Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year It's Been

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions but I do like to take a look back and evaluate things as I move forward.  December 31, as it has been rather arbitrarily chosen to end the year seems to be just as good of a time to take a look back as any other day, so here goes...

The price of oil falling quite substantially has obviously been a big story this year, affecting not only our economy but my community.  It's certainly given me a few moments of angst and I find myself checking the price of oil on an almost daily basis once I get home from work.  I count myself among the fortunate and while I don't mind things being a little less frenetic here, particularly compared to how it was when I first moved here, I certainly don't want to see things flat-line completely.  It will be interesting to see what 2016 has in store for us.

On a much more positive note, I finished paying off a lot of debt this year, particularly timely as it turns out given the down turn.  I can head in to the new year breathing a sign of relief with a little less stress and not having to fret so much about the lack of overtime.  In short, I can enjoy life a bit more, which, while I haven't exactly blogged about it a great deal, is something I've come to understand as something I need to focus more on as I get older.  On the plus side,  I've proven to myself that I can take on adversity and that I'm much tougher than I sometimes give myself credit for.

It was a great year for birding, as I mentioned in my previous post.  I had hoped for a modest 40 sightings this year and I managed to do that, thanks in part to a couple of timely visits to British Columbia.  With luck I'll be able to squeeze in a couple more outings in the new year and with a little luck, hit 50 sightings.

I've also figured out a nice way to see some concerts, although the ACTUALLY SEEING THEM part won't start happening for another couple of weeks yet.  I'm eagerly awaiting my first ticket to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to arrive and hope they did get too caught up in the Christmas mailing rush.   I have a feeling I"m really going to enjoy a few concerts over  the coming months.  Rather than just thinking about going I decided to get down to business and come up with a plan to get down to see some good music.

And while surviving potential layoffs, expanding bird lists and seeing great music are wonderful things, they still pale beside the best news of all this year....namely, that my mother can count herself as a cancer survivor.  A year ago, things looked rather bleak and up in the air.  Being three provinces away while Mom did her chemo and made countless trips in to Toronto and having to rely on phone calls and social media for updates did have its stresses at times.  Mom's cancer was inoperable and aggressive.  Asking the dreaded question about what would happen should the chemotherapy fail is not easy since you know what the answer is going to be.  Skipping along merrily through life and then all of a sudden being faced with the potential loss of a very close family member has a way of forcing you to re-evaluate your priorities and not sweat the minutiae of every day life.   The only drawback to the chemo was that while it killed the cancer, it also wreaked havoc on her salivary glands which makes eating more a challenge but given the alternative...

In short, 2015 was a roller-coaster of a year.  Plenty of ups and downs to be sure but given some of the personal challenges I've faced in the past few years, fortunately nothing I can't handle.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Bird List

2015 was quite a roller coaster of a year it seemed but in terms of birding, I have little to complain about.  Keeping a list of the birds I see in a year is a fairly new thing for me as I think I'm up to a grand total of 3 annual lists.  It was a great year in terms of number of species seen and the number of sightings of species I had never seen before as well as species I hadn't seen in a long time.  While I got off to a slow start, a couple of trips this past summer to BC as well as some luck around the house helped to push my birding list for the year up to a grand total of 46 species....small but respectable.  And of course I look forward to 2016 to top that number.

Barring any last-minute additions (which are looking extremely doubtful at this point) here is my species list for 2015, more or less in chronological order..........

1.  Pine Grosbeak - 1 Jan.
2.  Hairy Woodpecker - 1 Jan.
3.  Bohemian Waxwing - 3 Jan.
4.  Common Raven - 4 Jan.
5.  Blue Jay - 4 Jan.
6.  Black-billed Magpie - 8 Jan.
7.  Chickadee - 14 Jan.
8.  House Sparrow - 14 Jan.
9.  Evening Grosbeak - 15 Jan.
10. Herring Gull - 7 Apr.
11. Hoary Redpoll - 9 Apr.
12. Canada Goose - 9 Apr.
13. Slate-coloured Junco - 19 Apr.
14. Common Grackle - 22 Apr.
15. Mallard - 24 Apr.
16. American Robin - 1 May
17. Tree Swallow - 8 May
18. Chipping Sparrow - 9 May
19. Red-winged Blackbird - 12 May
20. Barn Swallow - 9 Jun.
21. Pileated Woodpecker - 13 Jun.
22. Northern Flicker - 13 Jun.
23. Rufous Hummingbird - 13 Jun.
24. Bank Swallow - 13 Jun.
25. Marsh Wren - 14 Jun.
26. American Coot - 14 Jun.
27. Blue-winged Teal - 14 Jun.
28. Cinnamon Teal - 14 Jun.
29. Yellow-headed Blackbird - 14 Jun.
30. Ruddy Duck - 14 Jun.
31. White-winged Scoter - 14 Jun.
32. Cedar Waxwing - 14 Jun.
33. Yellow-Rumped Warbler - 14 Jun.
34. Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 14 Jun.
35. Rock Dove - 15 Jun.
36. White-crowned Sparrow - 23 Jun.
37. European Starling - 11 Jul.
38. Great Blue Heron - 11 Jul.
39. Bonaparte's Gull - 11 Jul.
40. Western Tanager - 11 Jul.
41. Yellow-Breasted Chat - 11 Jul.
42. Red-tailed Hawk - 12 Jul.
43. Ring-billed Gull - 13 Jul.
44. Yellow Warbler - 18 Jul.
45. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 23 Jul.
46. Common Redpoll - 6 Dec.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A "Concerted" Effort

It's not quite the new year yet but I'm committed to making an effort to expand my horizons and take in some more live music.  It's been over six years since I've actually attended a symphony of any sort and while I tend to listen to smaller ensembles rather than full-fledged orchestral works, I decided to take the plunge and not let a concert season pass by without seeing anything, especially when we have two fine orchestras in the form of the Edmonton Symphony and the Calgary Philharmonic.  Once I got digging around looking at concert schedules I was amazed at just how many great works were being performed on my days off and getting down to see them wasn't going to be as much of a logistic nightmare than I thought.

As it turns out, there are more concerts by the CPO that fall on my days off than Edmonton Symphony ones.  If all goes according to plan, I should at least be able to attend a couple ESO performances and indeed I already have a ticket for a concert there in a little over three weeks' time.  Edmonton works well as I can head down the day of the concert, spend the night and return the following day which works wonderfully for my work schedule.  Plus, they have a performance later in the spring of Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4, which I don't think I've ever heard live, so of course I can't really pass that up.

As for Calgary, it's a mere 12-hour bus ride away so I'm planning on spending a couple of over-nights  so I can actually enjoy the concert without fitting too much travel into too short of a time span.  I'm actually very excited for my Calgary performances as they include some big works I've known about going back several years, even as far back as childhood.  There are a couple of concerts where I won't be able to avoid booking a couple days off work but seeing they happen to be Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Bach's B Minor Mass, I'd pretty much WALK to Calgary to see them if I had to.

These concerts aren't until later in the spring so I have plenty of time to finalize travel arrangements.  If all goes according to plan, my first concert attendance at the Calgary Philharmonic will be a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg but I won't list everything I'm hoping to see.  But if I do manage to see just the pieces I've mentioned here I know I'll be more than happy.  As an interesting side note, I actually know the choir director and the artistic director of the Calgary Philharmonic as they are both University of Windsor alumni.  Small world indeed.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Enough is Enough

I'll admit I can be quite passionate about politics.  I don't mind voicing my opinion or being blunt and telling a politician when I think they are wrong, and I'm pretty sure I've been struck off the Christmas gift list of more than a few government MP's or MLA's since moving here.  But intimidation and threats just go way over the line in my books.  It's great to have an opinion and to express it but when all you can do is to resort to such base actions you cheapen political discourse, turn people off, and frankly, make yourself look like a bloody idiot.  I've certainly had my share of invective hurled at me between my two blogs and I know I don't have time for cowards who hide behind the anonymity of their computer screen.  Except, perhaps not quite so anonymous since the Mensa geniuses who do this via Facebook certainly put themselves at a greater risk of being "outed".  While I was part of one anti-government social media group that I've seen mentioned in media as a source for earlier threats to the Premier, I ended up leaving the group after seeing the sheer amount of vitriolic, crass and simply illogical reasoning on it and becoming a bit of a target myself after some vain attempts at trying to restore some sanity.

To be sure, I've called a former education minister a bigot (because given his stance on the bullying of gay students in schools what else can I call him?), I've even been harsh on our local MP and I think our current provincial environment minister is a self-absorbed drama queen but threatening them because you disagree with their politics is beyond ridiculous.  We had a democratically-held election last spring.  You may not have gotten the result you wanted (I didn't) but there are better ways to express your disappointment and displeasure than this.  Come on Alberta.  We are better than this.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Candid Thoughts on Being an Oil Patch Worker and Owning a Home in Fort McMurray Part III

At the start of the year I wrote a couple posts about living and working here in a time where the price of oil has cooled considerably and I thought I'd give a little update, if only to show that my lack of blogging hasn't meant that I've fallen off the planet. The one thing that I find myself doing on an almost daily basis is checking the price of oil.  I was hoping it would level off a few months ago after taking its big dive and stabilize in the $40-$50/barrel range but no.  With oil currently sitting at a little over $35/barrel I'm reminded at just how volatile things still are.

I count myself as rather fortunate that my work continues to be pretty steady.  It actually was quite busy this past fall as we had a large maintenance event and I've heard that we can expect more of these in the coming months.  I've been working 12-hour days for well over a year now and have become quite used to the routine of it and while I do occasionally complain, certainly working 12 hours a day is much better than working zero hours per day.  My employer's contract with Suncor doesn't expire until January 2017, so barring a complete disaster, I don't dwell things too much.

While I was accepted in to a Masters program at my old alma mater I decided for a number of reasons to forgo that for now.  I'm sure I'll apply again and take my MA but that just won't be right. now and I'm perfectly fine with that.  Given the economy, this isn't exactly the best time to sell a house and while I could have enlisted the services of a property manager while away studying, the idea of being an absentee landlord just doesn't sit well with me.  But hey, my mom beat cancer this year so it was a good reminder that there are more important things in life.

In the meantime, I've been able to get involved in a little volunteer work shovelling snow for an elderly couple just down the street from me and it feels nice to be able to do something to give back to my community even if just in a small way.  I've also found myself doing an insane amount of reading on my days off having discovered the wonders of  I'm getting into a few areas of history I avoided like the plague in university because they didn't appeal to me and I didn't think they would be all that interesting only to find that they are rather interesting after all and really do help to broaden my understanding.  I really do need a decent book shelf as the unit I have at the moment is proving to be grossly inadequate.

And while I did have a politically-oriented post of sorts in mind, I find myself retreating from politics at the moment, if only to give my brain a rest.  There are many things I've thought about commenting on from our government here to the Syrian refugee crisis but I'd rather not turn my blog into a political blog, and anyway, there are many talking heads out there as it is and I'd rather not muddy the waters even more than they already seem to be.

One good thing about things being a bit slower is that the city has really calmed down and doesn't seem to be as "go go go faster" as it was when I initially moved here.  The pace of life is a bit more manageable so for the short term, I don't mind it all that much.  At any rate, these are just a few random thoughts as I head in to another work shift.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10 Post-Election Thoughts

After a marathon of an election campaign that turned out to be more surprising than expected, I thought I'd post a few thoughts here as the 42nd general election becomes part of the history books.  Having lived in quite a few places in my working life and maintaining ties to a few of them I found myself paying attention to not only my own riding but a few others as well.  Then of course we had the Conservative implosion, the NDP evisceration and the Liberals rising from the dead.  Rather, than write too many paragraphs, I've decided just to focus on a few points that have occupied my thoughts.  

1.  David Yurdiga wins in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake - No real surprise here.  This is Alberta after all.    I found myself making many secret predictions as the campaign wore on and this was the only one that was a sure bet.   Obviously I'm no Yurdiga fan and would have loved to see a different result. But the people of the riding have spoken.  Interestingly, after the provincial election earlier this year, this leaves our region with both an provincial government and a federal government that runs against a long history here of voting for Tory.  It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.  Just how much influence Yurdiga will have now in Ottawa is anyone's guess as I would argue that he was just as useless during the last Parliament but time will tell.

2.  Cracks in the Tory's Alberta fortress? - I suspected the Liberals would pick up a seat or two here but the provincial NDP's gains here simply didn't translate onto the federal scene.  I think perhaps many Albertans saw what had happened in the provincial election and, sensing Liberals gains in other parts of the country, decided to vote Tory to counter-balance this.  At least, that's my interpretation of it.  At least we can be confident that the province won't be shut out of Cabinet in the next Parliament.

3.  Liberal majority - I'll leave the analysis to the pundits and political scientists but as late as a week ago, the concept of a majority, and especially a Liberal majority, never registered with me.  It's actually still sinking in for me as for the longest time I would have bet the farm on either a Tory or an NDP minority.

4.  When people vote, Canadians win - It was wonderful to see from media reports that the number of Canadians who voted in this election was the highest in 20 years.  Our riding here is notorious for having low voter turn outs.  In last years by-election, the participation rate was a ridiculous 15% and in the 2011 election it sat around 40%.  This year, however, just over 60% cast ballots.  I love to see people exercise their democratic freedom to vote regardless of whether I agree with their politics.

5.  Bye-bye Leona - Another riding I followed aside from my own was the Nunavut riding since of course I used to live there prior to moving to Alberta.  I knew Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq wasn't very popular their and would be in a tough race to win re-election against a strong bid from Liberal candidate Hunter Tootoo.  As an aside, I can say that I personally met both candidates while I lived up on Baffin Island.   In such a small population this is bound to happen but I still found it a pretty neat experience.  I remember Tootoo as a very effective MLA during Nunavut's first governments after splitting from the NWT in 1999.  The riding will be well-represented.

6.  Eastern Ontario surprises - If I had a "WTH" moment during election night, it would definitely have to be in regards to a trio of eastern Ontario ridings voting Liberal.  Granted, its been 15 years since I lived there but growing up this tended to be very strong Tory country.  Perhaps the boundary re-distributions had something to do with it, or people were just fed up and wanting change.  The Tories seemed to have a pretty commanding lead at the start of the campaign in Northumberland-Peterborough South, Peterborough-Kawartha, Bay of Quinte and Hastings-Lennox and Addington but blew huge tractor tire on election night.  The Liberals taking Peterborough-Kawartha I'm sure had a lot to do with the Dean del Mastro nonsense but seeing a big red blotch painted in the blue sea between Toronto and Ottawa is something I'm not used to seeing and wouldn't have predicted.

7.  Windsor/Essex stays NDP - I lived more or less permanently in Windsor, Ontario for 7 Herb Gray's old riding of Windsor West as a matter oaf fact.  There's no question the NDP are very strong here (and coming from small-town conservative Ontario I felt like a fish out of water, politically speaking) so I tended to keep my head down.  No real surprise the NDP did well here though I thought for awhile that neighbouring Essex County would vote Tory along with much of the rest of rural south-west Ontario.  I remember it always being a tight race between the NDP and the Tories and fortunately (if you are an NDP at least), the party was able to wrestle this seat back from the Conservatives.  Which was a good thing for them especially because.............

8.  NDP Evisceration - I expected the NDP to take a hit but I didn't expect them to fall this much....all the way to 44 seats.  While I'm not NDP fan I was hoping that they would at least be able to finish off the Bloc Quebecois and finally put them out of their misery but alas it was not to be.  I don't envy Mulcair and senior party leaders who are now faced with rebuilding the party almost from the ground up.  Certainly the loss of some long term MP's will be felt for some time.  They will still be a force in this next Parliament I'm sure but definitely not on the scale they were following the 2011 election.

9.  The rise of the Libertarians - As one who voted for a small party, and is interested in seeing it grow and thrive, I was great to see a big increase in the Libertarian vote.  While the party attracted some support back in the early '80's and billed itself as Canada's 4th party mainstream party, the rise of the Reform Party attracted a lot of it's right-wing away and pretty much killed off the Libertarians for a couple of elections.  This year, the party saw a whooping 522.72% increase in votes, from roughly 6000 total voted in 2011 to a little over 37,000 votes in 2015.  Yes, it's small, but I feel the party did a much better job at getting its message out and much of the party's success can be attributed to party leader Tim Moen, who actually used to live right here in Fort McMurray until recently.  I've always been interested in the formation and growth of small political parties and the entire process behind that but that is a whole other topic.

10.  New Prime Minister - And of course I couldn't complete this post with at least some thoughts on the Prime Ministers.  In an attempt to be as non-partisan as possible, I think Harper's wooden style just didn't work for many Canadians (and then there is a whole slew of Tory policy on top of that I'll just leave aside for now)  Clearly, Canadians were looking for change.  Will see this with Trudeau?  That remains to be seen of course.  I got the sense that Canadians went a little bit too American during the campaign and there was too much focus on the leader....the hold "cult of personality" vibe.  Leaders are important of course but they aren't the only component of a political party or a government.  I think that in the end, this focus on personality really came back to bite the Tories.  While there is much Liberal policy I disagree with I'm willing to give Trudeau an opportunity.  After all, the Tories under-estimated the guy and we saw the result of that the other evening.

Monday, October 5, 2015

David Yurdiga, The Wrong Choice for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake

Well.  I tried.  I honestly did.  I really was hoping to get through this federal election campaign without giving it too much mention.  But I now appears that I can no longer do that.  Recent unanswered queries on social media to my current MLA, David Yurdiga, have compelled to say something on the blog and not remain silent any longer.  Mr. Yurdiga has failed to inspire and I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I truly wonder just how interested David Yurdiga is in hearing from constituents when he fails to show up to candidates debates (in Cold Lake as well as Fort McMurray) and can't even be bothered to answer questions.  Recently I posed a few questions to our local candidates to gauge their position on some matters.  I did hear back from our NDP MLA as well as the candidate running for the Christian Heritage Party and while I won't be voting for either I did appreciate their feedback.  The CHP actually admitted he wasn't up to speed on the one issue regarding Nutrition North and while that's obviously not going to compel me to cast a vote for him, I will freely admit that his complete honesty was a breath of fresh air considering the dishonesty I'm used to seeing (If perchance you read this, you have my thanks, Mr. Roeloff).

Anyhow, back to Mr. Yurdiga.  It seems to me that he is merely following the Conservative playbook by dodging concerns and not making himself available at public forums.  While he maintains he wants to focus on door-to-door canvassing I can't help wonder if he wants to avoid situations where he is not in control.  If he meets an unreceptive response at the door he can just move on.  The only ones who knows about it are himself, the homeowner and and hangers-on who might be with him.  In a public forum of course, he can't control the questions asked and there are many other people in attendance as well as the media.  If studying politics has taught me anything it's that it is VERY important to control the message.  And yes, I'm aware that Mr. Yurdiga has had to take time off the campaign to aid an ailing wife.  I can empathize with that as my mom went through a battle with cancer over the past year. BUT, this issue of ducking out on debates preceded his hiatus and was even an issue noted here during last year's by-eleection.

I have questions regarding the country's (increasing) debt, the Conservative Party's weird fetish for focusing on wedge issues, Nutrition North, Senate reform and many others.  And yet, Mr. Yurdiga can't be bothered to address them.  I think this is absolutely shameful and disgusting.

Mr. Yurdiga, this is pathetic.  You will NOT be getting MY vote.  You don't deserve it.  You have taken a party that I grew up for voting and turned it in to a complete shambles and circus.  You have demonstrated through your action (or in this case your inaction) that you DO NOT care what constituents have to say.  Feel free to spin it however you wish but your sad attempts at justification fail to convince.

All your government's talk of "accountability" is downright laughable.  How appropriate that he was raised on a farm as the man was obviously born in a barn when it comes to manners.  Mr. Yurdiga, I don't know about YOUR so-called Conservative values but I was raised to believe that you own up for your actions and that you account them.  You have failed to do this.  I've even had an provincial NDP MLA drop me a message admitting his party made a mistake.  While supporting the NDP is too much of an ideological leap at least he manned up and admitted he was wrong.  I respect that. I really do.  But I have absolutely NO resect for a man who tried to pass himself as having his constituents' best interests in mind when all I've seen is the exact opposite.

Mr. Yurdiga's government likes to talk a lot about accountability but simply fails to deliver.  If you can't be bothered  to take FIVE minutes out of your day to answer even one question and address a concern you don't deserve my vote.  Clearly, you have seem to forgotten exactly who you work for.   You are a public servant.  I help pay your salary.  Therefore, YOU work for ME.  I shouldn't have to chase you down to get an answer.  If you don't like this simply reality than I strongly re-evaluate why exactly you are running to be a leader.  That's not leadership, Mr. Yurdiga.  It's an outright sham.   So do me a favour "sir".  Don't bother stopping by my door.  Don't bother to claim that you hold small town Conservative values.  You don't.  Don't bother claiming to represent me.  You don't.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rejecting Fear

For someone who's always taken a keen interest in politics, I know I've been remarkably silent during this election campaign.  Yes, there have been a few times where I've felt compelled to write something, usually out of outright frustration and yes, even anger.  I've held back though mainly because commenting on social media about something while angry usually isn't a very smart idea (as a few federal party candidates have by now discovered) and let's face voice is only one of several during this campaign.

I do have to say that I find it interesting how certain parties tailor their message to a certain audience. A few days ago, I came home to a political flyer in my mailbox.  It mentioned the oil sands, which is fine.  It IS a major employer here.  But that's ALL it mentioned.  As if there was nothing else that I might be interested in and that's all that matters to my community.  This party didn't seem interested in addressing other issues....I'm guessing this is because they are politically damaging to them and wold rather see them shovelled under the rug for the time being.  This is nothing new, I suppose.  Political parties have always done this.  But it seems to me that with so much social media out there that we are continually being fed a whole host of wedge issues that only serve to distract (or attempt to distract) from other issues.

With all the nonsense we've been fed regarding certain religions and the threat of crime and terrorism and "old stock" Canadians I felt compelled to speak out on my Facebook page.  I can't think of a better way to really put what I said here on the blog so I'll just quote verbatim what I wrote there...

"My brother is gay but it doesn't affect my life. He isn't trying to "recruit" me. One of my sisters is Christian She isn't trying to "convert me." Another sister is a hunter and firearms owner. She isn't a "gun nut". A guy at work is Muslim. He isn't trying to terrorize me. The guy with the locker next to me at work has a shaved head and looks like a gang member. He's taught me lots about the trade and is a soft-spoken guy who calls his wife during every break. She's a lucky woman. I work with a 6'4" Congolese guy who could fold me into an accordion if he wanted to but he has an awesome sense of humour and always asks me how my day is going. According to politicians, these are all scary dangerous people in one way or another. But if I followed their logic, my life would lack the richness and diversity that it has BECAUSE of these people."

And while I'm not blind to the fact that bad things happen I can't help but feel somewhat insulted by the constant stream of fear-mongering I've seen during the past several weeks.  I should add (and here I give away some  of my political biases) that I've always been somewhat Conservative and I've tended to vote that way in the past.  I grew up in small-town eastern Ontario where voting blue is pretty much part of your DNA.  The difficulty I've always had is their veiled sense of nativist and I dare say racist bs that to me, has only seemed to become more overt.  

I really wish the politicians that peddle this type of crap would get out and meet people.  Understand that every group is comprised of INDIVIDUALS.  (Which is a given that Conservatives like to pound away at the fact they are so pro-individual.) They are not all the same.  As I've discovered for myself, once you break out of your little cocoon and experience the bigger world, you will find all sorts of people who will enrich your life.  I know I have.

I think the one think that has made this election campaign the hardest for me is that while I fancy myself a fiscal conservative I am very much a social progressive, which makes for a certain level of cognitive dissonance in terms of how my views currently line up with what the major parties are peddling.  Thankfully, I have found a ideological home in a smaller party and while I don't agree with everything, its enough to make me want to vote for them and gives me hope that there is another way other than the garbage espoused by the traditional parties.  Anyhow, I digress.

As it stands, our current MLA will most likely be re-elected.  I could run my cat, a goat or a small screaming child (which is what most politicians seem to act like these days) under that party's banner and it would win.   I am heartened by the fact that we may very well end up with a minority government so he won't have it all his own way.  I suppose, the fear-mongering and negativity does motivate me in a way, just not in the way that a political party intends it to.  My MLA may not know who I am, but I can guarantee that he will know who I am as I have every intention of keeping the heat on him over the issues I care deeply about.

I don't appreciate a politician who ducks out on political debates. I don't appreciate a politician who apparently sees my community as a one-horse town.  I don't appreciate a politician who blatantly lies to me in an email response....and I certainly don't appreciate a politician who engages in fear-mongering.  We can do better than this.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Monchy Ten

One thing that I find both fascinating and frustrating about history is that no matter how much you read or think you know or how many history courses or degrees you have, you will never know it all.  I suppose that is why I feel motivated to read so much about it.  Just when you think you are getting a grasp on a topic, you learn something out of the of those "Wow, I never knew that!" moments.  I had just such a moment a couple days ago as I was reading through a general history of World War One. (Martin Gilbert's "The First World War: A Complete History" (2004) is a work I highly recommend if you are looking for a good readable overview of the conflict.  Yes, it is very British and yes, it tends to ignore the political side of things, but I digress.)

My "I never knew that moment!" occurred about halfway though the book and consisted of just one sentence actually.  After a nod to the Canadian efforts at Vimy Ridge, Martin gives the briefest of mentions to an action that occurred two days after the conclusion of this battle in the village of Monchy-le-Preux.  It was a victory snatched from the jaws of certain defeat and being the curious fellow that I am, I had to go searching for more information.

Having cleared the area around this village on the outskirts of Arras, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Essex Regiment (now the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment of Windsor, Ontario) were tasked with clearing the village itself.  After a successful attack, however, the two attacking battalions were met with such a fierce German counter-attack  that things almost ended in disaster.

Platoons were overrun and surrounded, and isolated from each other where they continued to fight until they either ran out of ammunition, were forced to surrender or were killed to the last man.  It wasn't until a runner from the Essex Regiment finally managed to get back to HQ that the commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Forbes-Robertson, got a full picture of the disaster that was unfolding.  Forbes-Robertson gathered up a small band of men from his HQ staff (mostly runners and signallers) and headed out into the fray.

What began as a small band of 20 soon became just 9 as they made their way forward between the houses of the village and had to make a few made dashes over open ground between the hedge rows where they were easy targets for German machine-gun fire.   (Robertson's band of 9 soon became ten after they were joined by a battalion orderly from the Newfoundlanders who crawled forward to meet the group after having been knocked out by an exploding German artillery shell.)

What happened next was nothing short of epic and is what shocked me that I had never read of it anywhere before:  For the next 4 or 5 hours (sources vary) Robertson's band of 10 men held off an entire German division, something like 200 men.  The group was cut off and almost completely isolated.  Making every bullet count, the Monchy Ten had killed an estimated 40 of the enemy within the first 2 hours.  Many of these were German scouts who had been sent forward to find out why the Germans were now pinned down in their trenches following their successful morning rout.  In this way, Robertson was able to keep the Germans in ignorance about just how pitifully small their group was.  The plan worked.

Robertson was finally able to send a runner, Private Albert Rose, back to HQ to inform them of the situation and call down artillery fire on the German trenches.  Having delivered his message, Rose then disobeyed a direct order and ran back through what can only be described as a gauntlet of hell, to rejoin the others.  With artillery now falling down on them and a supporting British regiment arriving in relief, the Germans were forced to withdraw.

Military higher ups later estimated that had the village fallen it could have taken the Allies as many as 40,000 casualties in order to retake that section of the front.  The following medals were award as a result of this action....

Lt-Col. James Forbes-Robertson, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Distinguished Service Order (Robertson later went on to win the Victoria Cross the following year)

Lt (later Captain) Kevin Keegan, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Cross

Private Fred Curran, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal

Staff Sergeant John Hillier, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal

Lance Corporal Japhet Hounsell, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal

Sergeant Charles Parsons, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal

Private Victor Parsons, (1st Essex Regiment), Military Medal

Sergeant Walter Pitcher, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal

Sergeant Joseph Waterfield, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal

2nd Lt (then Private) Albert Rose, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Military Medal (Rose was also awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in another action.)

Also awarded as a part of this action were two medical staff, Captain JW Tocher (Royal Army Medical Corps) and Sergeant Archibald Goobey with the Military Cross and Military Medal respectively for their actions in retrieving and caring for wounded men after their medical post had been hit by 3 German artillery shells.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Normally I wouldn't go camera crazy with Grackles, much less blog about them.  They're fairly common here during the summer months and really, I've seen so many that I tend not to notice them, opting instead for my waxwings, a colourful warbler or a busy woodpecker.  They tend to blend in to the background.   What I have found impressive the past few days though, is the sheer number that are showing up in my yard lately.  At one point earlier this week there were perhaps 30 at any one time, which is by the most of any single species that have graced my yard.  

One of my feeders was knocked down during a feeding frenzy, scattering bird seed all over the place, but at least these guys cleaned it up well.  

The cat, who will usually sit at the window watching the smaller birds as they feed, was nowhere to be seen.  All in all, it was all a bit surreal.  Nature never ceases to fascinate me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Positive Words and a Retraction

After a recent "letter to the editor" hurled some misplaced criticisms toward our community, it was refreshing to sit after a long day's work and see some well-thought-out responses and that the original letter writer had retracted his original statements.  I won't go into all the responses in any great detail here as you can read them for yourself in the aforementioned link.  Ironically, while this gentleman was here bashing my community, his car, along with several others, was being bashed up in the airport parking lot back in his community.  Karma works in interesting ways.

I would like to thank the kind words from the Yukon residents who came here to enjoy the games.  Having coached and chaperoned at a few sporting tournaments in the North, I can certainly relate to the challenges of having good facilities for our young athletes there.  We're glad you've been enjoying the venues we have to offer here.  I have to admit that Yukon is one of two provinces/territories I haven't yet had an opportunity to experience.  I very much look forward to visiting sometime in the future (hopefully soon), particularly after reading such supportive letters.

The retraction letter was genuine and well-worded too, and greatly appreciated by many here I'm sure.  As I'm sure this gentleman now realizes, when you prejudge a place or a community you do yourself a disservice by missing out on the bigger picture and on new experiences.  It's pleasing to see that this gentleman has changed his mind and I sincerely do hope to count him as a visitor to our community in the future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Living A Sheltered Life

If someone were to tell me I'd be writing a rant in the coming weeks, I would have put money on it having something to do with the upcoming federal election.  I certainly wouldn't have thought it would be over a "Letter to the Editor" from our local newspaper.  But alas, that's the way its turned out.  Given the tone of the letter and this individual's obvious ignorance I really feel no need to hold back, so if I drop a "salty" word in here, I guess you've been forewarned.  My own comment to the letter was more measured, but given that this blog is my own little personal space......

Apparently, a rather charming individual here for the Western Canada Summer Games who penned this letter dumping on my community over some rather ridiculous sleights, has led a very sheltered life.  Paying more for a hotel during a special event, getting honked at in traffic and seeing someone arrested can happen anywhere.  That's reality.  Welcome to it.  I know that many people here have worked many hours and put a great deal of time and effort toward making sure these games are a success.  I know many people have done their level best to be good hosts.  It this letter writer chooses to be a dick by being a poor visitor....well, I'm afraid I can't help them with that.

Perhaps they aren't aware of the many websites they can access in this technological age that will help them find hotel room at a price they like.  It's not like that takes up a lot of their time.  Personally I prefer that's just me.  I actually used it for hotel bookings for both my BC trips this summer.  My second trip I decided to skimp on my hotel and chose a cheaper option.  For two days, the price was pretty good but I'm not sure I'd stay there again.  Sleeping in a closet-sized room over a local bar right next to the railway tracks with the 2:30 am train with its horn on bust wasn't conducive to a restful night.  Point is though, I took the time and made the effort to read some reviews and decided on this place anyway.  I had to live with my choice.  I certainly didn't let my choice of hotel room colour my perception of my stay.

In 2009, I spent 6 amazing weeks in Hungary, even staying at the same Budapest hotel I started out in after circling the country and returning to the capital.  My second stay was much more pricey due to that fact that this happened to coincide with the Hungarian Grand Prix race.  I don't recall exactly what I paid  but I know my second stay cost me about double what the first one did.  Rising hotel rates coinciding with major sporting events is like getting gouged at the pump on a summer long weekend (or any long weekend, really.)  As I said previously, that's reality.  Welcome to it.

While I was in Budapest, I even saw a couple guys get arrested (horror of horrors).  But I was strolling through a seedier part of the night.  Four very big Hungarian cops...and they weren't wearing the kid gloves  But last time I checked, people get arrested in many places.  That's just how it works.  Some people are just assholes and there people whose job it is to deal with said assholes.  Again, welcome to reality.  These two events certainly aren't what I remember most about the city or the country as a whole.  I've never been to the casino here myself and really have no plans to but I know that some folks do manage to get themselves arrested there.  Life works that way sometimes.

One of my fondest trip memories in fact happened during a short stay in Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic (try pronouncing that one) where I was given my own little private tour around the outside of the castle there by two sweet senior citizens.  My knowledge of Czech was shaky, but I ended up with some fantastic photos that are among my best of the entire trip.  Initially, I could have declined the invite and yes, at the time I recall wondering if I was going to be literally led up the garden path only to be met by some unforeseen doom.  But I took the opportunity and I am the richer for it.  I guess I raise the anecdote as a way of suggesting that had the letter writer had shown a bit more faith, the would have been richly rewarded as I was.  I guarantee this KW Halliday person that had I had even an hour of their obviously too-precious time, I could have shown them some great places around our community.  Well, your loss.

As for getting honked at....yikes!  I'm going to assume here that since this is the WESTERN Canada Summer Games you're from a western province and not, say, Toronto or even Montreal.  You may want to avoid a large city, or community of any size really, if you're THAT easily offended.  If you're going to act like Ned Flanders from the TV show The Simpsons watching tv and feverishly recorded any instance where you might even remotely be offended, well, you're probably going to have a rather sad paranoid life.  Don't do it.  Just some free advice.

Occasionally, I get honked at here.  Usually for jaywalking, a habit I picked up after many years of small town living.  Once I had words with a guy, but he was frustrated and yes, it was just one of those days and I was being a jerk.  Maybe the guy in the jacked up truck honked because you were being the ass.  I guess we won't really know but to turn around and take a moment of frustration to paint an entire community with the same broad brush?  Grow up.  Seriously.  My mom just got over a major cancer scare earlier this summer.  I really do think there are more important things in life to worry about.  In the   this "Letter to the Editor" only serves to show just show petty and utterly ridiculous its author truly is.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Game On

After a long wait with much anticipation, Western Canada Summer Games are here.  From now until August 16, our community will be hosting one of Canada's premier amateur sporting events.  Fortunately, last winter's changes to my work schedule mean I will be off for the first half of the games.  The cycling events are all happening in Thickwood, and within an easy walk of the house, so I'm hoping to catch some of the cycling events at least.  I'm also thinking that if I'm lucky I might even run into people I know from Nunavut.  While they will bring a small team covering a select few events, they surely make up for numbers in terms of enthusiasm.  I wish them, and all competing athletes the best of luck over the coming days.  Welcome to Fort McMurray!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Here is a short photo montage made up of a few photos left over from my trip back through Jasper National Park a couple of weekends ago now.  It was a nice change to have the scenery roll by so effortlessly with no hard climbing involved.  There's a bit of glare in some of them since they were taken from a bus but otherwise I was happy with how some of them turned out.

Friday, July 17, 2015


My second day in Valemount I took on a more challenging trail.  The McKirdy Mountain and Meadow Trail is only about 4.3km, not long at all compared to other hikes I've gone on, but with slopes of up to 30 degrees, rocks, tree roots and the elements thrown in, it was definitely one of the more challenging ones I've done in the past couple of years.  I hiked up King George Mountain three or four times when I lived on Baffin Island which took me up to about 1750 feet and its really the only climb comparable to  this one in terms of endurance......and beauty.

Unlike past trails I've done, this one didn't start in town.  I had to trek about 5km up a gravel road (which ended with a rather nice viewing area, I should add) before I could access the trail head.

And off we go....

This photo was taken at a communication tower not too far up the access road.   Great views of the town and the valley despite the overcast conditions which were to plague me for the bulk of the afternoon.

A view to the north.

Getting this point I had a good sweat going on even with the cool temperatures.  I was thanking myself for packing the extra water.

Not a bad view of the Cranberry Marsh looking south down the Robson Valley.  Sadly, the clouds obscured the mountains.

This sign was around the halfway point to the trail head.  It certainly wasn't kidding about the "steep hills".  I did note another trail head just out of frame to the right here.  I would have been tempted to explore it had it not been for the fact that it was closed to hikers at the moment.

The road just seemed to keep going and going.  There were a number of hairpin turns.  This was probably the straightest stretch I passed along until reaching the trail head.

Another view of the marsh...

The next four photos show how I was starting to get up in to the clouds.  I definitely noticed the drop in temperature although I appreciated the cooling effect.

At the end of the road, I finally reached the trail head.  The mosquitoes were insane at times but I troopered on.  I had thoughts of pushing all the way to the top of Mount McKirdy but given my current level of hiking skill I knew I'd likely be biting off more than I could chew at the moment.  Nevertheless, I decided to push on and see where this trail took me.  I wasn't to be disappointed.

While it doesn't look like it, this little section of trail was one of a few rather steep sections.

I really wished at this point that it hadn't been so overcast as the views were amazing.
This is Kinbasket Lake  from about 9-10km away.  I wasn't actually expecting to see the lake from the trail so this was definitely a nice little highlight.

Kinbasket Lake again up  to the right of this photo.  This was such a scenic spot, I would have just spent the rest of the afternoon here with a nice book.  It's definitely a destination all by itself.  At any rate, I rested here for a few minutes soaking up the views before pushing on.  This was also the spot where I spotted the red-tailed hawk noted in my previous post.

I was grateful for this nice level section of trail out of the wind.  The trees thinned out slightly and I passed through a few small open areas as I gained elevation.

A fork in the trail.  I wanted to push on to the summit but seeing that there was a cabin 450m to my left I decided to head there instead.  I had hoped to head further up the trail to the summit afterwards but as it was starting to get on in the afternoon I decided in the end to leave that to another day.

I spent about a half hour at this cabin, maintained by a local recreation group, resting my knees and just taking in the magic of the location.  Apparently, you can see Mount Robson from up here as I was to find out a couple days later while looking up further information online about the local trails.  I wish I had known about this at the time though the cloud cover would most likely have obscured any views even if I had known ahead of time.

This nice little mountain stream was pure gold.  I had to perform a hiker's version of a "grand jete" to get over part of it on my way to the cabin as there were no bridges.  It did provide a welcome opportunity to re-fill my water bottle.

Inside the cabin.  An old topographical map, which for some reason I totally forgot to take a photo of, informed me that I was sitting up around 2040 feet.

Not a bad view of the "front yard".

My inner child would have loved to have remained longer and spent an evening but I did have to catch an early bus the following morning.  Now that I know of this place though, I can easily see myself returning in the future.  A few more minutes of bliss watching some juncos flit among the trees and I reluctantly began my way back down.  Mother Nature was a bit more cooperative and allowed me a little better view of Kinbasket at least.

More views along the way.

The car at the bottom gives you a sense of the scale of this place.

One last shot of the town with part of the Columbia Range to the west.

All in all a fantastic outing.  As I mentioned early, it had been quite some time since I had done a hike of this difficulty level.  I was a bit sore the following morning but some good stretches definitely helped.  I enjoyed the challenge of it and it was a great opportunity to see just how well I could tackle a "black diamond" trail, which turned out to be pretty well if I can say so.  I'm hopeful of taking this one one again before the fall comes around but if not, I definitely have a nice trail to add to my list.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

B.C. Birding Bliss

I returned yesterday from another blissful weekend in BC.  I didn't quite get a break from the haze of forest fires as you can tell from my photos below.  (Much of this smoke is coming from forest fires in Jasper National Park.)

The Cranberry Marsh in Valemount was a place I discovered last month and is fast becoming a favourite for bird watching.  I spent a good part of Saturday morning there and this time around I did the 6km loop in reverse, spending most of my time on the sand dyke on the marsh's west side.  

The east side did reveal some pleasant surprises however as I spotted 3 Great Blue Heron up in the trees.  If you look closely you can see one of them here....

After last month's very rewarding outing I wondered how this trip would stack up in terms of species sighted or what I might see.  When I spotted my first ever Western Tanager I knew it was going to be a great weekend.  This species has been on my dream list of birds to see ever since I moved out here.

When I include the Rock Doves I saw in Jasper and the Gull in Grassland, AB on the way back my count for the weekend runs to 27. surpassing my total from my last trip.  Not too shabby.

Here's my list.  Like last time, my "first sightings" for the year are in bold...

1. Common Raven
2. Barn Swallow
3. Pileated Woodpecker
4. Canada Goose
5. House Sparrow
6. Chipping Sparrow
7. Tree Swallow
8. Yellow-rumped Warbler
9. Northern Flicker
10. Dark-Eyed Junco
11. American Robin
16. Black-capped Chickadee
17. American Coot
18. Redhead
19. Ruddy Duck
21. Yellow-headed Blackbird
22. Mallard
23. Marsh Wren
24. Red-winged Blackbird
26. Rock Dove

Cranberry Marsh

Canoe Mountain and Mount McKirdy obscured by the haze of forest fires.

Fortunately, it did clear up the following day, though not as much as I had hoped.  The next afternoon I found myself up 2000 feet next to a small cabin by a small alpine stream.