Few Calgarians realize the impact that James Joyce has had upon Calgary’s literary community and upon our very geography. In the years immediately following the First World War,Calgary was in a period of growth an expansion (the creation and development of Sunnyside, the Louise Bridge and Memorial Drive in response to Calgary’s war dead are noted examples of post-war growth). In 1923 The Calgary Stampede merged with the Calgary Exhibition to create the first “Calgary Exhibition & Stampede”which continues to this day.

The Calgary Modernist Club (who’s members included noted librarians, artists, businessmen and politicians) realizing the import of the chapter-by-chapter publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, from March 1918 to December 1920 in The Little Review, and wanting to signal not only a cultural investment in post-war literary culture burgeoning in Paris but also the impact of Irish immigration to Calgary petitioned to designate a section of 8th Avenue SW to pedestrian-only (thus bringing the flâneur to the west) and helped to initiate a building boom which emphasized such Dublin-esque features as cobbled streets, brick and stone buildings, public plazas, a preponderance of restaurants and drinking establishments (such as the historic Alberta Hotel) and a foregrounding of street-level walking traffic. The city was more than excited to foreground its Gaelic roots, happily mixing Scottish and Irish into a celebratory cultural stew. Building upon the city’s excitement, The Calgary Modernist Club was able to further initiate the naming of 8th Avenue SW to Stephen Avenue SW in recognition of Ulysses’s Stephen Deadalus.

The celebration was to be short-lived however. In 1922, with the publication of Ulysses in book form and the subsequent court trials and obscenity charges, the city council became wary of close association with this now controversial author. Unable to weather the controversy, The Calgary Modernist Club folded after a mere 6 years … and the city decided to officially re-designate Stephen Avenue as recognizing Scottish-Canadian George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen who was instrumental in the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway and who had died the year previous.

There are few cultural remnants of Calgary’s ground-breaking civic investment in and recognition of Joyce’s work. Ulysses was written to freeze the city life of June 16, 1904 …and on the corner of 4th Street SW (celebrating the meeting of Joyce and his future-wife Nora Barnacle in ’04) and 24th Street (in celebration of the publication of the first chapters of Work in Progress – which would become Finnegans Wake – in 1924) stands the pub Joyce on 4th. On Stephen Avenue The James Joyce Pub continues to occupy a historic space, the last fragment of a once street-long celebration.

Calgary’s literary history flips the pages of atlases, maps and literary journals in a dreamscape of potentiality, of ‘pataphysicality and complete balderdash.