JAIMIE VERNON – MY GLACIER WAS GONE

JaimieThere is an old adage that says that you can’t go home again. It has a double meaning – not only can’t you relive the past but in many cases the places where the events in your past actually happened are no longer there.

Athabasca1We’ve been to old neighbourhoods where childhood landmarks have been altered or torn down completely or places where we spent many a happy time – music venues, fairgrounds, campsites. This week I found out that my glacier is gone.

Yes, I said glacier. An ice sheet. A giant horizontal iceberg on land. The story goes like this…

In the Fall of 1974 my parents purchased their first home. We had been living up to that point in a 10-storey apartment building I the deep recesses of SBlackwell Avenue_1975carborough, Ontario near what is still known as Cedarbrae. They either chose not to tell my sister and I immediately, or I wasn’t quite paying attention (knowing my folks, it was the former and not the latter). In early February 1975 they broke the news that we’d be leaving the neighbourhood to live in a new townhouse and we’d have to like it. End of discussion. I was ripped away from our friends and school – both of which I had grown acutely fond of since moving there in 1968. I had only recently turned 11 years old. I would have to finish Grade 6 elsewhere. I was destroyed.

It was a rough transition not only because of an unfamiliar neighbourhood, but the house itself was still unfinished and, well, snow. The only saving grace was that we were in an area where my parents’ best friends had recently moved. Their kids, whom I didn’t see very often, now attended the same school as me. At least I had a friendly face to guide me through the maze of dozens of other disenfranchised pre-teens whose families had also relocated to the new subdivision. I put my head down, did my very best to get good grades and tried to meet new people. My anxiety found relief in that my classroom was in a portable single room behind the school. And the teacher didn’t play by the School Board rules.

Bill MurrayMr. Marks was, in hindsight, a bit of a party animal. His default position every morning (when he showed up or came in late) was to wear dark shades, put his feet on his desk, assign us some reading to do and then nurse his hangover. And he was funny as hell. We had Bill Murray for 6th grade. He played music in the class. He encouraged us to be creative. He brought in special guests to entertain us. I believe he also got fired not long after. It was the perfect antidote to my displacement anxiety.

Winter faded and the subdivision mud came and went as the summer of 1975 dawned. Then my parents sat me down with grandmother – my Dad’s Mom – and asked me if I’d like to take Canadaa trip with her in June across Canada. But, school, I said. My folks waved off my concerns and said that we’d be talking to the principal together. And so we did. Much to everyone’s satisfaction, the school principal told my folks that he’d be happy to exempt me from the final weeks of school if it meant I could see the country. A better hands-on educational experience would be hard to find. My grades as of the beginning of June would stand. I was free to take off with my Granny June 14th.

JaimiesBirthday_1988aAnd so we did. I stayed overnight with my Granny and step-grandfather Larry in their apartment near Dawes and Danforth Avenues in Toronto – which gave us a running start to the Don Valley Parkway and the 401 to points west. We bugged out at 4 A.M. It was unfathomable. I believe they poured me into the back seat of the 1972 Skylark where I proceeded to pass out. Granny took the wheel. She was 58 years old at the time. That’s 8 years older than I am now. That’s some kinda crazy taking a pre-teen on a 14 day mission across a country and back. A brave and optimistic soul she was.

June16_DrydenBy the time I awoke we were in Parry Sound, Ontario. It was 7 A.M. She made good time. We were going to be taking the Trans-Canada Highway the entire journey west (I’d do the eastern leg in 1977 with my parents – a story of horrific folly I’ll save for another time). I can’t imagine taking on the amount of driving she needed to do to get us out to Alberta and back. I kept a journal of the trip. She did 457 MILES on that first day alone.  But because she was leaving on average between 4 AM and 4.30 AM from each city, the majority of the driving was being done in the daylight and kept us away from Rush Hour traffic – everywhere.

June15_Scenic Lookout2We averaged 470 miles a day for the first four days – which got us around the top of Lake Superior and into Saskatchewan. It was pretty uneventful. With the exception of the beauty of Superior itself, the terrain was a never ending reel of trees and rock cut formations that resembled driving through a quarry. As I’d noted in a previous blog, the roughest sections of Highway 17 in these parts was constructed by my grandfather (my Granny’s ex-husband) in the early 1960s. It was the only time she was thankful that he’d taken up the construction hat and put down the asphalt we were driving on.

Saskatchewan was a flat, never ending ‘see’ of wheat and corn fields (think Nebraska with fewer guns) which we flew through. By the 5th June18_OilWells_Sask2day we’d crossed into Manitoba, stopped at the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg and found our way through the first wave of oil fields to the outskirts of Alberta. What struck me immediately was not just my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains – but the grass ranges full of bison. Real live buffalo. Mostly in the wild. Our stop that night wasn’t one of the seedy motor hotels we’d been frequenting, but the home of some old friends of my Granny’s. I ate moose meat for dinner.

The following day, June 19th was a whirlwind as we entered the grounds of Alberta’s famed Jasper Park. It’s a national park locked between a mountain range. And June19_WhistlerCI didn’t just see the mountains. We climbed them. A tram car took us across Whistler Mountain (not to be confused with the skiing resort in British Columbia) and we took a dip in the hot springs at Miette Hot Springs. We caught frequent glimpses of mountain goats, bears, elk, you name it. We were in the middle of a real time playground for Canada’s national animal treasures. I was Davey Crockett and this was the wild frontier. In 1975 it was still unspoiled and unsoiled.

On June 20th we continued through the park on a route to get to a smaller national park called Banff. I got to see the mighty Fraser River (noted in “I’m A Lumberjack” by Monty Python) and we stopped at the impressive Sunwapte Falls on the Icefields Parkway. It was a warm up to June20_Glacier3the big event. We were now in the Columbia Icefield.

The Icefield straddles the Continental Divide. It contains the highest mountain peaks in Canada (including Castleguard, Andromeda, Bryce and Athabasca). Both the Athabasca River and the North Saskatchewan River start their journeys from this point. And the attraction for tourists – since being discovered back in 1898 is the six ancient glaciers – most dating back to the last ice age some 11,000 years ago. And it was here that the journey peaked – pun intended.

June20_Glacier2Ever stood on a glacier? Not a lot of people have. It’s a big tourist attraction for sure, but unless you’re a winter activity kind of person it just isn’t something a lot of people would actively seek out to go see. Interestingly, the Athabasca Glacier was cool but not cold. Look how cute I am in this picture. I’m wearing a jean jacket and no coat. It was June. The weather was clear. The snow was underfoot and not overhead. It made for a perfect post-card picture. During our 30 minutes visit I saw the true meaning of nature. The power of the planet in a frozen tableau. We were mere ants scuttling about on the surface of a landlocked ice floe. We were insignificant blinks of an eye. The ice is ageless.

Or so we thought. My granny and I returned home 7 days later. Tired and satiated. It was an amazing adventure and I have a lifetime of memories – an education well received. I have spent the intervening 40 years recording bigger and better experiences all over North America. But none have matched that day I walked across time itself.

icefield 1975In the news this week was a sad story about how we, the ants on the ice floe, have managed to destroy the planet so badly that the Athabasca Glacier is receding at a rate of 5 metres a year. That’s 190 metres since I was there in 1975. Global warming is turning the glacier into a puddle – markers dating back to 1890 show that the toe of the glacier – where it thins out at ground level at its most distended point – has receded 1.5 km. By the next generation it will probably be gone. Bye bye tourism. Bye bye 11,000 year time capsule.

I really want my kids to see this. What’s left of the glacier might still be impressive – to them. But as the saying goes…you can never go home again.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com orhttp://www.bullseyecanada.com

 

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