Posted in Pass Herald Waterton Addition June 20 2018.
Waterton is back in business.
For a number of years, Waterton has been my favorite quiet place. I used to be a frequent visitor to Banff in the sixties and seventies, but slowly found myself crowded out by a steady increase in commercialism. For a while, Canmore retained the “little town in the mountains” character, but it didn’t last long either. Only an hour from a city of over a million people left Canmore vulnerable to a steady push towards mega development and altered its character. The next place that offered majestic mountains, forests in natural state and lakes of fresh mountain water was Waterton. Here I could still enjoy a one of a kind natural Canadian Rockies beauty, meet thousands of international visitors and enjoy a solitary walk on a natural trail without feeling that enjoyment in life is directly related to my credit card limits.
I live in a mountain forest and I am too old to start looking for another place even if I wanted to. As much as I try to never even think about my peaceful haven being endangered, I could never forget the warnings of those who made it their business to study major trends in the environment. They predicted that the increase in greenhouse gasses would eventually cause climate change, and steady increase in floods, droughts and forest fires frequencies. Closing my eyes and burying my head in the sand didn’t help.
One after another weather-related disasters came, each time with a qualifier that this was rare events. Calgary had a hundred year flood, the Crowsnest Pass had floods and fires and now the big one, the Kenow 2017 fire in Waterton National Park. Climate change is assaulting my home and my favorite places. I know that forest fires are an integral part of nature, but natural disasters are speeding up. My political leaders are saying that it should be ignored for economic reasons, but our well-learned experts are disputing the notion and are winning based on evidence.
Last summer we heard the warnings of the weather experts, as we do now every summer. BC was tinder dry and fires were erupting everywhere. Alberta was still recovering from the Fort Mc Murray disaster when the news splashed over the screens. A fire in Waterton Parks coming from Montana and BC. I tried to ignore it so it will go away but I didn’t have an alternate universe like the President of the United States does. The ranchers were being evacuated from what I call God’s Country, and the huge wall of flames was charging faster than any cavalry towards that peaceful, simple town that I love, Waterton.
Just like a few years prior in the Crowsnest Pass, brave Canadian men and women don their orange suits and shovels in hands went to fight for their country. Our brave pilots both helicopters, and fixed wings, worked to the point of exhaustion while churches and community halls turned into evacuees centers. Money and volunteers poured from all over and grandmas were baking for displaced families. A wall of firefighters with determined blackened faces stood their ground against a much bigger wall of flames and smoke and defended the homes of other Canadians they never met but felt a strong kinship with. Whoever or whatever attacks Canada, or any part of it, must know that they will not win against our determination, hardiness and strong sense of unity. We were not melted together in Canada; we “chose” to be one and you see the benefits in action when we face a foe.
Last week I went back to see how Waterton is fairing after the fire. Many trees are leafless and the surrounding mountains don’t look like they used to. Everywhere there are scars, but nature and people are fighting back. The lakes are still peacefully blue and the mountains remain majestic as ever. They have been through fires before thousands of times. The ancient people of Waterton, named Blackfoot after their ability to exist after fires, opened a new information center and descendants of pioneers operate the quaint little businesses in the area. Others are a testimony of new Canadians who brought interpretership from the far east and prospered under our multicultural system. You hardly find any chain stores or restaurants in Waterton. People don’t come here for the predictable and familiar, but for the unique and creative experience.
I was surprised to see the town already being under construction and even more astonished to see the number of tourists constantly driving in or even arriving in busses. There are trailers and motorhomes in the full campground and happy faces wherever you look. Just like every other year before the fire, you hear every language on earth spoken on Main Street. People are hiking and strolling about, looking with awe at the line that the fire was not able to cross. Just like in our game Hockey, the defense did their job and people are amused by our determination. Every half-burned tree right on the edge of town is a witness and the majestic hotel, the Prince of Wales, stands defiantly amongst the burnt brush as a background for the thousands of visitors who take “selfies” in front of it.
PHOTO CREDIT: P PHOTO CR
I watched a wedding party taking pictures with Cameron Falls in the background and got talking to a couple of teenagers who mistaken me for a tourist. The girl said wise words that can’t escape my mind. She looked at her relative getting married and said: “it is more important to love than to be loved.” So Canadian and so appropriate in a place they call The Peace Park.
EDIT: Parks Canada I watched a wedding party taking pictures with Cameron Falls in the background and got talking to a couple of teenagers who mistaken me for a tourist. The girl said wise words that can’t escape my mind. She looked at her relative getting married and said: “it is more important to love than to be loved.” So Canadian and so appropriate in a place they call The Peace Park.
Photo Credit Parks Canada/ Ryan Peruniak.