107 Street Westlock Alberta Western Canada

Walk to the edge of town and play in the old combine. Another day, walk a couple of blocks on wooden sidewalks past the caragana hedges to the main street. Turn left and go to the Alberta Café across the street from the United Church. Buy an ice cream cone for a nickel.

Bury your doll in the ruts in the road.

That first experience of ‘street’ is in equal parts remembered and forgotten and invented. I was five when we moved away.

Log onto Google Earth. Fly over Alberta and touch down in Westlock. Choose street view on 107 Street. Walk from one end to the other. Most of the houses on the screen are built after my time there.

But it is the place. Some houses, some buildings are familiar. Along the main street (100 Avenue) there is the Alberta Café. The United Church. The hotel. The grain terminal and train tracks on the north end.

I could have had little to say about the place at the time, taking it for granted, my small world, not even knowing the streets had names. Perhaps after your tour, you may also have trouble thinking what to say. But this street, like all others, is remarkable.

Remarkable for how it came to be this way, for who is served by the way things are, for how it suits the land it occupies, and for what resources were used up to make this happen. Remarkable for how it makes people feel. Remarkable for who is responsible.

Founding a country on democratic principles means electing the most popular candidates to government - town councils, legislatures, or Parliament. Representatives chosen because voters found their ideas familiar and agreeable. Choices that those early officials, planners and builders made about ‘house’ and ‘street’ were largely based on ideas that arrived with the settlers. Their scripts for how to be at home.

Indigenous people were not voters when Westlock and almost every other Western Canadian town was being laid out. See the history of indigenous suffrage in the Canadian Encyclopedia if you are not already knowledgeable through interest or personal experience.

The study of streets has been the domain of geographers, urban planners, architects and historians. Psychogeographers take their own unique approach to the subject. Streets attract the commentary of social activists, artists, writers of novels and poems and songs and some photographers, including me.

I photograph streets -  comparing other streets to the first one I knew was mine - and to the ones I have lived on or walked along since. Seeing versions of Canadian-ness that are not easily mistaken for anywhere else in the world. 

May 2016 portrait in tree by the United Church with Alberta Cafe across the street.

May 2016 portrait in tree by the United Church with Alberta Cafe across the street.