BY Jim Harding
We drove to the West Coast this July to attend our middle son’s wedding. We had no kids or dogs, nor did we “rough it” camping. We drove the slower, southern, Crows Nest route, spending four nights on the road – at Medicine Hat, Pincher Creek, Cranbrook and Osoyoos.
For the first time ever I travelled without taking a book as companion. I wanted to rest my mind from the difficult issues I write about for R-Town. The trip was a chance for new experience, insight and immersion in a special family gathering.
The Medicine Hat rodeo was in full swing and there weren’t any motel rooms. Luckily we found wifi at a coffee shop and used our laptop to locate a bed and breakfast. There are distinct advantages to travelling with the new technology.
Travelling is always a bit of a test of faith and adaptability but if you’re at all open there will be unexpected surprises. The second day we set out for Lethbridge where we stopped at a local park for a picnic lunch. On a stroll we discovered the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden.
The Zen tradition treats gardens as one path to tranquility; as we walked through the gate there was an immediate calming effect. The trees and hedges were carefully shaped, rocks were ordered along the narrow creek that meandered to an adjoining lake. Sitting in a small gazebo you could better appreciate the stream rippling by. A Japanese-style building built traditionally, without nails provided soothing perspectives.
A symbolic reality crafted from the elements; natural art stirring up all the senses. You could ring a huge bell hung in a small post and beam pagoda and send vibrations across the garden, like the waves coming across the adjacent lake stirred up by the wind. There was a sense of oneness, of inner and outer harmony.
I wondered why there was a Japanese Garden in the middle of Lethbridge. The answer was another surprise, which could have easily been missed. Tucked around the corner of the gift shop was a small plaque in memory of a Mr. Broder. In 1942, when the Japanese were forcibly evacuated from Mission, B.C., he “took us in and provided food. Thanks to his generosity our family persevered and prospered.” The plaque was installed by the Naoyshi Yanoshito Family Foundation.
As we left Lethbridge I wondered whether I would be able to maintain inner balance when facing the stressful freeways that lay ahead.
Our next destination, Pincher Creek, was already known as Canada’s wind capital but I had no idea how many huge turbines we would see as we drove into the foothills where the Chinook winds pour out from the Rockies.
There are eight major wind projects and more in the works. With 180 additional planned turbines on top of the 273 already installed, there will be nearly 900 Megawatts capacity, equal to a large nuclear or coal plant. This capacity equals 25% of Saskatchewan’s electrical grid.
In spite of all the negative international focus on Alberta’s toxic tarsands, the province is also becoming a leader in renewables. It’s unfortunate that the Saskatchewan Party isn’t more interested in following Alberta’s lead in this regard.
Wind power can also be contentious but I never heard one complaint in our stay over. And we never heard any noise from the hundreds of turbines surrounding the town. Alberta must have introduced wind power very differently than Ontario where there’s ongoing controversy.
Lots of myths remain about wind. At 500 meters the big turbines produce only 40 decibels, comparable to a refrigerator compressor. Some however don’t like “industrializing the landscape”. But what’s the trade off? Isn’t this preferable to the carbon and radioactive emissions and water contamination from fossil fuels and nuclear plants?
CROWS NEST PASS
The next day we entered the Crows Nest Pass. I’ve driven this many times but this time we could stop and better explore the region. The Crows Nest Pass has played an important part in Canada’s history. The CPR finished the railway through this area in 1898 after the discovery of coal. Lead, zinc and copper had already been discovered in that part of the Rockies and fearing that U.S. investors would get control of the valuable minerals and coal, the eastern Canadian political-economic elite quickly pushed the railway through.
The Crow Rate Agreement was then signed giving farmers and merchants special rates on the railway. It was suspended from 1914-25 and altered in 1984 but lasted for nearly a century, to 1994. The end of the Crow Rate coincides with the Canadian government policy in support of “free trade” and corporate globalization.
A lot of history is revealed in such a travel route. The Crows Nest Pass accelerated the burning of coal which increased the carbon in the atmosphere and oceans and the extreme weather we now face from climate change. I couldn’t help thinking about the connection to all the flooding around Calgary earlier this spring. I intended to give my mind a rest from all the worrisome ecological issues, but so far on this trip, these issues kept staring me in the face.
Highway No. 3 coming into Cranbrook is so commercialized that the original town site can be completely missed. Just off the highway there’s a scaled down version of the box store complex that exists in big cities. We made a point of finding the original downtown, stopping in the heritage hotel for a locally brewed beer.
If you look carefully you will always find a local network of people working for heritage and sustainability. Stopping for coffee during the high heat of the previous day, I noticed a stack of newsletters called “Wild Times” published out of Kimberly, B.C. It is a voice for “conservation in Canada’s Columbia and Southern Rocky Mountains”. The spring 2013 issue reports that “Every community in the area has local food systems projects on the go. Creston is known as a ‘hot bed’ of food production, but in Fernie, Wildsight’s EcoGarden is a focal point; in Cranbrook, the Cranbrook Food Action Committee has developed a thriving Public Produce Garden; in Golden, we’ve been offering composting workshops and in Invermere we admire the Community Greenhouse.” We perhaps should have made time to find Cranbrook’s Public Produce Garden.
Those building such networks in the Rockies face their own version of the political manipulation of democracy to advance commercial projects that threaten sustainability. Wild Times reported on a large coalition of residents, First Nations and scientists opposing the Jumbo Glacier Resort proposed on four glaciers of wild lands in the Central Purcells. To end-run local opinion which stands firmly against this project, the Province recently altered the Local Government Act to allow the creation of a Resort Municipality of 61 square KMs. An appointed Mayor and Council were sworn in last February, though the artificial community has no residents and no electorate.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities has “issued a statement opposing the change”. This parachuting of an unelected local government onto a non-existent community to impose a mega-tourist project into a wilderness area is rightly being challenged as a breach of Aboriginal Rights and the Canadian Constitution.
As we sat outside our motel room overlooking Lake Osoyoos, enjoying the sociability of our holiday neighbours on our last night on route to our son’s wedding, I regained the sense of harmony experienced in the Japanese Garden. In the quiet I realized that while my mind was rested, I couldn’t drive away from all the vital issues of sustainability. These will continue to stare us in the face until we address them squarely.