The Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation Creative Writing Competition
The Eleanor Luxton Foundation sponsors a writing competition each year, for high school students, with a generous cash prize for the winners. Students submit creative writing, in either poetry or prose, that tells the story of an aspect of the history of Banff, the Bow Valley and/or the people who have lived here. The Foundation wants to support awareness of the amazing people and events that have made this area of the Bow Valley, and Banff, what it is today.
2023 Short Story First Prize
Buddy, Banff’s Polar Bear
By Charlotte Moffatt
My paws blend into the deep powder along the sides of the inlet. Trees, dragged down by harsh snow, line the edges of the frozen banks. As I scan my surroundings for food, I hear an unusual high pitch chatter of sorts. Standing on my hind legs to better hear, snow packs down under the new distribution of weight. Tall skinny figures walking on their back legs come into view. They freeze at the sight of me, chatting louder at each other. Proudly, I puff out my chest, glad to be able to stun them at my young age. But then they begin to come closer. Loud banging noises shoot out from their direction. My heart fights to be let out of my chest. Suddenly, I am sprinting towards them. Powder splashes away from me in all directions as I run. A few feet away from the figures in red a stinging sensation hits my stomach. Tingles fly across my body as if I was stumbling through a patch of stinging nettle. Before I can think colors fly across my vision before going black.
The sheets shuffle around across the four-poster bed. Not even a few minutes later, I hear Douglas get up. Peaking my head up from the foot of the bed, I eye the sergeant. After wiping sleep from his eyes, lines form familiar patterns across his face, growing into a well-known smile.
“Morning, Buddy!” he says, coming over to scratch my head.
Douglas begins to change into his red uniform, pulling the leather belt over his hips. He wraps his hand around the doorknob and leaves the room. Fear curls around my bones. He is gone, he has left, he won’t come back. A soft wailing sound escapes past my jaws, soon becoming a distinct howling. I hear the soft creek of footsteps on the narrow stairs. The door swings open once more and Douglas calls me downstairs. I fumble past him, almost tipping over as I walk down the stairs. Quickly, I wrap my paw around the wooden leg of the dining room table. A chair scratches across the cold floor as the sergeant sits down to eat. Porcelain hits silver as Douglas eats, occasionally stopping to pass me some egg or bacon.
“Ok, Buddy let's go on a little adventure,” Douglas claims.
Like lightning, excitement shoots through me. Were we going to fish, maybe swim together? Possibly a hike? I follow the sergeant toward the automobile outside. Curious, I sniffed around the back leather seats; it was my first time being allowed in the automobile. So, I would be sure to experience every moment of it. The wind kissed my fur as we zoomed past vast
amounts of snow, as far as the eyes could see. Eventually, we came to a small town on the shore of Hudson's Bay. A massive cargo boat was docked on the shore of the inlet. I followed Douglas into a large red metal box. He crutches down so we could be at eye level.
“Make people happy, eh Buddy?”
He wraps his arms around my torso, squeezing hard. Then the door closes and he’s gone...
It feels as if sandpaper has taken out layers of my throat. The only time I’ve ceased crying the whole boat ride was when I was given food. But I could barely bring myself to eat it anyway. The ship begins to swing as another wave of homesickness hits me. Curling my stomach into knots. Like a rag being rung out. Suddenly, the swaying stops. A popping sound rings as the metal doors become pried open. I lay still waiting for the metallic tang of footsteps to disappear. With my nose, I nudge open the door wider. Creeping around the deck my claws make high-pitched ticking sounds on the metal floor. Eventually, I find an exit. I begin the climb down the anchor, the metal slippery between my paws. The frozen water immediately calms me, like the sun after a long winter. Quickly, I swim to the shore and then trample to dry ground. I peer around looking for the direction home but snow with patches of grass line the shore. I must have gone pretty far south. Sniffing, I can’t trace any familiar scents, not one to bring me home. But a sour must hits my nose, shocking my senses and shocking me into paying attention. Just beyond the shore lay a thick layer of evergreen trees. Embedded in the shrubbery, beady eyes from all directions lock contact with mine. Soon, wolf-like creatures begin to surround me. Ten of them begin to jump at me, pointed teeth gnawing at me from all directions. I cry out as I swat and claw back at them. If it was two or three of them, I may have been able to overpower them. It was more than clear I was losing, staying on my feet was starting to become difficult. But ten was just too much. As I push out another strangled roar a flare shoots out of the ship off shore. Stunned, the dogs sprint back into the woods as sparks fly into the starry night sky.
After my trip on the boat and about halfway through my train ride, I had accepted that Douglas must just be waiting for me at my destination. I had more company on the train, they had put me in a cage on one of the passenger train carts. Soon I learned that if I balanced food on my nose little kid's faces would light up. And if I stood up passengers would stare and admire me. Curiosity fueling them. Currently, a little boy with sticky fingers grasped my cage. I moved my paw to the left and his lake-coloured eyes followed. I came closer to him to say hello. My stomach dropped as his pupils became small in fear. He backs away from me, tugging his mother's skirt for consolation.
The sky turns dark three more times before the train slows. Coming into the small town I read the welcome sign. Welcome to Banff, it said in shiny letters. As my cage and I are heaved onto the back of an automobile, I admire the scenery. Growing willow saplings greet me before I glimpse the mountains. I had never seen this much greenery. The main street was centred facing an iconic mountain, the only snow in sight was on its peak. Eventually, we came to the zoo, just off the side of Banff Ave.
My new home was not exactly spacious, but much better than what I had been living in for the last couple of weeks. The floor was full of little pebbles but off to the side was my own pool. On sight of this, I immediately plunged myself into the water. From this angle, I could glimpse the river just outside the zoo's grounds.
For the first week, I was overwhelmed. I had never seen this many humans in one place before. But more than that I was disappointed. It felt as if a heavy rock had sunk into the pit of my stomach. Out of all the hundreds of people I saw daily, not one of them was Douglas. I was never going to see him again. That thought made me noxious. If I was never going to see Douglas again, I was going to do what he asked me to do: make people happy. So as the days went on, I began to take my job as a zoo animal very seriously. My reputation as Banff’s best entertainer was becoming very well known. Today a group of guests from the Banff Springs Hotel surrounded my enclosure like ants surrounding a breadcrumb. I placed my front paws on the barrel in the middle of the cage letting my weight sway from the balls of my paws to my claws. Pretending to struggle with the barrel always brought out if not a few chuckles, howls of laughter. After a couple of minutes of this, I flipped the barrel with my jaws, from outside the enclosure oohs and aahs fluttered around like birds. I flopped my furry paws onto the top of the barrel to lift the rest of my body on top. To finish my act, I tucked my front right paw towards my left and bowed. The smiles that erupted across the children's faces made the act worth it. A little girl with pink bows in her hair pointed at me, beckoning me to come over. But I knew better: I was to entertain, not to be a friend. A big bear like me was no “Buddy”.
I soon proved myself wrong. I could be a “Buddy” and not just an entertainer, but a pillar of the community. The keeper and I had become quick friends. Recently we have been playing this game with the hose... Quickly I ducked under the water to duck from the sharp stream of water. In a place I would assume the keeper would not predict, I bob my head up. But like always he got me and water shot at my nose. Giddy, I bob under again and again, attempting to dodge the flow. After an hour of this, I decide I’m finished. Slowly I climb out of the pool, letting my feet touch stone once more. Tromping on the ground I come to the edge of the enclosure, giving my dripping wet paw to the keeper. Calling for a truce. He shakes it and we are done for the day.
Children from town visit me after school daily, giving me treats in exchange for entertainment. Of course, I deliver. Today I came close to the bars and got on my front paws. The gravel near the bars was always sharper and dug into my skin when doing handstands. Careful not to fall I twist to see the children's faces. Smiles grow like wildfire across the group, creating a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.
As I loaded the train out of Banff my heart was heavy. I would miss the crowds, the guests, the keeper, the children. I would miss the familiarity of my surroundings, the hum of the Bow River nearby, the familiar mountains and the changing seasons, like clockwork. But a small part of me had hope, hope that I was going to an old home, back to Douglas.
But that spark of hope burnt out when I arrived at the Calgary Zoo.
My appetite was nonexistent and I hadn't touched my food in days. Shivers fell like dominos through my body as my eyes grew heavy. Before, I let myself drift away from this body. I made a wish. I was going to reunite with Douglas somewhere in the beyond.
2023 Short Story Second Prize
1926: A Burning Castle
by Alicia Frick
The cool weather breeze of early April blew through my light brunette locks, and I could feel the rough pavement beneath my black ribbon flats. A tall structure stood before me. I straightened my white skirt and tugged down my navy blouse. I latched to my mother’s side, clinging for safety: this building was unfamiliar to me, this town was unfamiliar to me. Mountains lined the valley where the town lay, with one large mountain to the north, tall and mighty, still with icy glaciers resting upon it. A small looking mountain to the east covered in trees, resembling a sleeping beast. A third mountain facing southeast, a rather enormous mountain stretching to the heavens, its face flat and steep, almost resembling a tidal wave. The closest mountain was not as grand but had its purpose, as it held great hot springs. My mother told me these tales of the hot springs and the great mountains; she told me of how this place brought life and wonder to the world. She told me that we were staying the night, as she said we would feel at home and safe. As she reassured me, I gazed at her shoes, her lovely white heels laced with red ribbon. My father and older brother pulled our luggage out of the trunk of our car. My father wore his best shoes, his pair of brown mahogany cap toe shoes. Our family stepped through the doors of the almost looming castle. We came from the city, to this small town, to a castle secluded from noise. My mother and father were excited to stay here, and they told me this was a vacation, a much-needed vacation. We made it to the front of the foyer to be greeted by a friendly smile and keys to a room. We dashed through hallways, exploring every nook and cranny in sight. Our room was located in the north wing of the castle, the very best for my family, as the clerk said. My family stood admiring the room: the sheets were steamed and pressed, the carpet soft with an elegant design of reds, blues and golds, the beds fitted for kings and queens. I ran around the room laughing with joy and spirit. My mother told me to settle down, she hurried my brother and me to head towards the ballroom for our brunch and don't be led astray-- as if an eight-year-old and a thirteen-year-old wouldn't get curious. She said she'd be down there at eleven, she’d better be.
We both paced down the hallway to steep spiral stairs, heading for the central ballroom, but we stopped and all of the sudden, my brother pulled me towards another door, away from the main corridor which we were supposed to follow. We entered an exquisite dining hall lined with linen tablecloths stretched across large wooden tables. Along the tables were velvety soft red dining room chairs. My brother ran around the room spinning and laughing, as he dragged his hand along the walls, touching every curve and groove of the architecture. I followed his lead and chased him through the timeless room. I looked up to admire the white rigid arches lining the ceiling, the architecture so exquisite and lively. It was detailed beautifully and definitely took some time to craft. We played and ran through the room, laughing and twirling, everything seemed so perfect. Suddenly an unfamiliar smell crowded my nose, I couldn't describe it, but all I knew was that it wasn't good. I whimpered and cried to my brother about the foggy smell, I started to cough and rub my eyes, I looked up with my blurry vision and saw my brother with a look of horror and fear, he swept me up into his arms, while I coughed hysterically, bolting down the hallway, turning to the right and then to the left and then down a set of stairs, now I heard screaming, lots and lots of screaming, people shouting and crying, herds of people stampeded out, we got caught in the middle of the frantic frenzy. I started to breathe in as much as I could, the smell had changed now, it was familiar now, memories flooded in of when my mother left a cake in the oven for too long and all you could smell was burning.
My brother ran to a nearby patch of grass and placed me down. I was crying and screaming as my lungs were still compressed from the smoke, I lay on the grass coughing and rolling in pain, panic the only thing running through me. My mother and father were nowhere to be seen. I heard roaring coming from the castle, but the castle was no longer visible: black smoke encased the building. People were still coming out, they emerged through a blanket of ash and fell to their knees, my brother ran ahead of me, helping the people to their feet to make it to safe ground. I could hear cars and trucks pulling up behind me, sirens were blaring and blasting in my ear, my brother ran to my side as I heard large footsteps behind me. My breath still uneven and my seeing troubled, suddenly I am hoisted into the air. My brother and I were both dragged away from the castle, two large men pulling us to the field that was below the castle. They sat both of us down and wrapped us in blankets and told us to stay, leaving as quickly as they came. We both sat wrapped in blankets, sniffing and coughing, tears filled my burning eyes, people were still shouting, they were shouting so much.
Nearly two hours had passed and herds of men were everywhere, swarming. The smoke had died down and almost nothing was left of the large castle. Stretchers were carried from here to there, lifeless bodies lay upon them, my brother and I trail around the aftermath of the tragedy. Trucks were being loaded and people were starting to leave. My brother and I were in a panic calling out for our parents, but no response from the wreckage. My mother wasn’t supposed to be late, she was supposed to be here, she told me we’d be safe. We searched and called for any kind of response, but nothing echoed back. We both stood in the field watching the last truck pack up, white sheets lay upon the load in the back. All you could see were shoes...a lovely white pair of heels with bright red ribbons and a pair of brown mahogany cap toed shoes. The shoes were not lively; it seemed like no one had ever possessed them as they laid there so still and breathless, just like me and my brother as we watched the truck drive away.