androgen rules business. Androgen permeates politics. Androgen affects Alberta’s relations with the outside world.

Androgen, for those who are feeling lost in this exposition, is the male sex hormone, and the aura it projects, the insecurities it hides, the locker-room mentality it bolsters explain the new rich kid on the block—the province of oil and cowboys and nouveau riche swagger. It is a strange province, aggressive in its new stance and surprisingly chippy toward outsiders. It does not give the impression, yet. of a province willing to tolerate those areas of the country with differing cultural backgrounds.

Alberta is the male animal in a swagger.

I he need to prove one’s self in the primitive manner of a bull in rut makes the atmosphere of the place resemble an entire province posing for a hairy-chested aftershave lotion. There can be nothing more ludicrous than a grow n man with a paunch teetering about Calgary streets on the high heels and pointed toes of a cowboy boot, attempting to capture some primitive cachet from some distant past. If the foot is a sex object, as a trendy new doctor tells us. Alberta is abrim with fetish and eroticism. These are man-boys playing in a make-believe w orld in their own playpen—exposed as pseudo-machismo caricatures only when they stray beyond their borders. The costume parade—affected by otherwise normal businesssmen—is. of course, a sham because Alberta is not the rural backdrop for John Wayne that it makes out. Since the second world war Canada has had the fastest urban growth rate of any country in the world and Calgary is the fastest-growing city in the country.

The look-alike wooden boxes move in uniform phalanxes over the dun-colored plain on the outskirts, resembling from the air the shantytown dribbles that cluster at the feet of some African centre. The skyline of the city is now a cardboard cutout, the towers reminiscent of the Gotham City background for a Superman comic. Topping it off. of course, is the insane bulbous knob of the Calgary Tower, another example of the municipal fascination with such symbols that has induced Toronto to add its own Disneyland touch to the view with its CN tower.

The two towns perhaps have something in common—a lust for power and sway at the sacrifice of sensitivity. Who will the Calgary stampede feature as grand marshal this summer? Joe Clark. Alberta's own boy who is likely to be the next prime min-

ister? Of course not. The answer is Steven Ford, son of another country’s president. It fits in with the inexplicable decision of the Stampede board to use the American Bicentennial as this year’s theme.

There is in this aggressive stance against the rest of Canada something else that is a little disturbing. It is there in the huge billboard that first greets the visitor at Calgary airport: ENGLISH is THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE OF AVIATION. It was there, in this city famed for its western hospitality, in the professionally printed banners that hung in the quaintly named Corral, the hockey rink, when Quebec Nordiques paid their first visit after the Calgary Cowboys’ Rick Jodzio was suspended for his brutal attack on the league's top scorer. Marc

Tardif. The banners read: FROGS ARE BACK JUMPERS. Other signs in the arena showed the same delicate taste: JODZIO EATS FROGS and QUEBEC LES TURKEYS.

Somehow, there is the need to exert muscular dominance. Alberta voters do not pick and choose: they stampede. After supinely enduring 36 straight years of sanctimonious rule under Social Credit, the electorate—one might have imagined—would have preferred some balance in the parliamentary system. Instead, they shy from providing an opposition that can be some check on government excess: they have given Peter Lougheed’s Tories 69 of 75 seats. The opposition in effect is composed of one member, the NDP’S Grant Notley. Two of every three Albertans vote the same way—an aberration in the political mosaic that makes up the rest of Canada. They are conformists with a vengeance—the only province that sends only one party to Ottawa. Nineteen solid Conservatives.

The mystique of the frontier male wafts over the province as thick as musk. There are few outstanding Alberta women who would come to the mind of any Canadian: not a single woman among the 19 MPs. The locker-room syndrome is most apparent in the collection of ex-athletes and thrusty success stories in the Lougheed cabinet. The Premier is known as “The King”— there is much bum-patting and jocular elbows in the ribs among the entourage. Reporters stand transfixed at federal-provincial gatherings, expecting the group to bend into a huddle and call the next play.

The base of it all, the folk rite that reveals the soul, is the anachronism called the Stampede, which every summer allows the abandoning of the frontier strictures that are in play the rest of the year. It is like some ancient Greek festival, when societal rules were set in abeyance for a set duration. Men who decline to swear in front of their secretaries are suddenly revealed as raunchy graspers who establish that the barriers are down in the after-office parties in the suites in the Calgary Inn. They treat women as they would a horse.

It is, in fact, the Canadian version of Fasching, the permissive celebrations of the flesh in Bavarian towns when the year’s normal restrictions on conduct are abandoned. Stampede week is when the Albertan climbs down out of his after-shave lotion ad and attempts to emulate the caricature. The boys are out of school. It is a strange province, filled with boy-men who have yet to come into the world of 1976 and join Confederation.