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

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Sheila Peters

Between the tasks necessary to get a book ready for publication, wondering where our hummingbirds are hanging out this summer, and urging our reluctant garden to grow, we’ve been on the road a lot the past couple of months. And yesterday as I began writing on this posting, the washouts up Highway 97, just north of where Buttercup still waits in the willows for rescue, are beginning to make the Crooked River look like an efficient alternative to the haul around to Hinton and Whitecourt to get to Peace River country.

The book we’re working on. Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils by Vivien Lougheed, illustrates, in part, how concerns about erosion and sloughing put pressure on researchers trying to find the time and resources to examine the fossil record before it crumbles into the kind of rubble and silt that is blocking streams and road. Fossils, many of them found when geologists are looking in the landscapes for the carboniferous remains of ancient plants that give us coal and oil and gas. 

Whenever I close my eyes I see water pooling in hayfields, spreading through a tangle of willow scrub, flooding community beaches and leaving picnic tables to “float” on the water, their benches submerged.  At Beaumont Park on Fraser Lake, we watched a pickup drive out through the couple of feet of water flooding the boat ramp, drive out, back up, drive out, back up, the water spraying up and around his vehicle like a carwash. At McBride, the Fraser has risen over its banks to turn adjacent pastures into a lake. Turning south, we cross into the North Thompson watershed.  In the circuitous way of water, this spring’s rising star, a trickle can be deflected by a pebble into making a tiny turn that becomes, eventually, momentous. The North Thompson doesn’t join the Fraser until Lytton, hundreds of km south and west.

As we drive the rough road into Murtle Lake in Wells Grey Park, we cross mountain creeks that are white torrents. As we portage our kayak and gear down to the lake, the creeks we cross are in full flood. Several of the campsites are flooded, the park operator tells us. We’ve paddled up to Campsite #2 to find it a virtual island. On the map, he describes the options:  the fire pits are flooded here; you can’t get to the food caches here; the outhouse is across a small pond at this site. All the famous sandy beaches are awash. We stop at Sandy Point, where a tent is pitched on a tiny patch between the bush and the lake. 

We find room for our two tents at Arthur (#4) and spend three lovely days on North America’s largest non-motorized lake, watching, as all lake travellers do, how the wind can churn the lake into a wild ride in just a few minutes; how just as quickly the whitecaps can settle into a heavy liquid reflecting the grey clouds and patches of sun in a thousand pools of metallic light. The colour of iron.

Irony, an etymological reference tells me, has no connection with iron. It comes from the Greek and is used when “deliberately pretending  ignorance, particularly as a rhetorical device to get the better of one's opponent in argument.”   It has a more complicated meaning, of course.  It’s a kind of metaphor, really. Placing two things together in a way that questions the meaning each apparently has on its own. The road sign signaling danger that distracts a driver and causes an accident. The adulterous politician talking about family values.  The physician whose name is Butcher. Water and oil. 

And we use it to mean dissembling, that polite word for lying. Like oil producers saying they need to, they are obligated to, it is their duty to extract more oil to fill the world’s need for this product. 

As the Souris River rises yet again in Manitoba and thousands of people are evacuated, we watch water wash out much of the infrastructure we hold precious. Roads, water systems, power lines, homes, schools, bridges. After the fires that burned Slave Lake, the tornadoes that ravaged the US, it has become a tired cliché to talk about climate change. Extreme weather events.  How about pouring oil onto these troubled waters?

Speaking of irony, in Vancouver hundreds of youth rioted because of a hockey game, many of them wearing Canucks regalia. The price for jerseys starts at $85. They are made of 100% polyester, an oil product. They are all made in China. This is why Enbridge wants to build a pipeline to send crude oil to a port in Kitimat? So we can protect our right to work hard at lower and lower wages with no pension plans (“responsible labour settlements”) so we can buy our children plastic hockey jerseys? 

If you don’t get it, don’t worry. It doesn’t make sense. And we’re smarter than some folks think. The pipeline is not going to get built. Not for that. 

And now a mudslide has washed out the TransCanada highway down where the mountains close in around the Fraser River between Chilliwack and Hope…


  1. Excellent post, Sheila. So poignant today. I just received photos of Big Point in Manitoba where my family has several cabins. They're all filled with water. They'll be wood rot if something doesn't happen soon.

    People have got to stop and think what they're doing to their world. It's absolutely shameful that Prince George doesn't recycle plastic. I'm astounded in this day and age. They aren't even embarrassed by such dereliction.

  2. You are right Sheila. The pipeline will not be built.