THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE SCA IN CALGARY, by Christopher Sigismund Olafsson, 1985
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THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE SCA IN CALGARY
I, Christopher Sigismund Olafsson, also known as Father Christopher, have been asked by various people to write an account of the early history of Montengarde, both to send to kingdom in association with our baronial bid and for our own records so that we can scare our children with tales of long vanished boogeymen.
Since I am telling this tale, it will be told my way. I will omit much which is apocryphal, rumour, and hearsay and focus on verifiable facts related by others and on things which I directly witnessed. Since I also believe that a number of peccadilloes of youth should be forgiven, if not entirely forgotten, names will be strategically omitted from time to time. It should be remembered at all times that Montengarde was then and remains to this day demographically a young shire and the exuberance of youth gives it a heady air of excitement, fun, and tumult.
Also, since there have been in the past and remain even to this day much which is, or purports to be, SCA within the geographic boundaries of Montengarde but not within its political boundaries, this treatise will deal with the larger topic of the SCA in Calgary. There are many events in Montengarde's history which cannot be understood outside of this context.
Despite the above disclaimer, I will try to tell it as a tale, not as just a dry recitation of facts, I will use humour where appropriate and will be nasty where I feel it is warranted. If various of my friends recognize themselves and are offended by what I say, I ask their forgiveness. This is what happened as I saw it and the fact that we are still friends speaks volumes for the regard in which I hold you. I will be in armour regularly at fighting practices. Feel free to bash my brains in and accept a drink afterwards. I at least wish to remain friends with you.
CHAPTER ONE - SEEDS
In early 1979, economic hard times were beginning to stalk the country, but in Alberta they were held at bay and an economic boom was actually under way. It was this boom that brought me to Calgary in late 1979 from Victoria.
The SCA was already in Alberta at this time in the form of the brand new shire of Borealis in Edmonton, but it was only just beginning in Calgary. In any case, while I had already encountered the SCA during the two years I had lived in Toronto, I had formed the opinion that people who hit each other over the head with wooden sticks for recreation were looney and I probably wouldn't have joined at that time even if I had known how to get in touch with it.
Through the spring of 1979, the SCA in Calgary were making very slow progress because of the comparative isolation here. In this period a court baron from Caid, Pwyll pen Tyrhon by name, also moved to Calgary. After some search, he managed to locate the SCA group forming in Calgary and appointed himself its leader.
The core of what was to become Montengarde consisted mainly of a group of long time friends. Many of them had gone to school together and were members of the same SF club. At this time they were almost all in university or college. They were also almost all from Calgary and from white-collar backgrounds. As a consequence of all of these similarities, they tended to be very cliquey.
It was also at about this time that a group of five people moved from Vancouver, for the same reasons the rest of us moved here. They were also quite close knit; several of them had gone to school together in the same small town in BC. Unlike Montengarde, they were all quite blue-collar working people, although they were still in the same age group as Montengarde. They had had varying amounts of exposure to the SCA in Vancouver, both to Lions Gate and Eisenmarch and thought that they knew how the SCA worked. They had never actually held an office in an SCA group and got a number of things wrong. Since the group forming in Calgary did not have a high profile, they initially didn't meet them. They therefore formed their own group, calling themselves Mussenhitt in a kind of fractured pseudo-German. Since in their experience SCA groups were led by barons, one of their number was named baroness and the rest took such offices as suited their fancy.
In July of 1979, I met several of the Mussenhittites at a War games club of which I was a member and they managed to convince me that there was more to the SCA than hitting each other with wooden sticks, there was also great parties. In August I attended their regular weekly meeting. They managed to convince me to become seneschal, as that office was not yet filled. In actual fact I was more of a glorified note taker at the weekly meetings while the "baroness" actually ran things.
In September the inevitable happened and Montengarde and Mussenhitt met when several members of Mussenhitt attended a Montengarde monthly meeting. A wise and mature leader of the larger group would have been able to overcome the clear differences between the two groups. None of the above characterized Baron Pwyll. The rest of the participants on both sides can most charitably be characterized as young, hot-headed, and rash. There was immediate dislike which led to a resolve by Mussenhitt to pursue an independent path and a resolve by Montengarde to let them.
Nevertheless, I began to attend Montengarde monthly meetings to take notes for the Mussenhitt council. I watched Montengarde grow rapidly as Baron Pwyll proved useful for establishing contacts with the SCA at large. However, for one reason or another, Pwyll got several things wrong. He told Montengarde that since there were enough of them and since he was a baron, they were a barony and he was their leader. He also began his grand idea of turning Mussenhitt and Borealis into Cantons of Montengarde. This idea was not well received in either place, but Pwyll seemed to know what he was talking about and there was no loud objection from Mussenhitt at least. A quick check of the armourial will reveal that Montengarde' s device, passed at this time, is listed as that of the Barony of Montengarde. The fact that that clanger got passed is a clear indication of the state of the SCA bureaucracy of the time. The SCA was someone's club which had grown out of their ability to run it.
Mussenhitt was also growing at this time, although considerably more slowly. I was attending the weekly meetings at this time, but could not commit more time to the SCA than that. I was still learning a new job, was just buying a house, and was also very busy still with gaming. Consequently I missed Borealis' first revel and also did not go to the Baronial revel in Lions Gate [in Vancouver] with Montengarde.
This event was to have enormous positive effects on the evolution of Montengarde. First Lions Gate served as a standard for the Montengardians. Second, Pwyll took such umbrage at the misspelling of his name as Pwyl on a place card that war broke out. The Lions Gate war [Clinton War] has been fought annually since and has had much to do with the development of Montengarde. Only our victory last summer allows me to spell his name correctly here.
In January of 1980 Montengarde held its first event, the Twelfth Night Revel. Mussenhitt and Borealis both attended in force. Despite a blizzard, the event was well attended and everybody not driving got reasonably drunk. Montengarde's court serious [as opposed to court jester] passed out in a sink (yes, in a sink; photographs exist in private collections) and spawned a tradition which has come down in unbroken succession to this day, that of the Order of the Green Edward. As a two time winner of this august award for January excess, I felt compelled to mention its beginnings here. At the post revel, held at my new house, politics reared its ugly head. Pwyll attempted to convince me to leave Mussenhitt and become his seneschal in Montengarde saying "You're everything I want in a seneschal." He even had one of his "baronesses'' (yes he had two) try to convince me to accept this offer by plying her allures on me. (I believe that is the polite term.) While I may have nibbled the bait I refused the hook. I knew full well Montengarde already had a seneschal, even though the pressures of school had kept him absent through exam time, and I sensed trouble brewing. I also felt a strong loyalty to Mussenhitt which was unblunted by my state. (Since the party was at my place, I was blasted.)
Subsequent conversations with some of Montengarde's then council have revealed two possible reasons for the recruitment attempt. By this time, Montengarde had realized that they were not a barony, no matter what Pwyll said, and therefore Pwyll had no legal authority. Since they didn't like Pwyll's attempt to turn Alberta into Caid North, they were plotting a palace revolution. Pwyll may well have heard of this and planned to head it off by replacing the seneschal with me, using the existing seneschal's non-attendance as his excuse. The alternative suggestion is that he thought I was sexier than the existing seneschal. Either explanation is perfectly in keeping with Pwyll's character.
CHAPTER TWO - WEEDS
Throughout the spring of 1980, my job kept me very busy, and out of town about one weekend in two. As a consequence, I missed Pwyll's departure for California for a six week vacation. The coming recession had taken Pwyll's business among its first casualties and thus it came as no real surprise that Pwyll did not return. His consorts vanished never to be seen again. Montengarde had survived its first bit of nasty politics with minor wounds, although relations with its neighbours were still strained.
In May, my work took me to Texas for nine weeks. I was thus absent for what in retrospect was the beginning of political catastrophes which were to damage the SCA in Alberta for years to come. When I left, Mussenhitt consisted of a dozen members slowly built around the original core. We were gradually learning what the SCA was really all about. When I returned, I found that two of the original five were gone, including the "baroness" who was a great lady and much of the glue which held Mussenhitt together. She had been replaced by a seventeen year old stick jock who had formerly been an obscure member of Montengarde. He would seem to have gotten the job as a compromise. Worse yet, Mussenhitt had swelled to some thirty odd people in a very short time. The whole thing had taken on a flavour of live D&D, and almost everybody wanted to play barbaric cretins. Three people with a rudimentary knowledge of what the SCA was really all about were trying to indoctrinate ten times their number. They failed.
While I was away down south I had also missed several events. Borealis held a tourney and feast in conjunction with a mundane fair called Sherwood Park Days, held in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park. Borealis somehow had convinced the provincial government of Alberta to pay for flying up the King and Queen of the West for the event. They had also gotten Sherwood Park to provide the liquor and a pig for the feast. While all this was something of a coup, it was to have entirely unforeseen unpleasant consequences.
The king and queen were happy to come and flew off to Alberta, without bothering to consult their kingdom officers. The king arrived for the June event, parka in hand. Feeling the SCA in Alberta needed some encouragement, he handed out a large number of awards to the Borealis and Mussenhitt people in attendance. Some of these were deserved and some were not. Some which were not deserved were later earned. This caused a great deal of long term ill will in Montengarde, who for reasons of their own did not attend. This ill will was entirely misdirected against the recipients. Most had been in the SCA less than a year and had never attended an event outside of Alberta. They thus had no way of knowing that they had not done enough to have earned the awards in question. Further, even if they had suspected this to be the case, they could hardly have been expected to refuse the king. I feel the blame for this lies with the king, but he left after giving out the awards and neglected to tell anyone back at kingdom that he had even given them out. This led to problems which were never adequately resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. The entire affair became the target of some rather nasty and uncalled for vindictiveness and backbiting which almost drove me from the SCA in disgust. The other major result of this was an exaggerated reluctance in Montengarde to take part in "unseemly" politicking for awards. Since we live so far from core, this in my opinion has led to significant under recognition of Montengardians.
This was not the only or even the least of the problems left behind by the royal visit. A large amount of discussion took place on the future of the SCA in Alberta. This discussion, later continued at West Kingdom Crown the next week, consisted of a number of suggestions. It was suggested that Alberta join Cynaugua, Mists, and even the Marches. All accounts I have heard of this discussion never mentioned An Tir. How this could have occurred boggles my mind. An Tir was the only part of West contiguous with us. It was the only reasonable alternative and the one preferred by Montengarde. I have subsequently wondered if the Great An Tir Rebellion, then in full swing influenced royal thought in this matter.
Eventually, after these deliberations, the king decided that the best idea was for these three shires (Borealis, Montengarde, and Mussenhitt) to form a province. The fact that Mussenhitt did not have any official status does not seem at any time to have been pointed out. Although this may have represented the wishes of Borealis, Mussenhitt had by no means been exhaustively canvassed and Montengarde when given a cursory consultation seems to have been opposed. They already had applied to join An Tir, but that application would appear to have been lost in West Kingdom bureaucracy somewhere. In any case, the king seems to have sent some sort of communication on the subject immediately after crown that may have amounted to an edict or a strong suggestion, depending on who was describing it. No one from down here actually seems to have seen it; they were merely told of its contents. Borealis got behind the idea almost immediately and just as quickly Montengarde opposed it. Mussenhitt divided between pro, anti, and the hunh factions.
Politics went on hold for the summer at this point. Most of Alberta attended the first Border War in Myrgan Wood and we all had a grand time. Many of us also went to the first Lions Gate War and had an even better time, even though Montengarde got trounced. It was in this period that I came to two conclusions. The first was that Mussenhitt wasn't a barony and never would be and therefore shouldn't have both a seneschal and a baron. Since the "baron" was vested with the leadership and authority which should have belonged to the seneschal, I resigned and suggested the "baron" simply call himself seneschal for kingdom purposes. I also decided that the real SCA was nowhere close to what was practised in Mussenhitt and was far closer to what was practised in Montengarde. Since I decided that I liked the real SCA far better than Mussenhitt, I resolved to quit the one for the other. After discussion with my household, we all resolved to leave Mussenhitt, but not all of us resolved to join Montengarde. We also decided that we should stay until after Mussenhitt's first event, a feast in October.
Meanwhile, events elsewhere were coming to an ugly head. Communications between Montengarde and Borealis, principally through their respective newsletters, became progressively more vitriolic. The next time they were to meet face-to-face was at Mussenhitt's feast.
At the feast, a court was held between removes. Since Mussenhitt's herald was in the kitchen cooking, Borealis' herald handled the court, nominally presided over by Mussenhitt's boy baron, leader of the Hunh faction. A number of Montengardians attended, led by their herald, Stephen of Westmarch, and his lady, Montengarde's chronicler, Rayatha Carminowe. The debate began with Westmarch presenting Borealis' chronicler, Colin Ironwolf, with a scroll. In a recent editorial this worthy had apparently insulted Stephen and Rayatha and the scroll, which Westmarch read aloud insulted him in an impressive display of period invective and artistic cursing which did not stoop to scatological, religious, or ancestral comment. Ironwolf received the scroll, displayed the nice calligraphy, and said "I shall keep this always, milord, and we shall meet on the field of honour at your earliest convenience."
I and many others in attendance felt that that generous and noble statement should have put an end to the affair, but the herald recognized speaker after speaker to natter on the matter and Mussenhitt's boy baron sat in baffled silence. Eventually things got to the heart of the discord, the issue of the province. Montengarde's argument ran thusly; since none of the groups in question were sufficiently well enough established to have a complete set of warranted officers (Mussenhitt had only one warranted officer, its herald) there was no possible way we could handle a full slate of regional officers. We would be far better off joining An Tir and making use of their established officers. Borealis' counter argument was that the king had decreed that we form a province. Montengarde's rebuttal to this was that the king had exceeded his authority by issuing such an edict without consulting the populace of Montengarde and therefore the edict was without legal force.
These positions were not brought forth without considerable shouting and invective. Borealis' herald at the time put on a very poor showing in all of this, preferentially recognizing Borealians and pro faction Mussenhittites, delivering himself of partisan speeches at other times. (The one beginning "I may be only a herald ..." has passed into legend. Less well known is the tiny voice from the Montengarde benches which said "No you're not.") At one point he whirled on Rayatha, who had just spoken out of turn, and bellowed "Shut up!" It all culminated with a prominent Borealian calling Stephen and Rayatha traitors. Montengarde then left the hall followed by me and my household.
The bad feelings between Montengarde and Borealis left by this event lasted for a further three years. In the last year and a half, new blood in Montengarde, particularly on council, have managed to heal the wounds and I cast my light now upon scars, not festering scabs. Borealis tried to normalize relations earlier, but were rebuffed several times. In fairness to Montengarde, I felt personally that a public apology was owed to Stephen and Rayatha for the charge of treason, which was made so loudly, and for me that would have made reconciliation much easier. I can not speak for the shire on that one, however.
Apart from the bad blood it engendered, the event also signalled the effective end of Mussenhitt. I and my household, representing about a third of the population, left Mussenhitt altogether afterwards. Some of us joined Montengarde, some quit the SCA, and some later helped found the shire of Bitter End [in Red Deer]. Mussenhitt tottered on for another few months, but broke up into squabbling semiautonomous households shortly thereafter. Some of its remaining population has been gradually drifting into Montengarde.
Although Mussenhitt is long gone, it has left its traces among its survivors. Cyril of the Sillie Stylus is Montengarde's Minister of Sciences, I am its Herald, Tygar of Skagen has just become its Chirurgeon, and William of Three Falcons holds downs at least two deputies positions that I can think of. Further to the north Tatanga Mani is the seneschal of Bitter End and to the west, Celdae the Seeker is a very active citizen of Lions Gate. Many other former Mussenhittites are still in the SCA here and there.
Unrecorded in this history are many events and monthly revels which were just fun. In fact the fun far outweighed the politics, or I for one would have been long gone. I do not much enjoy politics and am glad to see that it seems to be played now in Montengarde by fixed rules that limit the amount of blood.
In general, Montengarde's worst political squabbles have been external. There have been internal problems which have led to individual resignations but never to any large scale rifts or fragmentation. While Montengarde is seldom of one mind, it remains of one body.
[ Copyright © 1985 Chris Vickers ]
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