The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meet Me in Banff

By Anna McDougall

As days shorten and cool winds begin to blow, a nearby vacation spot is necessary. We’ve less patience and less time for the inconvenience of travel. We need beautiful hideaways that will refuel us in a weekend. That place for me is Banff. Despite the commercial aspect of the town, it is nevertheless a comfortable getaway with every amenity inside a world class national park.

Even though I grew up an hour’s drive from Banff, I will never tire of its charm. Over the years, it seems I’ve been there in fall and winter most often. I guess the summer is reserved for lengthier car rides, for exploring faraway places. The high season prices and crowds of tourists are another good reason to stay away from Banff in the summer.

When I was a teenager, Banff was a great place to sneak away with friends, skiing and drinking far from the reach of parents and their rules. In subsequent years, Banff became a romantic destination for my husband and I.

Last year, I discovered a new reason to visit Banff in the fall. WordFest, the Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival is hosted annually at venues throughout Calgary and at the Banff Centre. Not really in the mood to travel alone, I invited my eight year old daughter. Early one Saturday morning in October, I was off to Banff again, this time with a new purpose and a new companion.

A drive west from Calgary never fails to have the same effect on me. As the flat ranches and acreages flanking Highway One give way to foothills which minutes later are replaced by the magnificent Rocky Mountains, my worries and stresses dwarf until I become a calmer version of myself.

My daughter was thrilled to be taking a trip alone with Mommy. Her comment when we entered our very average ski hotel room, “Mommy this is BEAUTIFUL!” I must get her out more often.

That night we drove up the densely treed Tunnel Mountain Drive arriving at Banff Centre to take in Margaret Atwood’s reading of The Penelopiad. Walking from the car, I spotted Ms. Atwood being led inside by her likewise black clothed female entourage. “Honey, look that’s her!” I couldn’t keep myself from pointing.

“Who?” she asked.

How to explain this woman to a girl who has yet to discover the feminist jolt of Handmaid’s Tale or the raw beauty of Atwood’s poetry? I settled for, “She’s the one who will be sitting on the stage.”

We took our seats behind a foursome of fifty-something women clutching Atwood books, presumably for the signing to follow. A quick look around confirmed my daughter was the only child present. Although organizers assured me that a “mature child who loves reading” would be comfortable, I was relieved I had a backup plan. From my bag, I pulled out my daughter’s favourite novel. Just in case.

A few minutes later I realized I hadn’t thought this through. Of course the amphitheatre lights were dimmed to black and all voices quieted in preparation of the performance. I held my breath as a narrow spot light appeared bringing the space around a stool and podium into view. No one but Ms. Atwood would be reading.

After a brief introduction, I was saved by the applause and I bent over to my daughter to whisper a reminder: “There’s no talking allowed in here, ok?”

She nodded, obediently.

Atwood introduced each section with her signature dry sense of humour including a description of the worldwide project of which her novel was part. The evening was highly enjoyable and I was extremely pleased that not only did my daughter get through it soundlessly and with very little fidgeting, she even posed some astute questions later on in our hotel room.

The next morning, in a smaller meeting room lit naturally by the bright morning, we took in another reading shared by three authors. Among them, Michael Crummey read from his second novel The Wreckage. My daughter sat attentively, breaking her silence only once to ask softly about his Newfoundlander brogue.

“Mommy, he’s not from here, is he?”

Mr. Crummey moved from his first selection to an earlier part of the story in which the two main characters first become lovers. I shifted nervously in my chair worried not by the prospect that my uninitiated daughter might learn something new, rather by my own conspicuous feelings. I smiled to the people sitting behind us in an effort to compensate. What kind of mother was I? I was sure they were thinking, bringing a child to an adult reading! The passage began with harmless, poetic descriptions of the male body, progressing with a few common words including “penis” and “erection”, but as the focus of the scene was revealed: an encounter of the oral variety, I nearly crawled under my chair. I tried to avoid eye contact with the other adults in the room while I checked my daughter’s reaction. She was happily engrossed in the adventures of her favourite heroine, Anne Shirley.

This year, my daughter will understand what she’s getting into by attending WordFest. I’m not sure whether she’ll want to go. If not, I’ll be looking for someone to warm the seat beside me. Who wants to meet me in Banff?


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I'll go, I'll go! Pick me, pick me! Great post, Anna. Thanks for taking me there on a virtual trip.

Tue Sep 19, 12:16:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...


Tue Sep 19, 09:39:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

This is very interesting for me, J.A.

I often want to go to readings, but don't know who to bring. Time to start grooming the kids.

Right now, my daughter would get up on the stage and overwhelm Atwood with why questions.

Tue Sep 19, 10:24:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Anna, I love this post on several levels. I worked in Banff for a summer long ago, and it was a great experience. Okay, I was a short order cook, but taking the garbage out and looking up at the surrounding mountains was a real thrill. On another level, I love this post because it reminds me of how special it is when we're able to spend some individual time with each child. They need it, and so do we as parents. Thanks, Anna.

Tue Sep 19, 10:37:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Wouldn't we have fun, the CWC travel group! Tricia, you're so close you must take in WordFest! It is wonderful to be able to include your kids in things you love to do. Anne, Esme's already famous on our blog!

Yeah, Tony having a large family like you do, I also find it very tricky getting around to that individual time. It is extremely important though.

Tue Sep 19, 11:21:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I'm there!

Wed Sep 20, 03:29:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

This is lovely, Anna. I feel like I've already gone with you (and your daughter) ;) I'd love to do CWC meet-ups/field trips. What a great thing to aim for. Erm, next year... Three trips this summer flatlined my bank account, but I hope you report back on your trip!

Wed Sep 20, 02:42:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

This is so great. What an awesome mom you are.

Thu Sep 21, 05:33:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

this sounds so great Anna, I would so love to go!!! Please let us know how it is...and post pictures..xoxo

Sat Sep 23, 01:02:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the article - I've always wanted to go to Banff, Anna. Thanks for the photo too.


Thu Sep 28, 10:41:00 pm GMT-4  

Post a Comment

<< Home