Alberta’s last battle was in 1991. Here’s how Calgary is different – and how it’s still the same

It was a shot that bounced off a cushion past Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Vernon that ended the 1991 dream.

It was, of course, impossible to know that it would end like this. Just over a month earlier, on March 4, 1991, Vernon was in the middle of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy.

That same night, a still relatively unknown grunge trio known as Nirvana (perhaps undersold on the poster only as “from Seattle”) would play their first show in Calgary at the Westward Club, months before their release. . Smells like Teen Spirit and achieve fame.

At that time, Catherine Ford was a columnist for the Calgary Herald, trying to kick his smoking habit and as a result running into severe nicotine withdrawal.

“Let me put it this way,” Ford said. “Not that I remember much of the 1990s, but 1991 was a particularly, shall we say, effective year.”

Effective – productive and constructive – not only because Ford would eventually get rid of its cigarettes, but also because it was beginning to see the signs of a city in transition.

It has seen the city become a more culturally diverse city, a city that has seen booms (and busts) and transformations in its downtown core, a city that has seen its seamless political landscape begin to gradually shift towards something more complicated.

An aerial view of the city of Calgary in 1991. (Glenbow Museum)

Yet headlines from the Calgary Herald of that year show that while some things are changing, others seem more familiar in today’s Calgary.

Take Ald. Barb Scott’s efforts in the January 21, 1991 edition to convert empty buildings in downtown Calgary into housing to serve the city’s needy.

Or, a story from the February 1 edition, which reported high prices at the pump caused by an ongoing conflict in the Persian Gulf.

In June 1991, Al Duerr was the city’s mayor, pushing back against Calgary’s “fat cat” image and worrying about the specter of federal cuts.

WATCH | Legendary Calgary goaltender Mike Vernon in the Battle of Alberta

Legendary Calgary goaltender Mike Vernon in the Battle of Alberta

Advice from a pro! Calgary Flames veteran goaltender Mike Vernon says the Flames and Edmonton Oilers players in Wednesday’s Stanley Cup playoff game need to keep a cool head and take one step at a time in the Alberta’s first battle in decades.

The city had seen more than 4,300 Calgarians laid off in the previous six months, with NovAtel, Canada Packers and other energy companies among those layoffs.

However, Calgary’s unemployment rate was well below the national average. It had gained hundreds of new residents after the move from TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. in the city.

The concern, in Duerr’s eyes, was that the federal government was eyeing Calgary for cuts based on its “resilient spirit,” rebounding even as the peak of the oil boom in the late 1970s seemed only to be in the rearview mirror.

Al Duerr served as Calgary’s 34th mayor, from 1989 to 2001, before being succeeded by Dave Bronconnier. (James Young/CBC)

Today, Duerr sees many similarities between that time and the Calgary of today – and where the Battle of Alberta fits into it.

“In 1991 we were struggling. We are struggling now, we are coming out of a very difficult time,” Duerr said. “The Battle of Alberta gave us the opportunity to refocus.”

“They choked”

It was against this backdrop that Alberta’s two hockey teams were to face off in the first round, with both organizations having just won championships: the Calgary Flames in 1989, the Edmonton Oilers the year next.

Doug Dirks, former CBC host The last straight linewas in Calgary in 1991, doing a nationally broadcast daily radio report called The Face-off circle.

“There was so much excitement in the city. They were coming off of winning the Stanley Cup in 1989 and everyone thought it would be a dynasty for the ages,” said Dirks, who became a full-time sportscaster. and journalist for Radio-Canada in 1993.

Two unidentified young hockey fans, cheering on opposing teams, secured their Game 7 tickets before a game between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers at the Olympic Saddledome on April 16, 1991. “Grant Fuhr, best league pressure goalie,” the Oilers fan said. ‘[Mike] Vernon is going to have the Conn Smythe [Trophy]’, insisted the Flames fan. (Radio Canada Archives)

The day before the puck drop for Game 7 in Calgary at what was then called the Olympic Saddledome, 2,100 tickets went on sale in the morning, selling out within 50 minutes.

This Alberta battle lasted seven games and ended in heartbreak for the Flames faithful thanks to Esa Tikkanen’s stick. He found the back of the net three times, his overtime goal sealing the series for Oil Country, four games against three.

“There’s no way to slow down the Flames’ 5-4 loss. They got choked up, plain and simple,” the Calgary Herald wrote. sportswriter Eric Duhatschek in an autopsy.

Four days later, at 3 p.m. sharp, Ford put out his last cigarette. The Flames would go on to a playoff drought, not winning another series until 2004.


Although fans went home discouraged that night, Calgary’s future at the time looked bright in other ways, especially if you weren’t a loyal member of the Flames.

For non-athletes like Arif Ansari, who was probably at Westward Club or Republik Nightclub the night the team got their luck, 1991 was a time when the alternative music scene began to flourish, when he there was excitement in the air.

Calgary Herald film listings from April 16, 1991, the day the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers met for Game 7 at the Olympic Saddledome. Steven Seagal’s action vehicle Out for Justice topped the box office, having dethroned former titleholder, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. (Radio-Canada News)

Some nights in the early 1990s achieved legendary status for Ansari, such as when American heavy metal band GWAR played the Westward Club and fans experienced firsthand the band’s schtick of spraying fake blood all over everything. the public.

“So there are great stories of people coming home from this show covered in all this fake blood and walking like a horde of zombies down 17th Avenue,” said Ansari, who runs the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society and is a local music archivist.

Some believed at the time that culturally Calgary could have become the next Seattle, said Mike Bell, publisher of Calgary-based monthly arts and culture publication The Scene.

A 1991 poster of the Westward Club, a popular downtown Calgary music venue that hosted artists like the Flaming Lips, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lenny Kravitz. (Submitted by Arif Ansari)

“There was an enthusiasm for the music, for the arts,” Bell said.

“People were spending money, people were going to the theatre. People wanted to go out and the artists here didn’t feel they had to leave. There was really stuff going on in Calgary.”


Tonight, the Flames and Oilers will find themselves in a new Alberta battle. Instead of Theoren Fleury and Tikkanen, this year’s game will be led by young superstars Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid.

Since the 1991 game, Calgary has gone from Duerr, to Dave Bronconnier, to Naheed Nenshi, to Jyoti Gondek.

It has gone from an oil boom to an oil bust and then back to an oil boom again, albeit this time with heightened urgency about what comes next – both for the economy and for the climate.

It is now home to over 1.3 million people, down from 750,000 in 1991 (not to mention bedroom communities like Chestermere, Alberta, which has over 20,000 people, down from 900 in 1991).

Former Calgary Flames player Jamie Macoun, who won the Stanley Cup with the team in 1989, says he quickly realized the importance of the Alberta battle after arriving in Calgary in 1983. (James Young/CBC)

Ford, who has written thousands of columns about Calgary and Alberta, said she will continue to defend the place she calls home no matter what comes next, even if talking about what makes her home it may seem cliché – the big wide blue sky, the mountains, the unpredictable weather that keeps the locals on their toes.

“It’s all those intangibles that make you love something. It’s like asking me why I love my husband. Do I love him because he’s tall, handsome, and handsome?” she says.

“No, none of that. I love him because of who he is. I love this city because of what it is and what it means to all of us.”

Game 1 of Round 2 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Flames and Oilers kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.