I hadn’t been back to Edmonton in nearly 20 years, not since I’d passed through with my parents at age 15 on my way back to Vancouver. I took the airport shuttle downtown to the bus station then checked in at the Grand Hotel across the street. The hotel looked rundown, but the wooden awning out front and the cowboy bar on the ground floor lent it a frontier feel, made it an apt jumping off point for the journey that would take me to Fort McMurray and beyond to a North I hadn’t seen since just before I’d last seen Edmonton.
Except for a guy who tried to bum five bucks off me in the hallway, the hotel was empty and quiet. I was tired from getting up at dawn and catching the flight from Montreal, but when I lay down on the bed, I was too agitated to rest. I felt my childhood all around me in the quiet streets stretching out beyond the window, the brilliant blue sky directly in front of my line of vision that just seemed to go on and on. It was more a shock than I’d expected to be back. For most of the time I’d been away, I’d suppressed my memories of Edmonton. Or lost them, I’ve never been sure which. I’d been thinking about Edmonton in a roundabout way, as part of that whole first 15 years of my life that involved the North, rebuilding it all piece by piece in my mind until I felt like I could enter it at will. Now here it was, memory made life. If I shifted position, I could just see the neon red CN logo, atop the hi-rise with the vertical black and white lines running down its sides. The CN Tower had been my favorite hi-rise when we’d lived in the city, and just seeing it again felt like a minor miracle and made me as anxious to walk Edmonton’s afternoon streets as I’d once been, in my drinking days, to hit the bars as soon as possible whenever I arrived somewhere new.