ALAN FREW

Musician. Author. Speaker.

Dear Canada Blog #22 March 17th 2018

So where were we? Oh yeah, a day off, however, it was a travel day. A drive of 5 hrs and 30mins. Lovely. Oh but wait! Winter still isn’t finished with the prairies just yet.

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We left Edmonton around 12:30pm and set off on our journey. Without much time-wasting, I settled into an episode of Peaky Blinders. We decided about an hour into our trip, to stop for lunch. Easier said than done because this was the open prairies, and, there was nothing for miles around. The roads were fine, thank goodness, and we waited for a sense and a sign that humanity was nearby.

Heisler, is a village in central Alberta, Canada, in the county of Flagstaff. It is named after a man called, Martin Heisler, who originally owned, “the land.” Yes, that’s right. The owner of the land, that now has the entire population living on it! For you see, Heisler’s population to this very day, is 160 people. That’s it.

 Big Willy’s Bar and Hotel. 

Big Willy’s Bar and Hotel. 

We stopped outside Big Willy’s Bar & Hotel. We stopped and we stared.

“What d’ya think boys?” We felt like we were in an old cowboy movie. What were the chances that we’d go in there, only to find “Mr Liberty Vallance” terrorizing the place. Terrorizing the town. And I stay and I get a job, waiting tables, while the guys leave me behind. Liberty, then takes a disliking to me, at one point tripping me up as I walk past him, spilling his steak onto the floor.

“Pick it up dude,” he says to me as he points his gun at me. A local attempts to pick it up but Liberty boots him away. Again he says to me, “ I said you Pilgrim. YOU pick it up.” To which I comply. We are now on a one-way course to a shoot-out in the street and of course I am hopeless with a gun and have no chance against this ruthless, gunslinger. Do I?

He challenges me after almost beating, Mr Peabody, the local newspaperman, to death and I have no option but to accept his challenge.

And so there we are out in the street of Heisler, Alberta, with me about to face off with the one-and-only, Liberty Vallance. He takes a shot at me which catches me in my right arm. I drop my gun and go down. Man that stings! I pick up my gun put it in my left hand.

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Liberty raises his. “Alright dude! This one, right between the eyes?” 

Suddenly, BANG! BANG! BANG! it’s like I am in a dream, for I am still standing! I look up and Liberty is staggering. He falls to his knees. He keels over. The people of the town run out to the street and gather around the fallen thug. Could this be possible? I shot, Liberty Vallance? Hmm, three shots though, bang, bang, bang. Did I fire two and he only one? Or vice- versa? No that’s not possible. How can this be? Do ya know? 

Liberty’s friend is yelling,” Doctor! Doctor! Somebody get the doctor.”

The local Doc comes immediately.

“Somebody fetch whiskey.”

(He must need disinfectant.)

A man rushes back wth the whiskey. “Here ya go doc!”

The doc looks down at Liberty, taking his foot and kicking him over on to his back. He then takes a huge swing of the whiskey before announcing, “ Dead! Yup, he’s dead!”

Have I just become; The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance? Hmmm, What d’ya think? Ya think I did it? 


“What d’ya think, ,,,,,,,,,,,Sam?   Shall we go in?”

“I will pop in, says Sam, and check it out.”

Soon after, he came back out waving, signalling us to come in.

Have you ever been in a place whereby, you truly feel, like a “stranger in a strange land?” Yeah? It’s a compelling feeling isn’t it? For us, probably the time when we most felt like that, was in 1987, while on tour with the amazing, Tina Turner, 3 of us, from the Glass Tiger camp, Joe (our road manager), Sam and I went on a day trip, BEHIND the Berlin Wall.

East Berlin, was of course under Russian control, and we had to cross over at the infamous point known as Checkpoint Charlie, the name given it, by the Western Allies during the Cold War (1947-1991).

 Checkpoint Charlie. 

Checkpoint Charlie. 

When crossing over you had to enter inside a room that had turnstiles set up, once you went in, you couldn’t just turn around and go back and inside this room, the Russian soldiers scrutinized and questioned you a little bit but it was highly unlikely they would find any reason to want to refuse you entry, for they wanted you to see it and they wanted your money of course. It was the closest thing however to feeling like you were in a “spy movie.”

If the Russians were satisfied to let you cross, they confiscated your passport. Holy shit! Entering behind the wall, into East Communist  Berlin (Russia) with no passport? After that they then forced you to purchase some Deutsche marks (I think if my memory is correct, they made you buy a minimum of about $50 U.S.) and they insisted that you MUST spend it all. You were NOT allowed to bring any of the German money back.

 The Berlin Wall. 

The Berlin Wall. 

They let us through.

If EVER I felt like I was Captain Kirk, of the Starship Enterprise, having just beamed down to another planet, This was it.


Everything was immediately Grey. The houses. The cars. The sky, The people in a way, looked Grey.

They stared at us intently, for they knew, instantly, that we were indeed, strangers. We didn’t belong. I felt sad very quickly, for it dawned on me, that as long as I behaved myself here, followed the rules and caused no trouble, that I could turn around and leave again, just as easily as I had come in, whereas they, could not. They were trapped here against their will, locked behind a great wall. Mother Russia was punishing them for their transgressions against them. We saw old statues with the heads lopped off of them, with signs stating to the people; “Remember, Hitler did this to you, not Russia.”

It was all so surreal. We went into a bar and after several attempts at ordering and being basically ignored, we successfully had a beer together.

On a quick walk around later, I purchased a couple of prints off of a local street vendor, still leaving me with 5 Deutsche marks to spend. Now what I didn’t tell you is that the paper money, the DM’s were tiny. I mean TINY little notes that a child would have played with for her “Barbie” doll to spend. We had never seen anything quite like it. Way smaller than Monopoly game money, it was however, legal tender, in East Germany. Something told me that I just had to keep this 5, I just had to bring it back to the West and back to Canada. I stuck it in my sock and when coming back across the border I felt like Billy Hayes, trying to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul, only to end up in a Turkish prison 😱 but I managed however to get it out of there and when we got back to hotel Sam reached down to his sock and pulled out a “fiver” saying, “Look what I got!!”

  “Hey Barbie, it’s Ken. I just bought some new Lederhosen!” 

 “Hey Barbie, it’s Ken. I just bought some new Lederhosen!” 

Oh, really?


 

 

 

Big Willy’s Bar however didn’t feel like that at all lol. We were given a warm greeting the moment we entered. “Howdy fellas, what can I get for you?”

Big Willy, certainly is THAT.....BIG!

A tall, rugged, cowboy, standing at least 6’6” he made us welcome and warmed us up with some coffee. During the time we awaited our food and actually, during our entire visit, he sat with us, chatting and being very friendly. He told us tales of the history of his bar and hotel. When I asked him if Heisler has a core centre, a sort of built up area, that constituted the downtown area. He chuckled, “This is it buddy! This.....is it.”

 Let’s go shopping.  

Let’s go shopping.  

A bar, a general store, a small community centre about the size of a small house, a church at the end of the street. Small, quaint and friendly. Something just so charming about it all, coming from the big city of Toronto, as I do.

During our chat, Big Willy mentioned that when he was a child he lived in a small town in Ontario. We asked him where?

“It was called, Newmarket,” he said.

“Seriously? we countered? You kidding us?”

 A Newmarket Band. 

A Newmarket Band. 

As many of you will know, Dear Canada, Glass Tiger, hails from Newmarket. We are NOT a Toronto band, we only say that for convenience when travelling. We are in fact a Newmarket band. We had a good chuckle over that as Willy then offered us a drink.

Suddenly a lady entered. She was bright and cheerful, very bubbly.

She looked at me with that look I see many times in my life when people aren’t quite sure who I am. They “think” they know me but they are processing as they go and it takes them ages, if at all, to ask me. She made a little small talk, establishing we were a band, then suddenly, “What’s the name of your band?”

I told her.

“ I KNEW IT! AAHHH, I KNEW IT WAS YOU!”

This lady was Kelly, Big Willy’s wife, who now thumped her husband on the arm, “ YOU!!! DIDN’T YOU KNOW? DIDN’T YOU KNOW?”

Big Willy just shrugged and smiled , for to him, and us, it really was no big deal. It was however a big deal to Kelly and she immediately went to the jukebox and blasted, Don’t Forget Me (when I’m gone). We signed a photo and a CD for her. Willy then offered to buy us the lunch we had just had, we wouldn’t hear of it however. These are hard working folk, earning a living and we didn’t need them doing that for us, kind as the offer was.

 BIG Willy & Kelly. 

BIG Willy & Kelly. 

We were soon on our way and arrived in Medicine Hat around 7:30pm.

One of the things we insist on these days is the best hotels available but of course in small town Canada these are not always readily available. The hotel we chose in Medicine Hat is the “Medicine Hat Lodge” and it’s not that it’s a bad hotel, rooms are fine, it’s just that it’s swamped with hockey families who are here for tournaments that seem to run all year long lol (same thing happened last time we were here.)

It’s a hotel that has a large courtyard in the centre and water-slides with a kajillion kids going crazy and families all gathered outside their rooms, as one would on a patio, all boozing it up. It’s a sight to behold. It’s crazy, insane and charming all rolled into one. Dozens and dozens of them. I can’t help but cringe a little though when I see 25 or more humans, all sitting together, in a boiling pot of water, socializing as they stew in each other’s body cells! 😱

I insisted on a room away from all the bedlam and the staff kindly complied.

 The guy at the end seems tender enough. Can we eat him now? 

The guy at the end seems tender enough. Can we eat him now? 

We popped out for a few supplies. I bought some fruit and some nuts and yoghurt as I wanna cut back on the “road food.” For some reason though, I felt like having a nice glass of wine and so I picked up a beautiful bottle of Amarone and invited Sam over for one. We ended up sitting for a good two hours chatting about the life and times of Glass Tiger. Not only our past but what, still, our future can hold.

Al came and joined us and the lads at least felt like they had finally celebrated St. Paddy’s day. Just three pals having a wee blether and a drink. How great is that? 


And so Good Night Dear Canada,until tomorrow

       ~Alan

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Take a bow.