The Sack Of Dragon's Wood


By Kevin Steel, Alberta Report / Newsmagazine, 09/06/99


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The castle at Dragon's Wood has fallen, having withstood a siege by unknown vandals for four years. The sturdy walls that defended the Shire of Bitter End, in the Principality of Avacal, Kingdom of An'Tir, are no more. Alack and alas!

Translated, the previous paragraph states that the clubhouse for the Alberta branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a club that specializes in re-enacting medieval life, has been despoiled. The fort and high gate at Dragon's Wood were thrown down by vulgar varlets, and someone burned a pentagram into the lawn of its hallowed glade.

The tale of Dragon's Wood, which ends with so much woe, began nearly 15 years ago. In those fair days of yore, 34-year old Michael Dale, a special effects fabricator for the film industry in Calgary, persuaded his mother, one Almut Dale, to allow the SCA to build replicas of medieval buildings and host SCA events on her land, located on Highway 587, 24 miles west of Bowden. Club members built a large wooden gate and a ringed fort with two towers. They painted a dragon on the gate; and Dragon's Wood was born.

SCA members imitate the dress, speech and behaviour of pre 17th-century Europe. Primarily a social club, the group occasionally does historical presentations in schools and at public events. A worldwide organization, Alberta chapters have a combined membership of approximately 200.

Dragon's Wood always suffered minor thefts and vandalism. But the destruction intensified about four years ago. Arsonists attempted to set the place ablaze and someone using mustard wrote "SATIN" in big letters on the gate. Whether the vandals misspelled "SATAN," or were attempting to comment on the group's costumes and just ran out of mustard, is not known.

In the spring of 1998, vandals threw the fort's two 500-pound wooden gate doors to the ground, drove spikes into the painted dragon and kicked down all of the walls. "A good three hours of work must have gone into this, it was really malicious," says Mr. Dale. The SCA had promised to let a civil war historical society use the place, so members repaired the damage. A week later, the vandalism was repeated.

But the last straw, Mr. Dale says, came when 200 students held a spontaneous grad party on the land this past June. "It took three days to clean up the mess," he says. Students also laid out wooden planks in the shape of a pentagram and set them alight, burning the symbol into the ground. "My mother became really frightened," Mr. Dale says. "She thought it was some kind of anti-Semitic thing, which is crazy because she's German."

The elder Mrs. Dale, 60, uses the land as a retreat. She began to fear that she might accidentally come upon the vandals, so she convinced her son to close the site, much to the disappointment of other SCA members. "Now we have to rely on public parks and rented areas for our events," says Mike Johnson, a 36-year-old Calgary systems analyst. "It's really sad."