Imagine This Valley:

Essays and Stories Celebrating the Bow Valley

By Ben Fullalove

Collected by Stephen Legault
Rocky Mountain books
2016/$20.00/304 pp.

This engaging anthology of mostly new writing from and about the Bow Valley consists of 27 short essays, along with an introduction and conclusion by the editor and initiator of the collection, Stephen Legault. A long-time conservationist, Legault describes the book as a collaboration in which the writers share “their passion for, and sometimes struggles with, Alberta’s iconic mountain landscape.” He first conceived of the book in the mid-1990s at the time of the federal government’s Bow Valley Study on development and conservation in Banff National Park. In the context of his own advocacy work for the Bow Valley Wildland near Canmore, his idea was that the landscape needed a voice and that writers who loved the place could help tell its story. After a long hiatus, the project was taken up again and has resulted in this imaginative and diverse collection which collectively produces a varied and complex map of the Bow Valley.

Many of the essays are by authors who will be well known to people interested in writing about the Rockies, including Kevin Van Tighem (on the Bow Valley as the heart of an overstressed ecosystem), Katherine Govier (on fantasies of wilderness) and Lynn Martel (on the problem of finding affordable housing). One of the real pleasures of the anthology is the inclusion of less familiar voices. I particularly enjoyed the complexity of Maria Gregorish’s reflections on Canadian history and her Romanian childhood, placed in the context of waiting for a conversation class in the Canmore Legion, and also Rob Alexander’s moving account of childhood, loss and change in Canmore.

Humour is present here, too, especially in Kristy Davison’s amusing tale of a moonlit ski up Goat Creek, culminating in a terrifying, shriek-inducing encounter with a mysterious green-eyed beast that turned out to be neither cougar nor wolf, but a golden retriever out for a stroll with its owner.
Despite its diversity, however, Imagine This Valley lacks a significant perspective on the place it represents. Absent from the anthology, as Legault acknowledges, are any contributions from Indigenous writers. Essays by Harvey Locke and John Reilly do underline the significant and continuous presence of Aboriginal peoples in the Bow Valley and highlight the difficult and persistent legacies of colonialism.
“When space feels thoroughly familiar to us,” the cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan writes, “it has become place.” The essays in this collection make an important contribution to an understanding of the contemporary Bow Valley, not simply as a scenic backdrop for tourism and development but as a complex, sometimes embattled, and very creative place.

Ben Fullalove teaches art history and visual culture at ACAD.

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