Tag Archives: Alberta

Four Strong Winds

Ian_and_Sylvia_1968 publicity photo-wikicommonsI’ve been thinking about Ian Tyson lately. With the recent death of Leonard Cohen, the songs and the songwriters of Canada – and an era – have been heard a lot.

One song that often sneaks into my head is Four Strong Winds, the most evocative, and most Canadian of songs. Written by Ian Tyson, recorded by Ian & Sylvia in 1963, then by almost everybody else.

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high

Could be any part of Canada. West, east, south or north – strong winds blow; seas, lakes, rivers run high. But it’s Alberta in the song. And, for many people for many years, it’s been Alberta in the reality. Going out west for work. Ranch work. Before oil.

Ian Tyson with_2011_Charles_M._Russell_Heritage_Award-wikicommons-Lee-Gunderson
Ian Tyson, at home, with 2011 Charles M. Russell Heritage Award

It is the reality for Mr. Tyson. He’s owned a working ranch in Alberta for decades. And he’s kept writing and singing songs. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t settle in the States. With many of them, he spent time in California and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Then he came home.

Born in British Columbia, he worked the rodeos. Then the music, and his time with Sylvia (Fricker) Tyson. The years of his Four Strong Winds and Someday Soon and her You Were On My Mind. Many more too but, for those three songs alone, they deserve to be canonized.TCH 1 west road sign in Alberta photo O Ogglesby

Think I’ll go out to Alberta…

Four Strong Winds is about Canada. The distances that make leaving one part of the country for another a big deal. Winters that make you think twice. “And those winds sure can blow cold way out there.” In the song, it’s Alberta’s winds but it could be almost anywhere, in winter.

Ian-Tyson_-Hat-boots-rope-photo-Don-Kennedy-Cdn-Country-music-hall-of-fame.jpg
Ian Tyson display at Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame

There still are ranches in Alberta, there is still a beef industry. There are cowboys, but fewer of them. It is all still part of the mythology of place. But oil took over the reality. The westward drift of labour continued, in search of oil work. The lure of the big bucks. Then, as the economy elsewhere faltered, it was simply the lure of a job – any job. But Stetsons and roper boots come out, at least during the Stampede when everybody’s a cowboy.western heritage statue-2006 Calgary airport photo O Ogglesby

The song is about more too. It’s about the bittersweetness of leaving the familiar for somewhere new. Leaving the beloved, hoping that time and distance can be bridged. Knowing that it can’t, and maybe that’s a good thing. “Our good times are all gone, and I’m bound for moving on.”

So there’s the story of Canada, and the human heart – in two verses and a chorus. Thank you, Ian Tyson.

For the story of the woman he would send the fare, see MacLean’s from 2012. And at American Songwriter, Rick Moore discusses the lyrics and slight changes made by other artists.

Rodeo Kings

From St. Thomas Dog Blog July 8, 2011. Sadly in this year’s Stampede, 2 horses died in chuckwagon race crashes.

William & Kate open 2011 Stampede Parade (ctv pic)William and Kate opened the Calgary Stampede and attended the parade. William even took part in a chuckwagon race. I’d wondered what they’d do. Before their visit, there was a furor about their endorsement-by-attendance at what some call an event about animal abuse.

But wait, doesn’t Vancouver Humane Society have abandoned and abused animals in its own city? Doesn’t it receive calls about horse starvation within its jurisdiction? Isn’t there factory farming in the Lower Mainland?

And the UK’s RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports? Isn’t there abuse and neglect within the UK? What’s happening with fox hunting? That can pretty hard on horses let alone the fox, if there’s Horses in Old National steeplechasestill hunting of live foxes. And polo. Show jumping, eventing, steeplechasing, hurdling: all involve horses as active partners under the control of a human.

The protestors made a lot about the UK having banned rodeo in 1934 and that it was William’s “great-great-grandfather George V who signed [it] into law.” Funny, I had no idea rodeo was part of British culture and history. Not like Canada and the US where the activities that comprise rodeo have been part of the national landscape since the beginning.

Stampede and all horse sports

Prince Philip 2005 driving competition Lowther wikicommonsBut there are horse sports that William, his father and brother, his aunt Anne, his cousin Zara, grandfather and other members of both sides of his family actively participate in. Polo, show jumping, eventing and driving. His paternal grandmother and late great-grandmother have huge stables of Thoroughbreds and have long been active in “The Sport of Kings.” How many horses are killed yearly in Thoroughbred racing alone?

In Los Angeles, where William and Kate headed after Calgary, he is participating in a polo match. Not one peep about animal abuse in anything I read about that. Why weren’t the Vancouver and UK animal rights people all over that one?

I do not want to fuel activism against polo. It is a beautiful sport. But, like any sport involving animals, it has a lot of Prince William playing polo (commons.wikimedia.org)room for abuse in treatment of horses and in training methods. Read Jilly Cooper’s Polo. She explains the game and the training. There are good trainers and players, and bad. There are selfish, egotistical, win-at-all-costs brutes who take out their frustrations on their horse partner. Some training methods rely on infliction of pain to “teach” the horse. There can be individual and systemic abuse of half the polo team. The description of the training by the world-champion level Argentines is so horrific that I flinched at the mere word Argentina long after finishing the book. And that’s just the world of polo.

Look into the spikes and sticks used by some show jumper trainers to get a horse’s feet lifted high. I’m not sure that the flank strap used to cause bucking by rodeo broncs is worse than many tools used by horse trainers unwilling to practice patience.

Windsor_2009_Limelight-detail-don-carey-kersti-nebelsiek-wikicommonsShould we ban show jumping and polo? No. But abuse should not be permitted in those sports any more than it should be permitted in rodeo or any sport or event that involves animals. Also maybe UK and Canadian animal rights people ought to clean up their own backyards first. Feeding and fixing ‘stray’ cats, stopping the supply of puppies on Kijiji: that’ll keep you busy right there.

Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles are sequential so start at the beginning, with Riders.They are wonderful books, with horrible people and lovely animals and some nice people.