The scent of flame-broiling meat hits us from a block away.
“Mmmm, I smell barbecue,” I say to my copilot for a day of exploring on Alberta’s Cowboy Trail.
“It’s coming from up ahead,” he says, pointing in the direction of the smoke flooding out of one of the old Western-style facades on Centre Avenue in Black Diamond.
Sure enough, we’ve stumbled upon Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, housed in the old Mt. View Theatre.
The theatre stood empty in Black Diamond 10 years ago but Marv Garriott had a house full of mementos and souvenirs from the sock hop days, according to the soda shop’s website.
He started with an old-fashioned candy store, then added the soda counter and the grill.
We were fresh from the Chuckwagon in Turner Valley. Our bellies were full, so we couldn’t feast upon the hamburger menu while Let’s Go the Hop by Danny & The Juniors blasted from an old jukebox in the corner.
But I giggled with glee as I gazed upon the round chrome stools and the booths that looked like they were dipped in pink cotton candy.
The waitresses wear matching dresses and the cooks don the old paper hats.
It’s a scene right out of a James Dean classic on the silver screen.
The sock hop era is my favourite period in American history. I remember poring over the pictures in my mother’s photo albums or sitting at her old RCA Victor, playing her 45s over and over and over again.
My music collection is populated with the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Lesley Gore.
When I was 19, I worked at a restaurant bar that played nothing but hits from the ’50s and ’60s.
I can sing along with almost any song from that time.
I own a pair of saddle shoes.
So, I had a big greasy grin on my face as I stepped up to the girl, waiting on the counter. She couldn’t have been much more than 18 or 19 … born more than 20 years after Elvis’s death, let alone his heyday on the music charts.
‘Root beer float,’ I say, feeling like a 10-year-old stepping up to the counter at the old drive-in A&W in Antigonish, N.S.
She dug her ice cream scoop into the big tub of vanilla and dumped a generous amount into the waxed paper cup, then topped it off with a fizzy pour of root beer.
Delicious, I thought, my mind wandering back to a simpler time, while my friend feasted on a chocolate waffle cone.
‘Did you try the carbonated ice cream,’ a friend asked on Twitter, when she saw me check in on Foursquare.
One of Marv’s specialties is Marvello, carbonated ice cream which is frozen in carbon gas. It’s made with 35 per cent cream and comes in such sour flavours as raspberry, cherry, lemon lime and more.
I’m making it a must-do on my next run through Black Diamond. I can only hope Marv will be there with his waxed and curled mustache.
And maybe I’ll wear my saddle shoes.
Back in the day
It’s clear Black Diamond is doing what it can to preserve its heritage.
Throughout town, buildings are posted with 8×10 signs informing the visitor what part they played in the development of Black Diamond … from the post office to the seniors centre and town jail.
The town, at the junction of Highways 7 and 22, was founded at the height of the coal boom and made a fairly seamless transition into the oil and gas industry, upon its discovery in Turner Valley.
Today, it’s a thriving artistic, musical and cultural community. It hosts country-style parades, a Canada Day festival, old-fashioned Christmas Light Up and, yes, Marv’s annual Rock & Roll Classic, in conjunction with a classic car show and shine.
The signs could stand a refresh. They’re weathered and fading but the connection to the past is clear.
Many of the buildings were moved in from nearby abandoned settlements after the great fire of 1949, which destroyed most of the downtown.
One building, among many displaying the fine art available in Black Diamond, features old, fading signs from the 1930s. Back then, product ads were painted right onto the storefronts.
No fancy neon signs or light boards.
Just the building and some paint.
They were long ago covered up but rediscovered under layers of siding during restoration work in 2004.
And then there’s the Salon & Spa.
It’s housed in the old Anglican church on Government Road.
It’s typical of the small churches built in Western Canada in the early 1900s. It originally stood just west of Okotoks as the Big Rock Community School but was moved to Black Diamond and converted into a church.
Its Anglican cross on the roof peak and its telltale construction are the only clues to its former duties.
Because where the pews and altar once stood, there are now massage beds, UV lights, towels and body oils, creams and scrubs.
A different kind of soothing for the soul, if you will.