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So long, and thanks for all the fish

So it’s come to this. After 15 years, I’m leaving Canmore. My wife, Cathy, landed her dream job in Calgary, so we’re packing up and moving east. As part of that, I’ve decided that after 15 years in journalism it’s time for a change.

So it’s come to this. After 15 years, I’m leaving Canmore. My wife, Cathy, landed her dream job in Calgary, so we’re packing up and moving east.

As part of that, I’ve decided that after 15 years in journalism it’s time for a change. Granted, I still don’t know what that will entail, but now’s a good time to venture off into the great unknown – not unlike the last time I left Canmore, way back in 1988 with a stint at Red Deer College.

That led me to Indonesia with Canada World Youth and then Prescott, Arizona for college. From there I slowly worked my way back home with stints in Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary and then, finally, full circle in 1999, back to Canmore.

Shortly afterwards, Carol Picard – who would go on to found the Outlook with Bob Schott and Larry Marshall – hired me at the Canmore Leader. Two years later, she brought me to the Outlook. I’ve been here since – and those 13 years have gone quickly.

In that time, I went from writing a hodge-podge of stories as a general reporter to slowly focusing on art, books, science, history and heritage of the Bow Valley, including this region’s rich and fascinating military history. I’ve been privileged to have the freedom to write about these topics, including my other great loves, bison and the Burgess Shale.

Even so, it is still time for a change; time to take a step to the side to see how it looks over there, both in career and in place.

Canmore is a wonderful place and it’s bittersweet to know that I’ll be leaving soon – not that I’m going far, but still. It’s easier to leave when you’re 18 versus 44 and set in your ways.

I am also hoping the Outlook will put up with me as a freelancer. I’ll miss the easy access to forest and trails, the short commute, seeing familiar faces, the birds, the views, the places that speak of Canmore’s past, being in a place I know and love.

But I won’t miss the high cost of living. I won’t miss the struggle to pay the mortgage and make ends meet. It’s exhausting and frustrating.

I’ve always said that you can tell the locals by the bags under their eyes – those who are struggling to find a way to stay in this place because they love it, and yet are working so hard there’s no time to enjoy the very reasons that brought them here.

Low wages, inflation, zero rental rates, high rent – commercial and residential – and even higher home prices do nothing to build or even maintain community.

We’re already beginning to see the effect in declining school enrollments and the number of families that have picked up and left.

We can do nothing about the astronomical prices. The law of supply and demand has ensured that will never change, despite any recessions that may come along, but we do have an opportunity to take a step forward and address some of the issues without waiting for provincial or federal governments to take action.

We need to do something and soon; from my perspective, this is proving to be one of the most serious issues Canmore has faced since oil and gas began to seriously challenge coal as a fuel.

We need affordable housing. The Town has land at the former daycare lands, on Fairholme and at Millennium Park that have been identified as possible locations for affordable housing. These parcels of land need to be used for the best-possible outcome for the community as a whole and whether that is subsidized housing, low-rental units or what I don’t know. But without real, concrete action, the future of Canmore’s community is at stake.

Canmore will always be here and it will always be beautiful, but as heritage buildings are nothing without people inhabiting and using them, the same can be said for a town without a strong, healthy community. The beauty and charm becomes nothing but window dressing.

The daycare lands, for example, are already serviced. It’s close to downtown and it is not pristine land. That site has been in continuous use since the late 1800s. When the Cochrane Mine opened in 1888, mine owners built houses there for the miners and their families. The houses were abandoned when the mine closed in 1893, but the root cellars persisted into the late 1970s and as kids, we discovered those cellars were great places to find salamanders.

Before it became the daycare, the building was a horse barn and the land surrounding was enclosed in a large corral that was the site of the first Canmore Folk Music Festival. The land around the Red Barn and its corral often housed large caravans of Airstream trailers when these groups came through.

The daycare lands are a good example of Canmore’s single constant: change. Canmore has been in a state of flux since it was founded in the fall of 1883. Nothing in this town has remained static, even if it felt like it. The railway divisional point came and went and so too did the coalmines, and today, Canmore continues to change.

Just last week, my daughter, Alaina, and I were in the newly renovated Starbucks and she looked around – she’s four-and-a-half – and said “I don’t want it to change. I want it to stay the same.”

I remember saying those same words many years ago when the Canmore I knew as a child, a youth and a teenager began to vanish under the bulldozer’s plow, when, for example, the entire parcel of land along Bow Valley Trail that is now Save-on-Foods, Canadian Tire and Safeway and all the buildings adjacent to them was one large field home to nothing but grasshoppers and baseball diamonds.

I’ve seen the school I attended from Grade 1 to 3 – the same one built in 1922 – demolished. I’ve also seen my junior and senior high schools demolished. I’ve watched Main Street transform from an open, quiet street of small homes on big lots to what has become a dense and very busy street.

I’ve also seen the small-town qualities that made Canmore a small town erode and in some cases disappear altogether. When did it become OK not to wait for someone as they attempted to parallel park or ignore someone when they say ‘hello?’

Despite all of that, Canmore is still a good place, a great place, really. The mountains and all they offer, of course, help in that, but more importantly it is the community that makes this place. Between the life-long multigenerational locals and the array of people that land here and put all their energy and spirit into this place, embracing it wholeheartedly is remarkable.

That perhaps is the only thing that has stayed the same: the passion people have for this place and the willingness to sacrifice for it and make it what it is.

And this is why we have to do everything we can to solve the problems of high housing costs and low wages. We’ve already lost too many good people, people who by their very nature help to define this place and keep it honest. If all the people with bags under their eyes pack up and say, “Enough is enough,” what will be left?

My family is leaving for a new opportunity. If this hadn’t come up, we’d be staying put, but for all those who don’t have that luxury, something has to be done.

Canmore has this remarkable capacity to solve its problems, it always has. Not every town can survive losing its key industries, not just once but twice, and Canmore has done just that. As Walter Riva pointed out in his book about coal mining in the Bow Valley, Survival in Paradise, Canmore is a survivor, but will it survive this challenge?

I believe it can, but to do so will take sacrifice, compromise and a commitment to the greater good of this community. We’ve been there before; it’s time to do it again.

And for me, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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The Rocky Mountain Outlook is Bow Valley's No. 1 source for local news and events.
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