We drove from Calgary to High Level, Alta., and then on to Fort Smith, the garden capital of the Northwest Territories. We drove through prairie, farmland, forest and finally, through the tip of one of Canada’s treasures, Wood Buffalo National Park.
Fort Smith (also called Thebacha, meaning “beside the rapids” in Chipewyan) borders the park. The town has a friendly population of 2,400. There, we encountered sunshine, home cooked buffalo steak, concern about forest fires and a riverside event.
Students from Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, were studying fish and water in the Slave River. They worked at the riverside in collaboration with local residents, citizens from northern Alberta, the NWT government and the Water Resources Division of the federal government. While students dissected fish, kids played in the water, families enjoyed a barbeque and fishers cast nets and lines. The day felt festive. Beneath the surface, though, this was also about education and action; there is growing alarm here about the health and safety of water flowing from areas of industrial development, such as the Alberta oil sands.
From there, we drove west and north, spotting black bear and Sand Hill Cranes en route. We crossed the Dehcho (Mackenzie) River by ferry, drove through herds of bison and between smoky forest fires that had crossed the highway. At the end of the day, we arrived in Yellowknife, the city that hugs the north shore of Great Slave Lake.
On July 1, like millions of Canadians, we cheered marching bands, RCMP in red serge, decorated bicycles, and members of francophone, soccer and swim clubs. We enjoyed the Yellowknives Dene drummers and a flatbed truck carrying northern stuffed animals, including a grizzly bear. The seven horses were popular; they are newcomers to this northern capital. The Filipino-Canadian floats were highlights, their dancers thrilling. While most politicians ride in convertibles, Yellowknife MLA Bob Bromley rode on the back of a truck making music with the Yellowknife Fiddlers. The showstopper for me, however, was not a float or a group. It was a single woman walking in black pumps.
Marty Brown, appearing as Queen Elizabeth, is an original. (She has other guises, too.) As queen, she paraded for CBC North, her former employer. She royally waved, conversed with loyal subjects and reminded one and all that her grandchildren would be in town July 5th. Her sign-bearer carried the message: “Watch my grandkids on CBC.” People applauded, laughed and rushed out to have their photo taken standing with her.
Both the Slave River event and the Yellowknife parade remind me that smaller communities have a special something: creative community. And that makes my heart sing.
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