Pining for the personal touch

On a recent Thursday at 1:30 p.m., I impulsively gave in to the many readers who have expressed shocked disbelief that I had never visited the Outdoor World of Bass Pro Shops.

On a recent Thursday at 1:30 p.m., I impulsively gave in to the many readers who have expressed shocked disbelief that I had never visited the Outdoor World of Bass Pro Shops.

I was on QE2 north on my way back home from an appointment in Calgary when Almighty Mouth, my inner alter ego, said “you might as well get it over with,” so I joined the parade taking the Balzac turnoff east.

Half an hour of bumper to bumper and imperious traffic cops got me onto the Cross Iron Mills mall premises, and another half hour proved there were no spots in the many huge parking lots on the east side. So we gave up the idea of sightseeing through the new mall, to Outdoor World and drove around.

Bass Pro has been open for some time, and perhaps the novelty has worn off, because there were spaces available in the parking lot. Immediately inside the main entrance I was attacked by my familiar phobia whenever I enter any big box store: too much, too much space, too much choice, too many people.

But I did browse around, even took some pictures, which is what everyone else was doing, those who weren’t zapping away at the laser shooting gallery. There are herds of exceptional trophy heads hung too high for those of us who would like a really good look. But down low, just inside the main entrance, is a huge standing polar bear, and I resisted looking to see if any fly tier has surreptitiously snipped a lock or two of that rare, endangered, and superb hair for streamer flies. Nobody seemed to be buying anything, and I felt badly. So when I came across a $4.99 special on something I have needed for years — a tackle box with 24 compartments of the perfect size for sorting photographic slides — I bought one and got out of there.

My reluctance to visit probably had something to do with the incongruity of a store called Bass (meaning largemouth bass) Pro in Alberta. Between 1908 and 1924 largemouths were introduced into several Alberta lakes, including Sylvan, Gull, Pine, Buffalo and Cooking, and a few were caught, but there was never any evidence of reproduction. So there are no live largemouth bass in Alberta, and it follows there are no resident bass pros, anglers who make at least part of their livings on the big bass tournament trail in the U.S.

Then, as I drove along, I got to thinking that “Shop” seems a tad tiny and misleading to describe what is really an “emporium.” That brought on nostalgic memories of sporting goods shops I have known. First, there was Jack O’Brien’s Brooks Hardware, then Roddy Edward’s shop a little down the street where, at 12, I bought my first outfit, a Bronson Fleetwing level wind reel and a solid glass casting rod; later, there, I pined over the first spinning outfit I ever saw.

Later, in Red Deer, I bought my first spinning outfit from the late Cec Grove at Builders’ Hardware, then, at his urging and mentoring, bought my first fly casting outfit. At the amazing Red Deer Lock and Key of Cec Head I got further “stuff,” including several fine rifles and shotguns, aided and abetted by Cec and lock and gunsmith, Emile Hermary. Later Emile opened Emile of Many Guns at his home place northwest of the city, where I got repairs and some custom gun work done by Emile and Rob Stone. Then there was The Mountainman of the late Mark Johnson near Cow Lake, who crafted the superb Mannlicher stock on my custom seven-mm Mauser. Both shops had ranges out back where a customer could “try ’er out” or “sight ’er in.”

There was the funky and fantastic old WW Arcade in Edmonton and the original Russell’s on the corner of 1st Street W. and 10th Avenue in Calgary, where the tied, jacketed and courtly Mr. Russell himself sold me quality stuff at great prices, including the last two Hardy Perfect fly reels he had for $25 each, just after Hardy announced they were no longer offering them because they were too expensive to make, but have since re-tooled, recanted and re-priced, by popular demand.

All these shops were meeting places. There was sitting room, even if it was only the windowsill or an ammunition case in Emile’s, or a nail keg in Brooks Hardware. Anglish and Huntarian were spoken in all of them and, boy, then man, I heard and learned amazing and important things in all of them.

Sadly they are gone, all of them. There are a few similar survivors, such as The Sportsmen’s Den in Red Deer, Caroline Supplies, and Bashaw Sports Centre. But somehow, a massive emporium with the motto “More outdoors for your money” doesn’t and won’t replace any them for many of us.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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