Calgary at a Crossroads

I can't tell you for sure when I realized I was a Calgarian. 

  • Tell us what your moment was, or if you never experienced it, in the comment section below. Or you can tweet us @CBCCalgary or post to our Facebook page.

Like so many of us, I wasn't born here, but from the moment I drove over the Centre Street bridge and saw the Calgary Tower I knew I was home. 

And while I don't remember the exact moment I knew I was Calgarian, I do know it happened.

It's always been my job to be "Calgary."  

I moved here a couple of decades ago to become a DJ at a local radio station. A big part of my job was hopping in the Community Cruiser and checking out craft fairs, hockey games, festivals, dog/cat/reptile/coin shows and community gatherings in general.

A-ha!

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Calgarians 'under the bridge' of the Eighth Street train bridge. (@kerrisingh/Twitter)

If a couple of neighbours were having coffee over the back fence, I was there  — think of it as civic engagement on steroids.   

It's what I still do everyday here at CBC Calgary on Eyeopener. And on that basis it's clear to me there is a strange feeling in the city right now. 

Calgary's in a recession, and even though we've been here before, it's different this time. We used to be so sure of ourselves, but now we're questioning who we are, where we're going and how we're going to get there. 

This isn't familiar ground for us. The one thing we do know for sure is that we're all in this together — this is home.

It means something to be Calgarian. But is there really an, "A-ha!' I'm a Calgarian!" moment? And if so, how did I miss it?  

'Definable moment'

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Volunteers at the Calgary International Airport are easily recognizable, and always bring a western welcome to visitors. (shawn_calgary/Instagram)

I decided to ask that question of someone who studies "identity" — Cara MacInnis, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary.

"I do think there is a definable moment," MacInnis said. "But I don't think most people will realize that it's happened."

She thinks many people only realize they're Calgarian in retrospect, "by doing something simply — like when you choose on an internet drop-down menu what your city is. You go to the city where you actually live, instead of the place you previously lived."

Feeling connected to the city requires a bit of effort, MacInnis says.

"Something that I think is important is the extent to which you make friends or build relationships with people in the city," she said, adding "then a little bit of their identity rubs on to you and you start to feel you belong to this group."

Sense of commitment

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The Wonderland sculpture in front of The Bow building has become a favourite place for Calgarians to snap pictures. (yeghugos/Instagram)

So, if we do make those connections and declare, "I'm a Calgarian," does it change us, and does our relationship with the city change? 

Dr. Shannon Murray, who teaches culture theory at the University of Calgary, believes it does.

"I think that there is an investment value," she said. "When you buy in and say, 'Yup, I'm Calgarian and I'm here for the long run,' it can affect the way you vote and your opinions on long-term city projects like the green LRT line.

"Once you say, 'Calgary is my home,' there is a greater civic investment." 

So that's the theory. Now for one of my favourite "I'm a Calgarian" moments.

Magic moment

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Calgary is known for its crazy weather, like this picture from Snowtember in 2014. (CBC)

A few years ago I shared an elevator with another woman. The door closed, and there we were, silently staring at the one of those little screens that flashes the current weather and temperatures.

Suddenly, she leaned in close to me, as though she were about to reveal a big secret.

"You know," she said, "when I first came here I thought Calgarians were sooo boring, always the yak-yak-yak about the weather. It drove me nuts. Where I come from, it's always warm — we never talk about the weather. Then one day I found myself talking to a stranger about chinooks and snow and the probability of precipitation.  And that's when it hit me — I'm a Calgarian!" 

It was a wonderful moment and I burst out laughing, delighted that she had shared it with me. And yes, we had time to talk about the weather before the doors opened.

I love that story, but words will never do justice to the smile on her face when she shared her "I'm a Calgarian" moment.

OK, I've shared my anecdote, now it's your turn. Whether you were born and raised here or moved here, I want to know whether and when you had your "I'm a Calgarian" moment.

Please leave your memories in the comments section below.

CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn will look at the city's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. It's called Calgary at a Crossroads.