Tag Archives: valemount

Robson Valley land grab threatens farming communities

no trespassing, gate, field, raush valley road, grass, security camera
One of six properties in the valley owned by billionaires Mark Walter and Robert Patton Jr, this one over 300 acres.

Beyond an iron gate, with warning signs of “No Trespassing” and of hidden security cameras, an overgrown driveway stretches past young pines. It ends in a clearing dotted with sand pits where the Lee Road school house used to stand. The fruit trees that stood beside the school house are gone too. Three deer, ears twitching, skittish, keep a watchful guard from across an adjacent field of weeds.

“Dunster’s always been this open community, everybody knows their neighbours,” Chuck McNaughton, a short but burly lifetime resident of the area said. “Now there’s locks and gates and security cameras everywhere.”

A community meeting held June 4 in Dunster was organized to discuss what many in the valley have observed over the past decade or so: large parcels of land bought up and then, to varying degrees, abandoned; property prices as steep and harsh as the mountainsides that flank the valley floor; and how difficult it is for people of ordinary means—often young families—to move into the valley.

“Quite often when the face of a community starts changing, you don’t notice it at first, it has to reach a critical mass,” Linda Fry, who attended the community meeting, said. “I think we do have to realize that change is the face of our communities.”

But change from and to what?

“The ultimate result of abandoned properties is the death of the community,” LelaniArris, president of the Dunster Community Association, said. It’s not change people in the Dunster area fear; it’s the slow strangulation of their farming community as it becomes nearly impossible for new people to move in and find affordable land, while fertile land is left fallow or mostly unused.

“A lot of us are getting older,” Chuck said. “It’s the volunteer labour we’re running short on, and that’s what keeps this community going.”

 

The Mad Land Grab

All over the world, large groups of people and organizations are buying up farmland, says Dr. Lenore Newman, the Canada Research Chair of Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley. Dr. Newman is tasked with studying the Canadian agriculture industry in the context of global trends.

“We’re in the middle of a global land rush. It’s not just your valley, it’s not just the province—it’s the whole world.”

farm, field, grass, fence, wire, abandoned, absentee
This property in Dunster– not owned by Fraser River Landholdings– was productive a few years ago, but has since been overgrown by trees and hawk weed.

In BC, foreign landowners don’t face any more restrictions than Canadians do.

“There’s a lot of big money sluicing around the world and land is one of the best investments going,” Dr. Newman said. “This incredible pressure on land in BC is pricing it out of the range of everyone who was born and raised here and who makes an average Canadian salary.”

Fraser River Landholdings Ltd is one company with extensive landholdings in the valley. A co-director of the company, Mark Walter, confirmed through a media representative that the company owns at least six properties, totaling about 1,000 acres, between Dome Creek and Valemount.

“The property is planned to be left as is, agricultural and recreational,” the email read.

Walter and co-director Robert Patton Jr. are wealthy American businessmen who, in 2012, bought the LA Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion as part of Guggenheim Baseball Management. Walter is also a founding partner, and current CEO, of financial assets management firm Guggenheim Partners LLC, with over $200 billion in managed assets, according to their website. Walter is also a trustee of the storied and powerful Guggenheim Foundation.

Newman said she doesn’t like to think of it as foreign capital, though. “The reality is there’s lots of people within the country in the same position, with tons of money, buying up land and sitting on it.” Only about 15 per cent of BC land is owned privately and with global capital hungry for investments, Dr. Newman fears the land rush will continue.

In the global village, where global capital permeates the local economy, national boundaries become almost irrelevant. Local community members can invest their time, labour and dreams, and can sow seeds for the future, for their children and the land they become a part of; but how does that stack up against pools of global capital, mostly impervious and ignorant to local community concerns?

“The problem,” says Dr. Newman, “is this idea of parking on the land; using land as a GIC or a safety deposit box.”

 

Old Blood

“If I were king,” Pete Amyoony says, chuckling, sitting in the kitchen of his small cabin in Dunster, sipping tea, “I would make a law that says, if you buy a piece of land and don’t put it to good use, don’t improve it, that you’re not allowed to sell it for more than you bought it.”

Pete Amyoony, Tim Haus, Aziz Haus, garden, farm, land, grow
Pete Amyoony, left, Tim Haus, far right, and Tim’s son Aziz, 3, discuss gardening on Pete’s farm.

A fantastical notion, but one that belies a certain wisdom. Amyoony has called Dunster home for some 30 years, has worked hard to pay off his 10-acre farm and is very active in the community. But circumstances have changed since he first moved into the valley.

“Land has become a commodity: to be bought, sat on, sold for more.”

Arris knows this all too well. She sold the piece of land on Lee Road where the school house sat to Fraser River Landholdings.  She still feels intimately attached to the property: her ex-husband perished in a tragic fire in one of the buildings, and she’s visibly devastated by the absence of the school house.

“I just don’t understand, why did they have to tear down the Lee Road school house?”

Just after selling the lot, Arris wanted to move a shed from the Lee Road property to her home, up the street. She was pulling the shed up Lee Road with a tractor when her realtor called; somebody had seen her, called the realtor, who told Arris that she wasn’t allowed to remove the shed since the sale was already finalized. The shed was sold with the lot, its fate up to the new owners, who evidently tore it down.

Property ownership is absolute: once the transaction is complete, any emotional or psychological value it holds for the former owner is translated into memories and dollars and cents.

“People have a right to sell for whatever reason they have decided to sell, and people have a right to buy, for whatever reasons they decide to buy,” Linda Fry, who works as a notary public, said. “These are individual decisions.”

 

New Blood

aziz haus, farm, garden, kid, child, school bus, bus
Aziz, 3, working in the garden with the school bus he calls home in behind.

A warm burst of fish odour greets you at the door of Pete’s greenhouse this time of year.

“I farm organically, with fish fertilizer,” he explains.

Despite scaling back on farming as he nears retirement, Pete has an exuberance and tireless energy. He hops off his riding lawnmower—“Those clippings will go in my compost”—and points across a rectangular plot, tilled and planted, which stretches about 100 meters away from the greenhouse and ends just before a derelict school bus and the forest in behind.

“That’s the magic school bus,” he smiles. The soft sound of clattering dishes and murmuring voices escapes the open door and windows of the bus. “Tim and his wife Susan are living in there, with their two children.”

Tim Haus, a German native, and his wife Susan Umstot, an American citizen, first travelled through Dunster on a family cycling trip a few years back. They both fell in love with the area, especially the strong sense of community. They met in the Middle East, working for Doctors Without Borders; Tim as an engineer and Susan as a nurse. They decided to make Dunster their home.

“We came here to live in the nature,” Haus says at Pete’s kitchen table with coffee in hand, eyeing his loaves of bread in the oven.  “To live for the nature, and with the nature.” His English is almost flawless.

Haus’ short hair is tousled, his hands slightly soiled. He’s rigged up a container to catch rainwater so his family can shower outdoors. It hasn’t rained much lately, though. “You can live well off the land here,” he says.

“You sure can,” Pete smiles broadly with a hint of pride. “I feel like one of the richest people in the valley when I walk into my root cellar or see my canning cupboard… the food that’s grown out of this place has been amazing.”

“See, even in Pete’s day, people moved here for philosophical reasons, more than economic reasons,” Tim says.

Pete amicably disagrees, shaking his head. “I wanted to find affordable land that I could grow on. Up until the 90s you could buy a quarter section for $25-$30,000, but now it’s $300-$400,000.” Many valley residents, especially farmers, are retiring now, Pete says. “And they sell their land to the highest bidder, and I understand that. They worked their butts off, and that’s their pension.”

“But the next generation, we know we won’t receive a pension, or as much of a pension,” Tim replies. “We have to deal with different parameters; hence we are not able to pay $300,000 for a piece of property because we will never make that kind of money living a lifestyle that we believe is good for the world, and not just good for the pocketbook.”

Haus has talked to some farmers who were willing to sell a portion of their farmland—tracts spotted with gullies and rocks that aren’t really farmable—but restrictions in the Regional District’s Official Community Plan (OCP) on subdividing land found within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) have so far thwarted him.  The Regional District, with delegated authority from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), ensures that farmable land is not divided into parcels smaller than 150 acres, as per the OCP. This way farmland is kept in larger, more productive tracts and intervening subdivisions are avoided.

ALR land stretches on either side of the Fraser River, on the valley floor. Residents mostly agree that the ALC’s aim is positive, but on the local level it makes it difficult to attract new families and farmers into the valley. With soaring real estate prices, larger parcels are that much more expensive.

The ALC includes incentives to farm land within the ALR, Lara Beckett, chair of the Agricultural Land Use standing committee at the Regional District said. “If you actually farm the land and make enough income on it for agricultural status, you can get a significant tax reduction.” But are there incentives to dissuade wealthy landowners who can afford the higher tax rates from abandoning their properties, leaving them unproductive?

“No, not really,” Beckett said. “It’s private land, so to some degree people make their own choices… It’s unfortunate, especially if it’s been productive in the past, to see it being taken over by weeds and trees; it’s a lot of work to get it back into production.”

 

wool, bike, washing machine, gizmo, invention, hippie, green energy,
Tim salvaged the sheep’s wool in the foreground before it ended in the dump. He washes it with the bike-powered machine in behind, then fleeces it to use in a yurt he’s building.

No Blood

Over the past 25 years Chuck and a neighbour have been tracking land ownership for most parcels of farmland in the valley, labeling each subsequent owner on a series of maps. Wielding a pen in calloused, scarred hands of knobby joints – a farmer’s hands – he goes through some of the oldest names in the valley. Chuck can trace his roots in the Dunster area to 1920, when his grandfather bought land—the parcel right beside Chuck’s home, in fact. He brings the maps to the Ice Cream Social sometimes, and to other reunions where people happily regale each other with stories of days past. The maps paint a picture of absentee landowners too.

Sitting in his workshop with high ceilings, various machinery and works of art – paintings, drawings, little wood carvings all the way up the walls– Chuck is quick to point out that “absentee landowners” is too vague of a notion: there are oil-patch workers with land who visit on weekends and plan to return for good once the property’s been paid off; there are others who can’t afford to live on the land they bought, but rent it out to local farmers; these landowners contribute to the community, he says. So which absentee landowners are the real concern?

“The ones that buy it, lock the gate and walk away, and then keep buying more.”

Chuck is drafting a letter addressed to Mark Walter that he plans to bring to the next community meeting on July 15. “There’s a chance that guys like Mark don’t have any idea about this stuff, how they’re affecting our community.”

It’s long been a harsh reality that the economic basis of a community determines whether it thrives or perishes, regardless of history and the sense of home locals may derive. But in the small Dunster community, the economic basis—farming—is still viable. “Every parcel along the river is crucial to this community,” Chuck says. But farming is being undermined by the current land grab, and by a lack of policies that ensure farmland is actually farmed.

Is the value of farming and food security losing out to the power of global speculation? Co-director Patton bought property in Fort Worth in 2005 for $6.5 million, and then sold it two months later for $15.7 million, the Forth Worth Star-Telegram reported last year. But he’s also a farmer: he’s been buying enormous ranches all over the US, ensuring surplus hay for his cattle during droughts that devastates smaller farmers. He’s managed to keep a low profile despite his enormous wealth, which, in the interview with the Star-Telegram, he attributed to his own community: “If I had grown up in Dallas, it would probably have been different. But this is how you act in Forth Worth.”

Or is farming losing out, as Chuck fears, to hunting grounds for the very wealthy? When asked if Fraser River Landholdings or Guggenheim Partners uses land in the Robson Valley for hunting the company responded by writing, “Guggenheim is not involved with Fraser River Landholding in any way.”

Pete knows it’s only rumours that have been swirling for years about the “Guggenheims” and “the hunters” and he’s eager for some answers. “The thing is, I don’t know what’s going on, and I’d like to know what they’re doing with our community. Why are they buying up land and not using it? There are those that want to use the land but can’t.”

Another community meeting is planned in Dunster for July 15. When asked if a representative from Fraser River Landholdings would be present, the media representative wrote, “We don’t know if representatives of Frazier (sic) are going to the meeting,” spelling “Fraser” incorrectly.

“Everyone’s saying everywhere, small communities are dying. But bugger it, this one’s not gonna die,” Chuck said.

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Two horror stories from Valemount

 

Kerrin McNamara and I each wrote a story starting with the same scenario. The scenario arose from a Skype conversation we were having. I had brought my computer outside to the front landing and had gone in to get a gin and tonic, leaving Kerrin to enjoy the mountain view.  When I came back Kerrin and I imagined what would’ve happened had somebody come up to the house and stolen my computer, with Kerrin still on the Skype call.

 

Our stories were written as exercises in imagination, in a pretty short time, so they’re not meant to be perfect or flushed out or well edited. Just for fun and just for the hell of it. Here they are.

 

Kerrin’s story

 

thomas’ story

Passing Through: a hodgepodge of seniors

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

 

“All you see on public transit are students and old people, we’re the ones that can’t afford to drive,” an older lady, in her 60s, said to the bartender as she was paying her bill. She was part of a group of three ladies passing through the Valley, all seniors. It was impossible not to think of the movie Steel Magnolias watching these three women.

The one who spoke was the bumbling, good-natured sort. She had accidentally sent her fork flying across the patio, and her steak knife clattering onto the cobblestones during dinner, giggling at every turn. She fumbled and dropped change while paying her bill.

One of the ladies she was with—the only one wearing makeup—was the first to enter the bar and had said to the bartender, “I’ll have a glass of wine please. I’d like to be inebriated.” The other two ladies deserted her after their meal. When she was by herself, this lady said to the bartender, “I’d like you to pour yourself a glass of wine now and sit with me on the patio. I’d like some intelligent conversation, please.”

The third lady seemed to be the prudent and responsible one among the three. “I”ll come and wake you up tomorrow, Clair. We have to be on the road bright and early,” she had said to the sweet and bumbling lady during dinner. The three ladies were traveling from Edmonton to an acreage outside Kelowna for a three-week getaway. From the sounds of conversation over dinner, they were on a shoe-string budget.

When the one lady, wearing the make-up and fond of wine, came in to pay her bill, she fumbled for her glasses and with her wallet looking for money.  “I can’t count right now, you make me kind of dizzy,” she said to the bartender. “How lucky for you, you get to schmooze with people all day.”

**

An older man, with a faint Irish accent, sat at the bar talking to the bartender. He was on a business trip, from Edmonton-area to Prince George, and had taken his wife and their grandson along.

“Man, he’s a weird kid,” the man said to the bartender. “All he wants to do is play on his phone or iPad. Look around you, I say, it’s beautiful out here. We went to the pool, and he wasn’t having any fun there either. He couldn’t wait to leave to get back to his games. Now he just wants to sit by himself and eat. Pizza bread, that’s all he wants. What a weird kid. I can’t get through to him. He makes me nervous.”

He told the bartender of immigrating from Ireland four or five decades ago, of his struggles to find work, and his eventual settling near Edmonton. He recalled his days in Ireland working as a bartender.

“I used to work weddings at our local club, working until early in the morning. I was young then, maybe 18 or 19. But finally one day my mother had enough. I’d come home, inebriated, guests feeding me drinks, and fell asleep with my leg draped out the window. I could’ve fallen out of that window, my mother said, and she boxed me on the ear. Ha! Ha! That was the end of that job. I could’ve fallen out that window, it’s true.”

**

A white-haired couple sat with a woman, presumably their daughter in her late 30s. They were travelling from Alberta to Kamloops. They had just sold their acreage where they had raised their family and lived for the past thirty years.

“Just this morning we sold it,” the older lady said to the bartender. “It’s gone, just like that, we sold it.” She laughed nervously but with bright eyes.

“We had a few head of cattle, a few crops,” the man explained to the barkeep.

“But they were nice people we sold it to, weren’t they? A nice young family.”

“And now we’re going to live in Kamloops.”

“If we like it,” the wife reminded her husband. “We’ll spend a few months there, and if we don’t like it, we can always go back home.”

I wondered what she meant, since their acreage had already been sold. But it amazed me that this couple, in their 60s or 70s, were willing to relocate, to begin a whole new experience at this stage of their lives.

“Ya, if we don’t like it, we’ll go back,” the husband said.

Passing Through: a man, a journey and a flood

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

A man, a journey, and a flood

“The highway to Banff was closed, eh?  They wouldn’t let anybody through.”

A man, probably in his late 50s, sat at the bar drinking spiced rum. His leathery face and paunched nose suggested his health had seen better days. But he was amicable and his eyes betrayed a lively curiosity and interest in the world they perceived.

“And the Saddle Dome, well that’s ruined. All the way up to the 14th row was under water. They wanted to replace it already, it’s old, but now they’ve got no choice.”

Paul was travelling from Calgary to Vancouver to visit his son, a trip that just happened to coincide with the worst flooding Calgary has seen in decades.

“I don’t know what they’re gonna do about the Stampede. You know how much money they’re gonna lose? Billions probably. They have massive grounds, tents as big as this building I bet, and real western stars, cowboys, top stars come out. They’re gonna lose a ton of money.”

“I bought tickets,” he said, as an after thought. “Are they gonna refund my ticket if it’s cancelled?” passing through pic2

Our conversation was interrupted by another man roughly Paul’s age.  “He’s a happy fellow,” this new patron said, nodding towards Paul, then sauntered over to him and had a five minute conversation that began with the exclamation, “My name is Paul too!”

When our conversation resumed, I told him that I was interning at The Goat and in school for journalism.

“That’s something I bet I would’ve liked doing,” Paul said. “That’s something, if you like doing it, you can just do it forever, can’t you? If you’ve got your hunch, you just dig and dig to find your story, stick to your story. I can see a man being really happy doing that. A lot of sacrifices, I bet. But we need people like you to keep them straight and honest, because without that, without journalists hounding them, they won’t be.” I gathered Paul was referring to politicians and business moguls and anyone who’s accrued substantial power.

“Lookit all the stuff that’s come out in the States, about the phone taps and stuff. They know exactly what you’re doing, where you are, if you’re sitting at a computer, what you’re buying. I was listening to the radio just the other night, and they had this guy on who nailed it, who said it just right. Eventually they want to make it so that you can’t do nothing, buy a house or a car or get a job or anything, without having some chip scanned in your hand or your neck or some place.  And it’s already started, you bet.” Paul raised his eyebrows above the frame of his spectacles in incredulity.

“But that’s great, we need journalists to watch out for us like that. We need open-minded people, because they’re sure not open minded.”

Paul works as a security guard for an information database in Calgary, a building filled with servers with clients from all over the world.

“You wouldn’t believe the information in that building, it’s just a normal-looking building. My nephew, he’s a security guard in Toronto at a college, and you should’ve heard him when I told him how much money I make. He couldn’t believe it,” Paul chuckled.

Paul told me of another nephew of his, in his 40s. “He’s always in school, he’s in school now to learn some…systems…” Paul trailed off. “But he’s an artist…you know, well… no, ya, he’s an artist.” It seemed his nephew had struggled to have the right to be called an artist. “He spent time on Vancouver Island with the Natives, learning some of their crafts, he was really interested in that.”

Despite being delayed by the flood—“I could’ve sworn there was a turn off to Highway 1 around here,” Paul said—he planned to be in Vancouver the following night. “I’ll leave when I wake up, I guess.” He reached for yet another napkin and wetnap, finished with his plate of honey garlic wings. “These wings were great, but I hate sticky, icky things.”

Volunteer animal group’s funding request hijacked by Village administration

A partnership between the Village of Valemount and the Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society (RVSNS) to tackle animal control has fallen through.

At the May 14 Council meeting Council decided not to continue to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the RVSNS or provide them with the $1,000 in financial assistance the Society requested.

Wendy Cinnamon, a founding member of the RVSNS, said in a phone interview that what the Village asked for in the original draft of the MOU was well beyond the scope of the Society and included bylaw enforcement. The Village cannot comment on any specifics relating to the decision because the negotiations were held in camera—closed to the public.

“I think there were just differing expectations,” Village Chief Administrative Officer Anne Yanciw said. “It was a mutual decision not to pursue this.”

The Society, a four-person organization, has been in existence since October 2012, and was initially created in response to a cat colony of about 80 cats living near the home of one of the founding members, Chris Dolbec. Since its inception the Society has helped deal with two cat colonies in the Tete Jaune area, have spayed or neutered cats whose owners can’t afford the vet bill, and, as of last week, have begun an initiative for dogs.

“We’ve done about 59 cats,” Cinnamon said, referring to the Society’s catch, fix and release program. “Right now, we’re limited as to how many cats and dogs we can do per week, so that’s what is holding us back at this point. We do have a list of people waiting.”

In December, the RVSNS requested $1,000 in funding for their volunteer initiative addressing the feline population. The Society was applying for an SPCA grant of $5,000, which the Society was required to match with their own fundraising efforts. They had already secured $1,500 from the Regional District, and planned to fundraise the remaining $2,500.

Before getting a response from the Village, the Society had the opportunity to help the Village with an impounded dog in early January. Dolbec was able to get the help of the SPCA in Kamloops, where she used to work, in finding a home for the dog.

The Society’s work with the impounded dog elicited glowing reviews from council and Village administration.

Village Deputy Corporate Officer Braden Hutchins presented a memo to Mayor and Council on January 22, entitled “Animal Bylaw Control Implementation.” Noting the time and money saved by partnering with the RVSNS, Hutchins wrote that creating an MOU with the Society was necessary “to ensure this partnership continues into the future.”

But from that point the negotiations took an unexpected turn, from the Society’s perspective.

“I don’t know how it morphed into the MOU,” Cinnamon said, “because my feedback was that council was supportive of helping us fund the feline initiative and it became something big and difficult.”

Cinnamon said the Village wanted the Society to be responsible for placing or euthanizing impounded animals that were surrendered or not claimed. Cinnamon said this was beyond their capacity– especially with just $1,000 coming from the Village to cover these costs. The Society doesn’t euthanize healthy animals either, Cinnamon said, unlike the
Village’s animal bylaw which says after 72 hours and “reasonable efforts” to find a home, an impounded animal can be euthanized.

But that wasn’t all the Village administration asked the Society to do for the $1,000 funding, according to Cinnamon.

“They also wanted us to step into the bylaw enforcement roll,” Cinnamon said, saying the Village wanted the Society to cite bylaws to residents. “And we’re not qualified to do that. We can educate people on what they should be doing … but we’re not bylaw officers…We just wanted to help with the cat population.

Cinnamon said helping the Village in January with the impounded dog was the result of a favour from the Kamloops SPCA—not something legally binding or consistent.

“They help us out when they can,” Cinnamon said of the SPCA.

The biggest factor in rejecting the village’s first proposal, however, was $2-million liability insurance the Village required the Society to purchase. Cinnamon said as a small new volunteer organization, they couldn’t afford to.

Hutchins could not be reached for comment; CAO Yanciw and Mayor McCracken were the spokespeople from Council and Village administration on this issue.

No bylaw officer

The Village made an effort to hire a bylaw enforcement officer earlier this year, even advertising outside of Valemount for the position. But with the limited resources the Village can allocate to bylaw enforcement, and the qualifications needed for a successful applicant, the Village “simply couldn’t find anyone who would be able to fill the position,” Yanciw said.

Mayor McCracken said the lack of a bylaw officer poses a number of nuanced challenges. The last bylaw enforcement officer didn’t catch any animals reported to the Village, he said.

“It’s not because he wasn’t doing his job; he was really trying to do the best he could. But you show up and the dog’s not there anymore.”

“So we’ve been working on a system, trying to do something smarter, using education.”

Yanciw said they are doing a trial period of bylaw enforcement without a bylaw officer, focusing instead on education.

“If education alone is not enough, then we’ll go back to council and look for a decision.”

Yanciw said she hopes the Village’s general Bylaw Enforcement Strategy, currently under development, will be ready by this fall.

Prof. Annie Booth, in the Ecosystems Management Science program at UNBC, has worked on municipal animal bylaw strategies and said that a combination of education and enforcement is “usually the only way to go.”

Prof. Booth says relying on education alone “relies on people wanting to do the right thing, and people do a lot of things even if they know they’re wrong.”
RVSNS  expands efforts

Prof. Booth said enforcing animal control laws is often dangerous, and SPCA officers get special training at the Justice Institute of BC. The former bylaw enforcement officer for the Village attended a 10-day course on bylaw enforcement at the Justice Institute. Special training was also part of the qualifications the Village was looking for in an attempt to fill the role earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of skill required,” Prof. Booth said, “To expect a volunteer to do that, if that’s the expectation the Village had of the Society, then I would agree … that would be an unreasonable request.”

Mayor McCracken could not comment on the in camera deliberations, but said, “The Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society is doing excellent work, independently of us. Would it be better, in an ideal world, to do that work together? Yes. But ultimately, they’re free and they want to do it unencumbered by the Village so we support them.”

Cinnamon said the Society redrafted the original MOU with Hutchins to their satisfaction, but that Council voted to drop the potential partnership for reasons she is still unaware of; she was told a letter would be sent to the Society from the Village about the decision but hasn’t yet received it. In the meantime, the Society was able to fundraise the additional $1,000 to match the SPCA grant.

Mayor McCracken said that partnering with the Village is tough, especially for small organizations, because it inevitably involves a lot of paper work, rules and regulations.

“To a small organization that must feel like a total encumbrance, I totally understand that. But if we’re going to have a formal relationship with you, it has to have certain pieces.”

Concessions at Valemount Pride, featuring the Mexikaaner

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69670461″>Mexikaaner Pride.m4v</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user15904699″>Thomas Rohner</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

I only miss Toronto Pride when I’m not in Toronto.  The cynicism and neuroses that it induces, coupled with the fact that it’s in my home city, the most familiar place to me on earth, for good and bad, makes it entirely missable in my books…when I’m IN Toronto, that is.

From this distance, though, the neuroses have no real relevance, and the cynicism alone isn’t enough to hold back the nostalgia and idealizing.

This video isn’t really about Pride. I just happened to get around to doing a small stop-mo I had in my mind for the past few weeks on Pride weekend.  But the coincidence and my nostalgia suggested that this could be about Pride. So let’s just say that.

The Mexikaaner in “Concessions at Valemount Pride” (or “Mexikaaner, meet Jin”), music arranged by Kerrin McNamara.

 

A stoned moment: my view from the bleachers

I took a joint to enjoy the sunset with me and this was my view.  One of the local baseball diamonds, close to where a cougar was seen.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

It’s gotta be one of the prettiest on the planet.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Before this joint, a few days ago, I found a roach sitting on top of a garbage can outside the back entrance of the hotel, and I took it.  It was sitting on top of the can. But I feel the stigma. I’m on par with George Constanza, who swore the eclairs was sitting on top of the garbage pile.

Turns out potheads in BC aren’t hard to find. Go figure.  I love when stereotypes prove true.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset
looking down the third base line into left field.

Passing through: a column of transients

Disclaimer: this sketch is a composite of a number of conversations. While I’ve endeavoured to replicate the conversations as faithfully as possible, any information contained within should be perceived as anecdotal, and not factual.

 

 

Contract workers, mostly from Alberta or BC, often stay in Valemount for weeks at a time, part of an environmental assessment team employed by some of the biggest companies in the country. I had the chance to interact with one such team recently, a group of about 15-20 people. There were a lot of Native men in the group, but also a few Caucasians and even some women. They would spend all day working outdoors, in the field, and then relax in the evenings, comfortably dining and drinking after a hard day’s work. A sense of self-contentment and good-natured ease defined this group.

 

“My day was great, it was better than great,” a youthful middle-aged man sitting at a bar says.

“I get to count birds and amphibians all day.  Man, it was beautiful. I love what I do, spending all day out in nature. Even if it rains a bit like today.”

“This pipeline, it’s not gonna follow the last one, you know. This time they’re being real careful. I helped lay down the last one too, but that one it was like a fish, eh, or a bird, or a cat, the path of least resistance, they just went straight ahead. But this time they’re being real careful, good to the environment.  We go out there and we find the birds, and if they’ve got a nest somewhere, well the pipeline will go around them, eh, these oil companies are being real careful now.

“I used to be on the other side, a real environmentalist, you know.  I studied biology, I loved nature, I even saved some creeks back home, eh. That’s where I like to stay, close to home, I never liked going too far from home.  I know these lands, so I used to be a real pain in their ass… but now, well, they figured I’m an ASS-et, eh, HA! HA! HA!

“You know I can see the whole thing now, the whole 360 degree perspective. What the oil companies tell you, what they don’t tell you, the leaks and accidents they don’t want nobody to find out about, and what the environmentalists say and fight for too.

 

“But with these companies, if you get hurt on the job, eh—I’ve been hurt on the job—they come to you real quiet, and they say, how do you want to do this? We want this to be kept real quiet, so they throw some money at you, and it’s a lot of money, and on paper it says you’ve clocked in and out though you’ve never been there. Man it’s a lot of money.  And you want to get back out onto the job, because that’s when you get the most money, especially if you get time and a half or double time. I’ve worked 17-hour shifts before, you know. And imagine being a teenager, right out of high school, you’ve never had to flip burgers or nothing, and they give you $36 an hour and say rake this gravel here, or something, of course you’re gonna do it.

“It’s so beautiful out there, and it’s so funny, if you think about it, what you’re doing it for, eh? It’s backwards and dirty, but man it’s a lot of money.  I paid off my house already, and three trucks. Ha! Ha!  I got two boys at home, one’s sixteen, and he just got his L license and he wants a truck of course.”

Smoking with another crew member later the same night, a chain smoker, older, wearing big wire-framed glasses, a gentle and passive demeanour:

“This one time we were building a pipe and we saw a squirrel that lived in this tree.  Right where the pipe was supposed to go. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do. So the men, they thought about it, and they said we should dig the whole tree up and just put it over there. That way the pipe could go straight.”

He chuckles and shakes his head from side to side.

“Do you think that’s crazy, or smart?” I asked.

“Well, for the animal, I guess it’s good. But I don’t know, I can’t say. I bet the squirrel knows.  But I don’t know.” He shrugs his shoulders like these things are beyond him.

Two Caucasian girls, members of the group, young, blond, pretty, with idealistic naivety, sweet, unassuming, innocent, constantly smiling, giggling; mostly they kept their distance from the rest of the team, and brought their work with them to the bar.  I imagine they were the greenwashers, giving the oil bonanza a gentle, human face, a white, smiling, superficial veneer, too sweet and unassuming to be reproached.  Environmental rehabilitators. Nature lovers.

 

Illustration by Katherine Beeson. Copy right Katherine Beeson.
Illustration by Katherine Beeson. Copy right Katherine Beeson.