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Crossing Canada by train gave me three reasons to hate Calgary


We called it The VIA-Rail, 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza.  By using voodoo magic, my book publisher, Harper-Collins Canada, had worked a deal with VIA-Rail to send me and my artist-photographer-wife, Sheena Fraser McGoogan, back and forth across the country by train to promote 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  All I had to do was write a few articles for VIA-Destinations, a now-defunct magazine. No, I didn't inquire too deeply.
But with Canada 150 directly ahead, now is the time to reveal how that played out. Having boarded The Canadian in Toronto, we rocked westward into the night, bound for Vancouver and the Pacific. The Atlantic leg would happen later. Now, we would stop off in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Banff, and stay in each city at a classic railway hotel. The idea was Canadian history, right? I would talk to any media outlet that would have me, and then we would board VIA-Rail’s next Canadian. Hey, I said someone worked magic.
True, our train looked nothing like the Countess of Dufferin (pictured below), which is housed at the Railway Museum in Winnipeg. But we ate our meals in a dining car complete with friendly servers, four-person tables, and white-linen tablecloths. We slept in a private compartment. And if we wanted a better view of the countryside, we would make our way to one of the dome cars.
We whirled through a kaleidoscope of landscape, history, and memory. It was the rail-trip of a lifetime, and it taught me a few things. It taught me to hate Calgary, for example, where Sheena and I lived for two decades while raising our now-adult children. I shared three of those reasons in the city itself, while praising 50 Canadians at Pages on Kensington. Looking back, I see that those reasons stand up. 
The first reason I hated Calgary was Naheed Nenshi. We chanced to be in the city when Calgarians elected this brilliant, charismatic leader to a second four-year term. Why should Calgary get the Best Mayor in Canada, that's what I wanted to know. Meanwhile, in Toronto, we were suffering the death of a thousand cuts under a certain Mortifying Blowhard. Nenshi alone would have been sufficient to make me gnash my teeth with envy. Come to think of it, I'm still gnashing.
That brings me to my second reason. I hated Calgary because it has the C-Train, a Light Rapid Transit system that runs like a dream. A multi-stop C-Train is precisely what Toronto needs to run out Scarborough way. Instead, our new and slightly improved mayor remains committed to building a radically inferior and far more expensive subway line. Don't get me started. 
The third reason I hated Calgary was the superabundance of swimming pools. They are everywhere, wonderfully clean, always half-empty. By comparison, swimming in Toronto is like something out of The Hunger Games. Nasty, brutish, and hard to survive. So: Nenshi, the C-Train, the swimming pools. All these I found hard to forgive.
But at Pages, I didn’t say a word about the most hurtful thing of all. I couldn't even speak of Calgary’s proximity to the Rockies. Did I mention that in summer we camped and hiked in those mountains, and in winter we skied every weekend at Sunshine or Lake Louise. You want justified hatred? Think about that.
In fairness, I have to say that the Calgary Herald ran an insightful article about 50 Canadians. The CBC Homestretch and Global TV gave me prime-time exposure. And I saw a whack of old friends at Pages on Kensington. Yes, we adjourned to a still-familiar pub. My hatred of Calgary is not unmitigated.


Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.

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