Category Archives: Calgary

Travels and touchstones…fifteen roses in memoriam


I write this on my flight from Frankfurt to Bangalore. The sun streams in as we fly over Budapest. We pass Munich, cross the Danube, Rome is off south. It’s time to return to Asia, time to be ‘home’. There’s much to reflect on these past few months, much joyful, but regrettably not all.

A Bollywood Masala serenades me as a pre-diner drink is served. The music is intoxicating and strangely in sync with my melancholy. It never fails to feel somewhat surreal, Gosh I’m on my way to India…and I live there. And this time especially, I just want to be there, in one place for more than a few weeks at a time.

I play one track over and over again. It is evocative and comforting. First I write, then simply sit and be. I reflect on this past week of a farewell to a loved, my brother-in-law, who passed away.

I glance at the book I’m reading and a quote from Rabindranath Tagore, India’s dearest writer, jumps off the page and resonates.

”If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”

I left India just over two months ago to attend a conference in The Hague, then onward to Canada, meeting up with my husband in Vancouver. On idyllic spring days there and in Victoria, and in the company of two of our sons and their girlfriends, we strolled beaches, soaked up the sun on wind-swept piers and walked drizzly streets under cherry blossomed canopies. We drank in the beauty and the calm, the sublime balances of city life surrounded by mountain vistas, forested coastlines and the endless Pacific Ocean.

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Staying just a stone’s throw away from ‘the kids’, we took pleasure from sharing everyday things; signing a new lease, early morning rock-climbing, late night games and long chats. As for many of us, time with our grown children is painfully finite. Each visit is treasured.

DSCF0160Back at our home base, we got down to practicalities. The lawn cried out for raking to usher spring growth, layers of dust counted the months since our last visit and the deck beckoned us to sit and luxuriate. During respites in a favourite chair, I looked longingly at my deserted flower pots, begging for summer blooms. But in vain; we won’t return until August.

There was time with good neighbours and friends; hiking, walking and conversation. Yet it wasn’t long before it was time to close up the house and I did what I do each time I leave, what I’ve done for the past eight years. I sign my own guest book. Here from such and such a place, date, did this and that…chronicling those everyday moments that comprise life.

Having delayed my return to India I made my way with our middle son, Matt, to my parents for Mother’s day. We spent a weekend of games, seeing family and friends, lazed around an outdoor fire on a Sunday afternoon. We strolled through the garden picking tulips and the first of the asparagus – the apple tree is in abundant bloom, a heavenly canopy over the graves of family dogs. A tranquil weekend – simple joys of being home.


And as if preparing and steeling me for the week before us, my final few days in Calgary were also comforting.

“Are you back in the city?” Carol asked not long after I’d arrived. “I’ve been thinking about you, can I see you before you leave?”

“Carol I’m glad you called, though I have sad news. Rod has passed away, I meet Bruce in London in a few days.”

“I’m on my way,” she said, “be right over.”

Carol is the sister I didn’t have and we rather like that we’re often mistaken for siblings. She is my touchstone. Same high school, same hometown, same cultural references. When I finished college our mothers arranged for us to live together. With a job secured, I packed up my ’77 Camaro and headed to the big city. We’ve been soulmates ever since– connected through life’s milestones. We know each other’s history like a well-read book.

DSCF0217When Carol walked half an hour later into our small condo in Calgary, suitcases lined the hallway. She offered her condolences and with a hug reminded me, “You get to leave again.” Tales of my global life are music to her ears.

Carol is also a traveller but now spends most of her time in Calgary, with a yearly buying trip to Asia for her importing business. I flit in and out of her life…if I’m honest, everyone’s life.

I commented on the scene outside as dusk approached on that warm spring evening – the emerging twinkling skyline, the milky turquoise river, the flow of walkers, cyclists and skateboarders, the couples nestled on park benches.

“But Carol you get to be here, in one place, see spring turn to summer, then autumn. I skip whole seasons and then plunk myself into life for a month or so. Always unpacking and packing, always on the move.” We have this conversation often, yet would either of us truly give up the life we have for the other?

The evening turned late, as is usual each time we’re together. There’s never enough time for the stories, the meanders, the laughter and this time the tears. Carol recently lost her mother and her pain is still at the surface and my heart breaks for her. “You can never know what it is to lose your mom until it happens.”

We meet again late the next afternoon and stroll until the evening turns dim. Sunnyside/Kensington is quirky, a mix of older homes and new. A pleasant sedate neighbourhood going about its business of life.

DSCF0233“It’s almost the end of May. How strange most homes still have a snow shovel on the front porch,” I remarked after yet another shovel belied the gorgeous weather.

“You know the saying,” Carol looked at me with a wry smile.

“I have no idea.”

Never put snow shovels away until the end of May,” she rhymed. “It tempts the weather to snow”. I had never heard this before and noted that many of the shovels seem to compliment the house perfectly, adding a splash of colour, almost completing the image of home.

Unlike my children who were raised globally, Carol and I have a hometown with the anecdotes and recollections to go with it. This is now more poignant than ever for her as sadly she was recently faced with dismantling her mother’s life. Having to go through the meaningful and the ‘just stuff’, the heartbreak of not only saying farewell to your loved one, but also to your family home. As we strolled in the evening hues over Calgary, I felt a certain calm in offering some solace and for her love and understanding of what was on the horizon for me and my husband.

Having only returned to India a week previously, my husband headed back west and met me in London. Our long embrace at Heathrow Airport was the calm before the storm, the balm for the soul. The four hour drive to Wales seemed unusually long, but we were together. We had no choice but to start brainstorming, start planning…

Rod had made his way south as a young man, following his profession from Scotland to Welsh Wales (as he lovingly referred to it). He never left. With his untimely death came the painful realization that it was up to the two of us to plan and host his funeral, and clear his home.

Arriving at the house for the first time was wrenching, signs of Rod’s interrupted life were stark reminders of the fragility of time. The new bags of potting soil and gardening tools, a carefully chosen cherry tree and parsley already abundant were particularly poignant. Not knowing what to do, we did what we felt was right. We lit a candle, chose a good bottle of wine and pulled out one of Rod’s many c.d’s. We’re sure he would have been pleased and with tears welling, we offered up a toast to him and to the house – the last time it would be a home. The next day everything would change.

All those things he valued, collected or just ‘stuff’ had to be dispersed. It is somber and admittedly tedious, and I suspect it isn’t often when one only has six days from start to finish. Perhaps that somehow made it easier.

We only managed with the help of family and good friends. In the midst of it, there was the paper work, meeting the pastor, arranging the funeral, writing the order of service and the eulogy. We secured a bagpiper, we ordered flowers.

“We’d like white roses, some thistle to represent Scotland, something for Wales, but a natural, wild look.”

“I think I understand what you’d like, a scruffy look,” the florist reassured calmly.

“Yes, perfect.” I was relieved, then chose a ribbon that best matched the family tartan.

The two scruffy bouquets were simply perfect.

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And finally we were able to honour our Roderick Wilson. The bagpiper welcomed and moved many to tears – the haunting, rousing strains reached into souls, touching innermost emotions. My husband delivered an eulogy that was eloquent and powerful, honouring a man that despite blindness and ill health, had poured his heart into his church community and friends.

An after service ‘tea’ at the church with an array of baked goods spoke of community and the indelible connection of life. “Ah my nephew is out in Canada.” “I work with the church in India, come see us when you get to Calcutta.” “We’ll miss our Rod,” we heard over and over again. Rod’s trusty and beloved guide dog, Neena, was with us throughout. She will officially retire on June 1st and is with a loving family; a celebration is planned for her.

The beautiful day was infused with the comfort of my husband’s cousins from Scotland. “It wasn’t a question of coming or not, of course we’d be here,’ they said without hesitation. Jean and Christine grew up five doors down from my husband’s family home. The lush bluebell woods behind their homes was their playground. An idyllic place where the trees had names like Thunderbird and Big Ben.

“We were always together it was the perfect childhood, pet,” Jean told me in her warm Scottish accent that placed me back with my late mother-in-law.

“That’s what Isa used to call the boys,” I remembered fondly. Along with the comfort of family and their unreserved love, Jean and Christine brought a piece of Scotland to Wales.

The day of the funeral culminated with an intimate gathering of close friends and family. At one of his favourite restaurants, we toasted our dear Rod and when his ashes arrived we toasted again. We’re quite sure his off-beat sense of humour would have enjoyed the scene. We strolled in the early evening down to the water, hand in hand, arm in arm. Past the comfort of an aged stone wall, past spring flowers and the promise of new beginnings.

The tartan ribbon was unfastened and the scruffy bouquet was our solace, one most perfect of white roses for each of us. “Please say a few words as the ashes and your rose meet the water’, my husband asked.

And we did. “Thank you for your love and help raising me,” Thank you for your humour and friendship.” “I’ll miss you.” “You have three nephews who love you and the Wilson name lives on, dear brother-in-law.’  There was grief and sadness, there was laughter, new friendships and rekindled family bonds. It was a soulful, fitting farewell.

IMG_3746 (1)Fifteen roses, a loved one’s ashes, and a few Scottish thistles drifted peacefully out to sea. In remembrance of a life and good deeds done. And that seems all we can ask for; to live, to love, to have loved ones remember and speak well of us when our time comes. To be there for those who need comforting.

It isn’t often that you truly contemplate how you’d like to be honoured when the time comes, but I know I would chose a day like we had in Wales. Despite the loss, it was a time of family, friends and tenderness. One of poignancy and meaning, one of gladness for what was.

And perhaps for those of us who live globally, time seems ever more precious as our parents age, as we miss our worldwide friendships, as our children live their own lives. Visits home are never long enough, yet we look forward to returning to that other life, that other ‘home’. It’s a fine balance of sacrifices and abundance, of memories and goodbyes; never does it strike you more than after losing a loved one.

As I finish writing, the captain announces that it will soon be time to land. I feel a tap on my shoulder. “How has the flight been Mom?”

It’s one of Rod’s nephews, our dear son Matt. He’s on his way with me, his new journey to spend some time with us and do some travelling. I’m looking forward to being ‘home’ again and I’m thankful it will be with one more family member…

Family, friendships, home, journeys, farewells and time spent with loved ones…really just life. Embrace it.

Ode to a vibrant city, recalling transition and the help of serendipity




‘Dining’ in Memorial Park at Boxwood Cafe

Sadly, my new found love affair with Calgary is to be interrupted; for now at least.  Having returned not quite a year ago, I’m about to pack up again. Yes it’s all too soon, but simply, my husband and I aren’t prepared to continue living at the opposite ends of the earth.  He’s been commuting from Kazakhstan, which is where I plan to join him at the end of August. Admittedly, I can think of far more ‘exotic’ places to become acquainted with, but adventure comes in many forms it seems!  That, however isn’t what this post is about…not quite yet anyway.  It’s about this great city, the transition woes that I’ve experienced and the start of settling and healing, thanks in part to a chance encounter.


The cupola in James Short Park, now surrounded by glass. It marks the spot of the James Short School from 1905

Calgary was my home from 1982 to 1989.  After College, I loaded up my ’77 Camaro and headed to the ‘big city’, knowing it was where I wanted to be.  I’m living relatively close to where I was then, in the inner-city.   In my opinion, it’s the only place to be for someone who is often here on their own, as I’ve been this past year.  It’s vibrant and interactive.  It’s ideal for walking and cycling.   And it’s a changed city since I left when a mere  600,000 people called it home.  It’s now much more international and ‘hip’ with endless festivals, markets, and events.  Yet at the same time, it’s still a city that is caring and personal, despite a burgeoning population of 1.2 million.

I’ve often wandered to sit and write in one of the many vibrant cafes, which seem to be in endless supply along with bars and restaurants.  I’ve looked at this city from the viewpoint of ‘someone that returned after 24 years’, but also as a newcomer.  Inevitably, I meet people eager to chat, many of whom are from elsewhere but have chosen to call Calgary home.  I’ve been charmed by people’s warmth, the small town feeling and sense of cohesion and belonging.   That cluster of a fort and tents that would become Calgary, was established by the North West Mounted Police in 1885 and initially called Fort Brisebois.  This settlement at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow River has come a long way indeed. It was recently named by the New York Times as one of the world’s top sights to see, imagine that!


The Barley Mill in Eau Claire. Reminders of the wooden buildings that were built during the time of the nearby Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company

I was on my own this past weekend and found myself out exploring in the gorgeous weather.  People were reading, playing and ‘dining’ in the park.  Kids played in water parks, people enjoyed music festivals and markets.  I experienced a city in perpetual motion of cycling, walking, long boarding and busking.  People of all ages but definitely many young and hip.  The average citizen of the city is now in their 30’s. They are active, globally conscious and oh so ‘switched on’.

I spoke to one such ‘hipster’ only in his mid twenties, at a 17 Ave. restaurant. He told me they were endeavouring to only use produce from a nearby flood affected area; to help them get ‘back on their feet’.  He then proceeded to point out the elements in the restaurant that have been reclaimed so as to minimize their carbon foot print.  I’ve noticed this change in attitude time and time again here.  I don’t think many of us had those concerns at the same age as we partied through the ’80’s.  I’m impressed!

Outwardly, it’s also a vastly altered city from when I Ieft in 1989.  The landscape is rapidly changing with an increasing number of tall towers and condos soaring over the compact inner city.  In fact the skyline is dotted with cranes, building for the future.  But thankfully there are still some charming vestiges of the ‘old’ Calgary and I sincerely hope they remain. Stately homes and buildings from the early 1900’s


Beaulieu or Lougheed Mansion, 1891. The Lougheeds hosted many social gatherings and visitors, including the Prince of Wales in 1919

such as the Lougheed Home and Memorial Park Library (the first library in Alberta), not to mention many that  proudly still stand on Stephen Avenue Mall.   And there’s also the quirky and timeless images to be found such as the Galaxie Diner, the Plaza in Kensington or the wooden Barley Mill at Eau Claire that is now dwarfed by skyscrapers.

And as I cycled along the Bow River on Sunday, I mused over the phases that I’ve gone through in settling here. It hasn’t been without its trials, despite seeing family more often.  One would think being ‘home’ should be an easy adjustment.  But, we know from writers like Robin Pascoe in her book Homeward Bound, that repatriation is often a struggle for expats. It warrants the need for discussion and understanding of what re-entry has in store for us.  “It has a cycle of its own and mercifully, it ends.  It just doesn’t end overnight…”, Robin reminds us.

How true that is.  For me, it was last September when the ‘honeymoon period’ came to an abrupt end and I found myself in ‘crisis mode’, about two months after I had moved back.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. Early one afternoon that month, I had cried on my son’s shoulder.  I was an emotional wreck as I sat at my desk trying to concentrate on work.

“What am I doing here, not that it isn’t great to be here with you, but..?”

The iconic Plaza Theatre in Kensington

The iconic Plaza Theatre in Kensington

With more tears falling from my already swollen eyes, I lamented that I was missing my life of four years in Norway, my friends, my job, not to mention my husband.  And for the first time in 20 some years, I didn’t have a return ticket for the end of the summer; that seemed to be what pushed me ‘over the edge’. Normally at that time I’d be departing from our vacation home in Kimberley after an eventful summer, off to my ‘other life’. No, now I was staying put, in Calgary and I wasn’t coping very well.

A festival and Market in Haultain Park

A festival and market in Haultain Park




In a role reversal, my twenty-two year old had comforted me.   Heeding his heartfelt and sage advice, I had no choice but to pick myself up and get on with the task at hand. I had a deadline to meet. A cross-cultural presentation to prepare and here is where the irony lay. I needed to research and prepare a one and a half hour presentation that would inform and inspire a client in the Oil and Gas industry who was soon moving to Calgary. It would be a synopsis of life in the city, the advantages of what this ‘Cowtown’ has to offer. And so in tears and overwrought, I began the work, perplexed at the irony of doing this just as I was experiencing the worst day thus far of repatriation.


A wooden ‘cowgirl’ sign that has survived, for now.


The city skyline, looking out from Mount Royal

However, as time passed and I worked into the wee hours of the morning, my mood changed. Yes, I could attest to the colourful mosaic the city embraces due to people here from all over the world.  Absolutely, the restaurants are second to none.  Naturally, the Calgary Stampede attracts people worldwide as does the nearby Banff National Park, and so on and so on.   By the time I finished at 3 a.m., my mood had lifted dramatically.  I pressed the ‘send’ button and the presentation was transmitted to, of all places, Norway. Four days later, I presented to a delightful gentleman from Bergen. With each of us focused on my presentation on a computer screen, I would do my best to convince him that his two year stint in Calgary would be an enjoyable experience.  Of course he was a skier, being Norwegian, how far was Banff?  Yes, he was looking forward to dining out without it costing a small fortune  (no, I wasn’t missing that aspect of Norway!)  And yes he loves cycling and are there bike trails?  ‘Only’ about 800 km. or so I happily assured him.  And so the presentation went well and it helped remind me that there was so much to do in the city. I had to accept where I was, move forward and take advantage of it.

I return to the day after that 3 am. finish.  And this is where serendipity comes into play and how it also helped pull me out of my melancholy state, out of that ‘crisis stage’.

A  ‘wee’ story within…

I decide the next afternoon that I need a walk but don’t get very far.  I’m tired from the 3 a.m night before and still emotionally jaded, so decide to turn back and have a late lunch on 17th Ave.  I make my way to our new ‘local’, 80th and Ivy. Serendipity is a wonderful thing that thankfully seems to present itself at times most needed, for on this particular day, the friendly manager greets me and we chat. Normally, I, (we) sit in the bar but today he suggests I sit in the restaurant. It’s comfortable in a trendy, minimalistic way and it just so happens to be six dollar wine and twelve dollar pizza Tuesday. Perfect, it’s now 3 in the afternoon and I’m looking forward to a glass of Shiraz and a small designer pizza (the pear and gorgonzola is amazing!)

I’m seated at a table for two on a long, leather bench seat that extends to other tables, one of them being where two lively women are sitting.  Once I’ve eaten, I pull out my Moleskin and proceed to write.  As I do so, the chatter and laughter of the two ladies, one empty table down from me, happily pervades  my concentration. They’re infectious and admittedly, I begin to eavesdrop just a little ( please tell me I’m not the only one to have ever done this!)   I notice a colourful gift bag perched on their table. Something is being celebrated and when I hear snippets of a new romance, I’m curious. I look over and the older lady of the two meets my curious glance. She has vibrant eyes, framed by a stylish, short haircut. Her strawberry blonde colouring is similar to mine and I’m soon to discover that her trendy hair style is thanks to the other lady of the dynamic duo.

The Calgary Tower

The Calgary Tower

And they will tell me that though they’ve been client and customer for almost twenty-five years, this is the first time they’ve gone out together. That’s clearly a shame as they get along fantastically and I’m soon to join the fray.

Karen and Melissa Jean are intrigued by my story that begins to enfold an hour later. I’m impossibly happy to have met these ladies and I feel comfortable enough to share my ongoing ‘transition blues’.  I’ve now joined their soiree and as it’s already 6p.m., the dinner crowd is making their way to the nearby tables. By our lively chitchat and uproarious laughter, it’s clear we’ve been there awhile. Blame it on the six dollar glasses of wine and the endless stream of stories we all have to tell, but it feels like we’ve known each other longer than a few hours!

Through the trials of cancer and divorce, of retirement and leaving the suburbs, of relocating internationally, of leaving the city to a small town to be with that long lost high school sweetheart (who does look pretty hunky on that little i phone screen), it was one topic after another.   At one point, I suggest to Patricia that her accent is twinged with a note of Scots, ” I should know I’m married to one”, I say.  

“Aye lassie”, she says mischievously, laying on a thick Scottish accent, “I’m originally from the West Coast.”  

80th and Ivy, our 'local' now decorated for the upcoming Stampede

80th and Ivy, our ‘local’ now decorated for the upcoming Stampede

“Small world”, I reply excitedly “that’s where my husband is  from.” And there we go, off on another tangent.

“Terry Anne, you’re a gift from above”, Karen would quip intermittently as the evening wore on and the wine kept flowing.

“No, you two are the gift I needed today. You don’t know how I needed this respite, the laughter and the friendship”.  I tell them genuinely.

“Oh no”, pipe up my new friends, “it was meant to be, it was serendipity!”

As we all live in the same neighbourhood, we walk Melissa Jean a few streets down to her high-rise apartment. She laughs endlessly like a love-struck school girl. In two weeks, she’ll be happily ensconced in a new relationship at 50 something.  A new lease on life through decisions made on her own accord when she faced cancer and decided life was too short to settle for second best. I admired her as she was bold enough to take the plunge to a new life; a sentiment not lost on my ‘supposed hardship’ at the moment.  It brought me to my senses so to speak and I realized I had to make the most of my situation, despite living apart from Bruce.  It was time to ‘turn the page’.

The downtown city lights twinkle behind us, a reminder that the reason we live in an area where you can readily walk and you just might chance upon an afternoon and evening like today. A chance encounter where the joy of women and friendship revitalize a confused soul. The joy of having conversations you didn’t know you’d be having, with people you can’t imagine not having met. Twenty-four hours ago, melancholy had gotten the best of me.  The transition of the move had overshadowed the simple pleasures of being home; I felt the anticipation of not knowing what was around the next corner. As we neared my townhouse and said our goodbyes, Karen promised we’d meet again soon.   Perhaps a monthly ‘Tuesdays at 80th and Ivy’ we both agreed.


And since then, there’s been mostly joy and contentment being here with family and friends in this fair city. Yes there have been some lows on the roller coaster as I coped with some family issues over the months, but I know I needed to be here for those and I’m so thankful that I was. In retrospect, there isn’t any place I would have rather been.  I also had the privilege of being able to hop on a plane and ‘escape’ to visit Bruce in Europe.  What we have found however, is that each time he’s returned here, it’s becoming more difficult to part.  It’s time to live together again and let a new chapter begin.


The Peace Bridge designed by Calatrava

I know after spending August in Kimberley, I will again be on a plane.  That old familiar transition stage will start all over again as I move to the ninth country I will have lived in.

This time I’ll be missing Calgary. However, we’ve invested in a modest pied-e-terre that will perhaps become our emotional anchor to the city.  One of our sons will live there, but there’s a ‘wee’ room for us to call our own for when we visit.  And just outside the door are the walking and cycling trails, great places to wine and dine, we’ll be able to hear the Calgary Folk Festival from our balcony, the lights will twinkle on the frozen river and on and on. I truly now appreciate the privilege it is to come from this part of Canada, from this city. I’m grateful to embrace it as my own and hope it will give me the solace I’ll need, for the ‘interesting’ days ahead.



*Calgary was initially referred to as Bow River Fort then named Fort Brisebois by Inspector Ehphem Brisebois. He was the Mountie overseeing the new fort at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow River, during the brutally cold winter of 1875 – 76.  Colonel James Macleod then renamed it Fort Calgary after Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.