Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Future of the Snye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bridge Nostalgia

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thanks for Cancelling Our Fair

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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Remembering Dieppe

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

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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Valley View

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

Athabasca River looking south toward the golf course.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Waiting For Godot

I've been watching the past couple weeks especially as the little berries on my ash trees begin to ripen.  Even this evening they are more red than the orange they appear in the photo here.  Long work shifts over the summer months so far have meant I've really had precious little time to do much hiking, though I certainly have taken full advantage when opportunities arise.  My trees' berry bounty reminds me that soon I won't have to venture out as far as they will attract grosbeaks and especially waxwings once fall begins to turn to winter.  Unlike the enigmatic Godot in the Samuel Beckett play, seeing these birds is a sure thing.  I don't think urban life has softened me that much but I do appreciate the chance to observe my favourite birds from the comfort of my livingroom or bedroom.

On another note, I am likely off this weekend for a change.  I probably could work it but it would mean another 18-day shift and I've done plenty of those this summer and the cooler morning temperatures are a good reminder that summer is slowly beginning to wane.  I definitely won't be bored on my days off as I have plenty of things on my "to do" list.  Ugly bathroom floor, you are on notice.  Your imminent replacement is fast approaching!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Baby Boom

Apparently after 10- and 12-hour shifts, not everyone is feeling the long day and many still have plenty of energy to make babies.  How else to explain a record number of babies born in the city here last month?

I find this interesting for many reasons, chiefly because this exposes the myth that Fort McMurray is only a boom town full of  hard-drinking men as the nonsensical crap that it is.  Of course I already knew of the rather impressive number of children seeing their first light here 16 months ago when my own son was born here.