Nostalgia, defined, means “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”
My most recent experience of such a feeling started about 75 steps to the right of my mom’s front porch. There lies a narrow foot path with a gate at the end.
My eyes take a few seconds to adjust when I step through the opening — as my view transitions from a shaded residential area to an open, bright, and seemingly endless landscape.
It is this landscape, Fish Creek Provincial Park, that serves not only as Canada’s second largest urban park, but also as a pillar to the story called my childhood.
My ears pick up on the rustling of the tree branches chiming together. My nostrils inhale, gathering scents so sweet, yet so natural.
My eyes though, having finally adjusted to the harsh reflection of the sun, see not only the beauty of the park in front of me, but 23 years of memories embedded within.
A roughly 15 minute walk from that opening, beside the Bow River, lies the Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant and Annie's Cafe. These buildings — that are now a popular spot for locals — have been around over a century.
According to the Bow Valley Ranche website, the history of the building spans back to 1896 when businessman and cattle rancher, William Roper Hull, purchased the property and turned it into a ranch house.
In 1902, Hull sold the property to another successful cattle rancher, Patrick Burns, and a 100 years later, in 1995, the Fish Creek Restoration Society was created.
In 1999, the ranch house was officially turned into a fine dining restaurant.
The story behind Annie’s Cafe is also quite wholesome.
“This quaint farmhouse was moved to its current spot in 1905 and once housed the ranch foremen and their families, including Billy Bannister and his wife, Annie,” states the Ranche website.
“Today you can enjoy a wholesome lunch or a special treat while sitting on Annie’s sunny front porch,” it continues.
It is here, on Annie’s front porch, where my story becomes the story of many. Having grown up in the neighbourhood, it wasn’t hard to find people who would be willing to share their stories about this hidden gem in Fish Creek. The most impactful story I received was from a woman named Ocean Melin, who shares the same fondness for Fish Creek that I do.
Twenty-four-year-old Melin remembers first moving to Deer Run, and says although she was an outgoing kid, she found it “intimidating” moving to a new place.
“I was a small-town kid, so to a 10-year-old tomboy, the city seemed overwhelmingly big,” says Melin.
Soon though, she realized what a “glorious” place Deer Run could be.
“It really was another small town in a big city,” reflects Melin. “And the best part about it was the beautiful backyard that was Fish Creek.”
Melin has many memories of exploring in Fish Creek with her newfound friends.
“From the beautiful ice caves, to Sikome Lake. From the little bike hills that used to hide behind the trees,” she says.
“From ice cream at Annies, to playing Pokemon Go in front of the Bow Valley Ranche… Fish Creek raised me,” says Melin.
Like my story, some of Melin’s most cherished memories are at the Bow Valley Ranche.
When she was 12-years-old, her mother married her step-dad in a gazebo just outside of the Bow Valley Ranche. Her memories of the day encapsulate the very feeling I’ve been trying to convey throughout this piece.
“It was the soft whistle of the birds chirping and the smell of freshly cut grass and flowers lining the gravel path,” Melin wrote to me. “It was the wind, ever so lightly flowing through my mothers hair as her mother walked on one side, her father walked on the other — linked by arms, but also by blood. As they gave my mother away to my now father, I felt a tear fall to my cheek, and it quickly turned to a flood of tears as it all became so real. I was home, with my family, in my backyard — My Fish Creek.”
Both Ocean and I remain in communities that neighbour Fish Creek Park, and it is no wonder why. That vast landscape is a piece of us.
As we get older, our memories of past events and experiences tend to fade. Recollections go from vivid to vague and we are left to struggle with the nostalgia that comes along with that transition.
Sometimes though, certain sights, sounds and smells have the ability to flood through our brain’s temporal lobe and trigger memories that we forgot even existed.
This, is what fish Creek does for us.
- By Holly Maller