Monday, November 27, 2006

return from the Labrador

(Battle Harbour, Labrador: by Alison Dyer)
Okay, so this is actually a photo of Battle Harbour on the southeast coast of Labrador taken in June, not Goose Bay/Happy Valley in November where I happened to be this past weekend. I just don't have an image ready to post.
Still, there is something about Labrador. Smells and sounds so grand they give sight a good run for its money. (But then so does the smell of diesel and sewage in Indonesian cities which, for some inexplicable reason I just adore, as well as the sound of tuk-tuks.)
My second time in Goose Bay/Happy Valley this month - this time to present a writer's workshop (writing for magazines - and beyond). Stayed with writer Robin McGrath and partner John Joy who cooked up a storm. They've recently moved to Goose (John is a judge) although they are no strangers to northern cultures.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Glorious Uncle Val

Tonight I was at the LSPU Hall in St. John's for AN EVENING WITH UNCLE VAL, written and performed by Andy Jones and directed by Lois Brown. Jones is a genious, a comedian unsurpassed. (Sorry Toronto, but how did you lose out on him?) An actor who invites you in, as if his one and only audience, at the Parliament of Cultural Romance; a one-man show that sidles through the mundane to the magical, a comic contortionist. To hear about a bohemian yet completely traditional wedding in a tiny kitchen overrun by guests somewhere in a fabled quarter of Placentia Bay; how Uncle Val unwittingly terrorizes the kidlets in care with tales of an urban wolf. Not a show to be missed. Do not eat (much) beforehand, you'll be laughing it up.
Rattling Books has now put out a CD of Uncle Val's best and famous letters just in time for Christmas:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mayor threatens resident

I have just received a belligerent and intimidating phone call from Mayor Andy Wells at my home regarding something I was quoted as saying in the newspaper about the development on Signal Hill. I'm feeling physically sick at both his verbal attack and at the thought that a Mayor, someone of his position, would actually do this to a resident.
He is known for such aggressive behaviour in City Council. To do the same to a taxpayer is reprehensible.
Stay tuned.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lost Islands

(Dick Wardle in Notre Dame Bay, photo by: Alison Dyer)

My feature story, with photos, 'Lost Islands: Rediscovering Newfoundland's resettled communities' is now available in the latest issue of Kanawa ('Canada's Paddling Magazine'). Thanks to all my paddling buddies who were part of the trips to Little Passage (South Coast), Merasheen (Placentia Bay), Port Anne (Placentia Bay), Exploits Island (Notre Dame Bay), Indian Burying Place (NDB), and many others. Work, family and other commitments have meant I've not been on the water since September and am sorely missing it. I encourage you to find a copy of Kanawa - and get inspired to paddle our great coastline.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Understanding urban wilds and the need for public input

Signal Hill. A few hundred hectares at the edge of a city that boomed while others, like New York were mudholes, to paraphrase one friend. Its flanks have been traipsed upon my French and English garrisons. D'Iberville and Marconi amongst a million others have left their footprints.

It's crowded with history yet one can wander for hours amongst a groundcover of rhodera and crowberry, languish in summer heat under branches of white birch and spruce, watch a hawk cruise a wetland, taste wild berries, be dazzled by vertiginous cliffs. Feel gloriously Away.

But someone wants to implant an order on this marvellous disorder of decades. Someone has decided that this, after all, is not wild and therefore should be gentrified, citified, urbanized. Children, parents, neighbours, residents, taxpayers, visitors have no say in this. Those who have for years scoured the warren-like maze of paths on the hills, who know this place has history, even a little wild grace, now have no say in the new 'interpretation' of this site.

Now we will have a theme park. Now we will be told about the ground cover, the trees and shrubs, the berries (brought over from the old country), the rocks. Appropriate signs to guide our thoughts and dull our curiosity, "As far as I know, no one has ever been inspired by an interpretation park to write great literature," opines one of our great writers, Susan Rendell about this development.

I thought that such attitudes had vanished years ago. That merchant-class 'what's best for you' tone gone the way of the dodo. The great auk. Apparently not. It thrives in St. John's. Still. Has hushed our City Council. We hear diddly-squat from them on how this came to be - no plans, no approval, no permits. Nada.

And we must be grateful.

Somehow, this doesn't quite sit in 2006.

Yes, this is about two things. One. We have a wild urban space. Meaning, it's wild, not untouched but now it's part of a reclaimed space. And for years a part of a space for children and adults to play, discover, find both physical and spiritual solace away the noisy, hard-surfaced everyday hubbub of the city. And, you can bet your life on it - there's valuable wetlands and creatures and plants, too. And two, people should have a say about how this land is used. We should all have a say. This is crown, public land, not private land. But Crown land - and - to boot - adjacent to a National Historic Site.

Who is the Johnson Family Foundation to decide that these lands are not significant enough to protect? Or that their brand of conservation is suitable in this instance?

We must accept that sometimes, the best stewardship simply means letting things be. Rather than create equal access to peoples of different mobilities the integrity of certain places, like the fen, would be best served by allowing no-one to enter it.

But the bottom line is due process. Mayor Wells acknowledged this should have gone through public consultation. Full public debate. And yet this is still missing: the bulldozers continue. What am I missing? What is the public missing?

We're missing the fact that the public should and needs to be consulted about development on lands that concern them. This concerns us all. Due Process. Accountability. Common courtesy. it's missing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Petition....more info? read below

You gotta love this!

CBC Radio Newfoundland/Labrador Interview #3 (Aired Tuesday, Nov 14, 2006)O n the November 14th edition of On The Go, Ted read an email from Paul Johnson, who is head of the Johnson Family Foundation. He was responding to the critics of the Geo Park being constructed behind the Geo Centre on Signal Hill. Here is the text of that email:

1. I expect CBC, as a responsible public service, will add some impartiality and objectivity to what you provide as a platform for people to sanctimoniously criticize good work.

2 . The 35 acres we have on Signal Hill is only 10 % of the total, public-accessible land.

3. Our walks will be public walks, especially dedicated to Signal Hill's amazing geological and botanical interpretation, which is presently unknown to over 95 % of our own people and 100 % of our visitors.

4. We are not damaging the Fen. It is not even within our boundary.

5. Those who say we are ruining natural, public areas, do not remember that much of the land we have leased was expropriated and cleared under Premier Smallwood - - taken from private families that lived there. A large part was also occupied by an orphanage farm, and more by a Royal Navy Supply Base. None of that was "public" land.

6. The GEO CENTRE is committed to improving its property, into highly-beneficial, public interest.

7.Do any of these high-minded, nature-lovers remember the many truckloads of garbage, beer bottles, furniture, mattresses, and car wrecks we had to clear up ?

8. Nobody complained when we spent $ 600,000 to complete the "Lookout Project" for Parks Canada, around Cabot Tower.

9. Nobody complained when we built and paid for the first two Concourse Walks, from Cabot Tower to either end of Quidi Vidi Lake.

10. Ted, while your callers pose as indignant, injured, innocent victims, and champions of privacy and nature, I would hope that you, as host, and many of your listening enthusiasts, will stop to think of how hurtful, discouraging, and destructive are such mean-spirited, one-sided criticisms, for those many people we have, exploring and completing, well-planned, expensive, and difficult initiatives, exclusively for the public good.Paul J. Johnson. {Johnson Insurance Company]

After emailing these insightful points, Paul J. Johnson left for Florida, and we're left wondering if JFF and the Grand Concourse Authority actually know what provincial crown land is, if they know what a fen is since they have clearly put a road through it and why being a nature-lover is bad. Just as Mr. Johnson was given poor advice on the design of the Geo Theme Park, so was he offered poor advice in these conflicting and inaccurate points.

Petition - on defending the fen

Defending the fen - and the wild and historic nature of Signal Hill:

The Johnson Family Foundation & the Grand Concourse Authority continue to bulldoze the hill in the name of 'conservation, geological interpretation.' City Council is mute. So, as citizens, residents, visitors, we have put together this petition, calling for sanity, due process, common courtesy:

Oh, and the ending of well-known writer Susan Rendell's article (The Independent, Nov.17,2006) to keep you smiling through this development nonsense:

"....As far as I know, no one has ever been inspired by an interpretation park to write great literature - or even a limerick. Wait a minute...
There once was a hill, wild and sweet,
Which measured the seasons by feet,
Of children and birds,
Not tourists in herds,
Until its foundation got weak."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And the name of that place is...

This weekend was spent at my place in Trinity Bay, just a short bald eagle's flight from this photo. (Between shooting his home-made arrows into the garden and on top of the root cellar, my son ran inside to tell me he'd spotted the eagle flying over the cove.)

But where was that last photo taken you ask? Battle Harbour, Labrador.

Stay tuned - I'll be adding more mystery photos on the blog.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rock and water

Figure a few of you might know where this is. If not, well, hazard a guess.

I missed last couple of days of development nonsense in St. John's while blissfully around the Bay. Apparently Paul Johnson had a spiel on CBC Radio's On the Go. Fill me in. Letters of opposition appeared for several days in both Telegram and Independent while Johnson's anachronistic and inaccurate testament was printed Saturday. Still precious little from the City of St. John's. There's an awful lot of door closing on this one. Hoping people are still interested in prying it open.

Friday, November 10, 2006

a far finer tree

(Port au Port Peninsula: photo by Alison Dyer)

It's good to take a breather. Many people have spoken out, surprised by the development on Signal Hill. We're going to hear many, many more voices in the coming weeks. But I want you to take a breather, enjoy some other images and ideas.

I was in Labrador - Goose Bay/Happy Valley - this past week on assignment. I was fortunate enough to also make visits to North West River and Sheshatshit, places I have not been, well, for a very long time. The moon was full, the air heavy with the scent of wood smoke. I don't have photos of these places ready to post yet. But some good memories already of meeting people such as Angela Andrew who makes Innu Tea Dolls and is always ready to learn new ways of doing things - Angela had a caribou hide drying behind her wood stove, and a year-old bright star testing her grandmother's patience. And Sylvia Blake, a trapper's daughter who grew up in place called, of all wonderful names, Butter and Snow, who gardens all manner of vegetables in her Labrador soil.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Time for a little sanity

Signal Hill North Head Trail (photo: Alison Dyer) - a ledge between worlds waiting to be explored.

But one person wants a chunk of this historic hill manicured and riddled with road-sized 'trails,' to intrude upon and remove precious wetlands, create man-made ponds with fountains, build miniatures of historic sites. Is this really wanted, on Signal Hill?

What can you do?
Voice your concern. Write City Council, Paul Johnson, a letter to the editor. Here's a list to get you going:
1. Johnson Family Foundation, Paul Johnson: 95 Elizabeth Avenue, St. John's
p: 737-1503 fax:737-1667
2. Grand Concourse Authority, Addison Bown, ex.dir.
3.City Council
Mayor Andy Wells
Deputy Mayor Dennis O'Keefe
Councillor Art Puddister
Frank Galgay (Chairs City Parks cttee)
Keith Coombs
Ron Ellsworth
Wally Collins
Gerry Colbert
Shannie Duff
Tom Hann
Sandy Hickman
4. Lorraine Michael, MHA Signal Hill Quidi Vidi 739-6387
5. Media
The Telegram
The Independent
CBC Radio - On the Go - 576-5270, toll free in province at 1-800-465-6846

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

From Mayor Well's "What's all the fuss about," to Addison Bown' better read it - you'd never believe me

Dear readers - I promised you some transcripts from CBC Radio's coverage of developments on Signal Hill. Here are two recent pieces from On the Go:

Transcript of CBC Radio One’s On the Go: Monday Oct. 30/06

[Ted Blades]… Signal Hill that the locals call the fen. It lies in 40acres of bog, bush and rock behind the Johnson Geo Centre, a series of trails, interpretive points and other Grand Concourse type stuff are under construction up there, now. I was up there Friday morning with Ray Cox who lives and works in the area. As the backhoes and ATV’s were busily hauling gravel around us, I asked him why he opposed this development. Here’s some of what he had to say.

RC: Well, I guess the first thing is I liked the Hill the way it was, it was just a natural hillside, and that was the beauty of it for so many people, that they could come here & pick berries and basically be in St. john’s but be away from everything.

TB: what role does having a wild space, a space that’s not been converted, so it is accessible by all, by the elderly by people in wheelchairs….what role is there for untamed spaces in a city landscape?

RC: ..I think there’s a certain connection with nature….even the other day I was up here with my dog and took a long look at the valley, and thought how beautiful it was in all its fall colours and the next day I came through and there was a road down the side of it, right through the valley itself. It was shocking to see that kind of change in basically a wetland area and watershed area.

TB: When did you first find out that this is what was happening here?

RC: Through the summer I’ve seen stakes go up and for sometime I’ve seen some of the early development of the trails. I was away for the month of August, I came back and half of a pond was gone, a parking lot was put in its place, and a new road was cut through – adding a third road off the Geo Centre into the area near the Battery Hotel. I’m not against the development of an interpretative area around the Geo Centre….to basically take a public area – this was all crown land - I considered that I was one of the owners of the place, turn it into a big urban park without anybody knowing about it or asking anybody what we felt about it, it just seems to fly in the face of what should be going on. And again, this is significant acreage. This is Signal Hill, this is an iconic place in the City, in the province, and beyond. For this kind of development there should have been at least some kind of public consultation – let us know what you propose and let us comment on it.

TB: That was Ray Cox on Friday’s On to Go. This morning I called the mayor of St. John’s Andy Wells and asked him amongst other questions how and when this project was approved by City Council. Here’s what he told me.

AW: It came before Council I think earlier this fall, I don’t know how long ago it was. It’s in Signal Hill Park, it’s a project being done by the Geo Centre, it’s a permitted use in the area, and there’s not a thing wrong with it as far as I can see.

TB: Was that discussed or presented at private meeting or public meeting?
AW: It was the one mistake we made certainly procedurally…because it involved an arrangement between ourselves and the Grand Concourse, we did do it at a private meeting, but it should not have been done at a private meeting, that was a mistake, I take responsibility for that. We should have done it at a public meeting, but when it came before me at a private meeting, given that it was a permitted use and given that you’re upgrading or doing work on an open space, I mean I couldn’t see what, it just didn’t twig to me that people would be even opposed to it. But obviously with hindsight, yes, it should have been done. There’s nothing to hide or be hidden from the people, and I’ve reviewed the plan with our director of engineering and I can’t see what the fuss is all about.

TB: The people that I have talked to have felt that, they’re opposed to it, they want it left in a more wild state, but the very least said there should have been some public input.

AW: They’re probably right on that one. That’s our fault, I can’t argue that. It wasn’t deliberate but given the fact that it was a permitted use, because it is within the mandate of I guess a National Park, and we didn’t see any environmental problems with it. I think some people are concerned about the width of the road that’s there?

TB: yes

AW: but that’s only temporary while the work is going to be done I believe.

TB: I spoke to Paul Johnson about that on Friday and he said they’re going to be dropped back down from the 10 foot wide roads that they are now to 6 foot paths that they are in other parts of the Grand Concourse.

AW: I don’t know what the concern is! There’s nothing going to be destroyed. What’s going to be destroyed? We have an environmental bylaw, we have regulations, and I mean we follow the law, we don’t break the law.

TB: I guess their argument is, is there no room in the City landscape for wild space as opposed to stuff that’s been gentrified?

AW: Well I think gentrified is kind of a pretentious term and rather a pretentious criticism. I think what we’ve done with our open space and our parks around the City is uh, we haven’t in anyway compromised the environment, and, people seem to forget that there’s 4,000 hectares of open space undeveloped in the City of St. John’s called Pippy Park, there’s a huge area. Plus if you want to look at a map of the City of St. John’s, aside from Pippy Park, there are huge open space areas in this City that are not going to be developed and never will be. I don’t understand what people are so upset about.

TB: Who owns that land now?

AW: The National Park isn’t it?

TB: No, it’s outside the National Park. My
understanding, and this is third-hand information, that this was provincial crown land that through some assistance of the City has now been transferred to the Grand Concourse.

AW: Well, maybe so. It is not owned by the federal government, certainly owned by the provincial government, not owned by us. So therefore it would be provincial crown land. And I guess we jointly or the province or ourselves deeded it over to the Grand Concourse.

TB: When I talked to Paul Johnson in the parking lot of the Geo Centre on Friday, he said that if they stopped to consult the public at every step they’d never get anything done. What do you make of that sentiment?

AW: I don’t think I can agree with that. I think that people are entitled to have input. We’re pretty careful here, this was certainly an oversight on our part, but I mean I think the citizens of St. John’s have a right to be consulted about how their open spaces are developed. With this exception, all of these things go to the public chamber of the City, and there is certainly an opportunity for public discussion, public debate, this was as I say an oversight.

TB: The next time something like this happens it’ll be in public?

AW: Well, yeah, I’m certainly alert to it now.
It’ll never happen again as far as I’m concerned. But I can’t say it won’t happen. But it’ll never happen again ‘cause I’m concerned. I mean it wasn’t deliberate. And I mean we’ve gotten, what, I’ve had two calls on it. My impression is that there’s not a lot of public opposition. Not just because there’s two doesn’t mean their criticism isn’t valid, it’s not a numbers game. But when I got a call first from Ray Cox, I did go down and meet with our director of engineering who’s supervising the project*, brief me with what’s going on, and I cannot honestly say that I would have done anything different. I mean I don’t know what the problem is. We’re building a little trail that people can walk on. We’re not going to undermine the integrity of the adjacent open space. The bog is there but I don’t know how significant it is, but in any event it’s not going to be destroyed. So what is all the fuss about, one has to ask?

TB: Mayor Wells, I want to thank you for your time.

AW: Okay.

Transcript of CBC Radio One’s On the Go: Tuesday, Oct.31/06

Host Ted Blades:…a series of trails, interpretative points and other structures, maybe even some fountains are being built up there by the Grand Concourse Authority. Our coverage of this development has prompted an email from Bob Gendron who writes in part: “I heard you talking with the Mayor [Andy Wells] on Monday’s show. I appreciate his admitting the project should have gone through public consultation. However, I am still concerned about the bog and I have two straightforward, and as yet, unanswered questions. One: what evidence does the City have that the pathways built on and around the fen will not upset the hydrology, pH balance, and sediment input and output of the bog? And Two: was this ever studied or assessed by qualified individuals having knowledge of ecosystems of isolated bogs? As I understand it – Mr. Gendron goes on to say – raised wooden boardwalks should be used to prevent blockages of water flow and avoid the leaching of harsh chemicals that can occur out of gravel and fill and thus possibly lead to damaging the bog. A perched bog such as this, in the hollow of a hill, is even more special. If these questions have not been answered and cannot be answered now, then I suggest it should be assessed before further work is done in the bog area. And again, that email is from On the Go listener Bob Gendron.

Now, I spoke with Addison Bown, the head of the Grand Concourse Authority earlier today to request an interview to address these questions. He said he’d take a look at them and get back to me, so I emailed them off to him. When he called back this afternoon, he said the questions are not worth responding to.

I asked him if an environmental assessment had been done before this project was undertaken.

“For what?” He said.
To see if the trails and such would have an impact on the fen, I replied.

“Don’t they know,” said Mr. Bown, “that all the water off the roof of the Geo Centre runs into the fen, no one’s had a problem with that. And as far as the pH balance goes, that’s acid. Don’t these people know that all the bogs were ponds once and will be land again. How deep do these people dig I wonder before they start barking for lack of a better word.”

Mr. Bown concluded by saying he’d welcome an email from Mr. Gendron and would gladly respond to him, but he’s not going to talk about this project on the radio anymore. He said: “I’d be glad to talk to you about any other story any other time, but that there’s been enough coverage on this one.”

So where gentle listener should we go? Should we leave it alone as Mr. Bown says or is there somewhere else we should take it? Your advice, comments, suggestions, always welcome. Talkback’s number is 576-5207 in the City, anywhere else it’s a toll-free number, 1-800-465-6846. Our email address is

[bolded by me, squidink. Also, re *, at time of my meeting with City one week ago, none of engineering/planning staff had even visited site to see what was going on]