Friday, September 25, 2009

I Grew Up in Vulcan

Only 10 days to go until the Run for the Cure on October 4th! Its not too late to register. Huge Thank-Yous to everyone who has sponsored Lori or myself in this years run. If you aren't able to participate yourself this year, please consider donating.

The B(.)(.)bies say thanks too!

My old high school made the news this week. Students at County Central High School in Vulcan, Alberta got to talk to Robert Thirsk, on board the International Space Station. I grew up on a farm near an eccentric little town in Southern Alberta called Vulcan. When the railroad surveyors were plotting out the towns along the rail line they had to come up with town names every 10-12 miles. When they got to ours they named it Vulcan after the Roman God of Fire because it was on the highest point along that track. Originally all the streets were named after Roman gods and goddesses; Juno, Minerva, Neptune, Apollo, etc. The town kept those names into the 1920s, until the churches decided that God would probably be offended by being reminded of the competition and all the street names were changed to numbers.

So when this spectacular tornado arrived in town in 1927, it was heading down Centre Street instead of Jupiter Street. When you look up "Tornado" in most editions of the Encyclopedia Brittanica from the middle of the 20th Century, you'll see this picture of Vulcan's tornado. If you flip the picture upside down, its like God giving a big thumbs-up to the new street names!

During World War II, there was a large airport built at Vulcan by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which was briefly used to train pilots between 1942 and 1945. Much of the RCAF Aerodrome Vulcan is still visible, although the last time I was home it was used as an auction mart and as a sales and storage space for livestock trailers.

Vulcan's claim to fame from the 1920s to 1971 was its unrivalled grain storage capacity. Nine wooden grain elevators along the railroad tracks were affectionately called "9 in a line" and if you bought a post card in Vulcan during that time those elevators would have been on it. For a time in the early 1970s, Vulcan was calling itself "The Wheat Capital of the World", because wheat from a local farm was judged the best in the world at an international competition, two years in a row! Everyone was proud, but by the 1980s it was getting tough to build town pride on an accomplishment that was more than a decade old.

We started putting up flag poles. Dozens of flags went up in clusters around town and we knew our destiny was to become the Flag Capital of Alberta, then Canada, and then the WORLD! After we'd put up dozens of flags someone decided to check out the current flag capital of the neighbourhood and it turned out that they had hundreds of flags. Maybe even thousands - just way too many flags. So we stopped that and went home to watch tv.

About that time Star Trek: The Next Generation was making Star Trek popular again. We needed something to set us apart from every other small town, so folks started working the Star Trek angle. I was a teenager, and seeing the local bank employees sporting pointy rubber ears and watching the mayor dress up like a Klingon was pretty embarassing. One of the first Star Trek stunts that I can remember was a contest held by the Calgary TV station that was airing The Next Generation. First prize in the contest was a trip to Universal Studios, second prize was a trip to Vulcan. All the second prize winners were loaded onto a bus and shipped to Vulcan for blue Romulan ale at the Legion. On route, just outside High River, the mayor and a bunch of other citizens wearing big rubber foreheads and Klingon uniforms pulled up alongside the bus in their mini-van and "beamed aboard the vessel", taking everyone hostage. We used to have a Canada Day Rodeo and Parade, but that was changed to Spock Days.

Despite my embarassment and to the credit of the organizers, alongside the Star Trek murals and space ships that started dotting the town, there was a new focus on science in the county. Science Stops were put up throughout the county at interesting points highlighting everyday science, like weather stations and water treatment plants. There was even one at the Carmangay Teepee Rings, so archaeology got a nod. This weeks Q + A session between Vulcan students and astronauts on the International Space Station is a fantastic example of the success of that effort. And when you drive around town, you'll notice that the old Roman street names are back up on the signs.

Photo Credits:
Top: Run for the Cure website
Second: Wikipedia, Vulcan Entry
Third: GenDisasters website
Fourth-Sixth: Photos from the Vulcan Tourism Website

Photo Captions:
First: Run for the Cure
Second: Roman Bronze of Vulcan
Third: Tornado approaching Vulcan, July 1927
Fourth: Nine in a Line, Wooden Elevators in Vulcan, Alberta for storing grain before being loaded onto railway cars
Fifth: Spock Ears sold in Vulcan
Sixth: The starship by the highway, Vulcan, Alberta


  1. That's really quite interesting. Glad to hear the streets got their names back. I come from a small town in New Brunswick named after a dragon slayer (St. George).

    There used to be a mine on the outskirts of town,. That closed down in the early 1980s and the population is now half of what it was during peak mine times.

    The town started a little festival called Dragon Days to celebrate St. George. However there was some resistance from the more fundamentalist religious people in the community. If I remember correctly it was based around the fact that the dragon was being celebrated instead of the Saint. The dragon, of course being evil and in league with Satan. I'll have to ask my folks how that turned out...

  2. Great article. Reminds me of my scifi days and brings back so many memories.

  3. Thanks for the comments! Dragon Days sounds like a fun theme. It sounds like some St. Georgians take their role as dragon-slayers very seriously.

  4. Good luck with your run!

    I'm here via Canada Blog Friends!

  5. You grew up in Vulcan?! You are now like, 3 times cooler to me.

  6. Judging from the feedback, it looks like I've been missing the mark on blog topics. From now on, I'm going to start every post with, "This one time, at Vulcan..."


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