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Edmonton
October 18, 2019

#YEG: Paul McEwan

Finding Edmonton at the end of the road.

Illustration Michael Byers

In Bruce McDonald‘s classic 1996 film Hard Core Logo, members of a past-its-prime rock band drag themselves into Edmonton at the end of a five-city Western Canada tour. The band members of Hard Core Logo have been fighting each other for the last 3,000 miles, but they’ve also had to contend with a part of the world that is one of the most punishing places to tour – a handful of cities spread across a vast open country. By the time they get to Edmonton, it is becoming obvious that things are not going to end well.

I also arrived in Edmonton in the spring of 1996, but considerably more optimistic. My girlfriend and I had driven from Ontario, and encountered blinding snow in Winnipeg and across Saskatchewan. By the time I saw the Edmonton skyline over Hwy. 16, the late-April sun was warm and welcoming.

My memories of Edmonton are of abundant sunshine, more than I had ever encountered in my life. We found a cheap apartment in a high-rise building with spectacular eastern views, and on the first morning the room was illuminated with blinding light well before 6 a.m. We spent our first day hunting for the cheapest, heaviest curtains we could find. As the days got even longer, we felt drunk on sun some days, in a city that offered so much light without too much heat.

As it was for the band in the film, Edmonton was a tour stop of sorts for me. I knew it would be temporary, but had little idea where I was going next. Like the road-weary musicians, I was relatively convinced that opportunities lay ahead, if only I could find them.

I spent most of that summer as a reporter for Vue Weekly, which meant that I got to see more of the city than an average new resident. I interviewed a former prime minister and attended library openings, book launches and Fringe shows. It made Edmonton the best kind of city to get to know, one that exceeds your hopeful expectations, a place that is remarkably confident about its strengths and its place in the world.

In McDonald’s film, Edmonton is the end of the road, the place where the band had hoped to fill some long-deferred dreams. Instead, they realize what they should have known already, that their ambitions for fame were ridiculous from the start. They were optimistic about the rewards that come from exploring the open road, but hadn’t been able to see the actual places that were right in front of them.

I had much better luck – exploring Edmonton carefully, with a notebook in hand, bathed in sunlight.

Paul McEwan is the author of Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo, published by the University of Toronto Press and the Toronto International Film Festival. He teaches film and media studies at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn.

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