By Glenn Kubish
It was July 25, 2009, and as we walked out of the Blatchford Field Hangar, Edmonton happened.
The date is important because it was the day of Sonia and Raoul’s wedding, and that happy event was what got us into Fort Edmonton Park. The two were married in the hangar, one of the many re-built and re-created buildings from Edmonton’s past preserved at the park.
If you happened to be strolling by that morning (and you might well have been, considering that a walk under an endless blue sky and through the mid-summer heat was a most enjoyable use of time), you might never have guessed from outside the hangar what had just occurred inside. In front of hundreds of guests, some in business suits and summer dresses, others in saris and sherwanis, Sonia and Raoul became husband and wife in a traditional Hindu ceremony full of fashion and food, fire and family. Or, simply put, they got hitched.
And now my wife and I were walking out of the hangar into the brilliant air.
“Did you like it?” an East Indian gentleman asked my wife.
“Oh, yes,” Shelagh replied. “You get the impression that being married is quite important.”
“Yes, yes,” he said, smiling and moving on.
Sonia had looked beautiful. She wore an elegant sari of scarlet and gold. And she was as happy as she was gorgeous. The ceremony was solemn, the bride and groom and their parents following the intricate directions of the priest who led them through the rituals older than, well, older than the park’s historic steam engine whose whistle punctuated the proceedings. With each whistle blast, Sonia and Raoul would smile, and a wave of quiet laughter moved through the hangar.
And it pulled me back in memory to the north end of Edmonton where I grew up. As a boy, I would lie awake in bed listening for the wail of the CN freight train as it hauled a sentence of cars along the Fort Road line. Some cars carried coal, others contained cattle. Some had explosive material. Some were from far away, like the Illinois Central and the Burlington Northern. My dad was a locomotive engineer on those trains. I knew it was his job to get the cars safely down the line into the Calder Yards.
“They were married last week in Victoria, too,” Shelagh had whispered during the ceremony. “In a Sikh temple for the other side of the family.”
And that connected to this memory: Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver, 1989. A bald eagle hovered above. English Bay shimmered hypnotically. We should move back to Edmonton, Shelagh said. It’s where our families are. It’s home. So we moved back.
And now here we were, walking along the wooden sidewalk at Fort Edmonton Park, talking with another couple from the wedding. Glenn, Shelagh. Paul, Tamara. How do you know the couple? Well, I work with Sonia at CTV. Paul, who knows Raoul through business, imports premium alcohols from places like Poland and Peru.
“So, you work in immigration!” I said.
They laughed and Paul asked as he surveyed the scene: “I’m not from Edmonton originally. This park is really neat. What was here before they built all this stuff?”
“I really don’t know,” I replied, thinking I could put that question to who I took to be two male park employees, dressed in period clothes, walking toward us from the train station. They looked like 1950s school boys, each wearing dark shorts and high socks, a brimmed cap, white shirt and a wide, striped tie. Sneakers completed the look. The ukulele cases they carried took the look over the top!
“Hey,” Shelagh said as they walked past us, “you guys are the Be Arthurs, heh?! I love you guys!”
The Be Arthurs, the city’s only working ukulele cover band, had played Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the Mayor’s Evening for the Arts a few weeks earlier, and they brought down the house at the Winspear Centre. And now here we all were.
“We’re playing Capital Ex tonight,” one of them said, handing Shelagh a card. “We’re opening for Howie Mandel. Come down and watch!”
“Wow, thanks,” I said. “We’ll give it a try!”
As the ukulele musicians moved past us and on to whatever part of Edmonton past or present they were heading for, we stepped over the railroad tracks and onto the train platform. There, the conductor guided the first of the morning’s park visitors up and into the refurbished passenger coach for their ride around the park. When the last were safely up and in their seats, the conductor looked up and down the platform for any newly arrived. He checked the watch in his vest, nodded his grey head and hollered out that thrilling invitation.