Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Rink

Slowly, the new outdoor rink beside the school is taking shape. The plan was to build a roof over the existing ice pad to cut down on the time, cost and headache of clearing off the surface after every time it snowed. (No zamboni here, folks.) Apparently, once construction began, someone realized that the new roof would hang over off the property line so they then had to tear everything out - including the rink and move it back a few feet. Things are moving quickly now. The picture below was taken early Friday morning and when we passed it on the way home that evening, the metal structure was already covered with a giant piece of fabric for the roof.

Here is the best picture I could find of the old rink, chain-link fences, horses and all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


The past few days we've been hit with quite the little cold snap. Having spent time in a number of places over a big chunk of the Canadian north over the past few years, I suppose I can't stare blankly ahead open-mouthed like I'm shocked that the mercury can dip well below freezing during winter up here. I should say that Lisa and the kids are doing a pretty good at dealing with the nippy weather. Lisa and I even managed to put a new tire on the van in -32C weather this afternoon with little trouble.

What surprises me a little about this little cold snap is just how early in the season it has appeared. Most communities I've worked in have seen their share of frosty days but from my experience the real cold doesn't make its full appearance until at least January. I can only recall one year, in Fort Smith, where temperatures seemed to get this cold before Christmas although my perceptions at the time were doubtless tainted from being spoiled the mild temperatures of Windsor, Ontario during my university days. All this is to say, in a long, rambling, off-topic way, that I find it interesting that last night it was actually warmer in Arctic Bay than in Fort McMurray where an extreme wind chill warning persists.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fort McMurray Heritage

Here are a few pictures I took a couple weekends ago when we visited Fort McMurray's Heritage Park. There were plaques outside each building , describing its original function, when it was built and so forth. The main purpose of our visit was so that the kids could see Santa and get a pony ride so I was understandably a little distracted so I'm going by memory on the information below. Most, if not all of these buildings, were built in Waterways, an older community, which was eventually swallowed up by Fort McMurray.

This is, or was, the first RCMP station in the area, built in Waterways around the time of WWI, the exact date escapes me. On this particular day, the building was playing host to Santa Claus for all the children to come and visit.

This was the area's first Catholic Church, built in 1911. The steeple was a 1920's add-on.

This church was built in the late 1930's and served its congregation until about 1960.

If memory serves me correctly, this is the Port Radium. In days gone by craft like this one plied the waters between Waterways and points North, delivering all manner of supplies. Another old barge similar to this one can be found at the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Life In The Oil Patch

I know what probably goes through a lot of people's minds when they think of Alberta.....oil, Ralph Klein country, privatized medical care, fiercely anti-Liberal. Yes, the notion is out there (wrongly in my opinion) that within the family of Confederation Alberta is the anti-Christ. I didn't think I'd be doing up a post on the Oil Sands. There's a lot of politics involved that I'd much rather just keep out of. Far be it from me to defend "Big Oil" but we have to say, based on our experiences to date, that the big oil companies involved with the Oil Sands, aren't the evil empires, they are often made out to be. Of course when there are any big issues involving the environment, it makes the news, as it should. I think environmental safeguards are better than many special interest groups would have us believe. (This is not to say that accidents don't happen but this isn't the bad old days of the 1940's when they built the CANOL pipeline and laid sections of pipe right on the permafrost.) Seldom, however, do we come across stories in the media of the good that they do. They do do a lot to contribute to Fort McMurray and the municipality.....and the entire country too, I should add. Aside from the obvious benefit of employment, they provide scholarships, help provide infrastructure, contribute to community programs, donate to schools and many other things. The new rec centre that's just being completed in Fort McMurray received a lot of funding from Suncor. The building is even named after the company.

Closer to home, when one of the big companies held a community Christmas dinner here in Janvier, they brought along turkeys for every family. We even picked up one for ourselves. At first we were reluctant since we could have easily picked one up in McMurray. One of the reps helping to hand them out, insisted though, so we decided to take one, quite a big one too I should add. Toward the end of the evening, an announcement was made that they still had turkeys left over. And so, to our great fortune, we ended up leaving that evening with two turkeys to stuff into our basement freezer. And yes, I know it looks like we're putting in a good word here simply because we were bribed with turkeys, but as I mentioned, I don't think Suncor and the others are as evil as they are often portrayed by special interest groups or the media.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Peace River

Here are a few pictures from my little work-related trip to Peace River. I flew out of Fort McMurray late yesterday afternoon and was back in Janvier earlier this evening. We stopped briefly in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta's oldest community and just down the road, so to speak, from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, where I began my career. Fort Chip is one of those places I always wanted to get to and I feel lucky to have finally had my chance.

Peace River was very scenic. My pictures don't do it justice but my stay there was very brief. The topography reminded me a lot of Fort McMurray......and so did the cold.

Peace River (the community and the river) from the air.

This is the aircraft we flew back in. It's been awhile since I've flown in such small aircraft (in Nunavut, the Hawker-Siddely and the newer ATR were the aircraft I usually flew in) but I believe this is a Piper Navajo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Old House

I've posted this photo before but I got playing around with a few settings and decided to change it to a black-and-white version. The house, along with the property it sits on, is actually for sale just a little North of Lac La Biche, or at least it was still up for sale the last time we passed through there. Its true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and I've inherited a love old houses from my mother. They hold so much character and charm and I have great admiration for the people that built them. There are a number of old wooden Depression-era dwellings that we pass between LLB and Edmonton and I hope one day to have the time to take pictures of as many of them as I can.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where We Are

A little while back on a trip down to Edmonton I happened across a backroads atlas for Northern Alberta and picked up a copy. We were amazed (or at least I was) at just how many little roads and trails there are up here and we look forward to doing some future exploring around the municipality. I should add that that's a lot of potential trips as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is larger than a few European countries. Anyhow, I digress already. In a bid to give people an idea of exactly where we are, I took a couple close-up shots from the atlas. I admit these photos are pretty bad but hopefully they give anyone who's interested a general idea of where we call home.

First, the big view. The large green area at the top is Wood Buffalo National Park. Fort McMurray is located in square 63. Janvier is in square 41.

Here is a closer view of the immediate area....again this isn't the paragon of photography but you get the idea. Janvier is in the top right hand corner of the map. The body of water to the east of the community is Bohn Lake. The community of Conklin is roughly 40km south of us.

....and as an added bonus, the black line on the map below is the winter road about 45km north of here which connects Highway 881 to La Loche Saskatchewan. I taught there for a year before moving up to Nunavut and I would dearly love to use it to travel back to Saskatchewan with Lisa and the kids once the road opens. I had the opportunity back then to spend a couple bone-jarring hours on this "road" on a day trip to Fort McMurray. While it wasn't my first experience on a winter road, it was a memorable occasion since we blew a tire along the way.....but that's a whole other story.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Janvier Airport

Welcome to Janvier Airport....daily

We have a humble little airstrip here in Janvier - a simple grass runway on a hill servicing rural firefighting and medical evacuations. Its a quiet, peaceful place separated from the back of the property here by a strip of woodland....ensuring that if and when a flight lands we won't hear much of a sound.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Random Highway Views

These photos, taken back in early September, aren't anything special but I liked the contrast of the greenery with the dark cloud from the storm we were skirting on a drive back from McMurray.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Morning Views

This morning we were blessed with a fantastic light show courtesy of the rising sun. Here are a few pictures Lisa took out our back door this morning.

And here is a shot of our house framed by the brilliant morning sky and surrounding woods that I snapped on my walk to work this morning.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mighty Athabasca

Granted this is not the best shot since it was taken from a moving vehicle but for blogging purposes I suppose it will do. No blog from this region of Canada would be complete without at least a passing mention of the Athabasca River. The first time I laid on the river was perhaps 6 or 7 years ago and I still get goose bumps every time we see it in Ft. McMurray. I'd love to have been able to see the river in its natural state back in the times of the early explorers but I find that even after being touched by the hand of man, the Athabasca never disappoints.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Yesterday we had our Remembrance Day ceremony at the school since today is (rightfully) a stat holiday. As in years gone by I played Reveille and Last Post. My moment of silence was spent silently acknowledging family, friends and acquaintances who have worn our country's uniform.

My Grandfather, Sgt. Clifford Beamish, who served in the Air Force in World War II loading ordinance onto aircraft and later in the Military Police.

My uncle, Lt-Col. Clark Beamish, who has served in military Intelligence in many countries for a number of years, working with NATO and the UN. He served in Bosnia and spent time not just in Canada but also Germany and Turkey, among a list of other places.

My step father, Scott Beamish, who served as a Captain with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. He served in both the Reserves and Auxiliary Reserves and helped make his community a better place by serving with the local Army Cadet Corps.

My good friend from high school, Major John Haylock. He joined the Reserves at 17, "went Reg force" after graduating high school and has advanced to his current rank all the way from Private, no small feat. He has served a number of tours in Afghanistan and who has traveled to many different places around the world.

Captain John Vandenberg, my training officer from my time in the Windsor Regiment. The man inspired confidence in his troops and was a great leader.

Corporal McCoy, one of my training NCO's, again from when I was a part of the Windsor Regiment. He served on many UN tours one of which involved doing de-mining work in Cambodia. Cpl. McCoy was tough as nails. He definitely rubbed me the wrong way when basic training began but I saw him in a whole different light by the time the summer was through.

Sgt. Russell Storring, with whom I spent a few years together in army cadets. Russ later joined the Regular forces as a Signals Operator and has served at least 3 tours in Afghanistan. He has served as an analyst for CBC and Global television. His writing has appeared in military magazines and at last one book (entitled "Outside the Wire") that I am aware of. Speaking of his writing, you can see his latest contribution to the CBC here.

There are many other guys I grew up with serving today, some of whose names I've forgotten. But I will never forget their sacrifice. Thanks to all these fine soldiers who serve in my place, I have the opportunity to spend time with my kids in the park, where I am about to go right now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

A few days ago I was notified via email of the dates for the next Great Backyard Bird Count and can't wait. The 2010 edition will take place February 12-15, 2010. Thanks Clare for first letting me know about this citizen scientist project and getting me hooked. This will be my third year participating and unlike in past years I will have an actual backyard to scan. (Although I have to admit I'll miss the little hikes I had to take when I participated in the past two counts in Nunavut.) Being new to birding and new to Alberta I wasn't quite sure what to expect so I'm glad to have last year's results to rely on. A quick check of past lists submitted from Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche shows me I can expect to see plenty of Common Redpolls, Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, Black-billed Magpies, Evening Grosbeaks, Common Ravens and maybe even some Snow Buntings.

This year will be different from the past two years, I have a nice deck from which to view our yard's winged creatures and Tamara has expressed some interest in providing an extra pair of eyes. I hope to have a decent set of field glasses to help me out as well. Now I just have to study up from my guides a bit so my eyes are on the sky and not glued to a book.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lac La Biche

The big draw when we moved here of course was Fort McMurray. While the place is still pricey compared with other cities, it has pretty much all the conveniences you could care for. And we can get there easily enough in about an hour's driving time. Increasingly, We've been drawn a little further south, to Lac La Biche and what it has to offer, at the southern end of Highway 881. While it doesn't have anything like a big mall and it takes a half hour longer to drive there than the drive to Fort McMurray, the community does boast some nice parks, plenty of outdoor opportunities, an historic Mission, and nice views. The other thing we appreciate about LLB compared to McMurray are the much more reasonable housing prices. We like to poke around at housing when we go down there, if only to get an idea of what's available, and we've liked what we've seen so far.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Given that we have to travel Highway 881 to get anywhere whether it be north to Fort McMurray or south to Lac La Biche, I figured I'd give the road a post of its own...the first and likely only time a highway will be the focus of a post on this blog. Highway 881 is actually made up of two separate sections, the section with which we are most familiar, runs about 304km from Lac La Biche up to where it meets Highway 63, 16km south of Fort McMurray. There is also a southern section running from Highway 55, east of Lac La Biche down to Hardisty. From what I understand, the northern section was built around 1986 as a gravel road until just recently when it was paved in order to provide a better alternate route up to the oil sands of McMurray and relieve some of the pressure off Highway 63.

I'm not quite sure where the kilometer posts start, but heading north from Lac La Biche, the turn off to Janvier lies at Kilometer 213. The only other communities along our stretch of the highway are Conklin, about 40km south of here and Anzac, 70km to the north. Highway 881 runs through the heart of oil sands territory and there are at least 3 major projects tied in with the oil and gas industry along the road that I know of. South to north, these are Christina Lake, Surmont Lake and Long Lake.

Anyhow, before this post becomes too pedantic, here are a few views along the road from some recent trips to Fort McMurray.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


A short 70km drive up the highway from Janvier lands you in the community of Anzac. The town owes its name to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps of World War One repute whose engineers surveyed the area during the Great War for the construction of a railway up to Waterways (Fort McMurray). The community is very much a part of the oil patch and is expected to see considerable growth due to the nearby Long Lake Project. Today the community is part of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Lisa and I drove through the community shortly after we arrived in the area and I was there last month for a days for Professional Development activities. The photos below are a mix from my August and September trips.

Anzac Community School

This is the new middle school and high school under construction right across the road from the current school. From what I've been told, this new grade 5-12 school will be ready for the start of the 2010-11 school year.

Some new apartment buildings under construction near the schools. Evidence of Big Oil was everywhere. Between the apartments and the new school I've never seen such a flurry of construction activity in a place with a population of perhaps 600-700.

A view of the distant hills to the northwest taken from the junction of Highway 881 and the access road to Anzac.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park

This post was originally intended to be about Lac La Biche (the town) but Lac La Biche (the lake) ended up partially stealing the show. We've been down there a few times and are growing fond of the area. I had hoped to get some nice pictures but didn't have my camera with me until our last trip there this past weekend. And of course, on the day we headed down it was raining quite steadily. We took a quick detour later in the afternoon though to drive through Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park. It was still quite overcast but at least the rain was finished for the day. A lot of the interesting little places we've discovered up here in the area have been quite by accident. Usually it starts off with Lisa or I asking, "I wonder what's down this road," or "Let's take a drive over there and check things out." As always our curiosity was richly rewarded. The park was wonderfully decked out in fall colours and we look forward to returning in warmer weather to take advantage of the swimming and camping opportunities.

We didn't let this branch stop us from enjoying the fall colours. We were able to move it just enough and stomp down enough branches to be able to drive safely around it. I'm glad I let Lisa convince me to move the branch otherwise I wouldn't have been able to take all the subsequent pictures.

The beach area was quite nice. I wish we would have found it back when the weather was much more inviting for a swim. There were a lot of bushes around the beach area. I loved the fiery red colouration.

While it's hard to tell from the two following pictures the waves were really kicking up with all the high winds. Every time we've been past the lake we've seen white caps on it. The winds I'm sure are one reason why Lac La Biche is one of the last of Alberta's bigger lakes to freeze up in the fall.

We really can't wait to get back here in summer weather!