Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Bird List

I'm not really a big fan of lists in general since most lists I do are of all the errands and minutiae I have to attend to on my days off.  When it comes to birding I don't keep many lists either other than maintaining a journal in which I check off species that I see.  Earlier in the year I decided to start a yearly bird list along with the date (when applicable) of when I had my first sighting.

Its a modest list as I've seen ones by professionals that I could only dream of.  (According to this list from Bird Life International, there are something like 192 species to be found here, so clearly I have a long way to go.) Still, considering the number of days I worked this years and all the extra shifts, my year list is bigger than what I thought it would be when I began in back in January.  (I never seemed able to get out for a hike nearly as often as I would have liked.)  My list contains not only the usual suspects but also a few species I hadn't seen before and a few we don't get here that often, at least according the birding guides in my possession.  (The Orange-Crowned Warbler and White-Crowned Sparrow were a couple nice bonuses.)  There were a few around the house I saw this year that I don't recall seeing last year hence my wanting to keep yearly lists so I can compare year to year.  The only thing I wish I had done was to record where I made my sightings.

Here then, is my 2012 birding list, along with the date of first sighting.  The first few over-winter and I see them on a regular basis around the house here so I didn't bother with dates for them.  And, yes, there may be a few mistakes in the list, but still, not too shabby for a first attempt.

1.  Common Raven

2.  Black-billed Magpie

3.  Evening Grosbeak

4.  Pine Grosbeak

5. Common Redpoll

6. Bohemian Waxwing

7.  Black-capped Chickadee

8.  House Sparrow

9.  Downy Woodpecker - March 27

10.  Slate-Colored Junco - April 5 (these guys are year-round residents but for some reason I didn't sight any at the backyard feeder until mid-spring)

11.  Herring Gull - April 10

12.  Canada Goose - April 15

13.  Chipping Sparrow - April 18

14.  Rock Dove - April 20

15.  Tree Swallow - April 20

16.  Red-winged Blackbird - April 21

17.  American Robin - April 24

18.  Brewer's Blackbird - May 9

19.  Orange-Crowned Warbler - May 9 (first-time sighting)

20.  Bonaparte's Gull - May 12

21.  White-Crowned Sparrow -  May 12 (first-time sighting)

22.  Northern Flicker - May 18

23.  Hairy Woodpecker - May 18

24.  Purple Finch - May 19

25.  Lincoln's Sparrow - May 27

26.  Bufflehead - May 27

27.  Solitary Sandpiper - May 27 (first-time sighting)

28.  Brown-headed Cowbird - May 27 (first-time sighting)

29.  Clay-coloured Sparrow - June 14

30.  Blue Jay - June 16 (Why it took so long I have no idea seeing as they do over-winter)

31.  Common Goldeneye - June 16

32.  Mallard - June 16

33. Eastern Kingbird - July 29 (first-time sighting)

34. Barn Swallow - July 29

35. Grey Catbird - September 20

36. Greater Yellowlegs (possibly a Lesser Yellowlegs) - October 6 (first-time sighting)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Kind Act

Things being as they are, Fort McMurray gets is fair share of media attention, some of it is fair and accurate and some of it is rather ignorant and inaccurate.  I know in some ways I fit the Fort Mac stereotype to a "T"....I work at site, I do shift work, I'm originally from "back East".  I'm not  a Newfie, mind you, although I do have relatives from there.  In other ways, I defy the Fort  Mac stereotype.....I own my home (or the bank does, anyway) rather than rent someone's basement, I don't own a truck with a lift kit and I like to spend my days off bird watching or hiking rather than say, drinking at the Podollan or the Oil Can.

I think there is also the stereotype that people are only out to make money and don't really care about helping out fellow residents.  I have to admit I've carried that one with me but in my defense, I've lived in a lot of places where I felt that way.  Anyhow, I thought I'd take a moment to show my appreciation for a kind act towards me this evening.  Coming as it does during this holiday season, a holiday season I'm working through, I think it speaks volumes of the kindness of others and helps restore my confidence in my fellow man, particularly following the recent shooting tragedy in the U.S..

Initially I was supposed to be off this weekend but agreed to work through until next week.  So I found myself short of groceries for lunch and knew a couple days ago I'd have to get to the grocery store pretty soon.  The one wrinkle was that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day got in the way and my grocery store was closed by the time I got home from work.  I thought I could sneak in a quick trip last night after work so I took a different bus home that would drop me off at the grocery store.  I could then cab it home from there with my groceries.  Unfortunately I got to the store just in time to find out it was closed.  So I had to walk home empty handed......a distance of perhaps a couple kilometres.  Normally, I don't consider this a long walking distance but with the recent spate of cold weather and having worked outside in it all day, it was, shall we say, annoying.  I suppose I could have called a taxi on my cell phone but it was nearly dead and anyway, I wasn't keen on spending money on a cab to take me home with no groceries in hand, so I walked.    I suppose this makes me both a cheapskate and a stoic.

Anyway, about a block into my trek I noticed a bus up at the intersection.  As it turned out it was the route bus I normally take home.  I assumed my driver was doing his pick ups for night shift and would hang a left and continue on his way.  But no.  I crossed the street in front of the bus and as I got to the sidewalk on the other side, I heard the door open and a voice.  As it turns out, his bus was empty and he was heading back down toward my street anyway to start his next run so would I like a ride?  Gratefully I accepted.  

This one gesture really made my day.  Not only did he totally not have to stop and offer but he did save me a cold walk and so I was rather relieved.  Why walk 2km in -28C when you can have an entire coach to yourself?

So in the end, I didn't get my groceries (although, no worries, Mom,  I did manage to scrounge up enough for a decent lunch from the larder) but I got a great little story of a random act of kindness during this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Smiling Boy!

Merry Christmas, son.  Daddy loves you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

While I find myself working over the holiday (with with some much-needed time booked off in the near year), the house is a bit brighter this holiday season with our little tree here.  It comes courtesy of one of my tenants who asked if she could put one up.  Not having much in the way of decorative skills myself, I had no problem with her request.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

$180 Million Spent And We're Right Back To Square One

I apologize ahead of time if you're reading this and are unfamiliar with the layout of Fort McMurray but  for anyone who's ever been stuck in traffic during the morning commute I'm sure you will be able to relate.

Back in early November, the 7th if I recall correctly, the Confederation overpass linking highway 63 to the Timberlea subdivision.  It was actually slated to open October 16 but the date was pushed back due to construction delays.  In hindsight, they probably should have just kept it closed.  Traffic flow on 63 northbound seemed pure ambrosia when just the Thickwood overpass (opened several months earlier) was in place....or at least if you lived in Thickwood it was, on most days anyhow.

Here is what I wrote when the Confederation overpass opened.  I noted then that even with the opening it would likely still take some time for the traffic situation to get sorted out.  Prophetic words.  Traffic seems to be no quicker and for the past couple of months I find myself arriving later for work than I did when neither overpass was opened.

Now, as it turns out, after spending a whopping $180 million, the powers that be are again making a going right back to the way things were before, with a T intersection at the bottom of the hill leading onto the highway.  The overpass will be used only by site buses during the morning rush.  For everyone else, its back to the way things were before, traffic lights and all.  Yes, this is only a temporary fix, until construction is complete (completely complete this I take it) on the overpass.   I have to wonder what (if anything) goes through politicians' heads sometimes.  Predictably, there are commuters who are not impressed, myself included obviously.

I read a quote in a media article from one of our local MLA's Mike Allen (which I've spent several moments here trying to find, unfortunately) stating something along the lines of "Well, if we didn't open it, the overpass would just be sitting their as a big tease."  Yeesh, if I wanted a tease I could always head down to Showgirls and at least get what I paid for.  No Mike, I'm sure a lot of people would much rather just have the much-promised overpass (in working order, if ya don't mind) that their tax dollars paid for.

Living in Thickwood, this mess doesn't have as big of an impact on my travels as it would on someone from Timberlea, true.  But that's hardly the point.  And it gets worse actually.  Even assuming they get the overpass right, you'd still have a lights up at the industrial park which would delay traffic AND north of that delays due to the construction of yet another overpass.  Here's hoping some lessons are learned for when they start construction on the Parsons Creek overpass.  (At the the moment there's just a lot of dirt being pushed around in preparation.)

Back when I was a student in Windsor, I recall friends who grew up their telling me about how long it took for the expressway there to be built.  It took something like 11 years to build the EC Row Expressway in Windsor, Ontario.  I remember always thinking how ridiculous that sounded.  Now, I realize an expressway is not an overpass and recognize that there is an infrastructure lag here that is quite unique when looking at comparably-sized communities.  But seriously, if you're going to do something, do it right the first time.  If government can't get an overpass right I really do cringe at the thought of how much longer it will take to twin Highway 63.

Politicians give your head a shake!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lurking in the Window

Funny that when a redpoll, a grosbeak or even a magpie is in the tree, the cat goes ballistic and is right there at the window.

But when this guy shows up, she's no where to be seen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Oil Barons Hockey

I was able to take in a hockey game last night after what seemed like an eternity. Sadly, even though the team had a stellar season last year I was never able to make it out to a game. I did my best to catch a playoff game but tickets were hard to come by and I knew my chances were about as good as the NDP taking every Alberta seat in a federal election. Yeah, not going to happen any time soon. Anyhow, the Oil Barons are in re-build mode after last season's success, having lost a number of veterans. That, plus a few sorely missed veterans out on the disabled list.  It wasn't their best effort but in this season of NHL lockouts, I'll take it. I'd still much rather watch a junior game here than travel down to Edmonton or Calgary even if there was a game to be had.

A little pre-game warm-up. There were actually quite a bit more empty seats than I expected although with the holiday season upon us I'm sure that had something to do with it.

And the evening's opponents, the Whitecourt Wolverines, a team formerly known as the St. Albert Steel before their re-location to Whitecourt at the end of last season.

I tend to focus on the goal tending, (mostly since my nephew is a goalie in a Junior C league back in Ontario) so while the game ended with a 6-3 victory for Whitecourt, both goalies were pretty brutal at times.  I'm sure my nephew could hold his own with many of these players but then I'm a pretty proud uncle.

All in all, not a bad effort and it was more evenly matched than the final score suggested.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Well, after a streak of more than two years, it finally came to end an end late this afternoon as I managed to injure myself on the job.  Thankfully it's none too serious and I'm already cleared for work in the morning.  So while I'm annoyed with myself I know there are certainly a lot worse ways to get hurt so as I told my foreman at the end of the day, I think I'll put the horse shoe back in and go buy a lottery ticket now.

In case your wondering, I'm fine, Mom.  Although I'm pretty sure I may have uttered a few bad words immediately afterward.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Snip and Chip

After a few near-sleepless nights I was finally able to get the cat in to the vet to be spayed Thursday morning.  Medically referred to as an "ovario-hysterectomy", I refer to it as "glorious silence."

I also had her implanted with a microchip so she can be identified in case she pulls a Houdini and disappears on me.  The chip itself is only about the size of a grain of rice (implanted between her shoulder blades) but I still like to refer to her as my silent bionic kitty.   Give the incision about a week to heal up and she'll be back to her regular self (minus the urge to seek out prowling males for extra-curriculars.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Cookie Didn't Fall Far From The Tree

I'm not sure exactly when, why or how this happened, but growing up I always liked cookies.  Peanut butter and chocolate chip, were favorites, and I always looked forward to mom baking up a fresh batch of ginger snaps during the Christmas holidays. She made ginger snaps at other times during the year of course, but some reason, I've always associated ginger snaps with Christmas.  Pushing inexorably toward 40 Christmases now, that adds up to a lot of cookies.  Thankfully, I was blessed with a fast metabolism because by rights I'm sure I'd weigh something like 400 lbs otherwise.

I guess most fathers get nostalgic from time to time and that's why this photo of Gabriel brought these little memories to mind this evening.

Friday, November 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

I will preface this post with the following -

Generally, I don't comment on political topics that often.  Mostly, this stems from my disdain for politicians in general.   Also, it is connected to my workplace and one thing I've learned  over the course of my working life is that its never a smart idea to bite the hand that feeds you.  In this case, though I thought I'd make an exception as there has been an issue floating around that has generated some chatter, namely the issue of a random drug testing policy for one of the big sites here.

A local union took issue with this proposed policy and the matter went to court.  The union sought and won a court order preventing random drug testing of employees and order that Suncor is now contesting in court.  Apparently, a union lawyer thinks that  random drug testing can "cause psychological trauma for workers."

Yeah, peeing in a cup was an unbearable hardship for me when I had to do it prior to being hired on by a contractor a couple years ago.

Anyhow, NDP MLA Rachel Notley has put her two cents into the mix  and of course back the union's position.  Yes I know....NDP.  They do apparently exist here in Alberta, albeit in ridiculously small numbers.

Dear Ms. Notley,

Firstly congratulations on winning your seat in our most recent provincial election.  I admire your tenacity and courage in pursuing a political agenda that has been overwhelmingly rejected continuously by the Alberta electorate for years now.  Thank you also for visiting our fair city.  It's always nice to have out-of-towners turn up here d tell us what to do.  I do think that sometimes as a politician you forget that I don't work for you but you in fact work for me.  To that end, please don't dictate my health and safety to me.

Unlike most politicians, I have nothing to hide.  I have absolutely no problem with random drug testing.  Just as police officers do random stops for drunk drivers, I have no problem with peeing in a cup.   I am not a user now, nor have I ever been.  I guarantee you that my job area and scope is much more dangerous than yours.  In fact, I was down in the plant just yesterday with a small crew.  Trucks, forklifts, pipes, valves, overhead workers, steam, high decibels, H2S and I could go on.  Its an inherently dangerous place.  I have a son, a mortgage and a cat that misses me when I'm gone which means I have a lot of responsibilities and like to work and come home safe.

I've worked out on site for a couple of years and I admit I've had a couple close calls but I learn from them, re-focus and soldier on so to speak.  There are many things I do to keep myself safe and if random drug testing should be another, then so be it.  Again, I have absolutely no problem with it.  I can only control what I actions, my decisions my frame of mind.  What I can't control are the actions, decisions and frame of mine of others around me on the job.  This is where you need to do your job and support, not detract from, random drug testing.  Remember, you work for me.

I won't go so far as to say I would hold you personally responsible should, knock on wood, I was ever injured in the workplace by someone impaired by drugs or alcohol but let's get with the team here.  This is a workplace safety issue and I take it very seriously.  My safety is more important than some mystical psychological trauma of urinating for a good reason.  Unlike most politicians, I have nothing to hide.


Darcy Steele

Proud Fort McMurrian by choice

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Confederation Overpass Opens

I was beginning to think I'd never see it happen, but after a few delays, the Confederation Overpass opened for traffic today. While I normally doze off on the bus ride to work, I'll suck back a little extra caffeine tomorrow for the ride in so I can see how things go.  I would have seen it on my ride home from work earlier this evening if I hadn't have dozed off.  Theoretically, with the Thickwood overpass (which opened last year) and the Confed. overpass now in place, you should be able to travel Highway 63 north out of the downtown core without delays.

Except...there is still road work ongoing between the two overpasses and two of our three bridges are being worked on.  Add to that the fact that even after you travel pass the two overpasses, you still hit a set of lights at the industrial park, plus the temporary delays you run in to north of ALL THAT around where they are going to build yet another overpass to the future subdivision of Parsons Creek.

Don't get me wrong here.  This infrastructure is sorely needed and the Confed. overpass plays a vital role in this.    I just think it will still be some time before traffic flow here is smoothed out, or at least as smooth as it can be for such a bustling place like Fort McMurray.  All this infrastructure has been ongoing ever since I moved here two-and-a-half years ago so I've never known what it was like without it.   Given how long it takes the government to twin a highway, I'll take what I can get.  The road ahead has gotten shorter, but only just by a little.

I won't get an opportunity to do it for a couple more weeks at least, but next time I'm able to, I plan to catch a Timberlea bus from downtown just so I have an opportunity to travel over the new overpass.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Avian Acrobatics

I must profess that my inner 5-year-old emerged yesterday when I noticed a blue jay (two of them actually) at the backyard feeders. Since I've lived here I haven't been lucky enough to see one in the backyard (or front yard for that matter). I would see them in other yards but never mine. Until yesterday. A tenant told me she had seen them earlier in the week but since she described them only as blue and white birds that scared the other birds away and could barely fit on the feeder, I assumed they were magpies and thought nothing else of it.

Over the course of last two days this jay has been a pretty regular guest....with a ravenous appetite.  The feeder in the second and third photos was filled Saturday morning and by early Sunday afternoon it was, as you can see, already half empty.

I had fun watching this guy bending himself into a pretzel to eat.

It's looking like a very entertaining winter season already.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grand Central Station And The Usual Suspects

Its been overcast here for most of the past week so I haven't been all that motivated to venture too far from the house on my days off. Fortunately, I only have to gaze out a window to do a little birding. So far, I've seen most of the usual suspects that frequent the house for this time of year. And they've been hanging around in larger groups and for longer than they normally seem to.

Blue Jays! I don't usually see them around the house that often, so seeing a couple was a treat.

Female Pine Grosbeak.  Last year I could count on seeing the odd one mixed in with a group of Evening Grosbeaks.  Perhaps it was a low spot in their breeding cycle as I've seen a great deal more here in the past couple days.

Bohemian Waxwing along with a crowd of House Sparrows.  The sparrows have been showing up in HUGE numbers no doubt attracted by the feeder I moved from the backyard to the front.

And speaking of the backyard, it was pretty empty today other than the odd Junco (and squirrel) that decided to take advantage of the lack of crowds in my front yard trees.

I'm still waiting for the Evening Grosbeaks and and Redpolls to turn up but for now all the usual suspects for the winter months have arrived at the station.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scatter Brained

I've been a wee bit scatter-brained as of late due to my crazy work schedule, hence the inconsistency of my posts.  I beg your indulgence for a few more days until I have time to write more coherently.  The ride in to work could be an interesting one as we had a bout of rather nasty weather this afternoon.  The east coast gets hurricane-force storms and the west coast gets earthquakes and tsunami warnings.  Here we get freaky blizzard-like conditions.

Oh, I knew we'd pick up a bit of snow today but I think caught a few people by surprise were the gusty winds that created a nasty little windchill and lowered visibility considerably.  At  least that was the case at work.  Working outdoors for 12 hours sure gives you a good appreciation and respect for the force of Mother Nature.  I remember thinking around 4:30pm that conditions were a bit nuts.  Certainly I've experienced weather like this before but just not this early in the season.  The winds have died down considerably now but I'm sure we'll have a good foot of snow on the ground in the morning.  Road conditions dictated that I didn't get home from work until around 9:15pm and shoveling the driveway at 10:30pm so my tenants could get their vehicles out in the morning was definitely a slice.

I can't wait for days off to roll around this coming Friday.  It gives me a chance to see what my house looks like when there is actually some daylight here rather than leaving and returning in the dark.  It will also give me a chance to enjoy looking out the windows at my bird feeders to see what shows up.  I've actually seen quite a bit this part year, remarkable given the amount of hours I've been working away from the house.  (I'll post a complete list for my 2012 birding season before year's end.)

I filled up my feeders on my last days off and now 2 of them are pretty much empty without me having had a chance to see anything.  So a day or two to do a little birding from the kitchen and living room windows would be nice.   On a positive note, I'm already looking forward to next year's Great Backyard Bird Count.  It's scheduled for February 15-18 and while I haven't had a chance yet to look that far forward into my work schedule, I'm hoping these dates fall on my days off since I was working the past couple of years.  Sure, I can still do it at work to some extent but it would be much more enjoyable from the comforts of home, naturally.

I had a few other random thoughts floating around in my head here but they seem to have escaped which I take as a sign that I should really head off to slumber here soon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sometimes I Get It Right

I'll admit I'm quite liking this whole home ownership thing.  I like being able to make changes and fix things up to suit my liking.  While my mind is full of ideas I must admit I'm not exactly a handyman but I think I've done pretty good so far.  With the long hours I worked this summer, most of my outdoor projects, like the gazebo, wine bar and Japanese garden didn't materialize as planned (keeping the grass cut and the weeds in check was a task in itself) but I suppose there's always next year.

One thing I do struggle with is color coordination and trying to visualize the end result.  It took me over an hour to decide what colour of bathroom flooring I wanted and I left the store still having not come to a firm decision.   A friend of mine had a pretty nice kitchen linoleum floor design which I think will work well so when I do get around to taking care of it, I'm pretty sure I'll go with that.  It certainly compliments the paint rather well.

Speaking of paint, the walls in the master bedroom had always been rather sterile so adding a little colour was on the radar as one of my winter projects.  Eventually I'd like to get rid of the grey carpet and go with hardwood so I was keen on finding something that would work well with a dark hardwood.  So I found myself at Home Hardware last Friday trying to visualize not only a wall colour but how it would look with a future floor.  Initially I decided on something called "sable" for the walls but thought it might be a bit dark.

Looking around the store I say a wall with a hue I thought looked rather nice and decided that heck, it just might work in the bedroom.  The two front-facing windows bring in enough light so that it wouldn't look too dark and gloomy.  So in the end, I went with this colour, which the according to the catalogue, was called "twine".

And wouldn't you know, I love it.  I painted a couple walls later that afternoon and yes, I did have one of those "oh God, what have I done?!"  moments, but once it dried a bit I must say I was rather impressed.  It certainly compliments the dark wood furniture of the room.

The lighting isn't the greatest as it was getting on in the day but here is one wall contrasted with another.

I still have to do a few touch up around the bedroom door and floor boards  and then do the other two walls but so far I like what I'm seeing.

I do have plans to replace a couple of big light fixtures in the upstairs bath and hall but I'm pretty sure I won't press my luck and will call an electrician instead.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's Baack!

After getting a few wet flurries earlier in the week I awoke this morning to our first appreciable dump of snow.  I was glad to have the day off since I've heard traffic conditions weren't exactly the greatest this morning.

For some strange reason my trees still have most of their leaves which makes them stand out quite a bit against the others in the neighborhood.  Apparently they didn't get the memo about losing their leaves quite yet.  I certainly won't complain about not having to fetch the old rake though.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fine Young Whipper-Snapper

Since its been forever and a day since I've posted any photos of the boy, I figured I would share a few of my more recent ones from my Facebook page here for those who may not be privy to it.  The first two were taken at 17 months and the last two at 18 months.

One of my favorites. I love that drooly, teething smile.

The highlight of my weekend came yesterday when I got a simple message from him on my cell phone....a simple "Hi Dadda!" It made my day.

Opening a Small Twinned Section of Highway 63 aka How the Alberta Conservatives Gave Fort McMurray A Bag of Peanuts

I've been a bit silent on the twinning of Highway 63 lately as work has kept me uber busy.  Nevertheless, its an issue not far from my mind as I travel the highway on a regular basis.  I caught word this morning of an announcement regarding the highway but wasn't able to get details until I returned home from running some errands downtown.

Actually, its a double announcement  --- a small section of highway "will open to traffic soon" and the province has committed to having the highway twinned by 2016.  Of course, this small section that will be opening has been in the works for God knows how long and the government trumpeting that it is opening a few months ahead of schedule does elicit a chuckle given how pathetically slow things have gone.   And, there remains a good 200-odd kilometers to go.  A 2016 completion date brings us pretty close to a provincial election.  I'm sure this is just a coincidence of course.   I've never been to keen on the particular brand of conservatism here in Alberta and see choosing between the Conservatives and Wildrose kind of of like deciding what form of cancer you want to die from, but at least there is finally some movement here so I'll take it.....but I won't let up the pressure.  TWIN 63 NOW!!!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ain't it Grande?

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to see a part of the province I've only traveled to once before a number of years ago. I paid a long overdue visit to a friend of mine in Grande Prairie. I had only ever been to the northeastern part of Alberta once before and that was a dozen years ago and mostly in darkness as I was took an epic bus trip from Edmonton up to Fort Smith, NT where I was living at the time. Last week however, was my first visit to Grande Prairie itself.

Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie are northern cousins in a way, being Alberta's two largest northern centres.  It was probably inevitable that I spent much of time there comparing them in the back of my mind.  And of course my friend and I got into a show of "one-upmanship".  I had to point out that I thought Fort McMurray had the much better recreation centre,  (I'm rather biased toward MacDonald Island here, what can I say.)  I did have to concede that unlike last year, the Grande Prairie Storm will likely finish higher in the standings than the Oil Barons.  Also, being able to go through a Tim Horton's drive-thru and be the only vehicle in the queue was quite novelty and seeing absolutely zero rush hour traffic at 5am was a completely foreign concept to me (especially after the epic traffic jam I blogged about in my last post).

Grande Prairie welcome sign upon entering the city from the south.

214 Place in the background.....the city's tallest building.

Though Grande Prairie is a couple hours away from Dawson City, BC, the start of the Alaska Highway I just had get a photo of one of the many signs pointing towards Alaska.

Naturally the history geek in me found the Heritage Park located in Muskoseepi Park.  Sadly I wasn't able to explore it more.

I had to really fight against the glare of the sun for many of photos, late in the day as it was, but managed a half-decent shot of a rather striking Catholic Church (St. Joseph's if I'm not mistaken), taken again from Muskoseepi Park.

I was so taken by the sight of a Mallard along this small creek I almost didn't notice the shore bird right in front of me.  Initially, I thought it was a sandpiper but it would have to be awfully late in the season for that.  More likely, it's either a Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Little Snow and An Epic Traffic Jam

It looked like a pretty innocent dusting of snow this morning but it was anything but as the morning ride to work took a tad longer than expected.  What is normally a 45 minute ride from my bus stop to where I get off at Suncor turned into a 4 hour morning odyssey.  The culprit turned out to be a couple of spun out dump trucks at the bottom of Super Test Hill.  I saw one stalled out  along the shoulder and the other jackknifed in the ditch several feet off the road.  All this meant that traffic was backed up from the bottom of the hill and all the way back into the city about 30km to the south.   Apparently  from what I overheard, traffic was backed up over the bridges as well, extending all the way down to Gregoire, which for those not familiar with the lay out of Fort McMurray, is the industrial area south of town and the first part of the city you enter as you come on Highway 63.

The highway can be trying under normal circumstances and I've been stuck on it a few times but this was rather something.  One of the two trucks contracted to sand the road apparently had mechanical difficulties.  So after a night of flurries and light snow, the area around Super Test wasn't attended to with the resulting traffic chaos.  I counted a number of vehicles in the ditch, everything from pick ups to cars to everything else.  Even a bus slid across lanes north of Suncor around the Bridge to Nowhere.

I sat a couple seats behind the driver so between bouts of sleep I was able to pick up a bit of radio chatter.  The line of the morning came from one anonymous driver who remarked, "A billion dollars worth of overpasses is all for nothing if they can't manage to deal with one hill." (I had actually planned to do a traffic-related post earlier this week as it turns out as I learned that the long-awaited Timberlea overpass is tentatively schedule to open October 16.)

Four hours to travel roughly 30km.  You can drive all the way to Edmonton in a little over 5.  On a brighter note, I did get some extra sleep and I was still paid for the full day.

                                         (Super Test, Feb. 2010.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ron Bradley Is A Coward

I caught wind over the weekend to another follow up on the bru-ha-ha at the Edmonton Public School Board but wasn't able to get around blogging about it until this evening.  Sadly, the principal in question, Ron Bradley lacks the fortitude to stand by his own policy it seems as he has resigned his principalship and taken on another (thankfully) non-teaching position within the board.  You can read about the story in the Edmonton Sun and the Vancouver Sun.

The sad thing is that this moron (and trust me, this is one of the more polite words I can use) is now in a position of fostering future educational leadership.  Scary thought if he impresses on prospective new principals his myopic rosy view of the world.

No, Mr. Bradley, you are not a leader.  You tried to bully a very good teacher but when the other shoe dropped you couldn't even defend your own policy.  This is not leadership.  This is cowardice, pure and simple.  Part of leadership means when you screw up, you don't cut and run, you own up for your deficiency and make changes so it doesn't happen again.

Grow a spine.....own up....inspire.....LEAD.  I can see how in some ways this "no zero" policy is very appropriate for your situation.  This policy, like this principal are both completely useless and have no place in the real world.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wrong Side of the River

I don't normally blog about my work, not only because the long work hours make for a tired brain by the end of the day but also because I figured most people wouldn't find it terribly interesting to read about.  Occasionally, things get interesting though and the unexpected (even the mildly embarrassing) happens.  Last Wednesday was one such time.

Last week, due to increase demands from the shut down, I was switched to a 12-hour shift rather than my usual 10.  The good thing, aside from the extra money, is that I catch an extra hour of sleep (theoretically).  Rather than catch the bus around 5:45am and work my usual 7am-5pm shift, I embark at 6:45am and work 8am to 8pm.

The tricky part I soon discovered, was that around 6:45am, two buses swing by my stop,  one goes to my regular drop off spot at Suncor.  The other, which arrives a few minutes prior to the first, also goes to Suncor, but heads the mine rather than the base plant.  Tuesday wasn't a problem, the following day, I momentarily lost track of time and bolted for the bus which I saw pulling up to the stop as I rounded the corner.  Yup....wrong bus.  Approaching from the rear of the bus at a full out run, I wasn't able to check the big sign at the front to make sure I got on the right one.  All I remember thinking was that I didn't want to be late for work.

My first clue I had screwed up was when it failed to make a couple stops at Suncor that my route usual makes.  And the kicker was coming down the hill at base plant and heading straight rather than turning left.  And over the river I went to the mine.   Part of me did think it was pretty neat  seeing as I had never been over there before but then of course I was thinking, "Getting back could be fun."

In any event, as soon as I was able to get off the bus, I made a quick call to my foreman and explained the situation.  A couple shuttle buses later and I managed to get where I needed to go.  As one of the more experienced workers at my immediate job site, my little adventure was a tad embarrassing but I was able to laugh it off.  At least its not as bad as taking the wrong bus and ending way the heck up at Aurora.  But hey, at least now I know where to find the Millenium Mine, Plant 86 and Assembly Point W.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


One of the best pieces of advice I was given growing up was simply this:  When you're in a hole, stop digging.  As if things couldn't get any more bizarre, Ron Bradley, hapless principal of Ross Sheppard High School has grabbed his proverbial shovel in an attempt to deal with the blow-back.  Apparently immune to logic and common sense, he is trying to defend his school's "no zero" policy.  Actually, it would be more accurate to call it HIS "no zero" policy as we see more and more teachers speaking out on the issue.

The part I find most ludicrous is his assertion that while the school records behaviours with an alphabet soup of different codes and then "go through a series of interventions," the student could wind up getting a zero anyway. So you implement a policy that only serves to frustrate and anger parent and in the end you end up going back on it?  Really, what's the point?

And while I'm at it, I've heard it mentioned in defense of this policy that awarding a zero is a cop out because it says to the student that they can just move on.  Ha!  Are you kidding me?  This principal obviously didn't know my parents very well.  If I got a zero in school, I just didn't move on.  My parents kicked my butt and the assignment got done.  Giving a zero is not a cop out, believe me.

One of the biggest arguments against the "no zero" policy of course is that it doesn't reflect what happens in the real world.  The counter-argument to this being, well, perhaps.  But for many students school is their reality.  OK. But their is still another reality beyond that called real life which lasts a heck of a lot longer then 12 years of schooling.  Give me a break.

I did have a couple of other points I wanted to make but its getting quite late for me and its been a long work day so I'll leave it at that until I can have more time to think and lay those points out more clearly. I will end by saying I'm glad that this issue is getting the attention it deserves.  This is a debate that needs to be had and I'm happy to see parents demanding their voices be heard.

I really do think the principal and superintendent need to stop and listen and think here.  They are already in a big hole and yet they continue to dig.  They better start listening to parents (who pay their salaries) and other teachers as well for this entire mess can only end badly for both of them otherwise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Heading South

In another sign of the season, another flock of Canada Geese heads off for warmer climes. I've been seeing long wavy skeins flying overhead for over a week now.  I had to fight my way through a rather thick canopy of trees and they are at quite a distance so in the rush to get the camera out and find a big enough clear spot, this shot is the best of the bunch.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Letter From Edgar Schmidt

And the back-peddling begins as the Edmonton Public School Board reviews its idiotic "no zero" policy.  My inner cynic thinks if it weren't for the fact that a long-serving dedicated physics teacher hadn't had the guts to call these clowns out, this issue would have been swept quietly under the rug.

Schmidt sent a letter to parents in a pathetic attempt at reassurance.  After the feel-good language claiming to "[provide a] safe, caring and respectful learning environment", Schmidt cuts right to the chase.

We expect students to do their work.  When students don't do their work, we hold them accountable so that they learn what they need to know.

Wow, it almost seems as though Schmidt took a step into the real world with that gem.  But, how exactly, ARE they held accountable, Mr. Schmidt?  He doesn't go into detail on that.  Care to cite a study on how not giving out zeros is beneficial, Mr. Schmidt?  Can you provide one single, solitary scrap of evidence in support of this policy?  Just one?  Silence.  Indeed, Alberta has standardized testing at grade 3,6 and 9 along with Grade 12 departmental exams.  You would think then that there would be some way of showing how a "no zero" policy helps improve test scores.  But there is nothing.

We have not and will not pass students who do not complete their course requirements.

Garbage.  Really, if few parents are aware of your "no zero" policy, what else are they unaware of?  How do you expect the public to trust your leadership when you've given such a poor showing on this issue?  Of course you pass them.  I happen to know for a fact that this happens.  And I don't see how your board differs from any other.   I'm sure this has nothing at all to do with funding of course.  Now that would be downright silly.

By the way, you can find a copy of the Ross Sheppard School's grading and assessment policy here.  On the fourth page down you'll find the bizarre list of different grading codes you wind up with when you adhere to this senseless policy.  Remember, there is absolutely no evidence of its effectiveness.  Instead, we get an alphabet soup of assessment codes.....MPA, NHI, AMP, LDI, OMI.....OMG, give me a break!

Further details on the review will be shared in the coming months.

Months?  Seriously, how long does this have to be drawn out for?  It takes months to reverse an obviously bone-headed idea?  Of course, I'm sure it's no skin off Mr. Schmidt's back.  This tool will still get paid in the meantime.  Mr. Schmidt, how far do you think I'd get if every time Suncor was putting in an order from the contractor I worked for if I told my boss, "Ya. me a few months to think about it and write a report and I'll get back to you."  Give me a break.  Obviously, you don't live in the real world so I can understand in a sense why this silly policy may make sense to you.

Quite simply, no-zero policies lack and sort of empirical research support, interfere with teacher autonomy and, it goes without saying, are highly unpopular with parents.  This is an notion based more on ideology rather than evidence.  Understandably, the Edmonton School Board won't put this link up on their home page, which pretty much blows any sort of rationale for implementing a "no zero" policy right out of the water.

Mr. Schmidt, you have quite simply shown very poor leadership on this issue.  Evidently, there is no consistent implementation of this policy across this board.   Good grief.  Do the honourable thing, please.  Either admit your support of this policy is a mistake or resign.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fall Colour

Fall colours here are more muted than what I grew up seeing in southern Ontario. Apparently my front yard trees haven't received the memo yet since they are still quite green compared to most other trees in the neighborhood. Anyhow, as time is growing short I decided to take what may be my last walk along the Birchwood Trail to soak up some fall colours.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Winter of the World

To say I've been over the moon this weekend would be an understatement.  After waiting for more than a year, the second book of the The Century Trilogy has finally hit the book shelves.  Generally I tend to read more academic stuff but since this book fits into the historical fiction genre I'll gladly make an exception. ..and I did get a 30% discount too as it turned out.

Truth be told, I only stumbled across this author by accident and had never even heard of Ken Follett before.  He's been a published author since around the time I started Kindergarten in the '70's....who knew?  Anyhow, it was last year that I noticed one of our summer students reading the first book of this trilogy, Fall of Giants.  A small image of WWI soldiers on the cover caught my attention so I asked her what it was about.  When she told me it involved not only the First World War, but the Bolshevik Revolution and various aspects of social history, I resolved to pick up a copy of my own.  In a nut shell, I read it cover to cover and was taken.  Granted Follett writes in something called transparent prose....very straight forward and understandable language.  It doesn't have a great deal of florid description, which is probably just as well, since the first two installments already run in excess of 900 pages.  Think of the Lord of the Rings....straight forward reading.  Sure, there may not be a lot of character development but the ultimate goal is to tell a great story.

Anyhow, I'm getting off topic here.  I haven't actually started reading this book yet since, after reading his other two historical epics, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End a few times over, I cracked open Fall of Giants to refresh my memory in anticipation of book two.  But I've waited, as I said, for over a year, so a few more days won't hurt I'm sure.

All I know so far is the book takes up right where the last one left off, following the fortunes of 5 families as their lives are caught up in the momentous events from the rise of Hitler through WWII to the start of the Cold War.

I've read some historical fiction and popular fiction before, namely James Mitchener's novels on the Caribbean and Texas as well as a little Pierre Berton (ardent nationalist that I am).  Having taken a history degree I always felt a sort of tension between popular and academic history and yes, for a time, I was one of those who viewed popular histories as not being real history.  Of course, historical fiction isn't real history either, but one of the things it can do (at least I find this the case for me) is that it pique ones interest and cause a person to look into something more carefully, whether it be a particular historical event, person or place.  I have to admit, I even learned a few things about world history by reading Fall of Giants that I hadn't even heard of before. This is one of the great things about historical fiction.

Finally, I'll end by saying that I know that both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End were both made into television mini-series and I made a point of reading the books first before considering the screen version.  I still haven't seen either one of them yet so mom, if you're reading this, consider this a hint for Christmas :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's Coming

It was over the weekend I started noticing the trees in my neighborhood slowly changing colour.  A reminder is slowly starting to accumulate on my front yard although these leaves are pretty much all from the next tree next door.   I've quickly lost track off how many long wavy "V"'s of Canada geese have overflown the area here in recent days and there is a perceptible chill in the morning as I wait for my bus to work.  All signs that fall is right around the corner.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sorry, I Just Can't Stop Laughing Over This One

It must be tough to be Edgar Schmidt these days. He's the genius in charge of Edmonton Public Schools that very recently fired an experienced and respected physics teacher for the dastardly crime of giving students zeros on assignments not turned in. From having to justify a silly grading policy, I'm sure Eggie was on top of the world a few days ago when he was able to terminate the teacher. Fortunately you can't keep a good man down as it appears that Lynden Dorval, the teacher in question has been re-hired by an Edmonton private school.

While Schmidt may have thought he was getting some sort of victory, in the end he's only shown how petty and juvenile he is.  SURELY, there are more important things in education worth spending time and paperwork over than this sad series of events.  This only serves to highlight how out of touch the public school system is with reality in many respects.  Interesting that the school that hired him does allow zeros to be given out for incomplete assignment, exactly how the real world works.  Of course, this concept is totally over the head of Schmidt and Edmonton Public Schools.

Way to go Schmidt!  Good job at making yourself look like a complete idiot in such a public way!

And good luck with the new job, Mr. Dorval.  In the end, the cream always rises to the top and I tip my hat to you sir!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Camp Food

While its true that my job (and indeed many people's work here) involves some long hours, one of the little perks is the free food.  Most mornings before I head out of the lunch room I can usually count on a muffin or a danish (man, I love danishes!) courtesy of some of the guys that stay in camp.  People bring in their extras and I gladly do my part to ensure no food is wasted.  I was getting all sorts of sandwiches and wraps off one of our truck drivers for a goodly part of the summer and when I went a few days without bumping into him I joked I was relieved to see him because I had been wasting away to nothing in the summer heat.

Granted, yes, I know it's camp food and would hardly be considered gourmet.  I've eaten a lot of interesting things in my life, from raw seal meat in Nunavut to rooster testicle stew in Hungary (no kidding).  I'm not saying these things are tasteless (they aren't) to me because my taste buds are dead or anything but I do enjoy and appreciate any type of food I can get my hands on.   At the very least its extra energy throughout the day which I'm sure my muscles (what exists of them anyhow) will be grateful for as the weather slowly starts to turn colder.

Yes, for someone here that doesn't live in camp, I've sure consumed my fair share of camp food.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Disappointed But Not Surprised

I've been following the story of Lynden Dorval with some interest and while I'm disappointed in the Edmonton Public School Board's decision to terminate him, I can say I'm not all that surprised.  I was always taught that you get out of life what you put into it.  One would think that the EPSB Superintendent, having a Master's degree (oooohhh!  ahhhh!) would be bright enough to grasp this simple concept.  But no, according to this sorry excuse for an educator, it's okay to turn in incomplete work, or even not complete the work at all.  I'm not sure what planet Edgar Schmidt (phone number 780-429-8010) is living on, but in the real world, there are consequences for not doing an assigned task.  How disgusting this man sees fit to influence young minds with the notion that you can blow off work and not be held accountable.

(Mr. Schmidt, on the outside chance you read this, I'd like to throw out a challenge:  show me the research and studies that PROVE your moronic policy is somehow beneficial.  I'll read it cover to cover.  Seriously.  But until then I can only conclude that you, along with this outlandish notion of yours are simple full of crap.)

Interestingly, the EPSB website lists 5 district priorities, one of which mentions listening to staff and honouring their contributions.  Um, sure.  Here's hoping Mr. Dorval moves on to bigger and better things as he is obviously too bright to be working for such myopic dimwits in Edmonton.

As an aside, I bumped into a situation like this early on in my teaching career as it turns out.  In my particular case, I was told not that I couldn't give out zeroes, but rather I couldn't give out marks between 45 and 50%.  I'm not sure exactly what people were smoking when they came up with these numbers but anyhow, I had one particular student whose marks ended up being 47%.  I was told that I had two options in deriving a final mark: either issue a 51% and pass the student, or give out a 44%.  In the end, I gave out a 44%.  Harsh?  Perhaps.  Fair? Yes.  Because, this student had also heavily plagiarized an essay.  There are consequences for your actions, quite obviously.  So, the student failed.  But don't worry, Mr. Schmidt.  Did she go on to have a terrible, horrible life?  No.  A couple of years ago I was in touch with this student via email.  She went to college after graduating and is doing just fine.

What Schmidt seems incapable of grasping is that he is a public servant.  He should be accountable to the public.  Here's hoping the good people of Edmonton recall this story when the next school trustee elections roll around, demand the board re-visit this "no zero" issue (at it seems it will), reverse this travesty of an education policy and fire this sorry ass.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hey Let's Demonstrate Against Fort McMurray's Oil Sands by Protesting in Victoria

While admitting I don't entirely disagree with their message, I must admit to rolling my eyes when I came across a news item about a big protest (ok, sit in) regarding a certain pipeline.  I'm guessing having it at the BC legislature rather than here in the heart of the oil sands has nothing at all to do with the fact that Victoria is a major urban centre and has a much bigger media market than Fort McMurray.   Note to's the other major BC metropolis that is the city with the hockey team.  Forgive my cynicism but really, why is it that these people ever have the guts and determination to do a large-scale protest down Franklin Avenue here?

This all reminds me of hearing of major protests in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa against the seal hunt while I was living in Nunavut.  I guess Iqaluit either isn't worth the effort of getting there or these people were unable to read an atlas.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fire in Thickwood

There are a couple of apartment buildings here in Thickwood I pass by pretty much much on a daily basis and it came as quite a shock to learn that one of them suffered a major fire last night.  My bus to work passes right by the building but due to a thick fog and the fact that I was still half asleep, it wasn't until I got to work that I learned about the tragedy.   I recall seeing a couple emergency vehicles parked along the side of the road but thought nothing more of it at the time.  Plus the fire was pretty much out by the time I passed by.   One of my foreman told me last night's flames were visible from her vantage point across the river in Abasand.

Being an older, predominantly wooden structure, its not surprising the entire building is a loss. Additional photos can be found here.  What is surprising, bordering on the miraculous even, since I've talk of fire alarms not functioning properly, is that there were absolutely no fatalities or injuries.  I snapped a couple of stark photos earlier this evening after work.

Temporary shelters have been set up at a nearby church and school and I know there will be mechanisms put in place to help the 40 or so residents affected by the fire. Apparently, there is already a Facebook page set up for this purpose. Despite media portrayals of Fort McMurray as a rough and tumble boom town, I've seen many times how people here pull together in times of trouble and I know this time will be no different.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Arboreal Mystery Solved

A little bit of on-line searching finally led to me figure out what kind of tree I have in my backyard. It had always been a mystery to me and last night it dawned on me to pluck a leaf and use it as a reference when I looked it up online. I discovered the tree is likely some sort of hawthorn tree. I also discovered I was a tad allergic to it since I was hit with a runny nose and a short bout of sneezing after rolling the leaf through my fingers while I searched for photos.

My only difficulty was that there are apparently many many types of hawthorn trees and they are not all definitively classified. So in terms of what specific type I'm thinking its a snowbird hawthorn. At any rate at least I have a pretty good general idea of what it is. I'm not sure how old it is but assuming it was planted when the house was built circa 1981 this guy is a bit on the old side as the average life span is 40 years or more. But I expect I will still be able to enjoy for a while longer at least. I suspect its a tough old tree having survived a freak spring snow storm a couple years ago and my pruning efforts earlier this summer. Everything else I read up about the hawthorn seemed to fit....great shade tree for small backyards, low maintenance (I especially liked this part) and small white flowers (although with all the rain I had earlier this summer they never really bloomed the way I had hoped, likely due to all the rain).

I can also vouch that they make awesome birding trees with plenty of shade and a thick canopy for small songbirds to take refuge under.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sometimes I'm Glad My Son Lives in Ontario...

...because even though there are days when I miss him dearly, it brings me great relief and satisfaction to know that when he eventually reaches school age, at least he won't be attending the Edmonton school run by this idiot principal.

Frankly this principal,  Ron Bradley, is a moron.  "Sir", I want my son to be challenged both in school and in life.    Overcoming challenges builds perseverance  and character.  Passing along any child, whether it be mine or any other, does neither of these.  So please, do me a favour, stay in Edmonton so you won't pollute my son's mind and spirit with your stupidity.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Weather's Plans Differed From Mine

One of the challenges of living here is trying to fit your life around your work schedule. Long work days mean there are a myriad of other tasks that can get put on the back burner...until you have days off at least. With the number of extra days I had been working since May the number of things on my "to do" list seemed huge. Mind you not all of them were urgent, but there were just a few things I felt had been put off for too long and I just wanted them out of the way. Not only was this past weekend a chance for respite, it was my chance to start hacking away at my "to do" list. I suppose I should have realized how fool-hardy it would be to try to accomplish anything on a busy long weekend. Stores were crazy and traffic was, well, probably just normal Fort McMurray traffic, so rather than waste my time off immersed in a shopping frenzy I stuck around the house for the most part. Rainy weather also put a dent in some of my plans but such is life.

On a bright note, I did manage to look at some flooring for my bathroom, although trying to decide on the right colour was more difficult than I thought. No one will ever accuse me of being the most colour-coordinated of people. In any event at least it was a chance to see what was available. I also had some quiet time to tuck into a novel (the first book of a trilogy) I'd been planning to re-read to re-fresh my memory before the second installment comes out later this month. Inspite of the rain, I also spied a visitor I hadn't seen in my front yard before..a purple finch. I have seen them before (back in May) so not very often and I don't recall seeing one this close to the house before. True, it's not the best photo, but I was trying to keep the cat out of my way as she was perched on the window sill and seemed very interested in our little visitor.


 Between rain showers yesterday, a more common visitor arrived.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Future of the Snye

(the Snye, looking east toward the Clearwater from the dyke road, summer 2012)

Its pretty rare that I comment about local political issues, let along alone blog about them, but in this case I (and I hope many others as well) have an interest.  One of my favorite places, a great spot for a stroll, to spot interesting waterfowl and an oasis of solitude in the midst of the city, is under threat.  It's dying.  It's been slowly dying for some time.

The Snye, a small channel of water (which is the actual geographic term for this feature) joining the Clearwater to the Athabasca, is slowly becoming overgrown with weeds, threatened through the use of water-based aircraft and has had its shoreline sullied with garbage.  At one point in time, the Snye directly connected the two rivers until the 1960's when a dyke road was built at the western to allow access from downtown to MacDonald Island.  Even then the move was not without controversy.  While advocates of the dyke wanted access to Mac Island and argued such access would prevent Mac Island from being turned into private residential lots, others were concerned a dyke would lead to the Snye silting up over time and lead to increasing flood problems: most of downtown is on the Clearwater's floodplain and the Snye provides a second conduit for run off into the Athabasca.

(As an aside, one of my earliest memories of Fort McMurray was of standing on the dyke road back in the fall of 2002 and watching as a float plane flew directly overhead, coming into land on the Snye.  I captured the plane with my camera as it passed over and still have that photograph somewhere in my collection.)

Part of the city's redevelopment plan for Mac Island involves construction of a pedestrian bridge (an idea I'm a bit antsy about) from the mainland to the island over the Snye and plans to rehabilitate the area.  A proposal to limit vehicular traffic on nearby Morimoto Drive, which gives access to the Snye, has a few people up in arms.  The float plane base, rowing club and anglers would all be affected by this move.  Indeed, I did see a couple signs downtown yesterday to the affect that access to the area would be rather limited over this holiday long weekend.

So where do things go from here?  We shall see and I will be following this issue with great interest.  We are quite fortunate to have a natural gem right in the middle of downtown.  I can think of few other places of comparable size where Mother Nature is so close.  This privilege, comes at a cost, however.  We have to protect this delicate ecosystem and respect it.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who has walked along the the south shore of the Snye and witness all the human detritus strewn in the bush.  I have to admit to being rather appalled....and disappointed.  We need to do better.

I don't want to see the death of the Snye.  Personally, I wish the dyke were gone, replaced with a bridge of some sort.  No, I'm not planning to head down there with a block of C4 though I see this dyke a major part of the problem, literally chocking the life out of one of my favorite places in the city.  At the very least, the culvert under the dyke should be much bigger as its obvious the current set up isn't working.  Motorized watercraft should be banned, as I believe they already are.  I look forward to seeing the plans of what all this proposed area re-development will look like.  I really hope we can keep this tiny, yet historically important waterway in as close to a natural state as possible. I cringe to think of its shorelines overrun with concrete, vendor stalls and more bridges.

In many ways my viewpoints are shaped in part due my experiences in Nunavut and other places remote from human development.  You see a mountain, a cliff face or a fiord much the way it has always Mother Nature intended, with its own beauty and raw power....without human "improvement" or re-development".  Now, I know it would be naive to think that there won't be some human impact on the Snye, regardless of what course of action is taken.  The Snye has large apartment buildings on one side and a multi-million dollar recreation centre (along with golf course) on the other.  At the same time, part of me yearns for a return to as natural state as possible.  For this reason, I'm pleased that access along Morimoto Drive is being limited (at least for now).   Let's extend the Snye a lifeline and then come up with the best possible plan for it.  If there is money and time to invest in bridges and rec centres (and don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Mac Island as much as anyone else), then surely this waterway deserves the same amount of attention.  We can always build another bridge or building.  We only have one Snye.

For more thoughts on this issue see another local blogger's post here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bridge Nostalgia

Sorry for the extreme lack of blogging this month. Work has kept me quite busy. I have a few projects I'd like to get done around the house and a few destinations I'd like to get to before summer ends so I will hopefully be able to blog about them in the near future. In the meantime, let's wax nostalgic with a couple photos of the old Grant McEwan Bridge taken last June. The bridge is currently undergoing extensive re-construction. Its distinctive blue-green trestles were pulled down back in the Spring.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thanks for Cancelling Our Fair

Sadly it seems our local Country Fair is cancelled this year.  I chalk it up to political ineptitude and million dollar home owners who apparently don't want their little Draper Road fiefdom sullied by the sounds of laughter.  I can understand Draper Road residents being upset with increased industrial development in the valley, but seriously....a 3-day fair?  That's just sad, really.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Remembering Dieppe

Today marks a sombre anniversary.  It was 70 years ago today that Canadian soldiers embarked on what was essentially a suicide mission: an ill-planned raid on the port of Dieppe.  This failed raid is burned in to my memory in many ways aside from the fact that I read up on quite a few WWII battles while pursuing my history degree.  I have a few "connections" of sorts to this unfortunate event.  During one of my university courses I had the opportunity to interview a surviving participant of the raid.  It was a very sobering afternoon.  As well, one of the participating infantry regiments, The Essex and Kent Scottish, now a reserve regiment, was from Windsor, Ontario where I attended university.

Going even further back, in the summer of 1993, I had the opportunity to play an "extra" during some of the beach landing scenes as part of a  4-hour mini-series filmed by the CBC.  True, it wasn't exactly a high-budget production, but the experience of riding around in the choppy waters of Lake Ontario in a WWII-era troop landing ship and then charging up a beach in a wool uniform in 80-degree heat is something I still recall quite vividly almost 20 years later.

I'll leave out the criticisms and blame here, although I suppose in some ways by referring to this raid as a suicide mission in my opening paragraph I've slipped and let my historical biases show.  At any rate, I definitely know where my thoughts (to say nothing of my respect and gratitude) will be today.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Valley View

It turned out to be a pretty slothful weekend for me.   Other than a grocery run (because I have to eat) and laundry (because I don't like to stink), I managed a short jaunt down to the river valley this afternoon.  I didn't go very far since I found the mosquitoes a bit annoying but it got me out of the house and it felt good to stretch my legs.  I caught a glimpse of a Blue Jay as it flew over me and saw what I think may have been a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher but other than that the forest was pretty quiet and I was content to have my legs carry me where they may with no specific destination in mind.

Athabasca River looking south toward the golf course.