Poem: Naming The Streets of Calgary

"Naming the Streets of Calgary" is simply a lament that we have failed to lend substance to 'place' by ascribing only numbers to our pathways...a monumental failure in my mind." Gord Menzies


I follow her on a Monday meandering

through the Cold Garden under blue sky

damning and cursing the grid work of 1904

watching the numbers fall from street signs

clattering over the curbs as she passes

streets and avenues dropping numbers

and demanding words of remembrance

she almost prances as she speaks them

Brown Bottle Lane, Riverwalk Avenue

Prairie Wind and Magpie Streets

Dancing Horse Drive, she touches

street signs as she passes and I

follow, writing them all down, some

just rediscovered and given life again

as she peels up the asphalt, touches earth

her fingers finding letters 'midst the stone

her lips finding adjectives, in shadow

and river spray wanderings, knowing

we cannot sink our roots into numbers

only names can make these places ours

in Gaelic and Siksika and English

Alainn Street, Ki'somma Avenue

our pathways come to life and rise

I determine not to kiss her on 6th Avenue,

but take her by the slender waist

on Winter Rose Lane, and the moment,

is planted like a flag in the pressing of lips,

and fixed as a star among our names

By Gordon R. Menzies, 2016

Menzies' Backstory 

Since coming to Calgary five years ago I've always found the numbering system somewhat unsettling from the perspective of both my literary and historical eye...so the seed of the poem has been present for some time.  The loss of historical perspective and aboriginal consideration in light of current societal pressures of various kinds impacts the heritage of everyone laying down roots here.  

For example, I have heard Carseland repeatedly referred to as "Car's Land" whereas the origin is Auld (Old) Scots - 'carse' is a fertile river land.  Calgary itself is of Gaelic origin, though its meaning is debated.  I chose one of them 'cold garden' for the poem.  The intended name, of course, would only be known to James MacLeod, who may or may not have had a solid mastery of the language.  

The etymology remains uncertain today.  In any case, the naming of things is unique to our species and of incredible historical and cultural importance, though admittedly only in our hearts and minds...the earth knows its own names and what we assign is ultimately only of true importance to our various peoples.  

Menzies' Last Word:

Although numbers do have the capacity to become iconic, memorable or impactful, e.g. 9/11, Area 51, Prisoner 24601, 1984, etc., the truest of powers resides in words.  We name things - our children, our homes, our lands, our weapons - to give them strength and identity.  

We should not be living in binary code, we need the warmth and sense of place that comes with written language.

In Calgary's Garrison Woods, the developer Canada Lands Corporation has used authentic military names that celebrate the land being home to a Canadian Armed Forces Based for many years.