Even if I wanted to, I could never be “from” Ottawa. I’ve tried telling people before, new acquaintances who wouldn’t be able to call my bluff. But I always feel too guilty. It’s simply not the truth – I’m from Calgary, and there’s nothing I can do to forget it.
I’m reminded of this because Thanksgiving weekend is arguably the time of year when my “school” life and my “home” life mingle most aggressively. It’s only a few days break, after all, so it’s a slap-and-dash alternate universe switcheroo – different family members, different friends, different city.
While I’ve been home for the break in the past, this year however we all acknowledged that it’s a little too far to go. So I’ll have my first University Thanksgiving – and all the messy attempts at stuffing and cranberry sauce that implies. But since I can’t have my family here, I’ll be graced with visits from close childhood friends now living in Toronto and Montreal, and we’ll remind each other exactly where we came from.
They’re in much the same situation as me. As opposed to Ontario, where students seem to move only hours from home, the post-graduation exodus to schools “back East” is pretty standard in Calgary. At least one parent is often from Ontario or Quebec, and sending us out here for school is, in a way, like sending us back home. We may be far from them, but we usually fall right into the warm laps of grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Add to that the limited number of universities in the West, especially if you’re not so keen on the engineering deal, and a huge chunk of my friends ended up where their parents started. Some even took it further – not only did they return to their parent’s home province, they returned to their alma mater, their old neighbourhood, and – in one case – their old apartment building.
Montreal is an especially strong example. It often seems that half the kids from home moved to Montreal. They go to school together, live together, hang out together. If a band from Calgary tours there, guess who makes up the crowd? I could go to whole parties in Montreal, probably without meeting a single person who isn’t from Calgary. There’s even a neighbourhood nicknamed “Little Calgary,” according to my friend Guillaume, that resembles some sort of ex-pat community.
Of the kids I grew up with, if our parents are from Canada at all (and a good chunk aren’t), they usually came to Calgary in the eighties to get work. A lot of these parents, for obvious reasons, are engineers. (There are a disproportionate numbers of engineers in Calgary, which I think says an awful lot about the city itself. And because engineers are convinced that it is the best profession in existence, every math-deficient kid in the city has some joke about how their parents put them in science camps at age five and keep asking when they’re going to give up those philosophy classes and start taking calculus.)
My Mum is an English Montrealer, and my Dad grew up in Windsor, but was born near Edinburgh. So I, like many of my friends, am a first generation Calgarian. The things we associate with being “truly” Calgarian – Vietnamese subs, for example, or going to illegal parties in Riley Park – weren’t even around when they moved to the city, and certainly not back in the days of the original oil barons. My parents made the city their own (they even wear cowboy boots now), but it defined me from the beginning.
So my childhood friends Guillaume, who goes to Concordia, and Scott, who goes to McGill, are coming to stay with me this weekend, along with Rebecca, who’s at York. And regardless of historical connections to our school-year cities, all attempts to pass for “Montrealers”, “Ottawans” and “Torontonians” will immediately go out the window. Who are we fooling, after all? We may be following our parents back where they came from, but in the end, we’re Calgarians through and through.