VULCAN, Alta. — Despite a spell of unwelcoming hail, rain and snow, Mr. Spock finally arrived in the small Alberta town of Vulcan on Friday, ending what some say has been a 10-year quest to bring the half-human, half-Vulcan home.
Dressed casually in a grey sweater and black pants, a beaming Leonard Nimoy arrived without his trademark Vulcan ears to hundreds of cheering fans Friday afternoon outside the Vulcan Tourism Centre before joining a parade down the town’s main drag to help celebrate the town’s new status as the Star Trek capital of Canada.
By the time the 79-year-old actor offered his “live-long-and-prosper” handprint and unveiled a bronze bust of his most famous character, the sun was shining and the crowd had surged to an estimated 2,500 people.
“Wait until Bill Shatner hears about this,” said Nimoy. “I have been a Vulcan for 44 years. It’s about time I came home.”
For town officials, it was the end to a long, weird and exhilarating quest to bring Spock home.
In town for only a couple of hours, the actor is scheduled to be a guest at The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo this weekend. Vulcan is about 100 kilometres southeast of Calgary.
Nimoy’s appearance caps off a decade-plus campaign to use Gene Roddenberry’s popular Star Trek phenomenon to boost tourism for the town, which was actually named after the Roman god of fire.
“I think this is going to go down as one of the biggest days in Vulcan history,” says Dayna Dickens, the town’s tourism co-ordinator. “You know, certainly there’s be some controversy with the town having its traditional Prairie roots. But I think the town has come together to welcome Mr. Nimoy here.”
Certainly there was no sign of dissent along Vulcan’s quaint main drag. A pharmacy, an insurance office, the local tavern and even one abandoned building had been turned into makeshift shrines to Spock. New T-shirts had been designed, and a limited edition poster was produced that pictured a Andy Warhol-like portrait of the pointy-eared first officer of the Enterprise with the caption “Welcome Home.”
Star Trek movie marathons and the original series’ score blasted from the windows of local businesses and the liquor store was enjoying brisk sales of Romulan ale. Vulcan jerky was being sold at the grocery shop and two high school students were dressed up as “sehlats” — bear-like creatures native to Vulcan. Town officials, including Mayor Tom Grant, were decked out in full Star Trek garb.
Nimoy lent a pair of his Vulcan ears and a poster signed by the original cast to the town to display for a year.
Nimoy, who recently announced his retirement from acting, was clearly touched by the attention.
“I’ve never had an experience quite as touching as I’m having here today and I appreciate it,” he said. “I’m just sorry it took me so long to get here.”
For some of the town’s older residents, the visit was indeed a long time coming.
“People thought they were crazy when (officials) started talking about Star Trek and they thought they were really crazy when they built the Trek centre but it’s really been wonderful,” says Betty McFadden, 75, referring to the town’s Starship Enterprise-styled tourism building.
McFadden, who has been in Vulcan since 1952, wandered the main drag with her friend Betty Smith, 80, both wearing the old-school red Star Trek shirts. Both said they hope the town embraces its new Trek-heavy theme.
For Jesse Zelisko, the 15-year-old who donned the elaborate sehlat costume, Star Trek has always been a part of living in Vulcan.
“If you say southern Alberta, people know Vulcan,” says Zelisko. “It’s always been that Star Trek town.”
But while the connection is hardly new, Vulcan got a major push in that direction last year. That was when Nimoy famously got behind the town’s failed bid to hold the premiere of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film series reboot. Nimoy, who was the only original cast member to star in the film, read a Calgary Herald news report online that the town had been denied the premiere and decided to lend his support.
“We made some phone calls and one thing led to another,” said Nimoy, in an interview with the Herald prior to the event. “When Paramount got to thinking about it they thought they would show it in Calgary and bus 300 people in Vulcan, which I thought was great. But it just touched me as a very interesting problem that Vulcan couldn’t get a screening of the movie.”
Vulcan has already felt the benefits of Nimoy’s plug. In 2009, it had 23,400 visitors come through town looking for Trekkie adventures. That’s up from 16,800 in 2008. Now endorsed by CBS Television, which owns the licensing rights to Star Trek memorabilia, the town has been able to offer a new line of items at its tourism centre.
It’s working. Eric Anderson, a 28-year-old Trekkie from Regina, said he spent “way too much” money there Friday morning.
“I bought this shirt, and it was cool because they had these limited-edition posters,” he enthused, showing off a new T-shirt design with the words “Spock Beamed Down to Vulcan.”
“I think there’s only 500 available. I bought a Spock bobble-head doll and some knick-knacks . . . I sound like such a dweeb right now.”
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