I didn’t expect to leave Peace River after eight months.
There were several competing circumstances, which eventually led to my decision to change jobs. I have now been in my new home, Whitecourt, Alta. about 300 km southeast of Peace River, or 175 km northwest of Edmonton working at the Whitecourt Star, the weekly newspaper in town, for just over a month.
More to come on Whitecourt, though in another post – for now a wrap up of Peace River.
Below is the text of my final column in the Record-Gazette, it sums up my feelings on leaving the town pretty well. Below that, are a bunch of photos from the summer in Peace River, June – until my departure in early September.
From the Peace River Record-Gazette Sept. 10, 2014
Well Peace River this is it for us.
This will be my final column in the Peace River Record-Gazette and this is the final issue I will be working on.
Starting this Wednesday I will be taking up a position at the Whitecourt Star.
Peace River will forever hold a special place in my heart. Not just because this was my first full-time job in journalism but because Peace River is a truly special place.
This is a town where a trip to the grocery store can involve seeing the northern lights, deer, or a moose or two.
It’s a place of immense natural beauty coupled with great opportunity. Not every small-town is like that.
One of the indicators I noticed are the number of young professionals in town who are from town. The number of kids who move away for post-secondary then return to pursue a career here must be disproportionate, compared to other similar sized towns.
What it says, is that even after ‘getting out,’ seeing the world, and living in the city, lots of the youth still want to come back.
That really says a lot about this place.
What is stunning is the self-awareness of the people here as well. Many of the people I talk to understand not only what a gift a place like this is but also the responsibility it entails.
You see that in the community groups that spring up and the ability of the community to fundraise for certain projects.
Urban centres would pay untold amounts of money to have this kind of community spirit and Peace River has it in spades.
It’s going to take a while to digest all the things that Peace River has taught me.
However, to everyone in this community I want to say thank you, thank you for reading, thank you for caring and thank you for being you.
For all of us here at the Record-Gazette, you stay classy Peace River.
– Adam Dietrich
Well that’s it.
Next post will be about Whitecourt I guess.
May started off hot and dry. It was the firs month where the weather started to feel like spring, every week.
I started driving with the window down.
So one day when I spotted a huge plume of smoke coming from the other end of town I assumed a field was on fire.
As I pulled up to the scene, I realized I was right, sort of.
There was a field on fire but it was a controlled burn. The hot dry conditions had prompted local fire firefighters, with some help from Provincial wildfire fighters, to start burning large swaths of land around town.
The problem was the wild grass grows right up to a subdivision, so if a wildfire had started, it could very quickly spread to the homes and engulf them. By burning it in a controlled manner, they reduced the risk dramatically.
That same day while driving, I spotted Danny. Danny is – an interesting character. He is a philosopher of sorts, a musician, and somewhat homeless. I know he lives in a trailer on the edge of someone’s land and that he hangs out downtown collecting bottles and I see him working through my buildings trash once a week.
We’ve chatted before, on occasion he gives our staff gifts. Most recently he gave me a fuse from an electrical pole along the Alaska Highway, or so he said. He also gave our 19-year-old female receptionist a roll of saran wrap and told her it was for her to wear at Peacefest, a concert that happens here in July.
Regardless – as I drove past him on the bridge, guitar slung over his shoulder, big black duster jacket, I knew it would make a pretty sweet picture. So I pulled over, took the photo then went up and chatted with him. I realized I didn’t actually know his last name.
Spring obviously means football… right?
Well it does for the Grande Prairie area Pee Wee league.
I have to admit, I was REALLY excited to photograph football. I haven’t had the opportunity to do it yet and it’s one of those sports that produces really intense peak action photos. This was Pee Wee, but the kids were pretty motivated and I considered it a training and education in preparation for the fall when the Bantam and/or Midget/high school teams start.
This photo is not peak action but it is from the first game I shot.
May was a season of wrap-ups for winter extracurricular activities. Recitals, final performances, playoffs etc. I found it a little stressful only because EVERYONE pulls at you because it’s do or die for all the groups. I did my best to manage it and cover all the groups as they came up.
When I was in Grade 11 we took a field trip to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ont. During that day we toured the ICU, the physical rehabilitation centre, spoke with police, paramedics and firefighters. The goal was to scare kids into not drinking and driving.
What I didn’t know was that the P.A.R.T.Y (Preventing Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth) program, had gone nation-wide.
So 10 years after taking part in the program myself, I found myself in a field in St. Isidore photographing a mock car accident.
The looks on the students faces reminded me of the looks on our faces during our trip. Some were, literally traumatized by the experience, others were sick. Myself, I remember feeling sad for days. BUT statistics show that since the program has come into practice, alcohol related deaths in youth have dropped. So what does that mean?
Is a day of coordinated and controlled trauma excusable if it helps to prevent a much worse one later?
I kinda lean towards agreeing that in the case of booze and driving, yeah, it’s not a bad idea to show kids EXACTLY what the consequences are. Better they see an upsetting play, a theatrical performance, than live it themselves later.
And as an example of the diversity of my job, two days later I was in a church photographing the Peace River community choir’s final performance of the season.
This next photo was all kinds of fun for me.
I was sitting in my office when a call came in from ATCO Electric, the utility company up here. To be honest I thought I was about get some kind of bad news about my account or something. Turns out they had constructed an Osprey nest and they wanted me to come take a picture of it.
They had built a pole near some power lines with the idea of enticing the Osprey to build a nest there instead of on top of the power poles. Last year an Osprey had done that and it started a fire and caused a power outage in the area.
Turns out the company’s plan had worked and the Osprey had built a nest on the platform. So they invited me, and the reporter from the newspaper in Grimshaw, to come out and take pics. Best part was they put us in a bucket truck and raised it up.
Unfortunately all the activity spooked the birds and they left the nest, so it became about trying to take a picture as the bird flew past the nest.
And once again back to football. I was learning by now that the Pee Wees didn’t hit that hard, they’re just too young and light.
I’m not a big football fan, so this gave me a chance to learn the rules, how the game worked and frankly gain an appreciation for the sport I didn’t have before.
The final two pics were really fun to be a part of.
In 2013 I photographed Ottawa Fashion Week. It was fine, I’m not really into fashion. I just wanted to do it to check it off my list and I had a free pass because I was volunteering my time.
While there though there was a collection by the wife of a certain diplomat from a certain country that has a certain bloody colonial history regarding Canada’s First Nations. However, she had a whole collection that was ‘Native inspired.’
I felt sick.
I actually turned my cameras off during that show. The mutterings backstage were all the same, people seemed to think it was in poor taste but no one would say it to the designer herself.
So when the Peace River Metis and Aboriginal interagency committee put on a fashion show it was an opportunity to photograph native inspired fashion, made by First Nations and Metis designers and worn and modeled by First Nations and Metis people.
The difference between the two shows couldn’t be more blatant.
I will say this though – my experience at Ottawa Fashion Week taught me HOW to shoot an event like a fashion show. So I remain glad I went just over a year ago as a student.
That’ a look at May through the pages of the Record-Gazette. Below is a look at the random crap that happened through some Instagrams.
I’m not Catholic but covering the mass that preceded the graduation of the Catholic high school kids was pretty cool. I appreciated being allowed to take pics unfettered too.
There was a big conference in early May called the Peace Oil Sands conference, which was about oil. It featured a tradeshow that was mostly boring (to me as a non-oil business type) with the exception of a massive crane that was giving rides.
Naturally as a member of the press it was my responsibility to take a ride to document it for the future…
During the conference I had a chance to meet political pundit, and I guess you could technically call us co-workers, Ezra Levant. For those who don’t know Ezra he works for Sun News and hosts a TV show that has been somewhat – contentious. Regardless sitting with him and picking his brain on a variety of subjects in private was VERY interesting. This is a pic of our office’s manager talking to him in a back room of the conference centre.
He was there as the keynote speaker.
During May I had a visit from a buddy of mine. James Wood(s) and I went to Loyalist together. We were in different sections but the same year. He got a job at the Lloydminster Meridian-Booster, also owned by QMI, in Lloydminster.
He came up to Peace River and we wandered around, it was fun.
During the fire I drove up to the 12-Foot Davis gravesite, which overlooks the town. I wanted to see what the plume of smoke looked like from a distance.
Another day same lookout this time though epic car porn photo.
This next picture was from the P.A.R.T.Y program – after the mock car crash I spotted some very able-bodied firefighters playing around with some wheelchairs. The wheelchairs were there as an obstacle course for the kids to do. The idea being – do you see how hard this is? Don’t drink, don’t drive and you won’t suffer a spinal injury in a car crash.
The kids were on lunch and the firefighters were racing the chairs… Big kids.
While out exploring the roads I found this hill, popular with dirt bikers, I saw a guy sitting there, taking in the view before descending – so I snapped some pics.
Later that week we said goodbye to one of the town’s other reporters. They exist they just work at the radio station. Megan was moving onto a job as a videojournalist at City TV Edmonton. So obviously that meant a pub night to celebrate.
Midway through the mayor popped by. He was there with some councilors for wings so he came over to say bye.
As the weather got nicer and my car functioned more frequently, I started taking regular trips up to various lookouts around town. In a few cases I went there with my laptop to write stories or editing pictures.
It was a nice office view.
Here’s a better picture of the view.
As May closed, Peace River’s very short spring was over. Summer, although still three weeks away, felt like it was here.
And the days started getting much, much longer.
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.
This blog post will deviate in several ways from my typical ones, it will be a bit more personal and candid than I typically am. That being said, everything about me, and my online presence including this blog, which I have maintained in some capacity since 2009, may also change dramatically at some point in the near future.
If you are only here to look at picture of my road trip, by all means please scroll down, there will be info in the captions, which should provide context.
Part One: From lost 18-year old to staff reporter
In reality this story began on the edge Lake Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Colombia in late June 2007. I was 18, less than three weeks out of high school and four provinces from home.
As a diversion from more school I had applied for the Canada World Youth exchange program, a six month international youth community service exchange. We were in Osoyoos, ten random Canadians from across the country, each matched with a counterpart from Uruguay. We lived with host families and worked as volunteers in the community during the days. We came from all walks of life.
A week and a half into the program, I was walking down towards the lake on a very warm, dry evening getting to know a guy named Dave Stacey, he was from Stephenville Newfoundland and a student at Memorial. He was taking a break to do this exchange.
We smoked cigarettes and talked about the different types of winter Ontario got versus Newfoundland, then he asked me what I wanted to do.
The question stunned me, I was on this exchange to escape that. So I told him that, he looked at my camera hanging on my shoulder. A Canon 10D with a 35-85mm f/4-5.6. It was a piece of crap in current terms, but in that time and place it was a show piece.
“What about photography?” He asked.
“Oh,” I said, “No I’m not interested in that, I just wanted to have a decent camera for this and my dad was switching formats so he sold it to me cheap.” I said.
He paused for a moment then spoke.
“There’s more to photography than photography, you ever thought about photojournalism?”
“No,” I said, truthfully I didn’t know what that was.
“Oh man,” he said, “It’s photography for newspapers, magazines, documentary, like National Geographic.”
My ears perked at this. As the program wore on there were a lot of things that happened but I will come back to that later.
I knew nothing about photography, but I had a camera. And so for the rest of the program I started fiddling with the settings figuring out what the shutter did, the aperture did etc. I didn’t have ready access to photography teachers or the internet at the time.
When I came home in December of 2007 I was 19, I thought I knew everything and my focus centered on escaping again. I started working as a temporary laborer in Guelph while living at my parents to save money. When I had the funds I left for Southeast Asia.
Again, the details of these three months could fill pages. But I realized something, I thrived on the sense of adventure, I could socialize well, and I was smart.
In September 2008 I arrived in Ottawa to begin my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. I had really grand intentions, however, I quickly filled my plate with school, work and the Charlatan.
The Charlatan, the school newspaper became my second home. I sat on the couch and absorbed the conversations of the editors and the writers. Many of whom are successful journalists today. I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by such talent.
However, I was motivated by visuals I never really considered writing.
It was also during this time that I started this blog.
When I left Carleton it was with the worst of mixed emotions I had achieved a lot. I had been published nationally multiple times, I had out-filed the wires on a few big assignments, I had a front page of a national newspaper, and more covers of the Charlatan than I could count. I had a partner, someone I loved deeply, and I had friends, really I had a family of people.
I look back on the years 2009-2011 with the uttermost fondness and joy, I can’t begin to describe it. Simply put I thought I would never leave Ottawa completely.
Then one drunken night in 2011 happened, it was May, the playoffs were on and I was at the Georgetown pub with some friends watching and drinking. Suddenly my friend Joel Eastwood, who had been like a brother and a somewhat kindred spirit throughout Carleton, turned to me and passed me his phone.
On it was an email from the Carleton school of journalism apprenticeships advisor passing along an email. The email was looking for a photojournalism student who spoke both English and Spanish to participate in an expenses covered six-month exchange.
I told him so send it to me so I could look it over the next morning, sober.
I never thought I would get it, I applied on a whim. Yet there I was standing in a bus shelter at 5am in January, sick, sleepless, wearing everything warm I had to bring to Costa Rica.
It was one of those biting Ottawa winter nights in Early January, -35 plus wind-chill. I had spent the night refusing to sleep because it was my last night in the apartment I had shared with my girlfriend Yamina, an there was a big part of me that regretted leaving.
When the time came to leave, walking out the door and down the road to the bus stop was indescribably hard. That whole 48 hour period and trip to Costa Rica was a blur of sad and tragic feelings mixed with the greatest joy and excitement.
I was moving to Costa Rica for six-months to be a reporter-photographer at a local newspaper there.
After I arrived I felt like I was immediately over my head. I hadn’t written much before, I knew only the basics of actual written reporting and my Spanish was not good enough to keep up.
Somehow I made it, and I learned a lot along the way and produced some good work.
When I returned to Canada I was now on a mission.
I started attending Loyalist College in January of 2013 as a fast-track student, meaning I could skip the first semester. My first priority was to find a summer job.
In the end it came down to one job left at Toronto Community News. A collection of nine newspapers owned by Metroland Media, which operated out of the same newsroom. The final candidates were myself and one of my best friends a guy named Chris King. In the end I got the job.
As I settled in, I had a mix of feelings. I’d never done anything this cool, yet my success felt tempered because I knew Chris was still looking for work.
He found summer work as a reporter at a local newspaper in Whitecourt, northern Alberta. When we moved in together for our second year of Loyalist and started talking about our summers, I had to confess, I was a little jealous of his experience.
I wanted to work in Alberta, drive across Canada and be a local reporter suddenly.
Then it happened, in early December I had the week of all weeks. My car broke and had to be scrapped, my girlfriend of three years broke up with me two days after planning a surprise birthday party, I found out I had failed to get an interview for the Globe and Mail summer job and I failed one of my classes.
I felt like I’d gone from being on top of the world in August, to considering giving up in December.
Then January happened.
Over December I had made peace with my lost interview opportunity, spoken with a prof and done some extra credit work to pass. I had replaced my crappy old Mazda 626 with a modded out Acura Integra with a stick shift, and I was starting my final semester.
I couldn’t help but feel depressed though. So as an exercise I started applying for jobs on Jeff Gaulin’s journalism job site. I genuinely expected nothing to happen.
I continued to live my life, I fell in love again with a girl who I had just met. She pretty much literally fell out of the sky. As we got to know one another it turned out we were in very similar places in life, love, ambition, career and goals. She’d been in Alberta for the previous few years, and had returned east after the rug was pulled out from under her to regroup around friends and family.
Just as life in Belleville was starting to improve though I got an email.
It was from the editor of the Peace River Record-Gazette, in Peace River Alberta asking if I was free for an interview.
It’s hard to describe how I felt, this was a version of a dream come true. The job included a lot of writing and I had my doubts. However, I agreed to the interview.
Two days later I found out I had the job. It had taken seven years, almost, from the time I decided being a photojournalist would be an interesting career to the point where I was accepting a full-time staff job as a Multimedia journalist.
Part Two: From Belleville, Ontario to Peace River, Alberta
I gave myself a week to pack up in Belleville, then a few days in Guelph to see my family and finish preparations. At the last minute I decided to take the family cat Coco.
My final week in Belleville was intense. I suddenly became aware that the friendships I had formed weren’t just out of convenience, I was actually going to miss these people. Then there was Cynthia, she basically spent the week at my apartment, we weren’t anything official yet, but it was still painful to leave everyobe on some level.
Then I got sick from exhaustion. I waited an extra day before leaving, on Saturday February 8th I hit the road.
My first stop was Sudbury, I have family there but didn’t have time to pay them a visit, thankfully I saw them all recently at Christmas. I stopped by Big Nickel Mine for a photo, because it is such a huge attraction, then continued on. That night I pulled into Sault Ste. Marie Ontario around 9pm and crashed for the night at a Super 8 Motel.
The next day I hit the road early hoping to make it to Thunder Bay. I was now in a part of the province I’d never really seen before. I remember loving that day of driving so much, the roads were clear and dry the scenery was beautiful and it was the first time I saw Lake Superior.
I rolled into Thunder Bay around 9pm, this time I was staying with friends of a former co-worker. Natalie and I had worked together at a café in Guelph called With the Grain the year before. Now a student at Lakehead University, she had friends who had a couch I could sleep on. That was amazing.
The day was going just fine until I got to Ste. Anne about 45 minutes east of Winnipeg. I decided to take a picture of the sunset over the prairies, it was my first time seeing it, and I misjudged the shoulder and found myself in a ditch.
Some ‘friendly Manitobans’ came by with a truck and a chain and pulled me out, we said our goodbyes and I was on my way.
Then it happened again.
I figured I would get a second picture, because now the sun was touching the horizon. So I pulled over preparing to do a three-point turn. And once again found myself in the ditch. I was livid, mostly with myself. I screamed at the prairies, then tried to jack my car up to put it on my floor mats to get out.
It didn’t work, I tried shifting the weight in the car, using kitty litter everything and in the process I burnt out my radiator and overheated the engine. Now it was minus 45 Celsius, my heater was broken the winds were picking up and it was dark.
I never took the second picture.
I called CAA, it was almost two hours before I saw a truck.
When CAA came they helped me out, then I drove to Winnipeg. The whole way there my windows kept fogging up, the defrosters weren’t working, the engine sounded off. I was so worried, stressed and I could no longer feel my toes but I was 100% focused on getting to my friend’s house safely.
As I pulled onto their street my engine light, maintenance light and oil light all came on and my car started stalling while I was shifting, normally my engine would stall at under 400 rpm now it was stalling at anywhere between 400-1500 I had no idea what was wrong. I decided I would deal with it the next day.
The next morning it wouldn’t start. The battery was frozen, I called CAA again and there was a tense moment where I was worried the engine wouldn’t turn over because the car was now literally out of oil. With the fried radiator the engine had been overheating while I drove 75km to Winnipeg, it had burned off all the oil.
We poured some in, the tow-truck driver connected my battery to his charger and I got in my car. I said a small prayer (something I NEVER do) then turned the key. The engine sprang to life and at that moment I could have almost cried I was so happy.
I followed the CAA guy to a local shop and dropped my car off. It took them just over a day, but they replaced that radiator, put in more coolant, and checked the car over. There was one little issue: the running lights and blowers weren’t turning off, even with them turned off the key out and the fuse pulled.
It suddenly became clear the previous owner has rewired the entire car. It took the mechanics 4.5 hours to fix it. I walked away with a functioning car and $1050 poorer.
Now though I wanted to explore Winnipeg.
Richard and Melissa are two of my oldest closest friends. We met in 2007 during my exchange, Richard was from Ottawa and Melissa was from Winnipeg. During the program I watched them fall in love. Since then they’ve gone to school together, lived together, had a baby together and this summer are getting married, I get to photograph it.
Without question they let me into their home, fed me and gave me and my cat a place to stay.
I saw Portage and Main, The Forks, the Toad in the Hole, St. Boniface and downtown. Not a bad little tour.
The next morning I rolled out of Winnipeg. While my trip there had been tarnished by an expensive Instagram, a frozen night on the prairies and some bad memories of a previous relationship, I did realize something: I really liked the city, it was beautiful and the vibe I got was right up my alley. Plus now that I had dealt with the negative feelings there I felt like there was space to come back and rediscover the city. I can’t wait to do so.
Winnipeg was a far more significant stop in my journey than I had ever intended it to be.
I continued across the Prairies now crossing into Saskatchewan, it was also my first time in that province. I suppose this goes without saying but I have NEVER seen a place that was so flat in my life. Their license plates say “Land of the living sky,” I understand that now.
I rolled into Saskatoon around 8 and met up with a friend of mine, Alexandra Stang. We’d gone to university together and I knew her through the Charlatan. She had actually officiated the election where I was elected photo editor. That was 2010, it felt like a lifetime ago.
We chatted and she gave me a list of spots to check out in Saskatoon. So the next morning I went and checked them out. Saskatoon was another city that very pleasantly surprised me.
Now I felt like I was nearing the end of my journey, certainly it was the end of 800km+ days. That afternoon I drove the three hours from Saskatoon to Lloydminster, a city where the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan literally runs through the middle. My friend from Loyalist, Jeff Peters, work there as a reporter at the Lloydminister Meridian Booster, he’d moved out here almost a year earlier.
It was nice to see him and get a feel for the work he was doing, I thought it was a bit of a preview for my upcoming work life. We checked out a highway accident and a children’s play.
The next morning we had breakfast, then spent three hours looking for my cat, which had gotten loose in his house and hid herself. When I finally had her I hit the road to Edmonton.
Only two hours away, I rolled into town completely exhausted. I pulled into the Super 8 there and spent the night. It was noticeably warmer here, only about -5. I decided against touring the city, I was too tired and Edmonton is only 4-5 hours from Peace River, I figured I’d be back.
I slept in late and almost missed my checkout. I rushed out the door and hit the road. I was so excited to get to Peace River, I may have had a bit of a heavy foot cruising down the Trans-Canada.
Finally I turned north.
And if I’m being totally honest here, for the first time it actually hit me. As the mileage markers for Peace River continued to march along the road in front of me, so did the faces of my life in Ottawa, Belleville and Guelph. Ontario is the only province I have ever called home. I grew into independence in Guelph, I grew into adulthood in Ottawa and I grew into maturity in Belleville.
Tears rolled down my face as I motored north of Valleyview.
The sun was setting and the roads were getting worse. I was growing more and more anxious, desperately wanting to be in Peace River.
Then suddenly I came over a hill, below me sprawled out along the floor of a valley was a small town with a frozen river that sliced through the middle. I had arrived in Peace River
That night I met the office manager here, Shelly, she took me out for dinner, told me about the community and the people. It was a really nice introduction to the town. That night I slept in my own apartment.
I’m now here, I’ve been at work for just over a week. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. As I move forward here I will post about my experiences in the town.
For those of you who read this whole post, wow, just wow, I hope you enjoyed it.
The blog will return to it’s normal format, whatever that is, starting next week.
The posts will DEFINITELY be shorter going forward.
Well here we are in 2014. I haven’t really been into the blogging much these last few months, however, I have a really good reason: I’ve been insanely busy.
The irony though is I actually have less to show for it than I normally would… The latter half of this past semester was focused on writing, multimedia and longer form photo pieces. Meaning while I was busy it was doing things, like calling sources, conducting interviews and video editing as opposed to just taking pictures.
I am feeling a little more refreshed after the winter break and upon my return to Belleville my roommate and I and stumbled onto some news. This morning after breakfast we noticed a huge plume of smoke rising about eight blocks away and decided to check it out.
Frankly Chris (my roommate) and I hesitated to leave, it was minus 30 today and we’re still on vacation. However, we ended up trekking out. By the time we got there the fire department had already cordoned off the block.
I spoke with some neighbors who were huddling in the cold, they speculated on the cause of the fire. They also told me everyone made it out safe, with the possible exception of one of the neighbors cats.
We didn’t stay long because of the cold. However, sitting at my kitchen table editing I was able to watch as the smoke plume dwindled over the course of an hour or two from the comfort of my own home.
Now, rolling back the clock a bit to early October, we had a news video assignment due for multimedia class. We had to find a community event and shoot and edit a short news video about the event. So I did some research and found a small concert series that was kicking off an eight-month season of monthly shows featuring local musicians. It was a really fun assignment and good chance to further improve my video skills, which is a medium I am growing to love more and more.
As October wore on I dove into one of our major, and cross-platform, assignments. It was called Sense of Place and we had to visually connect a Belleville resident with a significant place in their life in town.
I found Lois Foster, a wonderful lady who has become one of the cities best known archivists (which is important in a small town with a big past). Her home was once a veterinary hospital staffed by her and her husband, they ran the clinic for 40 years before her husband died nine years ago. She still occupies the house that they shared and worked out of.
At the time I thought it was a really touching story about love, commitment and devotion and their story reminded me of my own maternal grandparents.
Underscoring this whole term has been a news photo assignment we needed complete. The spot news assignment requires you to get a photo of an unplanned news event. Really the only challenge is in finding the event, after you show up just get a good angle/vantage point and wait for the decisive moment.
I had a big telephoto on that, to give you an idea of what I mean here is a photo from my Instagram that I took showing the view I had without a telephoto.
In addition to videos and stories, I’ve been working on a documentary project about the issue of gender dysphoria, which in a nutshell, is a disorder where someone is born the wrong sex. The story is a work in progress and I have more images here. Below is a portrait of the subject of this story, a trans-man named Martin.
That project sprang from one I started working on last year, also for class, on a drag queen in Ottawa named Savannah Couture. I have a written profile and photo story here. However, when it came time for us to do our final video this semester I thought it would be interesting to go and check out one of her performances with my camera, below is the result.
Also please check out this group project I had the pleasure of collaborating on, it’s a sweet story about a former CN brake man who now runs the Belleville model train society.
Finally with the passing of 2013 I feel it’s time to declare a theme, for me, it was the year of the car. In January 2013 I bought my first ever car, a 1996 Mazda 626 DX. It was a gutless, featureless, rust-bucket that cost less than most of my lenses. But she bore me safely across 50 000km (Largely from trips to Ottawa) and through my summer in Toronto. In October the problems started. First a leaky tranny line, then the exhaust rusted off then I was told the engine sub-frame was rotten and needed replacing (about $1000…) however, when they took it apart I was informed the rust had spread further than they knew, in short, it was terminal. We went for a final ride, and then I stripped her of her logos and useful components before dropping her off to be scrapped.
It took a month of concerted effort, but it was worth it, for the same price I paid for my 5D mkII I found a 1996 Acura (Honda) Integra RS, so for you Honda nerds that means there’s no Vtec, although I don’t care because I don’t wanna burn oil, use premium fuel or need to drive at 5500 rpm with any regularity. That being said, the previous owner added a short ram air intake, heders, custom exhaust and three strut bars. The car has a lot of power for a 1.8L and literally floats on air around corners and because it’s a hatchback, I still have the same cargo space I had in my 626. It’s also the first manual transmission I’ve ever driven, and I am hooked, I never want to drive automatic again.
So last semester was a tough one, but standing on the edge of 2014 with a bad ass new car, and a confident set of skills I’m pretty excited for what 2014 has in store.
My time here as Metroland’s summer photography co-op student at Toronto Community News is over. Today is my last day, my last assignments have been filed and tomorrow I’m moving things to Belleville. School orientation starts this week and it is going to be a crazy year.
I’ll start this blog post in mid-August. Two Thursday’s ago I went to Albert Campbell Square in front of Scarborough’s Civic Centre. It was India’s independence day, so the local Indian community came out to celebrate.
As the sun was setting it was a great time for pictures, with some dramatic light.
Also interesting dances with great symmetry can make nice pictures.
And then Ghanafest was happening in North York. A colourful day celebrating all things Ghanian.
On Sunday I went to a car wash in Parkdale (over)run by zombies. The Toronto zombie walk was there washing cars in blood, then soap, although one zombie told me blood was preferred over soap…
I capped off the day with a trip to a multicultural street festival on Eglinton Avenue. It was actually pretty empty and low key when I got there, however, I found these steel drummers performing under and awning and the main drummer
When I returned next week on Thursday I started off heading to the renaming of Toronto’s island ferry terminal. It was renamed for the late-leader of the opposition Jack Layton.
Members of his family, unions and supporters were on hand, and they unveiled a statue of him riding a tandem bike.
It’s the back to school season as well. So I was sent to shoot a portrait of a school principle in a newly renovated wing of his building. I confess portraits are still a weaker point of mine, I thought I would be shooting more of them this summer but I didn’t. We tried a couple of things but I figured this one was my favorite, nice and simple.
In a sure sign my summer was ending, later that day I was sent to cover an exhibition game between the University of Guelph and University of Toronto baseball teams.
The day after was a day of ethnic celebrations. The Toronto Chinatown Festival kicked off with politicians, Chinese dragons and traditional music.
Later that day I drove north to Downsview Park and Rastafest. It was a hot day in direct sunlight, but pretty interesting nonetheless.
And finally this past Sunday I started down at the beaches, where an organization called surfers healing has been running a free day camp for autistic children. The camp pairs up kids with a pro surfer who teaches them how to stand up paddle.
That afternoon I was in east Scarborough at a private home for a fundraiser for the Scarborough Terry Fox run. There was a family of five there who all agreed to either have their heads shaved or dyed to help raise money.
And with that I’m signing off. My next post will be about the return to school.
August has dawned, nights are cooler and days are getting shorter, as is my time here in Toronto.
This past week I got to shoot the Rogers Cup. It was my first time shooting a world class sporting event. I’ve photographed University level sports and even professional level hockey with the Belleville Bulls, I even once photographed a Raptors scrimmage in Ottawa but nothing at this level or speed.
To say it was a challenge is an understatement, not only have I not photographed sports at this level before, but I’ve never taken a single picture of people playing tennis. Ever. I had ideas of where to stand and which pics to get but factoring in my ignorance of the game and the insane speed of the players it was a bit of a challenge. After ten minutes of fumbling around and getting lots of pictures of returns with no ball visible I started to anticipate better and they started rolling in.
My biggest disappointment was not getting to court level in time to see Serena Williams play. I had a job at the same time her match started, and I wanted to do a good job of both assignments. By the time I drove to North York (30 minutes from the previous job), parked, got my media pass and got in she was well on her way. My route to court level took me past the top of the upper bowl so I snapped a few pics just in case I couldn’t get lower in time. As it happened by the time I had all my passes and was in the right place, her match was over. Although I was court-side for her accepting the trophy and for the doubles match which followed. A full gallery of what I filed is online here.
Earlier that day I attended a Catholic Mass at St. Clare’s church, they were celebrating their 100th year anniversary. It was double booked for me though because the Roger’s Cup Women’s Final started at the same time as this assignment. Somehow I managed to be in two places at the same time.
It was interesting, I find faith and religion fascinating and Catholic Masses are so ornate and full of ritual. Having some degree of access near the alter was really enjoyable.
On Friday I was at the opening of the Taste of Danforth, a huge Greek food and culture festival in eastern Toronto. The festival was opened with an event called the Danforth Dash. Corporate teams of four raced hospital beds down Danforth Avenue to raise money for the Toronto East General Hospital Foundation and to be the winners of the coveted Gold Bed Pan Trophy.
Rewinding a week earlier, I was out on feature patrol looking for standalone to help fill space. I’d wandered over to the Ashbridge’s Bay Skatepark down by Toronto’s beaches. Usually I have good success with the skateboarders there, but this time there was nothing. So I wandered up to one of the upper bowls in the park and found a scooter team doing tricks, they were really good, so I asked to take some pictures, one kid eagerly hoped in and promptly did a backflip for my camera.
The day before I was down at the famous Caribana festival for the grand parade, due to a logistical issue I spent over an hour waiting outside. It turned out the media check-in booth was inside the paid admission area, which I wasn’t able to access until I picked up my media pass from the media check-in which was located in the paid admission area which I couldn’t access…. The only way I got out of that repeating loop was because a photographer friend of mine who had a pass went into the event and came back with mine.
That headache set me back and meant I was only able to spend little under an hour at Caribana, and never quite got into the vibe. Maybe next year?
My week that week started in the extreme ends of Toronto. On Thursday morning I headed into Etobicoke in Toronto’s west end, it was my first time working in this part of the city. Seems a local boy, Dave Bolland, was in town with the Stanley Cup. Bolland won it playing with the Blackhawks, but everyone there was excited because he had just announced he’d been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The crowd was a mix a dejected Blackhawks fans and hopeful Leafs fans.
Did I mention it was Etobicoke on the day of the by-elections? Rob and Doug Ford were there leading the parade and campaigning for their guy Doug Holyday who ended up winning Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
That gave me the rest of the day and evening to get across town into Scarborough where another by-election was happening. It was my first time shooting political news, unless you want to count student council election at Carleton University. It was intense because I was fighting with crowds and other photographers. I know a few of the photographers ended up on insanely tight deadlines because Mitzie Hunter arrived late to the after party (by insanely tight I mean they had 15 minutes to shoot, file, edit and transmit). For my part Inside Toronto wanted their pictures that night as well, although I was had more time.
The last two weeks have been busy but good, with a few bigger assignments. While the stress level is always much higher with these types of events so is the reward.
That being Said I’m now into the last two weeks before school resumes and the summer job ends.
Well as I approach the end of July and the start of my final month here at Toronto Community News, it feels like it’s been a valuable summer so far.
I’ll start with this past weekend at the Beaches International Jazz fest. I was sent to cover a specific singer, but once you have a decent shot of them performing it’s fun to look around and see what else is there.
Earlier that Day I had been at Scarborough Town Centre for a vintage car show, it took me a while to find the actual part of the parking lot where they were, but once you found it, all those shiny old cars stick out.
The day before I was downtown at Yonge – Dundas Square for the Unity Festival. It featured music and breakdancing, the breakdancing took me back to shooting Ottawa’s House of Paint event on film a few years ago.
Earlier on Saturday though I got to check out a rugby game down in the Beaches area.
My weekend started off with some huge technical obstacles though. On Friday afternoon I went to photograph a graduation ceremony for some new Toronto Paramedics and EMS workers.
However, I started noticing a black bar across my photos, when I checked the sensor I realized a shutter blade was loose. That black bar has turned into a horizontal light leak across my sensor. The biggest issue is it’s my 1D MKII body, it’s one of Canon’s proline camera body and I use it in inclement weather or situation where I fear for the safety of my, much more fragile, 5D MKII
The above photo was shot on my 5D. The photo below was on the 1D after the light leak, at that point it was still only affecting some of my pictures. It was at the Cultura Festival in Mel Lastman square and there was a sudden thunderstorm, blowing rain sideways, I was soaked from head to toe in seconds, this is the type of situation where I need this kind of bulky camera.
Here is a sample of just how the loose shutter blade was affecting my pictures, until I can find a repair quote (because I’m not sure Canon Canada still services this make) I’m down to one body.
The weekend before that I got to check out the Thai Festival in Nathan Phillips Square.
Sometimes interesting photos come from other things too, like off to the side of the Mad Pride Parade in Parkdale. Mad Pride is a march to celebrate of those who have interacted with the mental health system and while waiting for the march to arrive at an intersection I looked down the road and spotted a lady leading another one by a leash. Not something you see everyday, so I instinctively took a picture… Before I got the chance to go over and introduce myself, they turned and came towards me and offered a business card asking for a copy.
The evening before I popped by the Latin Arts Festival in Mel Lastman Squre in North York. While it was slow to start, in terms of interesting pictures, it turned out to be quite the event.
While the event was still gearing up I walked around to a few vendors and asked to do some portraits. One of them, an artist from Buenos Aries, had great pieces for a backdrop but I discovered quickly spoke limited English, at one point he asked, “Hablas Espanol?” Which coincidentally, I do, so we had a brief conversation I snapped a picture and continued on.
It had been a South American kind of day. Before the Latin Arts Festival I had been to the Salsa on St. Clair festival, a huge dance festival on St. Clair Avenue downtown. Nice light, low film speeds, almost wide open apertures and cool dancing made for some interesting pictures.
However, the biggest surprise was twenty minutes after arriving while I was still making my way down the festival from one end to another the first time when I came to a road block. The police had set up tape and were blocking access to a section of the street. I learned later that two people had been stabbed pretty much at the same time I was arriving at the festival at the other side, about twenty minutes earlier. One man had been taken to hospital with a chest wound, the other was in the ambulance still on scene about to leave with a hand wound.
Blood was still fresh on the pavement, CBC was a sponser of the event and had been handing out pins.
That Sunday was a busy day, before Salsa on St. Clair I stopped by a local hockey arena, the ice had been melted and a massive all day roller derby was happening. I only had time to photograph one game, and by total coincidence (honestly) the game that I ended up shooting was Ottawa Vs. Guelph (my two homes). Guelph destroyed Ottawa.
Even earlier in the day before, the Roller Derby, I went to Ashbridges Bay Skatepark, the beaches editor wanted some filler, in the form of nice pictures of regular things happening. Skateboarding is always fun to shoot and that’s where the photo request said to go.
The day had started off near the harbor at Yonge and Lakeshore heading south. The festival of India had begun and they started with and epic parade down the centre of Toronto to the harbor front, where the festival then moved to Toronto Island.
Going into my last month I’m pretty excited, there’s a by-election in Scarborough next week and soon it will be the Rogers Cup. Until next time.
On Monday I was just leaving the office as some nasty storm clouds rolled in. I started to drive home and after I got off the highway it became apparent this storm was more intense than a regular one. I spotted a road off to the side where cars were trying to push through more the 3ft of water in some cases. Not realizing then how widespread the flash floods across the city were I found a parking lot a little further down, threw on my rain gear and went to work. The pictures turned out great and ran on the front page of the York Guardian and inside all the others. I felt vindicated for my unpaid over time, which had me standing waist deep in water.
The greatest part though was the irony I encountered. An hour before the storm, one of the reporters in the newsroom made a crack about journalists being soft these days coming out of school. Soft, pfft.
The weekend before was very busy, very hot and also very wet I found myself with eleven assignments over the two days, although that’s common on weekends. There was the Taste of Lawrence festival in Scarborough, which featured performances and food.
There was a baseball game that was very nearly rained out, and I had to devise a system to stay dry while standing in a field in a rainstorm.
Then there was the Italian Festival, which happened to get soaked in heavy rains while I was there.
The weekend though began with fun in the sun at the Heatwave Charity volleyball tournament. Metroland had a team, and their own photographer (me).
Prior to the busy weekend though I spent my Friday evening wandering around Ford Fest, the Mayor’s annual BBQ, it was a very interesting assignment for me.
Earlier that week I went to Ottawa for fun, and even earlier that week was Canada Day. I took lots of flag waving pics in Scarborough, but my favorite one for some reason was this one below. It never even ran I just like it for some reason.
Prior to Canada Day I had, had another busy weekend. Including a soccer tournament called the Robby. It had been a long time since I photographed soccer but I felt like I fell back into it quite well. This one ran on the front page of the City Centre Mirror.
The week before many of the assignments were about the run-up to Canada day. Like the Canada Rocks event which was hosted at the Scarborough museum, and where I took this picture. This and the Capoeira photo of Jimmy doing the flip were my two favorites from the last two weeks.
And before that? Well that’s detailed in the previous post. Anyway for now it’s back to work.
It’s been just over a week since my job officially began here at the Toronto Community News. It’s been a fun and challenging week, with a steep but manageable learning curve.
I should start by saying Toronto is the biggest city I have ever lived and worked in. I grew up In Guelph and Milton, so I’ve visited Toronto often and the cultural impact of the city on southwestern Ontario is huge. Living in the shadow of the city is different than living in the city itself.
However, once I find myself on assignment there’s no much that makes working in Toronto different than working in other towns. I should point out through my beat is mostly community news. The company that owns Toronto Community News, Metroland Media Group is a subsidiary of Torstar media. Torstar’s flagship publication is the Toronto Star. So while I’m in Toronto most of the events I shoot are at the community level, or typically the things that the Star wouldn’t catch.
So I approach each assignment with an old acting adage ringing in my ears, “There are no small parts assignments only small actors photojournalists.” In my first week I covered multicultural festivals, cricket events, a midget level baseball game, a regional track meet, the tall ship festival, Guyanese independence day, one of the Toronto Jazz Festival events and community fundraisers to name a few.
Most of the papers publish on Thursday’s some like the North York and Scarborough Mirror’s publish on both Tuesday and Thursday. I had Tuesday and Wednesday off this week so when I came in this morning I got to see my pictures in print. This isn’t the first time, but it’s the first time in a while and it is still exciting to see your pictures in print.
With this introduction aside here are some pictures running loose in reverse chronological order.
On Sunday I only had four assignments, however, they were mostly outside and Toronto was under an extreme heat and humidity advisory for the day. I averaged drinking a litre of water per hour just to keep hydrated. Considering the athletes at the baseball game and track meet I photographed though I don’t think I can complain.
It was my first time shooting baseball at any level. I really liked it. I like the sport anyways and it’s great for pictures. Hopefully I will shoot more baseball games this summer and get better.
After the baseball game I rushed out to Centennial College’s progress ave. campus for the Toronto Guyanese community’s celebration of their independence day. Guyana was celebrating their 47th year of independence and their President happened to be in Toronto visiting that weekend so he came by to visit the celebrations.
My Sunday though had started out at York University in the morning. There was a regional high school track meet hosted by the Royal Canadian Legion. In the 40+ degree heat, running a 100m or 1600m race is not my idea of fun. Photographing it was good though.
I also got my first cover photo with Metroland there, the photo below ran on the front page of the Tuesday edition of the North York Mirror, hopefully there’ll be more of these in the following weeks.
This photo was me trying different things, while I have no issue getting the ‘standard’ images required. After that it’s fun to play around and try new things and new ways of telling the story.
My Sunday was capped off with a nice walk around the Fairbank Village area of Toronto near Eglinton and Dufferin streets. There was a multicultural festival on the street that day. While actual cultural activities seemed to be lacking there were food and buskers.
The day before had me running all over town for six different assignments. Once again most of them were outside except on this day instead of extreme heat it was periods of thunderstorms.
This photo was from a block party neighborhood event; the rain kept most people home or seeking shelter under things.
I was also able to catch part of the Toronto Jazz Festival, at one of the satellite shows at the Shops at Don Mills. There was a performance by the Toronto based Dixie Demons, it was pretty fun, despite the small crowds and rain.
On the Friday before I was asked to go and shoot the Redpath Waterfront festival, a four-day festival along Toronto’s waterfront featuring a fleet of tall ships. They also had events and performances; one of these events was a Flyboarding demonstration. Which was one of the coolest things ever.
Personally though I was interested in the ships. About ten years ago I sailed aboard a ship called the STV Fair Jeanne, which sails out of Ottawa. I distinctly remember being on watch at 4am in the middle of a rainstorm in June, under sail into Toronto harbour as the sun slowly started to rise behind us. The event lets people who may be interested tour the ships and get a feel for them before they all move onto the next stop and the Fair Jeanne was there this year too.
Last Thursday was one of my first officially assigned assignments at a small community park in York. The Jays Care Foundation, or the charitable wing of Toronto Blue Jays, had just refurbished a local ball-park, they had some community leaders and two former Jays on hand for the event.
They also had some of their trainers on hand to offer up a skills clinic to local kids.
When there’s down time and during the first day or two I was asked on occasion to go look for enterprising or feature pictures. These are standalone photos of daily life in the city. Sometimes they can have a newsy focus though it’s not needed. An example would be weather pics on a hot or rainy day.
Feature hunting as it’s called is just walking around taking pictures and talking to people, not a bad way to spend a few hours on a working day.
It’s been a diverse week and while the past week was mostly settling in I think the next few will go well. I look forward to shooting more and posting more, and if you’re in the Toronto area check out the Metroland Mirrors you might see my pics.