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.
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.