Calgary’s Tyler Trafford has spent most of his life on 17th Avenue. Having grown up on the avenue since he was a child, the literary author and winner of this year’s prestigious Alberta Readers’ Choice Award and the City of Calgary’s W.O. Mitchell Prize for his memoir, Almost a Great Escape, shares with us some of his favourite memories of the avenue, the places he remembers most, and what he thinks of 17th Ave today.
As a child growing up on 17th, what was your favourite thing about the avenue?
“17th avenue has been a part of my life since I was a kid! The avenue itself was sort of a way that I’ve observed life – as a writer, I’m an observer. It started when I was about nine or 10 years old, living in Southwest Calgary. In the summer I used to work down at the stampede, and after work I’d walk up 17th Avenue to get home. It was the very first time in my life that I actually saw what I would call the “Adult World”, without my parents around. I would just explore my whole way up 17th avenue – I could go into all the stores and it made me feel really grown-up and it let me see the grown-up world. It was the first time I’d really seen that.”
What is your greatest memory of 17th Ave?
“I could walk up 17th and, with a few dollars in my pocket, could stop by Model Dairy – I think it’s a restaurant now – and get a real milkshake. I’m talking a “real” milkshake, with real ice-cream and real milk directly from the dairy! Whether it was chocolate or vanilla, it was one of the first businesses that I always stopped at. It had a real dairy smell with all those glass milk bottles and the crates that the men used to carry in that would be full of milk bottles. For a kid, that was something really memorable – when I have a milkshake now, it’s still in comparison to that one!”
Where else could you be spotted on the avenue?
“I used to love walking up 17th Avenue to just poke my nose in all the little stores. All kinds of stores! Everything from used bookstores and grocerterias, to antique shops. As a little kid, I would go and explore all morning; I wouldn’t get home until mid-afternoon. I remember stopping by the diners to get myself a hamburger deluxe, and with my own money! That was a big deal for me as a kid.”
What did 17th Avenue represent to you when you were growing up?
“17th Avenue for me in those days was the place to go to hang out and see things. People went down to 17th avenue because it was a place where you could see the fashions of the day, to go shopping, to see the big kids with their muscle cars. It’s where I would go to see people, see their attitudes, their interests – just based on the stores that were there. From the restaurants, to the clothing, to the people there. It’s still a really good place to gauge what our society and our culture is like now. And that’s what it is for me now, and that’s what it’s been like for me all my life.”
Do you have any other favourite memories of 17th Avenue?
“Another real memory of 17th avenue was when I was starting university in the late ’60s. There was a restaurant there called the Prairie Dog Inn, which was the first restaurant for young, university-aged people in the city. You could go there and have a pizza with friends. That was another big deal to me – that was another changing experience for me that 17th avenue was a part of. After I got married, I was back to 17th Ave. buying knick-knacks for our house. Now, it’s a part of my kids life and my whole family’s life. I go down to the avenue now-and-again to buy things just like when I was a little kid, walking up from Model Dairy.”
Do you find that the avenue has held on to it’s roots?
“It’s still the place you go to see culture. A place to be a part of the culture. We have a different culture now than what I had when I was a boy, but if I was to say to a friend, come to Calgary and I’ll show you what it’s like to be in Calgary today, I would definitely take him to 17th Avenue. I would tell him to walk from one end to the other, look in the windows and listen to the music coming out of the bars, to see what’s there. 17th is still an important part of how I view myself as a Calgarian; I grew up watching 17th and I still watch 17th Avenue today. And it’s nice to have something that changes along with you.”
For more information on Tyler Trafford and to pick up his book, Almost a Great Escape, visit http://www.sunonthemountains.com.