All posts by Thomas Rohner

maison mayor, chez valemount

I didn’t know before getting to Valemount that I’d be living with the mayor. In fact, I might be living with the premiere power couple of the village, since his partner, my boss, is the editor/publisher of a local newspaper. I live in their basement.

But the term ‘power couple’ seems out of place in this mountainous village of some 1000 inhabitants (“on a good day,” one local said to me), and especially in reference to my two new roommates. Since getting here last Sunday, I’ve discerned a down-to-earth, genuine passion they both have for the well-being of this village. They’re highly motivated people who, thankfully, dispelled any premonitory fears I had of this place being an ultra-conservative, out-of-touch backwoods community embodying more of the clichéd Albertan smug prudishness (heartland of the Conservatives, oil money and home to more pickup trucks than people) than the equally unfair ultra-liberal, hippie, pot-loving BC cliché. Not to say the rest of the town can be judged by these two; but that remains to be seen.

There’s a directness to life inherent in a small town like this. I attended a town meeting at the local high school a few days ago, where the principal was holding an information session to quell parents’ fears on the future of the school. Rumors and panic were being fanned by news of a new model involving fewer teachers and more computer-assisted classes necessary for the next school year because of rapidly declining enrollment. In the last five years enrollment has halved and next year the impressive, new building will be home to only 70 students, despite a capacity for over 300. This decline in enrollment is in line with the decline of the general population since the lumber mill – providing 200 of the best-paid jobs in town, according to the mayor – closed some six years ago. It is a very uncertain time in the life of Valemount Village.

“People who worry tend to express that worry as fact,” the principal told the school auditorium, half full with some 40-50 citizens, “and as it goes from person to person things get out of control.” But he acknowledged that the past few years had been tough on the school, and they had exhausted their savings in compensating for low enrollment. They had also exhausted their funding and grant options, so change was imminent and necessary. “Going after more money is like…”, the principal paused, struggling to find the right words, “…is like asking for champagne on a beer budget.” Not sure those were the right words to assuage the concerns of parents.

But the directness to life suggested by a town meeting of this sort was illusory, I thought. The principal’s presentation was unnecessarily long and tedious, and behind his rhetoric of “this is our collective problem and we need to, collectively, find a solution” was a predetermined objective and solution. Sounding more like a politician or a businessman, the principal had already decided on a new model and was only allowing parents to feel involved, rather than allow them to participate directly. Slide after slide of stats and academic research suggested this gathering was a shareholders meeting, and the principal, like a CEO, was doing what he could to assure the shareholders—the parents—that he had a confident, steady hand on the rudder, despite the turbulent times.

At the start of the Q&A period, the mayor stood up and thanked the principal for holding the meeting, acknowledging that he could have simply steamrolled ahead with his plans without holding any public consultation. And that’s true. But when nearly every sizeable community in this country has been incorporated (that is, made into a corporation), where they mayor’s alternate title is CEO, the structures of a business pervade all levels of local government. The “spirit” of a place, the cohesiveness of a community, the identity of a people is necessarily limited by what the rational structures of a business model can allow.

The principal spoke of the need to look squarely in the mirror, to identify the current situation. “But if we start building resorts, attracting people, who knows,” he said. And indeed the future of this town seems to be staked on tourism, especially a holiday glacier destination designed by a prominent Vancouver developer. But what control will the community have over these plans that will surely redefine the village? What control can they have in the ultra-corporate environs of Canada? That too remains to be seen.


one night in edmonton

It’s 1:30am, Edmonton time, 3:30am Toronto time. I’m kinda delusional and confused with fatigue and too much sunlight. The sun didn’t set until just before 10pm here in Edmonton, which means I had some 16 hours of sunlight today, with my flight. There’s nothing quite like the haggard feeling — an itch that starts in the retina and reaches back, unwanted tickling, into the cranial cavity — from too much sun. Like a corrosive hairball that won’t budge.

One Night in Edmonton.

Whyte Avenue, Edmonton, May 18, 2013. 11:30pm-12:30am.

Crowded sidewalks, loud people spewed out from dark doorways of bars, clubs. Drunk, young, sexually charged. The bright and neon lights matching the gaudiness of sexual energy.  Flesh, tight clothes, rank pheremones buzzing viscerally through the din of constant cat calls and blatant ogling. An obvious terrain of machismo – big trucks, motorocycles, muscle shirts and lack of shame or respect or restriction of the male sex drive pervades.

12:30am: “Now we just gotta find two broads who’ll put out,” one young, passing  guy says to another, a near-clone.  His Hawaiian shirt is fully open and he has a ridiculous bounce in his step.

“Aw man, that girl, the bitch, she called me at 4am yesterday…ha!ha! What do you think she wanted? She wanted me to fuck her. ‘Are you busy,’ she said. Ha! Ha!” His laugh is metallic, punched into the air.

12:00am: I was getting a kebab and a disheveled “clubbing girl” – short skirt, skampy top, elongated heels, but too much fatty flesh billowing and bunching out to pass it off, despite her fake-tanned complexion – burst into the small store and says, slurs, shouts,  “Can I use your phone?! I’ll fucking pay you, just, can I use your phone?!” Her voice has a false tone of desperation, shrill. She’s pleading/demanding, but it’s for something selfishly arbitrary, it seems… a lost cell phone, maybe. A booty call. Something to restore her sense of self worth.

“What?…No”, the 30-something year old Kebab man stammers. “No, uh, the battery’s dead, you can’t use.” He’s obviously lying, looking at me apologetically, but with conviction: she’s crazy and rude, right? his look says. His damning judgement forces me into his fold.

“Fine, then fuck you!” the girl blurts, not looking at the Kebab man, but rummaging desperately, with jerky, imprecise movements in an oversized designer knock-off purse. I imagine her pulling out some shamelessly vibrant lip stick and smearing it all over her face…everywhere but her lips.  Her flabby form is out the door before her rummaging is done so that the last we see of her is an arm, seemingly disconnected from a body, as though seeking emancipation from her body, grabbing blindly, submerged to the elbow in the bag that she had plunked on the kebab counter when she first made her graceless entrance.

“Bitch, she should learn some respect,” the Kebab man says after she leaves. I feel a dull, detached discomfort.


As soon as I left the hostel, two young men accosted me on the side street.  “Hey, do you have a musical instrument?” one slurred, a brunette with short hair (can men be called brunettes?), thin, attractive, with his pants falling below his waist line. Humbert Humbert  peeps into my mind.  “Do you want a beer?” the other one asked before I could answer.

“Uh, yeah, I’d love a beer.” I said.

“Aw, guy, we’re doing this scavenger hunt, my girlfriend and her friends against us.”
“I don’t have a musical instrument,” I said. “cheers”

“Naw, you gotta take the cap off first, take a sip, then cheers,” the other said seriously, with a hint of religiosity.

“What can this dude help us with?” the brunette asks the other.

“What else is on our list?”

“Uh, a pyramid, uh..”

“Aw, guy, he can help us with that!” He turns to me. “Can you help us with that? We gotta build a human pyramid with six people..”

I look down at the beer in my hand, resenting its price.

“Um, sure, I guess.”

They beckon to a passing a group of guys on the main street, a half block away.  They’re drunk too, of course, and loud and over excited.

They start forming the pyramid.  I hestitate, and so does another guy.

“You better get in there,” he says to me. He’s muscle-bound, tall, curly haired. His shirt is tight enough to see not just nipple but areola, skin pores (really, areola?).  I eye his physique and say, “You can’t weigh much less than me, you get in”, comparing the weight of his muscle to the weight of my love handles.

“I weigh 400 lbs,” he says, smirking. He’s shy and hesitant compared to the rest, and despite wearing the Whyte Ave uniform.

After the picture, there’s general shouting conversation, aggressive aimlessness. “Thanks for the beer,” I say, not caring if anyone hears me, “Have a good night,” and walk down Whyte Ave.