April – dawned full of promise.
BUT a week into the month my car was not working again, this time it was corroded brake lines and an electrical issue that kept the running lights and cabin fans on – even with them turned off, fuses pulled and the car off.
So I focused on my work – it became a mantra during some difficult times ahead. I would close my eyes and remember the reasons that I had come to Alberta in the first place.
The month kicked off with a high school aged provincial performing arts festival.
Spring was now springing but that meant nothing for the midget hockey series. They were still pushing their way through their playoffs.
However, the Junior B hockey team, the North Peace Navigators, had finished their season and were now touring the town with their trophy. They stopped by a gymnastics centre to donate some money and the kids got to get up close and personal with the cup and some players.
Then I had one of the craziest weeks thus far.
It started with a series of unexpected text messages – it became clear my girlfriend in Lloydminister was using the medium to break up with me. I felt hurt and pretty deeply disrespected over the whole situation.
But again my mantra played through my head.
I decided to focus on my work and building friendships in Peace River. That week a friend and I were driving through town on a particularly warm day to go to the movie theatre. I turned a corner and the road was blocked and flooded…
So I dropped off Tyler, went home grabbed my cameras and went to work.
This was my first experience with the QMI wire. This photo of a Ford Probe was used with papers owned by Sun Media around Canada, accompanied by a brief. Parts of downtown Peace River had been put under voluntary evacuation that night – so it was news.
Interesting note about the Probe… My first car, a ’96 Mazda 626, was built on the same frame and chassis as the Probe – they were built at the same plant in Flatrock Michigan. The Probe is a two-door coupe though and I was looking to buy a Probe or an Integra in December ’13 when I started looking for a car to replace my 626. I found an Integra.
The next morning was my day off but I was up for an emergency council meeting. Then I left to go and find someone who had left their home the night prior due to the floods. I found this fellow whose ground floor and basement had been demolished by the waters.
Later that day I was driving home and as I pulled up to my street I spotted two moose grazing across the road.
I pulled over and grabbed my cameras and took some pictures.
I went home and remember thinking that despite how rough the month had started – this was a pretty beautiful place and the beauty just kind of slaps you in the face when you don’t expect it but need it the most sometimes – there were good things happening.
The photos were for me but I’m also the town reporter – so I figured I should file them. I found out later they were used by the Toronto Sun to illustrate a recap of the “10 most Canadian News Stories Ever.” That happened a few moths later but when it did I smiled.
All in all April was actually a slow month for me, photographically. There was a lull in events and I was trying to step up my game as a writer. After March I had grown cocky and complacent – not good. Going into April I gave my head a shake and focused on writing and finding better stories, improving my photography was put on the side.
While I struggle with this decision I have thought about it like this: I actually never wanted to be a photojournalist, I wanted to be a journalist. Photography seemed like a means to an end. In the process I got wrapped up in the competition and I forgot about the journalism part, until I moved out here.
Putting the emphasis on being a journalist I know I can take good pictures. But I know those pictures will have more legs if I can write about the subject, interview sources, experts and write bout it later.
Still I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a creative portrait when I did a portrait of a denturist in town. In her office there was a dentist light used to light the inside of your mouth and I thought – perfect, I’ll use it to light her.
After April I was broke trying to cover my still breaking car. Despite that, I knew I had been able to grow quite a bit as a writer, I was much more comfortable with the crappy parts of journalism too – tracking down a source, transcribing notes and endless cold call phone calls to strangers. Those are the parts NO ONE emphasizes when they start talking about how cool it would be to be a journalist.
Going into May I figured I decided I would step up my photo game again, now that I had a better handle on this writing thing. As for the car – she was slipping further away.
In the settler era, when wagon trains left the east to settle in the west, oftentimes the weeks long journey would result in deaths of settlers en route. So they had to bury them, place a cross and move on. Once these colonies were established there was a high mortality rate in the first year.
Cat and myself made it here safely, Brea, unfortunately had started to show she had not recovered from the sickness she incurred from our crash outside Winnipeg. I started to come to terms with the fact that my party may face a 33 per cent mortality rate.
Unfortunately I had no other options but to continue to use Brea the Integra for the time being.
In the Instagram world…
With Spring on the way I took this picture of Peace River as it started to melt.
Cat had started to grow used to her new home – however, even by April it was clear she hadn’t forgiven me for the trip west.
This is the Instagram photo I took of the moose crossing the street. The orange apartment building behind it is where I live, you can se my living room window from this picture.
As a reporter in town I was invited to be a guest judge at an elementary school heritage fair event. The fair is like a science fair where kids make projects about Canadian history and heritage. It was pretty cool.
This is a photo of the full moon over the town. The view is from my living room window. I wanted to go to a lookout spot outside of town but my car wasn’t working that night, so I wasn’t able to.
I have been waiting for a night like this since.
A few weeks later when my car was working, it was Easter. There was a morning church service on one of the lookouts – it was pretty cool.
That weekend some friends came over to my apartment and we baked a turkey. This a pic before it went in.
In a search for affordable and fulfilling pastimes I got a library cards and some books.
On a rainy day when my Integra was working. Car porn.
At one point work took me to the nearby town of Grimshaw so I snapped some pics.
In Grimshaw the Mackenzie Highway starts. The highway goes to Yellowknife, one day I’d like to drive it.
More to come on May.
It’s been four months since I updated this blog – I think that is some record.
This will be the first part in a four part series catching my blog up to the point where I’m at.
My previous post, just Instagrams and my own personal story left off with my arrival in Peace River, Alberta. Where I started work as THE reporter – photographer at the Record-Gazette newspaper.
The Record-Gazette serves the town of Peace River and its surrounding communities.
It’s a beautiful town – in the middle of nowhere – a small bastion of progressive principles in northern Alberta. Which is odd because we’re in the heart of Conservative oil country.
There is an incredibly strong sense of community here. People work long hours, then volunteer to coach soccer, ref hockey, fundraise, or run some sort of non-profit. Despite the fact that the town is near the heart of a swirling oil and gas controversy, and has experienced some abhorrent environmental and social behaviour from that industry in the region decades ago, the people who live here – in Peace River – see themselves as guardians of a valuable commodity and a pristine wilderness setting.
That dichotomy – and the conflict that comes with it – has made Peace River into a very interesting place to live.
There is an enviro-friendly café that serves great coffee down the road from a major oil company’s office. There is a Yoga studio and wellness store across the road from a western menswear store (with a huge selection of cowboy boots).
This first photo came from my first week on the job solo, in late February. We have a weekly feature called ‘Seniors of the Peace.’ Essentially I sit down with a senior, any senior who wants to tell me a story about their life, and I do my best to tell it.
I liked the idea – though at first it intimidated me a lot – Betty-Lou was the first one I interviewed, her story is here.
My first couple of assignments were school-related events. This one was from a diversity day event at Good Shepherd, the local Catholic elementary school.
Crossing into March I was still VERY green. One of the ironies early on was, while I had strong sports photography skills, I had terrible sports writing skills, more of that in part three though.
This photo required me to get up early, truck out in cold weather and was never published – it’s not even a great pic. But it was a sentimental one to take for me. The war in Afghanistan began when I was in Grade 7. I remember growing up with the conflict on the constant periphery of Canadian society, culture and politics. Regardless of your views on the war it’s shaped Canada dramatically. Peace River High School was going to lower their flag to half-mast at sunrise on the day of Canada’s withdrawal. Unfortunately we’re in a valley and at sunrise the sun hadn’t come over the hills so we were in one big shadow. I remember thinking about where I was when airplanes of soldiers landed over seas – there is so much that has changed, everywhere since then.
I shot a lot of hockey this winter. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, I am in northern Alberta after all. My ONLY issue is, the lighting at the local arena sucks… the bulbs are all on different colour balance settings, so it is actually IMPOSSIBLE to get a clean looking white balance. Also there aren’t any port holes in the glass for cameras and it looks like they’ve never washed the puck marks off the glass.
THAT BEING SAID – the North Peace Navigators is another sign of Peace River’s uniqueness – the ‘Navs’ took the cup this year, first time in six years in the Northwest Junior Hockey League (NWJHL). I arrived just in time for the start of playoffs and despite the lighting/glass issues I got some fun photos.
This goal was disallowed. Lol.
In neighbouring Grimshaw they have a newer arena with consistent white balances, I photographed a minor hockey game there.
But then that minor hockey series returned to Peace River.
The senior feature has given me a chance to learn about Peace River and the area from people who have lived here for decades, their stories range from happy, sad, heartwarming, full of lessons and everything in between. It’s also a chance to do a quick on the spot environmental portrait once a week.
When I spoke about Peace River’s dichotomy earlier – the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) office is two stories up and directly across the road from the local Progressive Conservative MLA’s constituency office. Which mean AUPE’s office is LITERALLY looking down on the MLA.
In March, in minus 18 weather, AUPE and other supporting unions came out to picket new changes to public service pensions and labour negotiating rights.
And then more hockey, this time it was the Navs final game of the playoffs, the Record-Gazette published a photo gallery here.
Went looking for some creative crowd shots between periods.
This puck got caught in the netting, with a boost this little girl went home with a game puck.
And finally the ‘jubo shot,’ photojournalism slang for ‘jubilation shot,’ basically a photo of the celebration. My FAVOURITE part of shooting sports tournements is when the team wins and media/league people come on the game/ice surface, it’s the only time it’s allowed and it makes me feel bad ass. BUT you’re there to work, so I took a bunch of pics.
Finally March was capped off with a trip to the Underground Music society’s monthly show. It’s musical proof of that dichotomy I mentioned earlier. This is a country and western/classic rock town. But the Underground brings in bluesy, jazz, new rock stuff – it’s Peace River’s official underground music scene.
Coming into March I truly felt out of depth and green. By the end of it I finally felt like I wrestled the workload down and had gotten on top of it. That feeling definitely carried into April.
On the more personal side.
One of my first days here, while walking to my car, a heard of deer came rushing by. Later in the spring I found them grazing on the lawn outside my building.
This is the view from highway 2 heading into town, basically what it looked like when I drove in.
This is the mouth of the Heart river near my place. These are deer tracks over the ice in the winter.
When I first moved out here I was dating a girl who lived in Macklin, Sask. at the time. During one of my trips there we ended up in Denzil, Sask. which just felt like Corner Gas.
Right here, these are the essentials of my job, technology-wise.
Once again car problems, this time it was a frozen battery, but it was the start of a cascade of problems…
Peace River was beautiful in the winter, I thought. Locals kept saying, “wait until it gets green.” That was a fair statement, but still, it was nice here in the winter.
A little over a week after I started at work I was in a local gas station paying for gas. The guy in front of me was buying the Edmonton Sun and the Record-Gazette, which had my first cover on it. I felt pretty awesome standing in line behind him.
Finally my companion, Cat. She’s adjusted to life out here by peeing on everything, we’re working on that. But I know she has an affinity for high places so I found a way to put her bed on a perch. She likes being able to look down on me.
Next will be about the month of April, posted on Monday July 14.