#YEG: Laying Claim to Wonderland

On childhood exploration and wonder.

Illustration Charne Webster

Growing up in Mill Woods with a bike, a best friend and long summer days to fill, I had two wonderlands. The first was Mill Creek Ravine, little sister to the North Saskatchewan River valley. It had trees enough to get lost in, water enough to build bridges over, and wildlife enough to stoke my imagination.

The second was The New Mall, Mill Woods Town Centre. The New Mall had a library, a Get Poppin’ with the invitation to try Every Single Flavour and – most exciting of all – an old-style photo booth.

It showed up the day after Kenza and I spent eight hours in Mill Creek fashioning chairs out of twigs and branches. We’d borrowed a parental hammer, lugging it with a dozen nails in a backpack otherwise filled with corn nuts and sour soothers.

No picture exists of these chairs, but they were glorious. We called them “thrones” and found a raised bit of forest on which to perch them. We sat and watched the trickling muddy water of our kingdom. At dinnertime, we left them there and biked home, hammer banging loose in my pack.

The next day was a New Mall day. We alternated, weather permitting. We sauntered in through our regular entrance, by the library, to find the brand new photo booth, a beacon of self-indulgence and technology. One row of photos cost $2 – our popcorn budget. We didn’t try a new flavour that day. Instead, we waited with great anticipation as the booth clunked and whirred and, finally, delivered us four fresh black-and-white versions of ourselves.

When we returned to the ravine, our chairs were crooked and broken, tossed into the creek. The water rushed around their splintered legs and backs like shoddy beaver dams. Someone had found them and thrown them there. Someone had wanted to and chosen to destroy something, destroy them.

We watched in shocked silence for a minute or two. Then Kenza took the photo sheet out of the backpack. We tore the photos apart and stuffed them into an empty bottle. Up where the thrones had been, we dug a hole about six inches deep. We dropped the photo bottle into it, refilled it, stamped it down and went home. You couldn’t see us there, but we were there. People could break our things, but this way, we’d always be there, laying claim.

We swore we’d remember where we buried the bottle and that we’d come back and dig it up. I have no idea, now, where it would be, or how we’d find it. That said, I know this little bit of us is still there, laying claim to our Edmonton wonderland.

Raised in Edmonton, Emma Hooper now lives in London, where she is an author, musician and academic.

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