Welcome to Vulcan Alberta, The Star Trek Capital of Canada
Resistance is Futile: You’re going to love Vulcan
Vulcan is a small town almost like any other in southern Alberta, Canada. The first thing you notice is the wind. It gallops across the prairie and keens in your ear. And with the wind comes the sudden and odiferous realization that you are surrounded by feedlots and meat packing factories. Situated about an hour’s drive southeast from Calgary, Vulcan was originally named for the Roman god of fire, and has street names like Apollo, Jupiter, and Neptune. When the Star Trek television series took off, the locals noticed people taking photos at the “Welcome to Vulcan” sign and saw a creative way to invigorate the town’s sagging economy. Rumor has it some local dignitaries showed up to a town meeting wearing Spock ears, and Vulcan the Trekkie Town was born.
In 2010 Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the original TV series, “came home” to Vulcan and named the town Canada’s official Star Trek Capital. When Star Trek XI came out in 2009, at Nimoy’s behest, three hundred residents of Vulcan were bused into Calgary for the first screening. The first trekkie wedding was held in Vulcan in 2004, and the buildings are decorated with vibrant Star Trek-themed murals. The town holds its annual trekkie convention, Spock Days, in July. The first turn off from the highway leads to the Vulcan Tourism and Trek Center, a futuristic white building containing shelves and cases chock full of Star Trek paraphernalia. The welcome plaque is in English and Klingon. Behind it is a replica of the Enterprise star ship, and a solar tree; the town has plans to building a forest of them and running part of the town on solar energy. Along the main drag by the museum is a bronze bust of Spock, commissioned for Nimoy’s visit in 2010, with a casting of his hand in the Vulcan salute.
The woman at the counter at the Trek Center phoned the Trekcetera Museum, which opened its doors in 2013, to arrange a viewing for us. Michael greeted us at the door wearing a smart jacket and cravat; he has a fantastic silvery mustache that is waxed and curled just slightly upward at the ends. He used to work on movie sets and is an avid collector of film memorabilia. In addition to the Star Trek exhibit, he has showcases from a few other movie sets, primarily from films that were shot in Alberta, like Brokeback Mountain and Superman. He spent a full hour and a half with us, taking us from exhibit to exhibit and regaling us with stories and insider anecdotes from movie sets (e.g., Health Ledger was a bad-ass and did his own stunts; Tom Cruise was fussy on the set of The Last Samurai and wouldn’t wear his helmet because he didn’t want to mess up his hair). Michael is a wonderful storyteller. And even though I’m a Trek-layperson, I was fascinated by the Trek exhibit–so much so that I spent that evening binge-watching Star Trek with my sister. I had been looking forward to this visit ever since I heard of Vulcan, and his tour exceeded all of my expectations.
I will definitely be back for Spock Days.
Live Long and Prosper
Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek of the 1960s was groundbreaking and inspirational in many ways; he was truly a visionary. We are still seeing renderings of his technologies come to life. And his vision of the future, one where men and women of all backgrounds are equal, helped blaze the feminist trail by providing young women with smart and powerful role models. His son, Rod Roddenberry, explored Star Trek’s impact on the world in his film, Trek Nation. However, Roddenberry’s original Star Trek pilot was rejected twice for being “too cerebral,” and NBC balked at his casting of a woman (Gene’s future wife), Majel Leigh Huduc as Number 1, the second in command. He changed that casting, but would go on to place more women and, notably, women of colour in positions of authority on the show. Mae Jemison credited Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, as one of her early inspirations for becoming an astronaut. She went up on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992, and was subsequently the first actual astronaut to appear on Star Trek.
This is the power of storytelling.
As is often said, art imitates life. But so too does life imitate art. And, like Star Trek, art can give us something to aspire to. Star Trek spurred many young minds to create, to innovate, to dream big dreams, and then to live them out. Gene Roddenberry’s legacy is tremendous, galvanizing and, I think, best summed up by Captain Picard in Star Trek: First Contact: the meaning of being human is to always strive to be more than what you are.
“Martin Luther King [Jr.] didn’t just have a dream, he got things done.” – Mae Jemison