Travelogue: Myrnam, Alberta, Canada

I’ve contrived at least one additional use for my little corner of the Ultima Codex here. Yes, it plays home to the weekly updates concerning various game development studios that may have some tenuous connection to Ultima and/or Origin Systems, and yes, it is where I’ll wander off script at times and talk about other gaming news items that are interesting, controversial, or funny. But because my day job sees me travelling to a number of interesting places, it is also the place where I’ll post summaries about my travels: past, present, and future.

And this particular entry, I think, is an excellent way to kick that off. Here’s Myrnam, a tiny little village in eastern Alberta, about two hours east of Edmonton:


This isn’t where I grew up, but it comes in as a close second. My grandmother — on my father’s side — lived out here, and the family made regular trips out on weekends to visit her. Indeed, hardly a month went by where we didn’t see “Myrnam Grandma” at least once, if not more often than that. Of course, Grandma Leona passed away a number of years ago (1997, in fact), and in all honesty I don’t think I’ve been back to Myrnam more than once (possibly twice) since we handed over the keys to her house to whoever Dad sold it to. Not that I haven’t kind of been in the area on a regular enough basis; my wife’s home town is only about 40 minutes up the road, and we visit her parents often enough. But we’ve never really taken the opportunity to get out to Myrnam, to see the place once more and to stop and visit my grandparents’ grave site.

(For reference: my grandfather passed away shortly before my parents were married. I was born years later; I never knew him save through photographs and the occasional story.)

Well, as it turns out, I had some work to do out near Cold Lake, Alberta…and while Google doesn’t count Myrnam as a point along the most direct route between Edmonton and there, it is not really out of the way either thanks to the layout of highways and range roads in that part of the province. Detouring past the place probably only added half an hour to my trip, overall, and so I decided to take the opportunity to get out there.

I also took this:



But more on that later.

The drive out to Myrnam is really living proof of that worn old “the more things change” (“plus ça change”, in French; this here’s a Canadian story) adage. It may well have been a decade since I last drove down Highway 45, but I knew every landmark even so, and felt the same familiar feelings at each one that I did as a child; call it “emotional memory”.

When you arrive in Myrnam, the first thing that greets you is the Ukrainian Catholic Church; the “Welcome to Myrnam” sign actually sits on a tiny corner of the church’s land:

Sadly, the church was locked, so I couldn’t slip in and grab some photos of the interior.

Moving on into Myrnam proper, I made a point of finding the dove. Here’s the thing about small towns in Alberta: a lot of them have some sort of kitschy monument in the town square. I’ve joked that once you’ve seen the gas station and the cannon in the park, you’ve basically seen all an American small town has to offer. In Alberta, replace “cannon” with “giant Easter egg/duck/mushrooms/U.S.S. Enterprise“. Or, in this case, with “big dove”. Myrnam’s “Dove Park” was opened in 2008. I knew they had built it, but I had no memory of ever seeing it, so of course I pulled over to check it out.

Which is where I saw this:

My grandmother.

My grandmother.

And, indeed, the Village of Myrnam’s old website tells a similar story:

The creation of the Dove Park was the dream of the late Mrs. Leona Kully, longtime teacher and resident of Myrnam. The word “Myrnam” translated from Ukrainian means “Peace to Us” and we have adopted the Dove as our symbol.

We are a small community with a vision. The first phase of this vision was to erect a Dove statue at the site of the Myrnam Hotel – a landmark that was destroyed by fire in 1998. The statue was erected in 2005.

It’s a pity that my grandmother never lived to see the vision realized, but I do remember her talking about it a fair bit. There’s a story on the village’s new website about how the name came from a plea for peace after arguments broke out over what to name the village back in the 1920s. I’ve also heard another story about feuding brothers declaring peace and literally burying a hatchet — which I guess, per the story, one raised up to threaten the other with, before realizing how astray his anger had led him — at the site on which the town was founded. Either way, the name of the place means “peace to us”, and the dove is a classic symbol of peace. I think I still might have a t-shirt or two from my grandmother’s initial attempts to have the dove adopted as the town symbol.

At any rate, here’s a couple more shots of the Dove Park, and the dove proper:

Moving on, I took a couple shots of the building where my siblings and I used to spend our quarters, dimes, and nickels on bits of candy. The OK Store (as it was known to us) is long gone, and based on the “For Sale” sign in the window, the cafe that has replaced it isn’t going to stick around much longer either:

Myrnam is built on a fairly steep hill. Just up the hill from this storecafe, across the street, and behind a row of buildings, there’s an old playground. It’s actually the playground for the Elks Hall, but my siblings and I just knew it as “the playground”. There were other playgrounds in town (notably, at the school), but this was almost always the one we went to.

I took this video purely because of the sound the horse makes:

If you can, imagine me — but as a child of basically any age — gleefully riding this thing with one or more of my siblings, in almost any kind of weather. I’m pretty sure this is the same horse that has graced this park for over thirty years; the Elks must just keep slapping coats of primer and paint on it every now and again. To my mind, it was — and will always be — orange, and also a good deal more rusty.

Much of the rest of the Elks Park was as I remembered it. The only notable addition was the central play house, with its rainbow-coloured slide.

Finally, it was time to pay a (brief) visit to Myrnam Grandma’s old house. It’s easy to find, seeing as it’s basically the last house at the end of the street just north of the Elks Park:

The new owners weren’t home, despite the number of cars parked along the side of the building. As such, I didn’t take too many photos of the place; I may take more on the return trip. But this house…it would be almost impossible to enumerate my own memories of the place, let alone the memories of the rest of my family which are also caught up in it. There’s a lot that has changed; the siding is new, the rows of bushes we used to have to trim have been removed from the front and side of the property, and there’s a chain-link fence partway up the lawn that was never there before. But it’s still the same old house, and I can still remember its internal layout and every nook and closet as surely as if I were standing in the heart of the building. I wonder if the downstairs shower’s taps are still reversed?

So…with all I wanted to see in Myrnam seen and photographed, it was almost time to get back on the road to Cold Lake. There was, however, one more stop to make:

Remember that picture I was holding?

Remember that picture I was holding?

I have not been to this cemetery in at least a decade, and I’m ashamed to admit that I actually couldn’t remember its precise location. It’s actually quite close to Myrnam, and obvious enough on Google Maps when you think about what the features of a cemetery would look like from the air. Still, I had to look up the location before making the trip out to Myrnam. As noted above, my grandfather passed away the year my parents were married. He was interred here, and my grandmother was buried beside him when she passed nearly twenty years later.

I’m told that my grandfather, especially, loved children; my mother was quite fond of him, and has mentioned on a few occasions that he would likely have gotten a kick out of my daughters. In like manner, my grandmother was devoted to us, her grandkids, as all grandmothers should be. So it seemed fitting to leave this at their gravesite:

The dragonlets.

The dragonlets will keep watch.

I don’t tear up much, but…I did as I paused by the graves to say a prayer for the repose of my grandparents’ souls and the continued well-being of my family. I’m tearing up now, ever so slightly, as I write this. It’s weird how things hit you, and when, and for what reasons.

I know the photo is unlikely to last even a year given the harshness of the Alberta climate, and in fact I’m thinking that I’ll probably move it up from ground level on my return trip. Still, perhaps there’s an opportunity there to make a trip to Myrnam an annual thing for the family, to replace the photo and tell the Dragonlets all about their grandparents…or, at least, to tell them what I can remember.

1 Response

  1. Grace says:

    I teared up when I read your blog as well. As I spent every second weekend in Myrnam as a kid, plus many weddings there, I can’t help think we must have crossed paths unknowingly at some point. I’ll have to send this post to my sisters; I’m sure they’ll get a kick out of it. Well we can always go visit my family there, if you need a reason to go. But you know me, I’m always up for a country drive and a picnic!