Monday, December 23, 2013

The Boy

When he's not occupied by his fascination for trains or ride-on lawn mowers, charming the ladies with his deep blue eyes or playing the part of a GQ junior model, the boy just loves to relax of course. Merry Christmas, son. Daddy loves you.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Moving the Ball Forward

Today marked another step as I sent off my graduate school applications.  I still have a few documents to take care but the "guts" of my application have been taken care of and these other items shouldn't be a hassle (knock on wood).  The biggest challenge was definitely the proposal/statement of intent/statement of purpose etc. portion and something I grappled with for days.  Basically, this is where you try to sell yourself and make your application stand out.

My old Nunavut blog was a big help in many ways and I actually pulled a couple writing samples from it to submit.  It was also nice to re-visit portions and see what ideas suggest themselves as potential research topics.  In the meantime, I've been doing a ton of reading....some MA theses, a couple PhD dissertations, various other government and research articles, even a 2010 senate committee report, chaired by Senator Pamela Wallin.  So I suppose our hapless upper chamber does do SOME work after all.  Interestingly, a couple of the individuals interviewed for this report are people I'd more than likely have some contact with in the event I was to study at the one school I've applied to.  At any rate, any good finds I come across are written down and so I have the beginnings of a bibliography of sorts.

All this reading has led to a myriad of interesting topics for papers outside of just a potential thesis. Listing them here from the list in my head would definitely take some time so I won't bore you with all the details.  I've been in contact with some professors and doctoral students and my uncle, who's been through this process before, who have all provided some excellent feedback.

On top of my reading, the other thing I'm hoping to do is more writing and that's where this blog comes into play.  This is my way of reminding myself I need to get some serious blogging done over the next little while.  So who's up for some discussion on Diefenbaker's "Roads to Resources" program??  I kid, I kid.  But I do need to start writing again to get back into practice so that writing for school (and I know there will be A LOT of that) won't be as painful.

So that's where things stand at the moment.  If you see a few upcoming blog posts about northern development strategies, the DEW Line, arctic security issues or the odd military mutiny (yes, Canada did have some) it just means I'm working on honing my writing skills.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Eating A Sandwich

The past few weeks have certainly been busy for me as much of my free time has been taken up with school applications.  I initially began looking into pursuing an MA in History back in April.  For the most part that involved first looking at my interests (which are quite vast given how much I read) and looking at potential schools.  To be honest, I had little idea of where to begin.  I knew I'd likely apply to my alma mater at Windsor but I was also interested in exploring other schools as well.  The University of Calgary soon emerged as an enticing possibility, not just because it is one of the closest schools to me (a mere 650km as the crow flies) but also because it is home to a research institute, The Arctic Institute of North America, which seemed a good fit for my interests involving Nunavut.  As well, a few other professors who I had looked up at other universities as possible thesis advisors, also had ties to this school.

After a couple of months looking up schools, contacting a few professors and doing as much background reading as I could on a few topics of interest, I took a bit of a hiatus over the summer.  I found the task daunting at times, to be honest but I also thought it would be good to take a break and come back with a fresh perspective.

So at the moment I am in the process of putting my applications together for next fall.  I've managed to track down a couple of good referees (I've been out of university now for close to 15 years now so that was a lot of fun) and am working on a "statement of interest" for each school.   That's been the most challenging part to date as I've had to tailor my interests specific to both schools.  Given the research interests of both schools I can't focus entirely on Nunavut for both so I've had to look into two different sub-topics within the realm of military history in order to get things to work.  So far so good though and I've gotten excellent feedback from a couple professors as well as an uncle of mine who completed his MA not too long ago (Thanks Clark!).

Initially I thought that being out of school would be a big detriment (it did present challenges in terms of tracking down references as I mentioned earlier) but I like to think that my life experiences in Nunavut will be a big plus, especially with my Calgary application.  I have to submit a resume as part of my application so I can note my work and life experience there for them to see rather than using up words unnecessarily in my research statement.  It's also a bit daunting to think that I'd eventually have to submit a thesis running between 80-150 pages.  I think the biggest paper I've done was closer to 30-odd pages for a 4th year undergraduate course I took circa 1999.  But....just like a big sandwich I'll just take it one bite at a time.

In the meantime, I've also been reading up as much as I can, both academically as well as re-visited old posts from my Nunavut blog to get ideas and perspectives.  The internet is a wonderful tool for tracking down theses online and I've happened across 3 or 4 good ones focused on some of the topics I hope to one day explore. I do have to say that some of the titles I've come across make me glad my focus is on history or alternatively, make me wish I had paid more attention in science class at school......"Passive Cardiac Properties and Tintin Expression in Dilated Cardiomyopathy" or "Oncolytic Reovirus Combined with Sunitinib as a Novel Multi-Mechanistic Treatment Strategy for Renal Cell Carcinoma".  I think that last one might have something to do with butt cancer.  I don't know.

At the moment I'm slowly plowing through a 2012 Ph.D. thesis dealing with sovereignty issues over Canadian arctic waters.  Its runs close to 400 pages so I can see how some dissertations are later turned into full monographs.  At any rate, while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it definitely is interesting and,  given the increased focus on the Arctic by the federal government in recent years, rather timely.

So there you have it.  I think I've moved through all the stages of the application process now from "should I do this?" to "what should I focus on?" to "what the heck am I doing?" to "I can't believe I'm actually doing this?" to "let's just do this!"

As I said earlier....eating that big bite at a time.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Does Mike Allen Wonder Why People Don't Vote? I think I may know why.....

Back in the spring I wrote a post about one of our local MLA's here. The guy is foolish enough to go to Minnesota on government business and get caught up in a prostitution sting. Yeah, big oops. Being a politician, he gave the appearance of doing the right thing (after he was caught, naturally) by resigning from the Tory caucus the next day. With an upcoming trial (which has now seen a delay from September until next month) I was hopeful he'd do the right thing and resign his seat as well.

So much for that.  Sure, he's not my MLA as he represents the other half of Fort McMurray, but still, give me a break.  Am I happy about it?  Not in the least.  Apparently, he made the decision to stay on after "many hours in private and public meetings," to quote the CBC story.  I find that remarkable as I do my best to stay tuned in to politics here and haven't heard of too many such meetings.  Private meetings, now I can understand since I'm not part of Allan's private little club.  (Ya, big loss, I know.)  Now, public meetings I'm not so sure but of course all politicians tend to say the same things..... cue Mayor Quimby a la Simpsons here......."After many close discussions with family, friends and associates, and many a sleepless night, I have decided to stay on as MLA despite betraying your trust by traveling to a foreign country and breaking the law."

Now, that's only on the provincial level.  What many people may not realize and what I'm still trying to wrap my head around is all the nonsense that went on before he was elected.  You see, Allan, before becoming an MLA was a on city council here.  He was one of those geniuses that decided that putting a massive 7000-seat arena in our downtown core would be a genius idea.  Sure there's no parking and traffic is already a hey let's add to it, shall we?  Anyhow, construction of said arena involved the city expropriating a number of downtown businesses, one of them being the Oil Can.

Now, wouldn't you know, Allen also had a business on this block, the long-standing Campbell's Music.  At the time I first heard of the expropriations I recall thinking to myself, well surely, they can't be tearing down the whole block.  Campbell's Music is owned by a local MLA.  It just seemed weird.  It's been in business for something like 40 years.  What's going on?

Apparently, Campbell's Music, at least the building it now occupies, is slated for the wrecking ball.  BUT, the business is moving.  But where?  It just so happens it's being moved into another building that the municipality purchased and is now renovating on the public dime.  I even walked right by the place myself earlier this week.    Is it just me or is this crazy??

I guess if you're a struggling business owner in Ontario you can come out here, get on council, make a sweet deal and get a place for you business at a low rental rate.   And if it's a dive, don't worry, the tax payer will pay for your renovations.

But I digress here.  I'm open to the fact that there is more going on that I know and information I'm not privy to.  However, from the way I see it, this whole situation just looks bizarre.  Perhaps this is all hunky-dory on a legal level but really, come on.  Even the mere appearance of something untoward should be avoided.

I was disappointed to hear that voter turnout in our recent municipal election was 20%.  But in light of events I'm not surprised.  I wonder if Mike Allen has asked himself why people don't seem to vote?  I couldn't imagine why.

Forgive me for being all over the place in this post but really, Mike Allen needs to go.  You are a joke, sir.  You DO NOT represent me and you DO NOT represent the community I live in no matter how much you think you may think otherwise.  I'm a bit of a musician myself and I know there are some good music stores down in Edmonton.  And I don't mind the trip.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mr. Photogenic

I originally planned to do a quirky little post either about my failing battle against grey hair or a video of me singing the Somali national anthem at work (apparently I'm becoming somewhat of a polyglot) but rather than that I thought I'd a special fall photo featuring my number one man.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fall Foliage

One thing I still haven't adjusted to here is how short the fall season seems to be and I do miss the brilliant colour of the leaves back in Ontario this time of year. My ash trees do go a long way to make up for things though. Not only have their leaves long outlasted any of my neighbours but they add a nice splash of colour to the front yard.

Since I haven't exactly been trigger happy with the camera the last little while I thought I'd take advantage of a relatively warm day off and play around with it a bit before the leaves completely disappear for the season.

These leaves below are from the hawthorn in my backyard.  It's only been this week that the majority of them have fallen to the ground and if they look like they are piled a bit too neatly here its only because they were swept off the back deck.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Random Airport Guy, Walmart Line Ups....and My Secret Truck Identification Deficiency

Earlier this summer my cousin Douglas got in touch with me about escaping the disaster of Ontario (thanks Premier Wynne for wrecking my home province, by the way) and pursuing a fresh start here in Fort McMurray.  I was keen to help him out, knowing that despite all the lofty rhetoric out there, it can be a bit of a challenge to get settled in here and get working if you just come out cold turkey.  Yes, I've heard the stories too about guys getting off the plane and landing a job within hours of their arrival but for someone starting out here there can be a few challenges (finding an affordable place to rest your head being just one of them) so I was more than willing to lend a hand.

After a few weeks of making plans, my cousin arrived here earlier this evening.  I originally planned to be off this weekend but since I was needed (and being a long weekend during which I'd make a lot of double time) it was hard to turn down the extra hours.  I was a little leery as there is a taxi strike of sorts going on at the moment and the airport is a few kilometres outside of the city.  Fortunately, my very awesome tenant of mine offered to take me out to meet Doug at the airport.

Now the airport is undergoing expansion and it had been at least a couple years since I had been out there but fears that I would get out there and not know where the hell I was going proved unfounded.  To me, airports are huge and confusing but as Douglas had flown out of Pearson this afternoon he told me he found our airport rather small and easy to manage.  Anyhow, my tenant dropped me off to go get him while he found a place to park.  Luckily Doug was waiting outside so I didn't even have to go in.  Now, my tenant drives a black pickup and he's been in my house for over a year so you would think I would know his truck by now.  Apparently not, though.  I took Doug's suitcase for him, scanned the curb side for our ride, saw a black truck and opened the door.  I was in the process of putting Doug's suitcase in the backseat when a young dark-haired girl approached looking a bit confused.  It was then that I heard a voice from inside the truck say "Wrong truck, bud,"  and realized my error.  Apologizing, I retrieved the suitcase and then saw my tenant's truck parked on the other side of the lane.

As we crossed over I saw my tenant putting someone's bag in the back of his truck.  Now, I know I had worked a long day but I was beginning to think I was losing my mind.  How many black trucks could I mis-identify as our ride here?  As it turned out I got it right this time.  As my tenant was waiting for us, some random guy who had just got off the plane as well had asked him if he could get a ride with us into town.  As I mentioned earlier, there is a taxi strike on the go here and this poor fellow was stuck.  Luckily for him, he lived in the same part of the city as me so my tenant agreed to help him out.

I gave Douglas as much of a mini-tour of the city on the drive in as one can in the pitch dark and then had my tenant drop Doug and I off at Walmart (yeah, I know, Walmart) so I could pick up some bedding for Doug since I hadn't had the chance because of work.  My tenant then left with his extra passenger to drop him off before coming back to pick us up.  When I left the house earlier in the evening I joked to my tenant that I didn't know how busy the store would be.  I wasn't sure how many people would shop here at Walmart on a Sunday evening but I guess I'd eventually find out.

I can answer that question now.....a lot.  The line was long but it did move rather quickly.  Poor Doug, I joked, just off the plane and the first thing he's doing in Fort McMurray is standing in a Walmart line up.  I know there are lots of stereotypes out there about this city but I've lived here long enough now to take it all in stride.  I did have to chuckle to myself just a little.

Having successfully navigated Walmart we waited outside for my tenant.  Again, I approached yet another black truck that I mistook for that of my tenant.  I was getting my Fords and my Dodge's seriously mixed up tonight as Douglas told me.  So off we head for home, finally.  By now, close to an hour had passed and I knew Doug would be looking forward to a meal and a chance to catch up on the jet lag.

Only one last bit of quirkiness remained for the evening.  As we were stopped at the first set of lights at the top of Thickwood I noticed a small car pull up beside us. My tenant rolled down his window as we waited for a green light and I assumed it was just someone he knew from work that we had randomly bumped in to.  But no, by some act of complete weirdness, it was the random guy we had picked up at the airport earlier.

Turns out he had left some bottles of water and a cooler of food in the bed of the truck and had been driving around on a rescue mission.  By some miracle, our paths had intercepted again.  It was at this point I told Doug that I really didn't think picking him up at the airport and driving him back to my house would be chocked full of strange drama.  So we pulled over so the random airport guy could get his stuff back and FINALLY reached the house safe and sound if a little bewildered by the events of the drive....or at least I know I was bewildered.

So no worries, Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Brian, Doug is all settled in now and got a little taste of some of the quirkiness here along the way.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Some Thoughts on Election Season

It's pretty hard to miss all the election signs around town the past few days, a sure indication that we are now in the midst of a municipal election campaign.  I must admit I haven't really paid all that much attention to politics at the local level though I know I probably should.  I've spent much of my life in small towns and cities just seem a lot more complex with more competing issues.  Throw in fact that we face a great deal of infrastructure challenges here as the region continues to grow as well as the fact that this is, well, Fort McMurray (land of opportunity if you're looking for work or Satan if you're a rabid environmentalist) and that adds a whole other dimension to the mix.

Admittedly, I was initially planning not to vote in our upcoming election here.  A lot of attention has been focused on various re-development plans, the money for which I think would be better spent elsewhere.  That, plus I've just grown a bit cynical as time marches forward.  Does a politician really care what I think?  Or do they just want my vote so they can have a job?

Looking back at other elections I've voted in, however, I do see how my vote has helped shaped the political landscape at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels so all is not lost.  My cynicism hasn't fully taken hold.

In the first Ontario election I could vote in, I cast a ballot for a young up-and-comer named John Baird, who of course has now moved on to the federal level and, according to some sources I've read, could conceivably have a shot at being the next federal Tory leader and perhaps Prime Minister.  In the 2008 Nunavut election, I voted for Ron Elliot who is once again running for re-election.  There are no political parties in Nunavut at the territorial level (which is rather refreshing) but if re-elected, I know Ron plans to put his name forward for a cabinet position.  I'm thinking Education Minister (always a challenging position in Nunavut) would be a good fit given his background and time will tell.  Best of luck, too, Ron, if you happen to read this.

As a side note, I even briefly considered running myself in that 2008 election as I wasn't too fond of the incumbent, but concerns over siphoning off enough votes to allow the incumbent's re-election caused me to have second thoughts.

And I learned earlier this evening that back in my home province, the sitting MLA in Northumberland-Quinte West, Rob Milligan, has been elevated to critic for interprovincial trade.  It's been a number of years since I've lived in Ontario now but certainly I would have voted for Rob.  I've known him for quite a number of years as we were in the same army cadet corps as teens and by all accounts he is well-known and respected.  I know he will continue to serve the riding well in this new role.

So, perhaps my cynicism is a bit misplaced.  Sure, its a horrible cliche, but your vote really can make a difference.  Now, having said that, there are few politicians here I have a lot of time or respect for BUT I still plan to vote.  In the end, it is important and it does matter.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Neil Young is a Moron

Okay, okay......I promise I took a deep breath and walked away from the laptop for several minutes before typing this post, but I have to admit I still can't get over the stupidity that is Neil Young.  Apparently, he was in town over the long weekend to tour our city.  But really, like many other celebs, he only came here to garner publicity for himself and spout off about the oilsands.  And I mean, that's fine, everyone has their opinion and is entitled to it.  But I really have to draw a line in the sand when the guy then goes ahead and spouts off about Fort McMurray itself.  According to media reports from the National Post, the CBC and others, he had the audacity to refer to Fort McMurray as a "wasteland" and compared the city to Hiroshima of all places.

You know, Neil, if you actually engaged your brain in something called "critical thinking" you'd realize that you can't conflate Fort McMurray with what happened to Hiroshima in 1945.  You truly are a disgusting human being if you are going to dishonour the memory of all those who died in a nuclear holocaust with Fort McMuray, Alberta.   There are veterans and Hiroshima survivors today who suffered unbearably so you could have the luxury of travelling up here and spew your retarded crap.  (Really, the clown thinks he can masquerade as some sort of expert on the industry and yet he was completely clueless about extraction techniques like SAGD, which is completely different from how the oilsands are extracted at sites north of the city.)  Neil, if you're going to pretend to know something, at least do your homework.   Obviously your tour didn't start with the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.  Had you gone there, you would have learned about this.  And its not like you can miss the place as its write on the main highway into the city.  Really, Neil, I'm one of those musical types too.  Reading music isn't all that different from reading a map in many ways.

Neil Young I have to call you out.  Come up to Fort McMurray, look me up and I'll show you a side to this city I promise you haven't seen before, a side you are obviously very ignorant about.  Fort McMurray is not a wasteland and in no way can it be compared to Hiroshima.  Neil, earlier this spring we had a flood here and people faced hardship, were you up here doing a benefit concert?  For that matter, did you go to High River and do a concert there?  The flooding they faced there was much worse.  Of course not, you only wanted to get some cheap publicity by using our city for your own selfish means.

(And since I'm on the subject of concerts anyway, its not like we really need you up here.  We've had much better performers up here in recent years anyway......Kiss, Bare Naked Ladies and Simple Plan to name three.)

Did you check out MacDonald Island while you were here?  Walk the Birchwood Trails? check out our heritage park?, check out a musical?  visit our college or a school playground?  get to know people here?  talk to anyone from any one of our many diverse groups here who came to this city from another country to make a better life?  I suspect you did none of these things and your ignorance truly shows.

Yes, Neil all the animals are dying.  Funny that.  A young bear wandered into my work area a couple weeks ago and it looked pretty alive to me.  As did the deer, foxes, wolves, coyotes, moose, buffalo and all the other large animals I've seen here.  The "Indians", as you mistakenly call them are all dying?  I work with many First Nations people and even one of my tenants is Dene.  They all look pretty healthy to me.  Should all just "go back to the rez and forego the opportunity of a better life? Honestly, where DID you get your information from?  What the hell are you smoking?

Please don't spout nonsense about my city.  Really, when you're originally from Toronto, you should be among the LAST to do so.  Air quality advisories in the summer, beach closures, cars galore (using oil and gas too, I would presume).  Give me a break.

I really think you should stick to writing and singing songs (not that I listen to that noise) because believe you hypocritical hippy, you know are no expert on the oil sands and you know absolutely nothing about the place I call home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Masters in the Making?

If my blog has been rather silent this summer I do have a good reason for it as I've been spending many an evening looking into applying to graduate school.  A Masters degree is something I always figured I'd eventually end up doing and lately I've found myself taking a serious look at it.  I began giving it some serious thought back in the spring, checking out various school and programs and I'm pleased with how things have gone so far.

Initially I felt I might be at a disadvantage since its been some time since I've done any sort of academic work and would be a bit rusty.  On second thought though I think the life experiences I've had over the past 10-12 will serve me well when I start doing up my applications later this fall.  One area of research I'd like to get into (which will come as no real surprise to those who know me best) involves Nunavut.  I have to admit to getting a kick out of corresponding with a few professors and being able to discuss some of my experiences.  "FOX-5 Dew Line site at Broughton Island?  Oh ya, I was there.  I actually lived in the nearby community of Qikiqtarjuaq for a couple of years."  At the risk of tooting my own horn too much I don't think too many grad applicants interested in doing research on the old DEW Line could claim in a grad school application that they've already been to not one but 3 different DEW Line sites. So yes, Nunavut is definitely a topic of interest.  Finding a professor with a background in Northern or Arctic history was a bit tricky but I've tracked down some good prospects.  Since I have interests in both Nunavut and also in military history, the DEW Line looked like a good way of blending both interests.  The University of Calgary is home to the Arctic Institute of North America so at the moment that school is top of the list for me.  Issues involving Arctic sovereignty, the Northwest Passage, the Canadian Rangers and of course, the DEW Line system, continue to be of interest to me.

As noted above, I've always had an interest in military history so I have a couple schools in mind that have research institutes geared towards this.  The websites for the The Laurier Centre of Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies at WLU in Ontario and the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick have had me as a frequent visitor in recent weeks.  I've always been interested in issues of command and control and what makes a good leader.  Perhaps I was subconsciously influenced by 10 years of classroom teaching here but I spent a good stint a couple weeks ago reading everything I could find on the topic of military mutinies in the Canadian Forces whether they be the Terrace Mutiny in 1944, the Kinmel Mutiny of 1919 or a few naval mutinies on Canadian ships in 1946 (in true Canadian fashion, these naval mutinies were the topic of an inquiry (not quite a Royal Commission I don't think but close) by the top naval brass).  Anyhow, without spilling all my little research interests I am taken by the idea of eventually writing a regimental history of the local reserve infantry regiment from where I grew up in southern Ontario, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, should I go the military route on an MA.  The only regimental histories I'm familiar with at present were a couple of ones done by former officers (one of them being Farley Mowat).  To my knowledge, a full history of the regiment dating back to its founding militia units in the early 1800's has yet to be undertaken.

In the meantime, I've been gathering information on a few schools (I do have a short list, finally), tracking down references, doing my best to build up a reading list with what I have at hand and sorting out all the other minutiae involved.  Acceptance of a potential offer will involve a move and may or may not involve a property sale here depending on the exact circumstances.  At any rate, the application process is definitely a bit more involved this time around than when I applied for my undergraduate studies.  I'll be applying for the fall of 2014 so it looks like the next 12 months will be an interesting adventure.  Time to hang on tight and see where the road takes me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Gang's All Here

I've been rather spoiled this year when it comes to the number of birds that show up around the house. Three woodpeckers (yellow-bellied sapsuckers actually are regular visitors in the early morning and evening hours along with chipping sparrows, magpies and chickadees.  These House Sparrows all turned up yesterday right as I was getting home from work.  Granted the photograph isn't the best but I was in a rush to snap some photos out my bedroom window before they all flew away on me.  Plus I had a very excitable cat next to me on the window ledge.  These photos are some of the first I've had to put on my new laptop so I'm looking forward to playing around and seeing what I can come up with.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fill 'Er Up!

Since I haven't posted in about a million years I thought I'd kick things off again with something other than a post about overpasses or the foibles of politicians, namely a little act of kindness from a random stranger.  I know this town can get a bad rap in many and while I know my humble blog won't change the world I do like to highlight good things about the community when I get a chance.

I had to make a quick run downtown with one of my tenants....actually it would be more accurate to say I got a lift.  Before I headed out I grabbed my jerry can out of the back shed for some gas so I would be able to mow the lawn.  Once at the gas station and as I was about to fill up, a gentleman at the next pump asked how much I was getting.  I'm not sure he saw the jerry can in my hand at first as the pump likely blocked his view of it and perhaps he was puzzled by some random guy walking up and staring at the pump (I don't buy gas very often.)  Just enough to fill up my jerry can, I told him.

At that point he took the nozzle out of his car and started filling up my can, just like that.  I thanked the man who then went back to finish filling up his vehicle.  When I asked him what I owed him ( the pump was up to about $15 or so at that point.  He politely declined payment and carried on with his own fill up.  The full jerry can will easily last me the remainder of the summer so it was a nice little bonus to be getting it free.

I asked him again about the cost and he again told me not to worry about it.  After a long, hot work day this generosity from a complete stranger was a much-welcomed gesture.  And so to the random gentleman I encountered at the gas station at the Superstore in downtown Fort McMurray I say thank you for your time.  In a world where it is all too easy to become cynical with the way the world sometimes works, this random act of kindness was greatly appreciated.  Thank you kindly, sir!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Local MLA Mike Allen Arrested

When I caught wind that one of our local MLA's had resigned I initially thought it was some sort of joke since our provincial election was barely over a year ago.  But no, turns out Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen resigned after being caught in a prostitution sting while down in Minnesota.  The Edmonton Journal and CBC Edmonton provide details.  Even SUN News, the cheerleaders of Conservatives everywhere, covered this story so you know it must be true.

Obviously an incredibly stupid move in any situation and doubly so given that he was on government business at the time.  I really debated what to write here as it would be so easy to make a political statement and really, I'm no fan of the Alberta Conservatives as of late.  Allen did defeat the former incumbent - a Conservative-turned-Independent-turned-Wildrose candidate who just seemed to come across as arrogant and annoying, so in that sense I didn't mind his election.

Still, this really does irk me in many ways.  There was a time when I followed politics almost religiously and bought into the infantile fantasy that elected officials served some greater good.  Obviously, those days are now long gone.  Still, I find myself wondering....wouldn't it be wonderful if we actually could have elected officials that truly did serve people, rather than their own selfish inclinations?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Continuing Saga of the Confederation Overpass

There's quite a bit of back story here but essentially this spoof radio announcement pretty much sums up what I'm sure many commuters think about the ineptitude of Alberta Transportation.  The long-awaited Confederation overpass was opened last fall.  Things seemed to be improving.  But then, things just started to get goofy.  In a nutshell, it seems the government was in such a rush to show it was actually doing something to fix traffic flow here that it jumped the gun (by several months it would now seem) and opened an overpass before it was truly ready.

Frankly, I think our Transportation Minister, Ric McIver, (with our local MLA's in tow) should drive up here and be made to do several circuits from Highway 63 up the Confederation overpass, down Confederation Way in Timberlea, through Thickwood, then down the Thickwood overpass, back to 63 and then back up into Timberlea via the Confed overpass several times repeatedly until he clues in how much of a pain in the ass this all is.  Not that the average driver would just drive this circuit in a continuous loop but perhaps by doing this and hitting both overpasses repeatedly Genius McIver might get a message.

One can only hope.  In the meantime Mr. Minister, I think a village is missing its idiot.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Road Weirdness

I'm not sure if its the constant oscillation between sun and rain we've had the past few days or that its summer and some people's brains are in neutral but it seems like local overpasses have a bull-eye on them or something.  It seems that some distracted genius in a big truck misjudged the height of the Suncor overpass and made contact with it with his load this morning.  We had a similar incident earlier this year here in town as well.  I haven't really heard any more on this little oops but it did result in quite the traffic back up on the ride in to work.  There wasn't really much to see once my bus turned off there other than an RCMP vehicle and a couple other smaller vehicles and what looked like a load of material stacked on the shoulder but at any rate it meant an extra hour getting to site this morning (an hour for which I still got paid double-time being a weekend I happily note) and I'm sure it caused a few headaches for other drivers as well.

As if that wasn't bizarre enough, I caught word at work that someone was hauling what may have been a U-Haul trailer up the hill to Thickwood and the trailer somehow detached itself and rolled back down the hill. I work around a lot of trucks and trailers so I know what a mess a spilled load can make.  Again, I didn't see anything on the ride home and apparently no one was hurt which is always a good thing of course.

All a bit surreal and while I did chuckle a bit there is of course a serious side to all this.  Hopefully lessons are learned and more attention is paid in the future, especially with more people out on the roads  in summer season.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Angry Rivers, Floods and a Muddy Aftermath

It's still pretty soggy and miserable weather here but some good signs are in evidence as many of the residents who were evacuated from their homes have been allowed to return.  I have no idea how many sand bags have been filled by fellow Fort McMurrayites the past few days but the number reached its limit earlier today and the actual filling up sand bags has wound down....hopefully for good.

I headed down to the Sport and Wellness Centre at Keyano to do what I could.  As you can see from the pictures here, it was pretty gloomy and volunteers were pelted with a bit more rain.  It amazing to see residents both young and old and local businesses and organizations all pitching in to help.  (On a weird side note, I was approached by a burly guy in a biker jacket who noticed the big Nunavut flag on the front of my sweater and came up to shake my hand, telling me he had spent a few years working up their as well.  Small world.)

Our poor Heritage Park took quite a hit.  The grounds are now one big muddy mess.  I must admit that as a bit of a history nerd, I have a real soft spot for this place.  For a place that is falsely portrayed as nothing more than a boom town, Fort McMurray has a vibrant history.  For a community of its size, its done an admirable job of preserving historical structures.  I really hope this flood doesn't mark the end of its season.

The source of it all.  The Hangingstone River is still rather high but falling.  I've never seen it flowing this fast before.

Crew continue to work on reinforcing the river bank to prevent further erosion.  This was about as close to the flood zone as I felt it was wise to get.  I'm sure people have enough to keep them busy without a blogger with a camera wandering around down there.

What we really need now is a few good days of sun and clear skies.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hoping for Stable Banks

Fortunately we aren't supposed to get as much rain this weekend as was originally forecast. Still, I found myself looking up at the sky today rather frequently as there were a few scattered dark clouds. I resisted the urge to head out today for some photos of the flooding as I'm sure they don't need random people running around with cameras down there. An emerging threat at the moment are the banks of the Hangingstone River itself. Bitumen oozes naturally out of the ground in this area and as you can tell from the photos below the river banks are already precipitous and unstable.  These two photos were taken last May during better times.

The concern now is that a large enough section of Beacon Hill along the south bank of the river could give way and fall into the river creating a dam and causing the already swollen river to divert into nearby homes.  This photo below show a portion of Beacon Hill (taken last year) upstream from one of the city's residential areas.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rising Waters

I know I've been a tad behind on the blog (mainly due to work) but there is another reason as well.  As you've no doubt heard, parts of Fort McMurray have been inundated rising flood water this past week.  This played havoc with my internet connection apparently as its been a tad spotty the past week.   So I apologize in advance if this post seems like I'm all over the place.

I managed to get some much-needed yard work taken care of last Friday....and then it started to rain.  From last Friday until this past Monday it rained.  Actually, that's putting it mildly as it was down right intense at times and to add insult to injury, the wind also picked up rather strongly at times.  Most of what I know comes from word of mouth as I've had little time to follow the news, but apparently in that 72-hour period parts of our region were hit with as much as 180mm of rain.   The past couple days have been a mix of sun and cloud and I awoke at 3am this morning to light drizzle so I am hopeful that in terms of rain least, the worst is now behind us.

Anyhow, I can assure everyone wondering that I am perfectly sound.  Sadly, there are people in our community who aren't.  I found out late this afternoon that one young kid I work with had his room flooded out down in Grayling Terrace.  Mandatory evacuations are in place.  Ironically, I had hoped to take a hike last weekend along the Hangingstone River, the very body of water that has been the source of all this turmoil.  The Hangingstone is a meandering river that empties into the Athabasca River via the Clearwater and from what I understand the erosion along its banks is a real threat now.  Grayling Terrace and parts of Waterways have been inundated as were a trailer park, Keyano College, and our Heritage Park.  (I heard at work that there is as much as 3 or 4 feet of water in the area of the Heritage Park and you could easily go for a swim.)  I had to take a good hard look at many of the photos I've seen to even recognize where exactly they were taken.  A washed out bridge south of town also made access to a couple oil sands projects a real headache.

I spent a lot of time the past few days counting my blessings.  When I moved here 3 years ago, it was a choice between my home in Thickwood or down in Waterways.  While I had a couple patches of soggy lawn, this pales in comparison to what some other residents are dealing with.   One thing I've learned about this community though, is that it has always faced challenges and its has always overcome them.

Photos, as well as the efforts of stem the tide can be found courtesy of fellow local bloggers here
and here.  I will endeavour to do an update here in the coming days.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Strippers, Snipers and Waterfalls

(I promise its not what you think)

I've been rather distracted the past week, I must admit.  But I have a pretty good reason as I've been considering heading back to school.  Initially, I figured if I was going to undertake a Masters degree it would be later in life, "just for the heck of it", as I'd say.   I've been out of academia and any serious research work for a dozen years now.   Once I graduated for the 3rd (and what I thought was the final) time I needed to get out into the workforce to start paying off all those student loans (which I can proudly say I did back in 2009.)  

Lately, I've been mulling over going back to school sooner.  The advantage I now have is much more life experience than when I walked out of convocation with that diploma in my hand 13 years ago.  That, plus my interests have also filled out and broadened considerably.  The biggest challenge (but what is life without them?) is in trying to draw together all the documentation I need for applications, particularly when it comes to academic references but we'll see how it goes.  Most of the professors from my senior courses have moved on, though I've managed to contact a couple of them, one at the University of Western Ontario and another at Missouri State.  

I recall in my final year of my history degree venturing into the section of the Leddy Library at the University of Windsor to peruse a few theses just to get a taste of what they involved.  Oh the topics were vast.  I recall finding one (in sociology I believe) that had to do with strippers (no, I'm not kidding), which I'm sure would have been quite interesting though what I was really interested in were ones pertaining more to history.  One that I did find had to do with the training and deployment of snipers in the Canadian Forces during the Great War and this one I actually did read cover to cover.  Other than blogging, journaling and a few abortive attempts at writing some chapters for a possible future book, my writing endeavours tailed off after graduation.  

A few weeks ago, through random chance, the idea of pursuing more writing and research in the form of graduate studies came back to me in a rush.  I was actually looking up random photos of waterfalls online (hey, I find them relaxing) in an area of northern BC, when I came across a photo of a WWII northern BC.  Now, I've read quite a bit on Canada's contributions to both world wars, but this photo had me stymied.  Why exactly was there a crumbling bunker near the airport in Terrace, BC of all places?  I figured there must have been a military training camp there at one time and indeed there was.  It was then that I came across information about a military mutiny in Terrace in the dying months of the war.  What?  A mutiny?  I thought history was supposed to be boring?!  More importantly, I was surprised why I had never heard about it, read about or been told about it before.  It was like it never happened, which for the government of the day would have been just fine.   

Anyhow, I randomly contacted a professor I thought might know more about this incident and also to bounce a few more ideas off him.  He gave me a couple other names to contact and things just snowballed from there.  A couple even sent me short reading lists and I received a course syllabus back from a professor at Queen's.  Since then I've gotten back quite a few responses and its been encouraging.  Turns out professors are very eager to discuss their research interests.  As I mentioned, my interests in history are vast but I've managed to narrow things down somewhat to 3 or 4 areas.  It is kind of cool, I must say, to mention to an Arctic researcher that I lived in Nunavut for 6 years , visited two DEW Line sites, travelled across the sea ice and visited a future and former site among other things.  I'm not sure too many applicants would be able to mention that in a research proposal if I decided to focus on Arctic issues.  Other than my interests in WWI and WWII, there are also a few topics of local history focused on Windsor, that I've always been interested in, which would be a good way of getting back to Windsor since I loved the time I spent there back in the '90's.  I also haven't ruled out doing a thesis on a musical topic of the history of one of Ontario's wine regions (because I'll take any reason to visit a winery or three).  

So plenty to mull over for sure.  Deciding on an area of research and a school is a nice little task to set my mind to.  I'm looking at a 2014 start date at the absolute earliest to plenty of time to get the ball rolling.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Go Climb A Tree

I couldn't pass up yesterday's great weather to get out for a little birding foray and my efforts were richly rewarded with 10 additions to my year list, including 2 for my life list. My intended destination was a marsh on the end of my subdivision down by Wood Buffalo and Dickinsfield. I stopped along the way by a storm pond to catch my first Red-winged Blackbird and Grackle sightings and it was there that I caught my first glimpse of a Savannah Sparrow in the grass along the marsh edge. From there I skirted a treeline behind some condos on my way to the marsh. At this point I decided to duck into the woods just to see what I might find. At the end of a path covered in dead fall I came across this structure that someone had built. I'm not sure who put it there or for what purpose but realized it would make a nice little viewing platform. So up I went. About halfway up I realized I'm a little leery of heights but the urge to get a better view and add to my year list helped me push those fears out of mind. It was only 20-30 feet high anyhow and seemed sturdy enough.

I was rewarded for my efforts. I raised my binoculars to my eyes and spotted my first Northern Flicker resting on an old log a few metres away. Soon after that I spied a Black-and-White Warbler and some ducks (likely Mallards) overflew my position.   It was turning into a promising day...and I wasn't even to my intended destination yet.

When I did get to the marsh, I wasn't disappointed....a Canada Goose sleeping with head tucked under wing, a pair of Blue-winged Teals, male and female a Common Goldeneye which I see quite a bit of there....and then something I had never seen before.

I'm at the point in my birding that I can usually identify bird pretty good by its general shape.  A bird whizzed by me earlier in the day and I knew it was some sort of Sandpiper but I needed to consult the guide to see exactly what kind of sandpiper, for example.  Anyhow, I knew I had seen photos of this type of bird before so I was pretty sure it was some sort of Rail.  Water birds I'm still a bit weak on so I had to pull out the guide.  Fortunately, this particular fellow cooperated by not taking flight and stuck around long enough for me to id him.  He turned out to be a Sora, which apparently are fairly common here though I'd never seen one before.

I would have stayed longer but it was getting a tad warm for me (note to time take water with you) so I decided to head back at that point.  It took me a lot longer this year to find a chance to head out what with my work schedule and the winter weather that seemed to not want to end but in the end it turned out to be perhaps my best outing in terms of number of species sighted.  Not too shabby for a couple hours of traipsing around.

For the curious, here is a list of what I saw...

-- Red-winged blackbird
-- Common Grackle
-- Savannah Sparrow
-- Solitary Sandpiper
-- Black-and-white warbler
-- Northern Flicker
-- Common Goldeneye
-- Mallard
-- Sora
-- Blue-winged Teal

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Stereotype

(I intended to do this post some time ago but it just got lost in the shuffle.  Spring was late getting here this year so I haven't had the opportunity to get out and hit some trails as I had hoped and my birding list is woefully shorter than this time last year.  But with decent-looking weekend weather on the horizon I hope to make up for my shortfall of posts in the very near future.)

As with many stereotypes there is usually a grain of truth in there.  Since I think I've heard just about every stereotype out there about Fort McMurray in my short 3 years here, I thought it would be fun just to see how I stack up against some of those preconceived notions floating about out there.  Neither list runs to a nice neat "10" but I'll post this now in the interest of getting something up and dispelling rumours of my blogging demise.

How I fit the stereotype

1.  I work at site.
2.  I have a pick up truck in my driveway (although it belongs to one of my tenants.)
3.  I ride a big coach bus to work in the morning.
4.  I wasn't born in Fort McMurray.
5.  I own a lot of work boots (see this post for the shocking photographic proof.)
6.  I'm originally from what is often referred to as "back east".

How I don't fit the stereotype

1.  I don't live in someone's basement (though I occasionally wander down to my own to do laundry).
2.  I own my own home.
3.  I'm not originally from Newfoundland (though some of my relatives are).
4.  I didn't vote for the Conservatives in the last provincial election.
5.  I own a ridiculous amount of Classical music CD's (something in the neighborhood of 1100-1200....I forget the exact count).
6.  I don't own a truck with a lift kit (although my neighbor does).
7.  I've never been to Diggers (although I recall going to the Podollan Pub one night and my leaving there is a bit fuzzy).
8.  I've never been to Showgirls (no, seriously).
9.  I don't own a million dollar home.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Thoughts On This National Day of Mourning

Today marks the National Day of Mourning in remembrance of Canadian workers killed either on the job or from work-related diseases.  Its a sombre day and an important one.  I'll be the first to admit that prior to moving here I didn't really think all that much about safety on the job.  Mainly this was because my work environment and the nature of my work were very different from what it is now.  I recall a time about 10 years ago when I had to evacuate a school because of a fire alarm.  Yes, the building was actually on fire as it turned out but fortunately no one was hurt).   Other than this one incident I haven't really run into any other situation that I would consider life-threatening.

Since moving here I have had a couple of scary moments where the risk of severe injury was very real. I came close to potentially losing part of a finger when working closely with a forklift and I've had a truck and trailer back in to me.  In both cases they can be chalked up to simple inattention and a desire to "get the job done".  I pride myself on a good work ethic, though these were times when it came back to bite me in the ass a bit.  Anyhow, needless to say, I appreciate the importance of a strong safety culture and strive towards there never being a "next time." 

In my situation, events unfolded well but it is on this day that I am cognizant of the fact that for 145 other individuals in 2012, events did not turn out okay.  145 is the number of people killed on the job across Canada.  But it is more than that....what this number doesn't tell you are the number of spouses that were left struggling, the number of people that lost a good childhood friend or the number of kids who now have to deal with the fact that mom or dad isn't going to be coming through that front door after work anymore.

Take a moment, if you will, to think about workplace safety and remember those who lost their lives on the job.  Thanks.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fort McMurray's Downtown Redevelopment Plan...or Why I Can Always Count on Politicians to Bring Out My Inner Skeptic

A couple posts ago I mentioned about the recent demo of the Oil Can, a local drinking establishment that's had a pretty colorful history.  Its pending demolition is but a small part of a redevelopment plan for Fort McMurray's downtown core.  The scope of this project is in a word, massive and I only fully realized this over the weekend after perusing a study proposing nothing less than a complete overhaul of downtown.  Part of the plan in revitalizing downtown is a proposed civic area, much needed and overdue I should add.  Initially I suspected this would take the shape a pedestrian mall or some other outdoor area but no.  It seems council has it mind to build a rather monstrous arena capable of seating 6000-7000 people in this block.  Yes, I know, my biases are starting to show and I've just barely reached the end of the first paragraph here.  (And of course, this new office tower-like structure which sits where the Oil Can once did just has to be brown brick.  It not like the brown brick federal/provincial building directly across the street isn't already an eye sore.  Typical government planning for you.  Yes, we know one ugly building wasn't enough, so we decided to give you extra.)

To be fair, geography and history haven't been kind to our downtown when it comes to its development over time.  I'm hard-pressed to think of another city of comparable size whose downtown consists of just one main street.  Interestingly, someone, no doubt a politician, decided to name our main drag Franklin Avenue, after the failed northern explorer.  I'm not sure if they were being cautiously optimistic by doing this or if they just had a warped sense of humour.  Anyhow, I digress.

As I mentioned, redevelopment is much needed and I appreciate that this city (and this city block) has undergone tremendous changes (even in the short time I've lived here).  Fort McMurray's first drugstore (which now sits in our local heritage park) used to sit on Franklin along this block.  So it's not like buildings haven't come and gone before.  I also appreciate that change must happen if the city is to attract more residents and have them stay long-term rather than just see them as part of the so-called "shadow population".

I've heard a lot of negative opinion about the arena project so I rather surprised (or perhaps I shouldn't be) to learn that city council voted to go ahead with the plan.  Leaving aside the fact that I get the distinct impression this was always going to be a done deal, no matter what, I think this arena will only make more of a mess of traffic downtown.  Various proposed solutions to garner enough parking don't have me convinced this is a good idea and if I've heard it correctly, a traffic feasibility study hasn't even been completed.  To be fair, there are plans to redevelop some of the arteries into downtown but it seems the cart is being put before the proverbial horse here as this arena is slated to be opened for 2016.  I'm not saying an arena is a bad idea in and of itself, but its proposed location just seems wacky, for lack of a better word.   Nearby MacDonald Island (home of the largest rec. centre in Canada, I shamelessly add) would seem a much more logical location to me anyway.

The other problem I have is the expropriations that will take place to acquire the rest of needed space.  Affected by this are an A&W, The Keg restaurant and a law office.  I'm pretty sure the law office was represented at the council hearing last night.  Normally I don't care for lawyers, but having read the argument posted on another blog, I have to say this lawyer actually makes a lot of sense.  So along with a law office, our downtown will be losing two eating establishments in a town that is already hard-pressed for eating out.  Plus, and this is where my upbringing as a child of business owners kicks in, I just don't like the idea of public officials having these God-like powers to boot out businesses.  Its not like council members  will be out of work the day after the expropriation order goes through.  (I should add that, to their credit, two councillors saw fit to vote against this insanity.  Councillors Meagher and Kirchner, you have my vote in the next election.)  We already have Mac Island (for conventions, civic events, and sport) and the Casman Centre, where our Junior A team plays so another major venue just seems a tad superfluous.

Sorry, but if the city wants to encourage me to spend more time (and I also assume, money) downtown, this arena plan just isn't going to do it.  Another large rec centre is in the works not too far from where I live here in Thickwood so odds are I'd be much more likely to use that one then to venture downtown.  Plus, we also have Mac Island and the Casman Centre.  Really, how many ice surfaces does a city of 80,000 need?

Speaking of Mac Island, I know there was a great deal of controversy surrounding its construction with all the delays and the workers camp that sprouted up there to accommodate all the needed workers.  I've heard it argued, that, hey, there were a lot of naysayers that said the idea of a rec. complex on MacDonald would never fly, but look at it now.  So apparently, this arena project will turn out just the same.  But just because things turned out positively in the case of Mac Island doesn't, in my view, mean it will happen again here.  Much different circumstances and issues this time around, so its an apples versus oranges kind of argument to me.

I'd like to hope I'm wrong about this.  Really, I would. but my inner cynic just has me thinking otherwise.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rooftop Campout 2013

One of the things that impresses me about Fort McMurray is how generous the community is when it comes to supporting various charities. Its a little-known fact that on a per capita basis Fort McMurray residents have been the biggest supporters of organizations such at United Way for a number of years. Unfortunately, good things like this often get forgotten in the sea of ignorance and negativity that the city can get in the media.

When I heard a group of local firefighters (6 in all i believe) had been camping out on the rooftop of a local pub to raise money for local charities here I made a point of stopping by to say hello yesterday and make a donation, of course. The guys have spent a couple of chilly nights up there (it dropped into the minus teens last night and we picked up a centimetre or two of snow) and the event wraps up on Sunday.  I work outside, and while I've never done much in the way of cold weather camping, I definitely feel for them. Among the charities benefiting from their efforts here are the Fort McMurray Food Bank, Santas Anonymous, the Centre of Hope and the Boys and Girls Club of Fort McMurray. Added to the list this year is Powerchair Football.

A boot lowered down the side of the building was used to collect donations from passers-by and I heard on a local radio station that union local has thrown out a challenge to other unions to see which one can contribute the largest donation.

I imagine it was a cold night for them last night but they were in good spirits when I stopped by.  They enthusiastically obliged me a photo when I told them I'd give them a shout-out on my blog.

Friday, April 5, 2013

No More Oil Can

The final chapter on a well-known downtown fixture was written this past week as the Oil Can Tavern was demolished after having sat vacant since last summer.  The building had been around since the 1930's, and for good or for ill, helped give Fort McMurray its reputation as a boom town.

Even in death, there remains some controversy as the block on which it is located is part of a downtown redevelopment plan involving the construction of a 6000-7000 seat arena.  I'm not sure of the wisdom of such a structure smack dab in the downtown core in a city already plague with traffic and parking issues but I'll leave that debate for another day.

I'm sure there are quite a few people who have lived here much longer than me that stopped to look and perhaps recall some stories surrounding the former pub and the role it played in the fabric of our ever-changing city.

Monday, March 25, 2013


One of my tenants gave me a good chuckle when she pointed out that I have more boots than women have shoes.  I never really paid much attention to just how many pairs of boots I own until I stood back from the doorway and realized just how many were taking up residence in my front foyer.  In my defense, they all serve a utilitarian function rather than a vanity function.  Two pairs of summer work boots, my winter work boots, my Sorels, a pair of winter boots for my days off and another pair of winter boots I own just because.  If memory serves me correctly, I also have another pair of Sorels and a pair of rubber boots somewhere down in the basement somewhere.

For the record, I own one pair of running shoes.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Definite Model Potential

In case you're not privy to my Facebook page, here is a re-post of one of my favorite photos of Gabriel. Okay, so every photo is my favorite, but I especially like this one.  Gotta love those eyes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 with chopsticks

I was well into my teenage years before I felt comfortable wielding a pair of chopsticks and a young adult before I required a taste for sushi.  Not so for the boy.

Of course its okay to cheat every now and then when good food is involved.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

You Can Always Count on the Government to Let You Know Where You Stand

It is with a great deal of disappointment and frustration that I hear about the Alberta government's decision to cut the $300 million slated for upgrades to Highway 881 from its 2013 budget.  It really is ridiculous that our region, in many ways the economic engine for not only this province, but the entire country, should have to be short-changed with such pathetic highway routes.  Our two local MLA's, both members of the governing PC's, really should give their heads a shake.

While Highway 63 is slated to be twinned by 2016 (I'm still holding my breath on that), Highway 881 also plays an important role in our region.  Not only does it provide an alternate route to Fort McMurray but it also provides vital road access for the smaller communities of Conklin, Janvier and Anzac, all three of which I've been to.

This past winter season has been pretty bad in terms of fatalities on both highways.  I know I haven't really blogged about it but there was a period of time where it seemed I heard about accidents every other day.  It reminded of the issue of suicide I dealt with on an all too regular basis when I was living in Nunavut.  After awhile, you just become numb to it.

I wonder how many fatalities it will take before the government truly wises up?  I really hope 114 is enough.  That's the total number of fatalities that have occurred on both 63 and 881 from 2003 until the present, according to the Coalition for a Safer 63 and 881 website.  You can see a map plotting all the accident sites here.  Too many red crosses....too many.  Those 114 deaths work to about one per month.  And again, these crosses only represent accident sites, not casualty numbers.  I've driven on every stretch of 881 and 63 in the region and its difficult to wrap my head around how many accident sites I've been by in even my short time here.  Very tragic and sad.

Of course our local MLA's have lived here much longer than I have so what do I know?  I'm sure we'll hear the whole spiel from them about how "Well, Fort McMurray is my home too and I find this all very troubling"  yadda yadda.  I'd like to think that if it really mattered, they would have stood up for our region and done a better job and making sure these sorely needed infrastructure funds weren't gutted.  But then, we've been stuck with the same government here since the Ark so really, what can you expect?

Yup, you can always count on government to let you know where you and your community stands in the grand scheme of things.


Saturday, March 2, 2013


I meant to do this post earlier in the week but just got a bit busy so here goes...

With Highway 63 as our only land link to the rest of the province it handles a lot of big loads heading to the many oil sands projects in our region.  I've lost track of the number of times I've encountered wide loads and other impressive and unusual objects making their way along the highway.  I can only imagine the logistics involved in getting some of those loads to their final destinations which is why I find the story of "Modzilla" fascinating.  What exactly is Modzilla?

About a week ago I starting hearing through the grapevine at work as well as an online forum about a ginormous load which would be making its way up Highway 63  from Edmonton.  It left last Monday and was due to hit city limits in the wee hours of Friday morning, though apparently it got delayed along the way and actually passed through here early this morning.  The load is reported to be twice the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool,  about 85 metres long, 11.5 metres high, 8.9 metres wide and weighing a mere 780 tonnes.

I entertained notions of heading out to see it (my inner 10-year-old came out in spades) but not knowing exactly when it would pass by the bottom of the hill here plus the fact my camera is lousy at night photography plus the reality that I did have to work this weekend made this impossible.  I have no idea exactly what this particular vessel was for, only that it was heading up to the project at Kearl Lake.  I'm hard-pressed to think of any other places in Canada where a motorist would encounter something like this while out for a drive.

While I wasn't able to see the vessel in person, I was able to come across some photos of the rig as it made its way up the highway, which you can find here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oops, Wrong Address

Next month will mark 3 years since I've owned my house here and in that time I have to say the house has had a strange relationship with Canada Post.  Occasionally, I still have mail show up in my box addressed to the previous owner.  Of course, this has more to do with the actions of said previous owner than Canada Post but I still find it amusing.  I've had mail show up for the young couple that moved in next door to me last year and mail for a house one street over that shares the same house number but different street name.  Both street names do start with the same letter but one is an animal and the other shares a name with my alma mater.  I actually got so much mail for this place that I went for a walk one day just out of curiosity to see where this other place was and if it even existed. Turns out it does.   I'm not sure why my house seems to attract all this errant mail.

I only bring this up because of a funny little episode that happened today when I got home from work.  A note was left by a tenant saying that some guy was going to show up at the house in the early evening about his mail.  I thought this was weird because I hadn't received anything unusual in the past little while.  It all became clear when the guy came to my door.  He was new to the city, only just moved to a place on the other end of my street a few days ago.  Apparently a friend of his had mailed him a small parcel but he had given him my house number which was one digit off from his.  So could I please watch out for it and let him know when it arrives and I do apologize and feel rather sheepish yadda yadda yadda.  No worries I assured him.  If the parcel doesn't fit in the box my tenant who works nights will be home even though I'll be at work so, hey, not a problem.

Much relieved the man went on his way.  I had to chuckle, wondering how someone could screw up their own house number but I suppose these things do happen.  One last little quirk to the story.....this fellow and I shared the same first name and the first last initial.

I'll just file this one under "odd".

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eyes of Blue and Almost 2!

Hard to believe that someone is almost 2!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Valley Views

With today's weather bright and sunny and temperature flirting with the freezing mark, its hard to believe that about 3 weeks ago things were so frigid.  I decided to take advantage of things while I could and head out on a trail along the lip of the valley.  This section of trail is one of my favorites and I don't get out on it nearly as much as I'd like.

As always, the views didn't disappoint.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bathroom Success!

I was beginning to think I'd never see the day but my bathroom is now complete.  (Okay, there's still the light fixture but that's a minor issue compared to the other things I needed to get taken care of.)  I had the new flooring installed this morning and got the new toilet put on late this afternoon to finish things off.

It's my first upgrading/reno I've ever done and I'm pretty impressed with the results if I do say so myself.  I was hoping to get it all taken care of for under $1000 and as an added bonus I managed to come in slightly under that.

And what a huge difference now!  From this........ this!

Much brighter and cleaner looking.  Rather than getting in and out as fast as I could I can now linger and enjoy the fruits of my labours.  (No, I haven't "christened" the toilet yet for those who were wondering.)  But at any rate, I can finally say.....Goodbye forever my old '80's bathroom!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Wow, I've been a bad blogger the past little while.  It's not that I don't have anything to write about but more to do with deciding what to write and then getting it down on paper so to speak.  That, plus my brain is a bit mushy after work on some days.  I promise to have something more substantive soon (yes, I know I promised that LAST time....but this time I really, REALLY promise) so in the meantime, I give you a random run down of thoughts....

1.  I blogged about going to work "in the field" in a previous post, which is scaffolder-speak for heading down into the plant to work with a scaffolding crew rather than just yard work.  To my frustration, I was told last week this wasn't going to happen.  Without rehashing details its just politics I suppose.  But apparently, now I might be going afterall.  Hopefully, I'll learn details of this tomorrow.  So I was promised something, told it wouldn't happen, not really told why it wouldn't happen and then told that, hey, it might happen afterall.  Is there an election campaign going on at the moment?  Because it kind of feels just like that. ;)

2.  My bathroom floor gets installed this Friday if all goes according to plan.  I can't wait to have this done as it seems to have taken forever.  My very awesome tenant even took some time out of his busy day to sink a few screws into the floor to take out the worst of the squeaks.  My excitement over this tells me that I'm getting old.  I joke at work about how all the 20-somethings talk about how they are going to this pub, that club etc. and how awesome it will be while I get giddy over a new bathroom floor as the highlight of my weekend.  Ah, the trials and tribulations of home ownership.

3.  I've been expanding my musical listening lately and have found some great keyboard stuff by Telemann.  Yes, I know my musical taste is stuck in the 18th century.  Telemann was a contemporary of Bach which goes a long way to explaining his modern-day obscurity to most people.  Which is a shame, really, because he really did write some catchy melodies.

4.  We've had an ungodly amount of snow this year.  I'm not looking forward to cleaning up the yard when it all melts.

5.  I've discovered the ride home from work is a great opportunity to do some reading.  (I'm on a bus, not driving a car, I should add).  Other than Farley Mowat and Stephen King I've never really focused on the books of a single author, but for the past year and a bit, I've gotten heavily into books by the Welsh author Ken Follett.  It started out purely by accident when I discovered his book "Fall of Giants" which quickly led to other, including "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End".  I'm now on about my 10th book or so.  I was never really into James Bond-type thrillers and I do find his writing style a bit annoying at times BUT many of them are historically-based to varying degrees and he writes good suspense so I find them damned hard to put down.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Belly of the Beast

While Eastern Canada is getting pummeled with snowy weather, I can say we've had our share of snow here this winter. Certainly, this is the most snow I've seen in my 4 winters out here. The mercury is due to creep up over the freezing mark in the coming days and while I'm grateful for a break from the intense cold we've experienced here of late, part of me can't help but wonder what kind of mess we'll have when all our snow starts to melt in the Spring.

I have quite the piles of snow piled up in the front yard here.  Fortunately, I'm pretty sure I have the biggest front yard on the street so I started out the winter season with plenty of space for piling snow, although now I'm starting to wonder just where I'll put it if we get much more.

Here is a shot from my bedroom window of the overhang from the roof.  The snow below isn't sitting on the lawn but it on top of the porch roof at my front door.   It gives me the feeling of staring out from the mouth of some large monster every time I peer out.

Here's a shot of the backyard (such as it is).  It's not exactly palatial but it is pretty private.  There's a fire pit somewhere under that big mound of snow to the bottom right.  I suspect I'll have quite the swampy mess back here when it all starts to melt since much of my backyard sits in the house's shadow for large parts of the day and it will take a lot of heat to melt and then evaporate everything.

Ever the optimist, though, as I said, it is nice to have some milder temperatures.  I'll definitely take it.  Perhaps a nice little wintry hike is in the plans for my days off here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Plans Gone Awry

I guess I'll never really understand some drivers out there and their need to speed.....regardless of weather conditions.  Frankly, I think I'll just stick with Bach.  I have a much easier time deciphering and analyzing 4- or 5-voice fugue than the brains of some people.  Granted, driving conditions in the region have been far from ideal this winter, but it just seems to me there's been a crazy outbreak of traffic delays and highway closures this winter.  I've actually lost track of how many times parts of either Highway 63 or 881 have been closed.  Yes, one instance was due to weather, but many more were due to traffic accidents.  I don't drive but I still have to travel 63 on a daily basis to get to work.  Thankfully, I have no reason to travel on 881.  (I used to live off of 881 prior to moving here so those who know me best know I'd rather stick a fork in my ear than go anywhere down in that general direction.)

Anyhow, I  had plans to see an Oil Barons game this evening but as it turns out, the game was canceled.  The bus carrying the opposing team from Lloydminster got stuck behind an accident on highway 881.  So no game tonight.  I'm not saying driver error was responsible in this instance though I have my suspicions.  The team was apparently going to host a skate with the team in lieu of the game but since  me skating is like a woman in her final moments of pregnancy (in pain and screaming if not heavily drugged) I decided to take a pass on it.