Published Jul 1, 2021
The Spirit of Star Trek is Alive and Well in Small-Town Alberta
Getting to know this little slice of Canadian Star Trek paradise.
By Tae Haahr
This article was originally published on March 9, 2021.
There are two ways to enter Vulcan.
You can take Highway 534 through rolling fields that stretch horizon-to-horizon. Drive past the golf course and the unserviced airport, and as you enter town, you’ll see a brown sign on the left that reads “Vulcan” on the corner of Elizabeth and Centre Street.
It will look and feel like most other rural communities in the area.
Or, you can take the second route. Cruise down Highway 23 and you’ll see the same open fields and expansive sky that southern Albertans are accustomed to, but you’ll probably miss the stone grey unassuming “Welcome to Vulcan” sign as you find yourself stare at the Vulcan community Starship FX6-1995-A that’s parked in the grass across the street from the local UFA.
Nestled in the Western Canadian prairies of southern Alberta, Vulcan is a rural town boasting a population hovering somewhere under 2,000 people. But unlike most of the towns in the areas, this one’s a hit with Trekkies around the world.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, the town of Vulcan was not named after Spock’s home planet.
The village that was originally incorporated in 1912 and later became a town in 1921, was named after the Roman god of fire by a Canadian Pacific Railway surveyor who was particularly fond of the classical world.
But that doesn’t mean they haven’t embraced the association over the years.
It’s a little bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario when it comes to how exactly the town became associated with Star Trek. Pat Wisener, who was part of the initial push to officially associate the town with the Star Trek franchise, said that sometime in the 1970s a concrete “Welcome to Vulcan” sign was put up at the edge of the town. While that sign meant little to the people who resided there, fans of Star Trek would stop in on their way by and take a photo so they could tell people they’d “been to Vulcan.”
At the same time, the Government of Alberta was trying to encourage community engagement through a rural initiatives program and the town of Vulcan wasn’t doing so hot — they needed something that would draw people in. Admittedly, the association with Star Trek wasn’t universally loved, but the fans were already coming, so why not embrace it?
So, Wisener and other members of the community formed the Vulcan Association for Science and Trek (or VAST). And in the 1990s, the association with the Star Trek franchise started taking shape with the Vulcan Starship landing just outside of the town in 1995.
Curious-by-nature travelers who happen upon this sight make a turn into Centre Street and find themselves pulling into a parking lot at the Vulcan Tourism and Trek Station (“Trek Station”), where in October 1998, a starship landed on top of the building and never left.
Two Spock image stickers grace the front doors — one of Leonard Nimoy and the other of Zachary Quinto, the former of whom graced the town with his presence in 2010. It was the year that “Spock came home” Bonny Ellis wrote when she forwarded the images of Leonard Nimoy making an appearance.
Ellis works for the Planet of Vulcan Authority — or, more accurately, she’s the Community Services Manager for the town and oversees tourism. It’s been a tough year for them, but despite everything that’s happened they’ve still managed to welcome over 9,400 tourists.
Due to COVID, the Trek Station was closed in early 2020 with plans to reopen again during their high season — from April to September 2021. It’s then that masked Trekkies will be able to, once again, get their photo taken on the bridge of a star ship. They’ll also have the opportunity to see over 800 pieces of Star Trek memorabilia and even get themselves a pair of the Vulcan Ears that the town is famous for.
Outside of the Trek Station, you’ll find a Gene Roddenberry Memorial Plaque which was unveiled in June of 2008, when his son Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr. visited the town. But that’s not the only Trek-themed item you’ll find around town.
Everything from the painted crosswalks to the light poles that decorate Centre Street have an air of Star Trek about them. There’s the Transporter tucked between two shops where you can stop to snap a photo, the handprint of Garrett Wang that’s encased in the sidewalk and the bust of Leonard Nimoy on the corner of second avenue.
You can learn about the town and all of its hidden Trek spots on the official Star Trek Walking Tour that’s offered when the Trek Station is up and running.
But it’s not just the official stops you can make either, the spirit of Star Trek is ingrained in the very town with businesses like Latinum Loonie, Starfleet Supplies (Wolfe’s Hardware), Big Sky Liquor where you can get brandy but not necessarily the Vulcan kind and a consignment store called Quark’s that my mother frequents all too often.
Vul-Con: a Star Trek Celebration
Most days the streets of Vulcan are brimming with your typical rural activity, with locals pulling up in their trucks and running into the bank or dashing into the pharmacy while running errands. But a few times each year the town gets a little livelier when Trekkies descend on it to celebrate their favorite science fiction universe.
Vulcan cherishes its connection to the Star Trek universe and, in the past, has celebrated it with Vul-Con. Ellis describes it as a “mini Comic Con” that sees around 200 out-of-town visitors from places as close as Lethbridge and Calgary to overseas visitors from Europe and Australia.
There is a pancake breakfast, a parade, and vendors.
Attendees get a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the cast and creators of the franchise, including a special dinner with special guests. Leonard Nimoy’s appearance in 2010 marked one of the convention’s greatest successes.
Unfortunately, Vul-Con, like many other conventions, didn’t happen this year.
The cancellation of Vul-Con was a hit to the tourism income for the town and it caused the town Council to review how it does similar events in the future. Ellis says there is a lot of time, effort and money that goes into the annual event and next year, instead of the traditional weekend-long conference, the town is looking into holding several smaller events to celebrate it’s Star Trek history.
There are also Spock Days which give attendees a “taste of Vulcan.” There’s a parade, a baseball tournament, a display of local-area vendors and family-oriented events. Ellis says that the coming year’s Spock Day events will take on a little more of a Star Trek theme to carry some of the Vul-Con torch as the town modifies the events to meet current restraints.
Getting in on the Action
In 2010, Vulcan was recognized as the “Official Star Trek Capital of Canada” making the work that Wisener and the VAST team put in all those years back a true success. This quirky little town somehow manages to marry the laid-back rural life with the fun and spirit of a sci-fi world that many know and love.
The truth is, neither of the highways — the 534 or the 23 — are major thoroughfares, so a trip to Vulcan has to be planned. But for the Trekkie in all of us, it’s well worth it.
If you’re planning on heading out this way (post COVID, of course), it would be well advised to check the website, Facebook page or send them an email to see what they have coming up for events. Who knows, you might have an opportunity to run into your favorite Star Trek character on your visit to Vulcan.