Life in Peace River: Part 1 – The Land of Winter(fell)
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.