Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crooked River Hindsight

Sheila Peters

Looking down the Crooked  River
I wrote earlier about our first day on the Crooked River and have been thinking a lot about our second day. Carlie Kearn’s stories about paddling the Morice River has spurred me to action. I think it was Edith Iglauer in her 1988 memoir, Fishing With John, who said she was a not very coordinated (athletic?) person who liked doing things that required, unfortunately, physical skill.  I believe she was referring to an incident when she was required to climb a very tall and slippery ladder from the fishing boat to the dock. Edith made it up the ladder. We weren't as lucky - we didn’t make it down the Crooked River to McLeod Lake as we had planned.

I’m not just looking for pipeline stories, I’m researching a novel which is partly set on this river and I wanted to smell it, see the way it turns, compare it to R.M. Patterson’s description from the book, Finlay’s River, which he wrote about a canoe trip that began here in 1949 and ended at the portage above the Peace River Canyon, not yet flooded by the Peace dams. Hilary had agreed to take us further down the river, Lynn and I in Buttercup and she in her kayak. We put in at a little forestry campsite at the 100 road, north of the previous day’s takeout. We’d arranged for Floyd to pick up our van, drive it to Kerry Lake where we would spend the night before deciding whether or not to go on to McLeod Lake.

Hilary and her kayak

Lynn and Buttercup

It’s a nice put in ­­– a long lagoon edged by wide tangles of scrub willow and red-osier dogwood. All the feeder creeks are buried in the willow – we never really saw one creek though the map shows several. Or at least that’s what we assumed. We’d forgotten to bring the map along. We paddled by a house up on the ridge, virtually beside the highway; we paddled past Bear Lake Park; and we paddled past Coffeepot Mountain, but because of the way the river twisted and turned, the mountain somehow shifted from being at our backs to being ahead of us.
I did think as we meandered along that we’d never make it to Kerry Lake at this rate. But I wasn't too worried. I liked the pace, the birds, the ducks rising in front of us, the way the train whistled in the distance, the way a moose crossed in front of us, the way Buttercup moved placidly through the water. We’d didn’t really know where we were, just that the highway was somewhere on river right and the 100 logging road was somewhere on river left. In the end, it turned out that our slow pace was not the problem – it was speed that would cause us trouble.

About 11:30 we came to Rip Kitchen’s place. In the 1980s Rip and Marion Thomson built a big log house on some flats beside the river, completely off the grid – no hydro poles, no generator, a long driveway only navigable in summer. As we pulled our boats ashore, eight Canada geese lifted squawking up from the big lower field, the grass flattened and streaked with mud and in some places still awash. Marion used to always have to wait to plant her garden, Hilary told us, because it takes a long time for water to drain away here.

Rip had been found dead in his house a few years ago when Marion was away visiting relatives back east, and she’d had to sell the place. Hilary didn’t know who’d bought it, but there was no sign of anyone around, so we had a wander while Hilary told us about the pleasant evenings they’d spent there in animated conversation around the huge dining room table, the only light from kerosene lanterns. Their first reception was not so friendly though; Floyd was helping search for a missing youth and when he arrived at the house, Rip greeted him with a shotgun.
Rip was raised along the river and Cherry Corliss said he’d told her he’d been hired one summer to help keep the river clear for traffic. He also wrote a column for the Bear River newspaper, columns collected in Crooked River Chronicles.

As we wandered around, peering in through the big windows to the huge dining table (he’d built all the furniture, Hilary said) and animal skins on the floor, at two typewriters facing each other on a desk in the bedroom, the chairs situated so the writers would each look out across the field and down to the river, one upstream and one downstream. A big four poster bed was visible, an enormous chimney and oh, what a book collection they’d had, Hilary said.
We all itched to open the door and poke around inside but restrained ourselves. Probably a good thing. While there were many signs of neglect – bloated insulation spilled out the open door of a shed, rocks tumbled in the pathways, the garden unploughed, the hot bed frames rotting and unplanted, dozens of stubbies stacked outside (Rip and Marion had made their own beer and wine), a tall beer bottle open on the table was a sign of recent occupation. We were later told the new owners most definitely did not welcome visitors.

Another of Rip’s passions was collecting old farm equipment; 13 old tractors were lined up along the garden fence – a beautiful lichen garden in itself – and old rotting cold frames – big ones.
It doesn’t look like he just died a couple of years ago – it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. But a mansion of sorts. I would have liked to stand inside and look up to see how the ceiling was put together, to see if there was an upstairs,  
It doesn’t look like he just died a couple of years ago – it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. But it feels like a mansion of sorts. I would have liked to stand inside and look up to see how the ceiling was put together, to see if there was an upstairs, or a high vaulted ceiling. You couldn’t tell, looking through the windows. All the while the geese croaked overhead, wheeling and turning.

We continued downstream from there, still pleasantly coiling through the newly greened landscape and past Livingston’s springs. It was there the river picked up speed and the lazy pleasure of the morning vanished. We tried to remember the lessons we’d learned the day before and managed to negotiate several turns, avoid a few sweepers and find passage through the rapidly braiding mess somewhere in the middle of which ran the true course of the river.
Hilary was moving faster than we were and disappeared ahead just as the current caught the back of our boat and swung us around to face upriver. I grabbed the willows and we both cursed as they clawed at our faces, but we collected ourselves enough (after carefully talking through our strategy, a couple of paddle strokes that would have come automatically to an experienced paddler) to swing back out and around another couple of bends to find Hilary again, waiting for us. Nothing for it, really, but to continue.
The river was running through back passages, through the willows, and you couldn’t tell what might be a log jam, what might be a beaver dam, and what might be just the river flooding into the bush. Then we heard Hilary say, “This might be tricky,” and caught sight of her heading into a narrow channel where the river split yet again. The route she had chosen was the fastest. Once more I grabbed the willows and pulled us to the side (I’d become fond of this maneuver) just in time for Lynn to catch sight of Hilary in trouble – first struggling to get her boat out of a jam of brush and logs that created a small churning island. Her boat, as far as we can tell, sank beneath her and she was left trying to haul herself onto the jam. We managed to tie the canoe, clamber out and through the willow scrub to the edge nearest her, all the time calling to her, encouraging her and wondering how we could help her. The water between us was deep and fast.
It took a while – probably fifteen excruciating minutes – but she finally pulled herself up and sat down for a few minutes to regain her equilibrium. I saw her paddle rise to the surface and float away downstream. Her rain jacket was snagged, unreachable, underwater.
During this time, Lynn scouted downstream and saw several nasty sweepers, a log blocking the whole span of the river and we realized, once Hilary was safe, that it was a good thing, really, that we didn’t get any farther. There was no river bank, no gravel bars, no access through the mess of willow to line the boat anywhere. And our hatchet was in Hilary’s boat.
We had a throw rope with us and managed to bring Hilary over to us where we had food, dry clothes and dry land a couple of hundred metres away. We were on the side away from the highway (which also turned out to be a good thing). After getting Hilary into dry clothes, we slogged our way out of the willow marsh up into the forest, leaving Buttercup and her paddles in the bushes, abandoned like poor Moses in the bulrushes. After much discussion, we decided to try to find the logging road; we had hours to wait before Floyd would know we were in trouble. And probably a night out before anyone would come looking for us.
After a bit of dithering and careful bushwhacking, we did find the big logging road, though not much chance of a ride because it was breakup and a Monday. Nine km back to our put in point and fewer, we thought to Davie Lake. So we headed north – the much longer way, we discovered later, but luckily, about four km and a black bear later, we were picked up by a couple of men on their way out of the bush. They dropped us at Bear Lake, where Hilary’s amazing daughter Brenda came to get us and took us to Kerry Lake where we were scheduled to meet Floyd and Cherry, just fifteen minutes before they arrived. In any case, even if we’d had the skill to manage the fast water, we likely wouldn’t have found our way through the flooded lakes and creeks between our inadvertent takeout spot and the planned campsite. The whole place was under water.
So we made it back to Summit Lake, happy not to be spending the night in the bush, happy not to have set a search and rescue mission into motion. Sorry about our boats. We drove home the next day without going downstream to the proposed pipeline crossing. Without reaching McLeod Lake. Without Buttercup. But very glad to have delivered Hilary home.

Some of Hilary’s friends tried a rescue last weekend, but couldn’t find either boat. Though disappointed, they were glad they went. “The river was wonderful and very dynamic,” said one of the crew, “and we are glad to have done it.”
To think of crude oil spilling into that dynamic web of willow, water, moose, bear, beaver and waterfowl – to imagine it could be cleaned up, is beyond laughable. It is appalling.


  1. I envy you, gentlemen. But who are the cute girls you're with?

  2. nice post Sheila. I hope Hilary finds her kayak (!) and sorry you did not make it to your planned destination :)