Thursday, September 29, 2011

Life Will Never Be The Same

As of this past Tuesday (my sister's birthday no less), we no longer have a stationary baby. Gabriel is now on the move! Not only can he now do a control roll over, he has now started to "commando crawl". He makes out pretty good for himself on the laminate floor in the living room. ( I only wish I knew where our dear camera wandered off to.) I've known Elijah since he was 6 months old and recall him starting his commando crawl when he was around 7 months, shortly after we moved out here to Alberta. Gabriel officially turns 6 months old tomorrow so he has surprised us all with his early start. If he is anything like his older brother he will be up on his feet pretty soon. I remember Elijah progressing from "commando crawling" to pulling himself up onto his feet within a very short span of time.

So now Gabriel is on the move. I'm pretty sure we've nailed down everything thing that needs to be nailed down already but I'm sure we'll be double-checking just to be sure. Welcome to a new mobility, Gabe. The world is on the move.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear Keystone Pipeline Protester

Hey good job at getting arrested! I guess you didn't think about how your big hub bub protest would be eaten up by the media and become a story it itself, shifting focus off your message. Oops. It must be frustrating for you. How, much gas did you burn just getting yourself and and your goofy little sign to this supposedly "historic" protest? Since you seem so adamant about climate change can we expect to see you next protesting big oil in, say, the Niger Delta? If you truly believe in your convictions, why don't you go there and protest? After all, Nigeria's environmental record is much more worthy of attention don't you think? What goes on in the Niger Delta makes the Deepwater Horizon disaster pale in comparison. The US buys something like 40% of its oil from that country. Don't you think its more ethical from an environmental and humanitarian standpoint for the Americans to import oil from Canada? I mean really, they need to buy it from somewhere. So where? Russia, with its freedom of the press? Venezuela, where they oppress and brutalize their indigenous peoples? Saudi Arabia, where they chop people's heads off and have such a stellar record of women's rights? Iran, perhaps? Where? Just easier to stay in Canada and protest in safety and security I suppose. Hey, Fort McMurray is in Canada? Why don't you come and protest here? It's a city of around 100 000 give or take so its not like you wouldn't get major media coverage here.

No takers? Yeah, I didn't think so. Ever heard of Wapisiw Lookout? Its the first reclaimed tailings pond out here at Suncor. Even former founder and ex-Greenpeace leader, Patrick Moore, was supportive. Ouch, that has to sting. I drive by it everyday. So all these propaganda pictures I see you carting around on your little signs are a little foreign to me. I see deer, coyote, bear, foxes and all different types of birds there. Really, you should get away from Parliament Hill and come take a look for yourself. (The politicians there don't really care about you anyway.)

So, please, don't deny me and many other hard-working Canadians a living. We have families to support, bills and mortgages to pay...(Want to take over my mortgage? Yeah, didn't think so.) If you really want to go out and yell and scream about oil's environmental impact, feel free to yell and scream at the top of your lungs in downtown Abuja...that would be the capital of Nigeria, but seeing as most of your ilk come across as little more than pompous, arrogant know-it-alls, I'm sure you were already aware of that.) Kindly move along. Tomorrow I along with many others, will head off to work to support our families. Please don't take bread off my table...thanks.

I will agree with you on one thing though, that oily odour you come across in our little neck of the Athabasca really does occur. But it has nothing to do with oil sands development or pipelines like the one you protest. Oil has been seeping naturally out of the ground for time immemorial...If you go back to the early explorers, like Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson or Peter Pond, they all mention this in their writings. Its kind of how they figured out there were oil sands here in the first place.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Forest Fire Season Continues

We've had quite the forest fire season here this year, beginning back in May with a number of smaller fires north of the city which eventually joined forces into a single "super fire". This fire, which began on or about May 14, scorched something in the neighborhood of 700 000 square hectares before being brought under control. By comparison to the fire which ravaged Slave Lake this past summer, this one was a monster, the big difference of course being that here we have huge areas of boreal forest and little in the way of private property in the way.

Throughout the summer I blogged several times about the fire situation. (See here, here, here, here and here. ) After a few weeks of excitement during which I heard occasional talk of evacuation notices for outlying communities, things settled down.

Now it seems, Mother Nature is taking one more kick at the cat as I heard news this afternoon of a new fire this afternoon which has closed a section of HIghway 63. I can't lay claim to a lot of first-hand knowledge other than what was already been reported by the Edmonton Journal and Vancouver Sun.

Normally I might be freaked out that the highway has been closed (Highway 63 is the primary link between the city and the rest of the province) but I know its not the first time an event like this has occurred, the fire is much smaller than the big one earlier this summer and winter is really just around the corner. So I take this latest development with interest and amusement.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)...One Year On

In September 2010, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo brought in a by-law banning the use of single-use plastic bags at most retail stores here. I believe there are a few exceptions involved but since I don't do a whole lot of shopping, I'm not sure on the exemptions. Anyhow, I originally intended to comment on all this last year but I thought I'd give it time. September 1 marked the one-year anniversary of this by-law so before too much time goes by and I find myself commenting at the two-year-anniversary mark, I better give it a go here.

Initially, I wasn't too sure how the by-law would be received. We've become such a "throw away" society. Plastic bag usage sure is convenient, though I found they have a nasty habit of accumulating (usually in the cupboard under the sink or some other such cupboard I rarely opened back in the day) and creating headaches. I recall my aunt taking reusable bags with her while grocery shopping in Zurich when I went to visit her back in 2007. Clearly, they were light-years ahead of us there, and when I raised the subject with her she told me that it was just a part of everyday routine there.

(I temporarily interrupt this post to add that this by-law was the brainchild of a local high school student and I had the pleasure of meeting this intelligent and well-spoken young man last year while I was doing a little substitute teaching at his school.)

So initially, yes, when the bag ban came into effect, it took an effort to make it part of my routine. I know for myself there were many times I'd run into a store to pick up a few items and leave with two very full armfuls of items. I know I wasn't the only Fort McMurrayite who did this. It needs to be said that you can purchase reusable bags at major retailers like Safeway, Sobeys and Walmart, but not so easily at smaller places. Anyhow, it didn't take many days of aching arms before I began to make a habit of taking bag along in case I needed to grab something. Of course Lisa has more foresight than I normally do and we typically we keep our bags on a convenient shelf in the closet within arms reach, or more usually, just keep them in the back of the van, before shopping trip.

I'm not sure how popular the ban is here in the city generally as I have to admit I haven't been doing a good job with keeping up with the local media. I have heard some grumbling in some quarters that people eventually wind up with 20-30 bags in their house when they forget to take shopping bags with the them on a regular basis and have to re-purchase new ones. Last month, the municipality hired a firm to do a review of the ban. I just haven't heard anything back on that yet.

Fellow blogger, Theresa, next to whom my writing skills pale and is more tuned in to local events than I have been the past few weeks, has commented on this issue a few times here and here and I suspect the subject will be re-visited there as perhaps it will be on other local blogs. At present, the ban doesn't bother me and I do find some of the objections rather silly. Fort McMurray often gets such negative press that what gets lost in all the noise is the fact that our city was one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to enact a by-law like this. And I think it's a positive step.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Summer Waterfowl

With amazing speed the weather is starting to turn. I should be well used to it by now but it still comes as a shock. Last weekend the mercury was in the low 30C range and now I start work with temps hovering around zero. We've even had our first fall experiences with frost. Seeing numerous geese and other waterfowl beginning the fall migration, I found myself longing for my next opportunity to get out and see some non-passerines. Quite likely it will be some time now.

In the meantime I'll just have to satisfy myself with a few photos I came across from a couple summer ago during our move here from Ontario. They're a bit dark as the sun was quickly setting and I won't pretend to be a great birding photographer but they do bring back good summer memories as what is left of our mild weather quickly fades. These photos were all taken during the summer of 2009 during an overnight stop in Longlac, Ontario.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gabriel: A Love Story

I loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you. In that moment you were so perfect, so fragile, so innocent, so wondrous, so beautiful. When you look at me and smile it makes my heart glad. When you sleep I feel your peace. Everyday I see you growing up...and it makes me both happy and sad at the same time. More than anything, it makes me feel proud. I love you son.

You have a mommy and daddy a sister and two brothers that love you more than anything. You have made our family complete. Know that you can accomplish anything in life you set your mind to.

May you share in my successes.....and learn from my mistakes. May you have the strength of an angel.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Whoa! Now that looks scary!

A couple days ago I made a quip on my Facebook page about how it seems my work follows me around. I never really paid much attention to scaffolding though I recall walking under many a scaffolding structure as a kid on a busy street and gazing upward in curiosity. Now that I'm in the industry I tend to notice a lot more, which I suppose is quite understandable -- there's scaffolding EVERYWHERE out at site, as well as in town here. I saw it last time I was in the local mall (which was having the top floor renovated) and the book I'm reading at the moment makes references to it. (The book centres around the construction of a 12th century English cathedral...yes I KNOW that might sound like a mundane read but it actually is quite a good story.) Even during my regular reading of favorite blogs on my sidebar, I came across references to scaffolding in Kara's most recent post.

So I notice scaffolding alot. Which is why I find it odd that there are people that have no inkling about what scaffolding is. Like a lady I spoke to on the phone a couple months ago regarding my credit card. ("Scaf.....fold? Scaf....fold?? I don't even know what that is.") Can you believe it? I know, I was shocked too. So there you have the genesis of this post.

So what is scaffolding?

Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to access unsafe work areas, such as the construction/repair of buildings and other large structures. Construction workers, electricians, pipe fitters, welders, painters, insulators, siding installers....all these trade people make use of scaffolding to perform their jobs. Michelangelo made use of scaffolding while he worked on the Sistine Chapel. While there are many types of systems out there, scaffolding consists of the same basic parts - standards (the uprights that hold the structure up), ledgers (which attach to standards and run parallel to the ground, providing a stable base to attach your planks to) and braces of various size to provide lateral support. There are also many different lengths of tube, several smaller parts (which in a nut shell help hold all the larger components together and tie the structure into the building) and a few specialty pieces (which I won't pretend to know all of).

What is scaffolding made out of?

Much of what I see on a daily basis and am familiar with is made of either aluminum or some sort of composite material. Apparently in some parts of Asia, they use scaffolding made out of bamboo, as in the picture below.

Where is scaffolding most commonly used?

That depends. In major cities such as Vancouver or Toronto....housing construction. In a place like Sarnia, Ontario or here in Fort McMurray, its apt to be used for more industrial-related purposes.

How long does it take to become a journeyman?

I can only speak for Alberta but here you apprentice for 4 years before becoming a journeyman (upon successful completion of your final tests of course.) I can also add here that it can be difficult to go between provinces and have your qualifications recognized. I don't know all the ins-and-outs but I know our trade isn't the only one affected by petty inter-provincial bureaucracy and politics.

Does scaffolding pay well?

Well, it helps pay my bills and without going into too much detail I find it comparable to some of the salaries I used to earn in my past career in education. A 1st year apprentice starts out at around $23/hour. A journeyman rate I believe is in the neighborhood of $40/hr and the general foreman rate through the company I work for is in the $50/hour range. It will never make me a millionaire but like any other trade, if you're determined and hard-working you can do well for yourself. Due to all the oil sands activity, Fort McMurray is most certainly the best place in Canada to be involved in the scaffolding trade.

And a question I seem to be getting a lot lately..Are you planning to go out into the field?

That I haven't decided yet, although eventually probably yes. My decision will be based on how I can best provide for my family. I started out last fall working in the main scaffolding yard at Suncor. Recently I was promoted to part-time foreman and next month my basic yard worker rate will see a rather nice raise. Going out into the field will mean giving up my foreman position and drawing a smaller salary although in the long run, going out into the field will pay off if I were to become a journeyman. (Plus, because I have some familiarity with all the different materials, I would be able to go out into the field as a second-year apprentice rather than starting out at the bottom.) I can also add here (and this will come across as strange I know) that I am a little afraid of heights. Yes, I know. Perhaps I didn't completely think things through here. Although I should say that it has gotten better in recent years. (And this won't be a factor in any final decision I make.) Last week I was down in one of the plants helping with a massive tear down and spent part of the morning a good 40-50 feet off the ground without any great trouble.

So anyhow, there you have it. I won't pretend to know more than I know. I do know that I approached the trade with some apprehension a year ago as it lay well outside the line of work I was used to. With familiarity things become a lot less scary. I certainly don't mind the physical aspects of it. As it says on my hard hat, "Labor Vincit Omnia" -- Hard Work Conquers All.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


A few family photos taken at a bridge down along the Birchwood Trails, part of the same shoot I mentioned in last Thursday's post.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

4 Month Photo Shoot

We've been eagerly awaiting the latest installment of family photos. Lisa picked them up today and we are very pleased with the results...well worth the wait. Here are a few of my favorites. Okay, they are all my favorites but I'm sure a proud father can be forgiven for thinking that.