Young Earle Birney in Banff: September 1913¹


This poem is one of a series of dramatic renderings of obscure corners of real and imagined history.

what a day!

at the Basin2 dove from the tufa overhang

into the water, playing my trick of

seeming to drown, not coming up until I finish wriggling

through that underwater chimney

and burst into air. always startles the tourists.

—feel the late summer heat, saw young birds

now half-grown, flying

the ones that survive the cats,

woodpecker, chickadee

the juncos, usually close to the ground,


a couple on the way to Bow Falls

where I sit, watching the waters clashing and lashing—

remember when Daddy was building our house

on Squirrel Street

and I had whooping cough

first saw the river with Sue Macklin

from a high bank

it was dark and seething

—our fingers touched

we were so scared ran to the tent.

now to the bike

bought from selling door to door

Canadian Pictorial subscriptions

and those smelly sachet powders

grab the handlebars, run,

fling myself into the air

land on the seat, pedal

till the trees on either side this path

are a green blur—

—on the way to buffalo park.

that Englishman3 I talked to earlier

when he bought the newspaper,

he said war was building up

in the Old Country. he loved Germany

but England was holy, he said.

how I had startled him with my trick

at the pool! wonder if he believed

that whopper I told him

about grizzlies soaking in the Cave

to cure their rheumatism?

that was really the caretaker’s story, old Galletley

with his tam-o’-shanter,

but he really knew some true facts

like the Indians using the springs before us.

maybe after hunting buffalo. tiring,

chasing the herds, shooting arrows

twanging off the bows—

or else creeping up on them

covered in buffalo hide for disguise

stalking, but not here by

the paddock,

where they wander shaggy like

old brown blankets over them


fenced in, not free:

by the river I found that arrowhead

a piece of red flint chipped

to the sharp cutting edge—

I would like to join in the hunt

now on my horse4—zm zm zm

off to the Lux theatre to see

the late matinee: Flaming Arrows.5


1. Birney’s family moved to Banff in 1911, and stayed until 1918. He is here nine years old, proud owner of a new bicycle earned through sales of Canadian Pictorial subscriptions, and of sachets. He has recently branched out to peddle the Calgary Herald.

2. The Basin was the natural pool created by the outflow from the hotsprings of the Cave and Basin, now a historical site.

3. The English poet Rupert Brooke visited the Banff area at this time. After stops in Calgary and the Stoney Indian reserve at Morley, he stayed over at Chateau Lake Louise. He left a record of his visit in his Letters from America, where Chapters 12 and 13, “The Indians” and “The Rockies,” deal with his sojourn in the region. He neglected to mention his encounter with young Earle.

4. The bike.

5. Flaming Arrows (1911) was directed by D.W. Griffith, and deals with the savage redskins in a sneak attack on innocent European settlers.



Ian Adam's most recent book of poetry is The Nomadic Marchesa (Touchwood Press), and his work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. He lives in Calgary.



Young Earle Birney in Banff: September 1913¹

what a day!at the Basin2 dove from the tufa overhanginto the water, playing my trick ofseeming to drown, not coming up until I finish wrigglingthrough that underwater chimneyand burst into air. always startles the tourists.


Zamboni Driver’s Lament

i know hate, its line-mates. believe me. you kids have, i’m sure, wasted—all early morning anxious and weak-ankled—their first impatient shuffle-kicks and curses on me.


Xcuse Me

i sd lovinglee can yu  not yell at me  n call me