#YEG: A Tale of Two Cities

An author reflects on the differences between Edmonton and Calgary.

Illustration Valery Goulet

The creature that scampered across the street had a fluffy tail, a nut between its teeth, and inky black fur that made me slam on my brakes. What the…? I pulled over and squinted at the animal, which had scurried up an elm. Wait… could it… could that be a squirrel? But all the squirrels in Edmonton are a delicious gingersnap brown. How had they all turned black in Calgary?

Tree rodents, I soon realized, were just the tip of the Calgary Weirdness Iceberg, on which I’ve been afloat since moving here from  Edmonton in the summer of 2017. After 13 years in #YEG, I knew there’d be some adjustments, but I assumed life in #YYC would carry on much the same. I wasn’t moving to Paraguay or the Serengeti, after all. I was just moving to the “other” big Alberta city.
Three syllables. Red licence plates. Population one million-ish. How different could it possibly be?

As it turns out, very. Calgary is hilly! And windy! There are two rivers instead of just one. And the airport – get this, Edmonton – is actually inside the city. Finding your way around Calgary is a trip. The core is a briar patch of glass and one-ways, and everything feels massive: the roads, the towers, the egos. And don’t get me started on the number 16! In Edmonton, Highway 16 intersects the city east to west. But here in Calgary, it’s Highway 1 that cuts across town – also known as 16th Avenue. Every time I take 16 west to Jasper, I end up in Banff!

Moving is adapting – and mostly, it’s the little things. I find myself reeling about seemingly minor differences. Like, where did all the traffic circles go? How will I survive without Remedy chai and glass pyramid architecture? Why are there no ceiling fans in the Bikram yoga studio? And what happened to all the Save-On Foods?

Game nights are disorienting. It’s not just the sea of red jerseys, instead of blue and orange ones. It’s all the flaming consonants parading around downtown. I can’t handle so many Cs, Calgary. I’d like to buy a vowel, please.

The courtesy wave? Utterly extinct down here. If I gesture my gratitude after a car lets me in, the driver looks at me like I’ve made some unintelligible, possibly illegal hand signal. I still do it, just to befuddle folks. I’m sure I look like a hick. Or a dick. Or both. Once, I gave this truck a veritable Christmas gift of an “After You” during rush hour, and what did I get in return? Diddly. Um. You’re welcome, pal.

Then there’s the Parallel Universe of Edmonton Sameness – a tributary I find my Iceberg cruising along every now and again in my new hometown. It’s positively eerie. They’re fighting about who should pay for a new arena, for starters. A guy named Bill Smith ran for mayor – right?! There’s an Inglewood, a Riverbend, a Forest Heights. And Calgary, like Edmonton, has a giant western boot. Except Calgary’s is decidedly less giant. And it’s on wheels. Ha. I miss you, Edmonton. I miss your stumpy skyline and your airport on the moon. I miss Tix on the Square and the intuitive navigational system where the cross-street is built into the address. I miss your Es and Os and your random traffic circles, complete with drivers who can’t figure out how to use said traffic circles.

Yea, I’ll persevere in this undulating, arena-squabbly metropolis to the south, and yes, I’ll have to shop at Safeway. But know this, Edmonton: there’s a pyramid-shaped hole in my heart. I’ll be back to visit regularly, if only for my fix of courtesy waves and gingersnap squirrels.

Elizabeth Withey is an author, journalist and visual artist. Elizabeth worked for 11 years as a staff writer and columnist with the Edmonton Journal. She now lives in Calgary.

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