Pirates of the North Saskatchewan River

***Sorry for the silence, folks. I somehow (despite using it all the time) misplaced my DSLR camera battery. This forced me to change plans, but I’m back with this tale of a recent river float. Unfortunately, I had to take the photos on my phone.***

Greetings, earthlings. This weekend, I floated down a river.

In classic Edmonton style, spring has flown by, and suddenly it’s hot outside. This meant it was time for the ritual tradition of floating the North Saskatchewan River.

Many Edmontonians assume that they cannot use the river for some reason or another. Often it’s because they believe the river is “dirty”. I remember growing up, hearing stories about how you had to get a tetanus shot if you so much as touched the water. Well, here’s the real deal: it does get a bit grimy as you approach downtown. If you float as far as Goldbar, the smell of the waste treatment centre is pretty gnarly. Overall, though, it’s a beauty of a river.

The origin myth of our group of floaters is simple: one day, our friend Tyson (who attended this weekend’s float) was sitting beside the North Saskatchewan River. He wanted to get to a spot down-river, and realized the easiest way to get there would be to launch a boat and float to it. The next time he came back, he brought a boat and – ta da! – the dream was born. It grew from there, and as a group, we have gone many times together. Over the years, more and more people have been on the river on any given day, which is exciting.

A warning for anyone who reads this and is compelled to float the North Saskatchewan: go for it! Have fun!! However, keep in mind that the North Saskatchewan River is a beast and she must be respected. A couple of days before this float, a 33-year-old strong swimmer died when he dove into the river and never came up. To be clear, I am not responsible for anyone who hurts themselves or drowns because of this post. Be careful out there!

Things To Remember When Floating the North Saskatchewan

  • While it is possible to float calmer rivers, such as Pembina, on an inner tube or cheap inflatable, I do not recommend this on the North Saskatchewan. Our gang has invested in higher-quality inflatable fishing dinghies, mostly Sevylor Fish Hunters (4- or 6-person). These can be found at outdoor stores or Army & Navy (and such).
  • Don’t forget paddles and life jackets. Carry a pump and something for emergency patches. (We have learned from experience that a maxi pad makes an excellent emergency patch. Sometimes it works so well that you’ll keep it on your boat for a whole year!)
  • Bring water, snacks, a hat, and sunscreen. The breeze on the river is deceiving and the sun will sap your life juices, so hydrate-hydrate-hydrate! Bring a bag for garbage and zip-locks or dry bags for anything you don’t want to get wet (don’t forget that includes lighters).
  • On process: you typically leave a vehicle at the docking point that, when you get off the river, can transport the drivers back to the launch point. They then drive back together, reminiscing about the excellent day, and return with their cars. While on the river, use carabiners to hook the boats together and create a floatilla.
  • If you have any questions about floating, the Floaters Club group on Facebook is an excellent resource.

The weather cooperated as we made our way down to the Whitemud to inflate and launch. We would be floating to Dawson Bridge, with some of the buccaneers getting off the river at Emily Murphy Park.

Now please sit back and enjoy these photos c/o glorious phone camera technology (apologies for the image quality).

We set off from the Whitemud, and were immediately greeted with the beautiful North Saskatchewan. Hello river!

We set off from the Whitemud, and were immediately greeted with the beautiful North Saskatchewan. Hello river!

We passed the “End of the World”, aka. what is left of Keillor Road. It was a hot media topic in the 1990s; I remember it being all over the news. Now, it’s a controversial hangout spot (the locals are not a fan of it, but people keep going back because it’s truly spectacular). The remains of the road jut out into the river valley, and from above, it looks as if a giant has chopped into the river valley with an axe. There are always people hanging out there when we float past, and today was no exception. We waved, they waved back, and everything was beautiful.

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It was a gorgeous day.

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We floated past the footbridge that joins Hawrelak and Buena Vista Parks:

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As we rounded the wide loop surrounding the Mayfair Golf Course, we could see the finished Pearl high rise. In construction last season, we watched it grow and alter the Edmonton skyline.

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We passed under Groat Road and got a clearer view of the Pearl.

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There were swallow nests in the cliffs:

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And, sometimes, layers of yellow sulphur:

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Then, in the distance stood the iconic High Level Bridge. The streetcar was hanging out in the middle of the bridge as we approached. I wonder if the passengers commented on the barge of inflatable boats, slowly making its way toward them.

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Next came the Walterdale Bridge. Like so many things in this city, it will not be around for much longer. The finish date was pushed back to next year, so the incessant, rhythmic “clang-clang-clang” noise of the construction has stopped for now. Because it’s such an important artery for traffic, they are building around the old bridge, which will be demolished once the new one is complete. That will be a sad, sad day, as I have a soft spot for bridges, and especially the Walterdale. They call it the “singing bridge”, referring the tones you hear driving across the bridge.

You can watch a simulation of the new Walterdale Bridge here.

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Then, of course, another gorgeous piece of Edmonton architecture that is (probably) also doomed: the Rossdale Power Plant. I love the building and wish it could be repurposed into something. Anything. Just don’t take this away too…

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We wound around Rossdale, aware that the city was right behind the trees. We passed the so-called (by us) “Falls of Despair”, otherwise known as the remains of Mill Creek. At one point, the creek flowed into the North Saskatchewan, but after Mill Creek was developed, it was diverted underground and has never been the same.

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Eventually, downtown Edmonton came into view.

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We passed under the James MacDonald Bridge.

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We then passed under the Low Level Bridge, and through the heart of downtown Edmonton.

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We snuck up to our gigantic cousin, the Edmonton Queen Riverboat. We passed Louise McKinney Park, and as usual, people gawked as we drifted by. Some probably-homeless guys were having a time down by the river and may have asked to join us. We may have politely declined. I’m not sure; it was late in the day.

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Then came the majestic Cloverdale (Downtown) Footbridge, the subject of one of my previous posts. As I mentioned, you should check out the Save Edmonton’s Downtown Footbridge website.

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The day drew to a close as we passed Riverdale and approached Dawson Bridge. We were exhausted from the heat and hours of snacks, but so happy.

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For more where this came from, you can see my river-floating photo set on Flickr. You can also read the piece that I wrote for the Edmonton City As Museum Project (ECAMP) website, about my complex relationship with the North Saskatchewan River.

Until next time.

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Save the Cloverdale Footbridge

If there’s one theme that keeps repeating itself, both here and in my head, it’s change. Keeping with this theme, I visited a part of Edmonton that might not be around much longer: the Cloverdale Footbridge.

The Cloverdale Footbridge, sometimes referred to as the “Downtown Footbridge”, connects Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir-Edwards Parks in central Edmonton (between Cloverdale and Riverdale). Despite its popularity, the City of Edmonton has plans to replace it with a new bridge as part of a new LRT route.

There is a campaign to Save Edmonton’s Downtown Footbridge (sign the petition! check the news!) that is advocating an alternate LRT route. I suspect part of the reason that the campaign hasn’t gotten off the ground is because people generally support LRT expansion. So do I, rest assured, but the proposed route is not anti-LRT. It’s actually smarter and more user-friendly.

Yesterday, I went down to the Cloverdale Footbridge on a gorgeous spring afternoon. I hung out on the bridge for a while, looked at the view, and enjoyed not having to wear a jacket. It’s still the early days of warm Edmonton weather, after all.

I approached from the west.

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The Edmonton Queen on your right.

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Memorial plaques on benches and picnic tables always catch my eye. What a lovely way to be remembered. I always wonder what the people were like.

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The Cloverdale Footbridge is part of the Trans-Canada Trail, which is commemorated on the north end of the bridge.

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Then there’s the bridge itself.

It was very busy – full of joggers and cyclists – although my photos might imply otherwise. It was great to see young families on bike rides together. One kid remarked as he passed, that he “hates bridges because it feels like they’re going to collapse”. Elderly couples ambled along, enjoying the view. There were a couple of people camped out on the benches in the centre of the bridge. Two people enthusiastically discussed which building was which in the view. There were joggers, and more cyclists. You could tell who was on a date. This bridge is loved.

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North entrance.

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South entrance.

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View from the east side.

View from the northeast.

The scene from the centre of the bridge is stunning:

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One of the best views of the city. I even used it as the preview image for my introductory post, not thinking at the time that I would be back so soon.

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I love you, North Saskatchewan River.

Two geniuses using the river wisely on a beautiful day.

Two geniuses using the river wisely on a beautiful day.

Something I really enjoyed about my trip to the Cloverdale Footbridge was looking at all the bridge graffiti. It’s a piece of our intangible cultural heritage that may soon be lost.

Note: Pardon the shifting colours in the following photos. I edited them so you could see the text as best as possible. Turns out carving your initials into a bridge is not the best for photography on a bright, sunny day.

Some of the graffiti had dates:

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Some of the graffiti was mysterious:

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So mysterious. Do you see it?

So mysterious. See it?

Ah, there it is. Possibly etched decades prior by the rumoured witches of the Dogpath (or, a kid having fun).

Ah, there it is. Possibly etched decades prior by the rumoured witches of the Dogpath (or, a kid having fun).

Some of the graffiti simply made me smile. I hope things worked out for them:

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Infinity is a long time.

Infinity is a long time.

At one point, I saw this guy’s relatively unique full name and might have found him on Facebook. Bet you, or he, didn’t see that one coming.

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Overall, the bridge is covered in graffiti. I wish I knew the stories behind all of it.

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And finally, hidding oh so humbly on a pole…

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Saving the footbridge makes sense to me. Please consider lending your voice, and pay the footbridge a visit while you can.

Introduction/Welcome to YEGuncovered

That brings me to the question: what is YEGuncovered?

I grew up in Edmonton during the 1980s-2000s. I remember finding travel books about Canada while I was growing up, and looking up Edmonton. It was inevitably some variation on the tale of an oil town with nothing to do and only a gigantic mall. That mall. “West Ed”. I used to go there on the bus in junior high to drink milkshakes. Never forget the fire-breathing dragon.

But from where I stood, a lot of stuff happened. Slowly, and on a smaller scale, but it happened. Does anyone remember when the Rolling Stones came to Edmonton in the ’90s and it was a Really Big Deal in the news? I remember an article about Mick Jagger being spotted jogging in the river valley and a countdown to the show. My family walked around outside the stadium (we didn’t have tickets) and my brother climbed a tree and looked in.

Over time, especially during the boom of the late 2000s, the city started changing. Often for the better. There’s a lot more to do than there used to be.

But while some of it is good, a lot has changed, too. A lot of things that used to be here are gone. There are so many cranes downtown. Recently, I saw from the bus that the building formerly known as the best laser tag ever (Laser Quest) is now a pile of rubble. I spend a lot of time trying to connect what I knew with where I live now. Memory is fascinating and terrifying.

This city isn’t easy to love but it has a lot of character. Both good and bad.

So, I’m going to write about it. Throw in some photos. Maybe talk to some people. See where things go. Do it over summer 2015, from May to September, and maybe keep going if I still have things to say.

Oh, memory.

Some weekends, I volunteer as a costumed historic interpreter at the John Walter Museum (open to the public from 1-4 pm on Sundays, throughout the spring-to-fall months, free admission).

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The museum itself:

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Yes, those are scones you see. Come about halfway through the afternoon (2:30-3 pm) for maximum likelihood of catching the (free!) fresh baked goods from the wood fire.

John Walter was one of the founding pioneers of Edmonton (you know, other than the people who had already been there for thousands of years), a successful entrepreneur who ran everything from a ferry company to a lumber mill to a coal mine. Eventually, he made a million bucks and built a mansion (now one of the three houses in the museum).

There was a thriving community called Walterdale where the Kinsmen Sports Centre is today. In 1915, there was a flood that devastated the community.

The Kinsmen field and High Level Bridge in the distance.

The Kinsmen field and High Level Bridge in the distance.

The Walterdale Bridge, back in 2013. It will not be around much longer - construction has already transformed the area.

The Walterdale Bridge, back in 2013. It will not be around much longer – construction has already transformed the area.

John married a woman named Annie (née Newby), who has an intriguing backstory. Originally from England, she came to Canada as the nanny to two boys. She had traveled with the family all the way from the east coast to Manitoba, when plans went awry. One of the boys died, so what did the family do with Annie? They left her there, of course!

Annie met up with another girl about her age, and they travelled around working a series of jobs, before Annie ended up on John Walter’s ferry one fateful day. What I wonder is: what did she do on her “road trip” between Manitoba and Edmonton? I want to know.

There are a lot of reasons to love and loathe this city. Sometimes both. Mostly both.

I wander around a lot, taking photos.

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Because this is the Internet, you can also check out the project on other social media platforms:

Facebook: YEGuncovered (page)
Twitter: @yeguncovered