Letter from Canada – from Gervais Goodman (PR 1964-69)

It’s all pretty normal here, yet…

Spring comes late in the foothills of Alberta, and even later this year. I’m writing this at the end of April and there is still snow on the north facing slopes, the slough is ice covered in the morning so the Canada Geese spend part of their time skating and the rest arguing with the moose about nesting sites. The migrating Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows have returned and are squabbling about which are the best nest boxes. The Northern Flickers are banging holes in anything they can to make enough noise to attract a mate, and leave more holes for the swallows and bluebirds, and the Ruffed Grouse is drumming his heart out. Yup, all pretty normal for spring around here.


Yet, it is different this year.

Gas is hovering in the low sixty cents per litre range, and yet no one has anywhere to go.

All the delightful little boutique shops and art galleries in our nearby little towns are shut, yet people are buying gift certificates, on-line of course, to help with the cash flow until “normalcy” returns.

The grocery shops are hiring and if you live in one of these little towns and you can’t get your groceries due to quarantining or self-isolation they will deliver to your doorstep. Most of the time you get what you ordered. If you live in the country you can phone in your order and pick it up in the supermarket’s parking lot; it is even loaded into your car’s trunk, thus maintaining the all important six foot distancing rule.

Friends ask friends if they can pick anything up for you as they are making the dreaded “Costco” run.

The local brewery and distillery will even deliver to your gate!

It seems that kindness and compassion has broken out, albeit assisted with a little entrepreneurial spirit.

And yet, despite all this wonderful community spirit, the compassion and the caring, people are hurting. Seniors’ residences are being pummelled by Covid, thus revealing gaps in the system that maybe we were aware of, yet chose to ignore. People are dying alone and the grieving families can’t even be with them for their last hours.

A nearby meat packing plant (abattoir) where 38% of the meat for Canada is processed has been closed. Covid has run rampant through the plant and the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that many of the workers live, work and worship together in one community: the infection rates are staggering. There is talk of reopening the plant soon on reduced shifts, workers are coming on the radio saying that they are terrified of going back to work, and also of the possibility of losing their jobs.

The farmers and ranchers are equally distraught, it is spring and the calving season has begun. Herds are getting larger and many animals are ready to go to market, but with a closed or reduced capacity packing plant the ranchers are wondering what to do with their cattle.

Calgary is the nearest city, it is the capital of Canada’s oil and gas industry. The combination of Covid-19, low oil prices due to the Saudi/Russia price war, and lack of pipeline capacity to get product to market (a particularly Canadian problem that would take weeks to explain) the industry is decimated. Huge job losses throughout the province, no capital expansion and terrible first quarter results are causing even senior politicians to suggest that Alberta in the 2020s may be like it was in the 1930s.

To add grimness to misery the oil town of Fort McMurray (an 8 hour 487 mile drive from our front gate and still in the same province) which was almost burnt to the ground four years ago by wildfires, is now being flooded due to an 18 mile long ice jam on the Athabasca river. The need for sandbagging is so great that the Province has temporarily reduced the 6’ distancing rule so people can work together to fill sandbags. People who rebuilt 4 years ago will be rebuilding again!

And yet, what are the politicians doing? Well actually quite a lot. Canada is a well governed country with many layers of government: federal, provincial, territorial, urban municipal, rural municipal, etc. It seems that one of Canada’s key industries is all levels of government taking pot shots at all the other levels on the theme “our lot is better than your lot and your mother wears army boots – send cash”.

So far during this pandemic the Feds and the Provinces have worked remarkably well together, it is government by kindness and compassion – with a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit. Governments have gone out of their way to make money, grants, loans and programs available to nearly all who need it, thus enabling people to stay quarantined and isolated without having to fear for an income. On the whole it seems to be working, cases are currently less than projected and our health system is holding up well. (If you are interested in the current numbers, as they will have changed between the time of writing and reading, and what is going on in the rest of the second largest country by landmass on earth I’d recommend the Canadian Broadcasting site https://www.cbc.ca )

So, in some ways it’s all pretty normal. The governments have responded well with our money and for the next decade, when “normalcy” returns, each level of government and political party will spend a great deal of energy slagging each other about irresponsible spending and increased deficits. In the meantime, will we get better oversight of seniors’ accommodation? Will the Health and Safety regulations be changed in meat packing plants? Will the little shops and boutiques which are often the souls of our communities still be there? Will the farmers ever get a fair price for their livestock? Will those pipelines ever be built? Will we see the return of the once much admired Alberta bumper sticker: “Lord bring us another oil boom, I promise not to p*** it all away this time”?

Meanwhile, kindness, compassion and neighbours shopping for neighbours will endure. The brewery and distillery may not carry on delivering, but they will carry on brewing and distilling. More calves will be born, the bluebirds and swallows will nest and have fledglings, the moose and the goose will figure out who gets which bit of the pond and it will snow again in October.

Gervais lives with his wife and cat, (and moose, deer, geese, coyotes and pretty much whoever else wants to come by) at the 4,000 foot contour in the Foothills of Alberta. He reckons their 8 acres is about 1/308,408,240th of Canada’s total land area.

If you want to see what it looks like around here you can view our little “Imagine 8 Acres” video here https://vimeo.com/14092790 or Gervais’s instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/gervaisgoodman/ (ignore the trains!). A small selection are included here to whet your appetite.