Vulcan-ized! That’s what happened to one small town where ‘Star Trek’ is the real star


If you want to brush up on your Klingon, Vulcan is the place to do it.

Vulcan, Alberta, that is.

The small farming community of 2,000 was facing extinction back when "Star Trek" first appeared on TV screens worldwide in the 1960s. Many of its grain elevators had succumbed to fire or been torn down, and town residents were concerned the town wouldn't be around much longer.

That's when they started noticing a few visitors showing up for a photo opportunity with their town name in the background. In 1910, a railway surveyor in Alberta had given this small outpost the name Vulcan after the Roman god of forge and fire, never suspecting the name would find a fictional parallel half a century later.

"Star Trek" had inadvertently secured the future of Vulcan, and it seemed an opportune time for the town to capitalize on its name.

You have to drive through miles of rolling canola, wheat and barley fields to find Vulcan today, but once you do, the spaceship-shaped Visitors' Centre is an undeniable sign that you've arrived.

Built in 1998, the center has welcomed "Star Trek" fans by the thousands, people who travel from far and wide to feed their "Trekkie" addictions.

One couple was married in the Centre in a strictly Klingon ceremony. Another man chose the Vulcan cemetery as his final resting place, requesting a tombstone that recalls his love of everything "Trek"-related.

This year marked the 16th annual "Star Trek" convention in Vulcan — a weekend that saw some 10,000 fans descend on the small farming community. Half of them made their way through the Visitors' Centre, shopping for memorabilia that included everything from clothes to water pistols to Spock-like ears.

But it's not just convention-goers who stop in at Vulcan. Last year, 17,000 visitors came through town, and this year, with the launch of the new "Star Trek" this past May, that number is expected to rise to 20,000.

"The new movie has created a whole new 'Star Trek' fan base," declares Erin Melcher, coordinator of the Visitors Centre. "We're getting younger 'Trek' enthusiasts now, and 'Star Trek' is more popular than ever."

The numbers bear him out: Besides the ever-popular movie series and ongoing reruns of the original television series and its many popular sequels — the last film just topped the $200 million mark, the first summer movie to do so — there are video games, books and, of course, conventions enhancing the reputation of the phenomenon.

Indeed, the just-concluded Comic-Con meeting had plenty of new "Star Trek" material for sale, as fans lined up to buy memorabilia just ahead of the planned November DVD release.

But back at Vulcan, visitors can don "Star Trek" clothes and pose on the Bridge for photographs with life-size cardboard cut-outs of their favorite characters.

Out-There Space Game
For a fee, they can also play "Vulcan Space Adventure," a $250,000 virtual reality game where they train as space cadets and try to save Earth from alien invaders.

"Shoplifters will be vaporized," store signage cautions playfully.

In downtown Vulcan, a handful of businesses have started embracing the Trekkie mania. There's a "Star Trek" mural on the pharmacy and a "Star Trek" water park.

Even the historic Vulcan Hotel has a "Star Trek"-themed room.

Most visitors leave with a pair of pointy, distinctly Spock-like ears, for Vulcan is the only place you can procure them. Before they hit the highway to Calgary, many travelers give the Vulcan salute meaning "live long and prosper," which, interestingly, has Jewish roots.

In the priestly blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim, they use both hands' thumb to thumb to form the Hebrew letter Shin.

It stands for "Shaddai," which means Almighty.

As a child, actor Leonard Nimoy — who plays the half-Vulcan character Mr. Spock in the original series — was apparently fascinated by the blessings that he saw in the Orthodox synagogue he attended with his grandfather.

He recalled those blessings and worked it into a Vulcan salute, recreating it with a one-handed greeting that's oft-used today — always recognized — by Trekkies.

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