For years I have been working on a manuscript about the boggy bush country of western Alberta. It’s a landscape that is resource rich, at least in terms of resources that were economically important in the 19th century (furs) and the past 100 years (oil). Yet is still a largely unsettled country, one that many enter with profit rather than settlement in mind.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the voices that tell the story of western Alberta are mostly male. First Nations elders, fur traders like Alexander Henry, map maker David Thompson, government clerks, oil industry historians – almost all of the speakers and writers are male. The absence of female voices is personified in the character of Charlotte Small Thompson, the Metis wife of David Thompson.
I recently had coffee with author Merna Forster, whose books 100 Canadian Heroines and 100 More Canadian Heroines have done much to popularize the stories of Canada’s women. The latter book includes a short profile of Charlotte. As Merna notes, “Charlotte’s knowledge, skills and experience living on the land helped her husband immeasurably.”
Not just city intersections and directional signage (though, as an urbanist, those interest me too) but the historical intersections and overlay of generations. And our ways of finding meaningful spaces in place and time.
My magnet, the geography that draws me back time and again is the rough and inhospitable country of west-central Alberta, Canada. Brazeau County is the heart of the Pembina oil field. As such, its thick woodlands are criss-crossed with oil industry survey lines, pipelines, well heads and service roads. There is some logging activity but much of the terrain is boggy, producing stunted trees and brush not suitable for commercial forestry.