There is a portal in Edmonton, a way to slip between times. Books work too, I know, but this one operates in real life.
I’ll tell you how to find it: Walk through the first heat of summer, through the newly green world to the terminus, a small empty platform standing alone just north of the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. Climb the ramp and wait. A couple of other stragglers might happen along.
And then the streetcar – green-panelled, lovingly refurbished and burnished – trundles toward you. An immaculate conductor lets the other travellers go, and you pay your five bucks and hop on. The inside of it glows.
Unlike the other streetcars still in operation, the Edmonton No. 33 served its first life here, beginning in 1912. It’s a double-ended car, with wicker seats cunningly made so that when the car reverses on the other side of the bridge, the bench backs can swing over to face the other way.
There’s a thin rope for the stop-cord but, please, don’t pull it.
The streetcar runs through a secret track in Old Strathcona, by back gardens and under trees, a summer view of Edmonton that slides through the years right back to 1912. It dives into the tunnel with its ancient coal-dust reek, and glides out onto the High Level Bridge, 48 metres above the water, the highest streetcar crossing in the world. The ride is gentle, the runout onto the bridge smooth, and the height – astonishing.
Don’t worry if it stalls. When it did last summer, Jason Day, an off-duty conductor who runs a climbing gym in his everyday life, was called to clamber up onto the roof and put the tramlines back in order.
When I was young enough to regard flying as an adventure, I loved that time between all things, truly suspended. High above the Atlantic, headed east or west – it didn’t matter – for those hours I could not be reached by phone or disappointment. For the same reason, I love the High Level Bridge Streetcar. It flies above everything else, between north and south, now and then. Three or four times this summer, all alone, I’m going to sit on the wicker seat and stare down the long blue alley of the river, in many times at once.
Marina Endicott’s latest novel, The Little Shadows, was shortlisted for the 2011 Governor General’s Award, and includes a scene on the streetcar.
The High Level Bridge Streetcar service starts every May long weekend and continues daily until Labour Day. From then until Thanksgiving, service is on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only (plus the holiday Monday).