Oilands: Prospecting

My motivation for this project comes from a place of personal guilt. As a former student of environmental issues, I felt wrong committing to the study of old buildings (friends, forgive that vast under-statement), while many of my peers were committing to voicing their reactions to the climate crisis and Canada's burgeoning role as a major oil producer. It wasn't enough to take comfort in the innate connections I see between heritage and environmental preservation. An internal struggle began to emerge while I practiced the patience of craftsmanship during a time of such national and international impatience. 

I am learning to saw and measure at an idyllic estate in a sleepy colonial village on the Niagara Peninsula, while fellow Canadians actively oppose the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, and Line 9 pipelines. I can't help feeling that people are finally galvanizing, while I've cloistered myself away to whittle.

Environmental Defence. Enbridge's Line 9 Proposal  

Environmental Defence. Enbridge's Line 9 Proposal  

 

Fortunately for my conscience, studying at Willowbank goes beyond lessons in patience and craftsmanship. Last September, we were introduced to Cultural Landscape theory when the 'Defend Our Coast' movement against tar sands pipelines and tankers in British Columbia was making waves. Throughout first year, we were exposed to the nuances of First Nations culture and its overdue inclusion in the field of Heritage Preservation. Meanwhile, the 'Idle No More' movement was gaining momentum. The feeling began shifting from guilt to "I am where I'm supposed to be." I even realized I could think about these connections during a long day of dovetail perfecting. 

On October 22nd 2012, in Victoria BC, five thousand people gathered on the BC Legislature lawn for the Defend Our Coast day of action against tar sands pipelines and tankers. This was one of the largest acts of mass civil disobedience in the country's history.   

On October 22nd 2012, in Victoria BC, five thousand people gathered on the BC Legislature lawn for the Defend Our Coast day of action against tar sands pipelines and tankers. This was one of the largest acts of mass civil disobedience in the country's history.   

My role as Cultural Landscape Fellow allows me to dig deeper into the connections I began noticing last year, and I'll be discussing those I just mentioned more in later posts. I will not be directly confronting the heavy economic and scientific arguments embroiled within climate change and oil sand debates. There's enough heated discussion in that salon without my voice. This will be focused on the human connection to place. Cultural Landscape. Everyday Life. Ritual. Home. Sacred Space. 

 

Suncor upgrader complex adjacent to the Athabasca River. Photo by Chris Evans, Pembina Institute

Suncor upgrader complex adjacent to the Athabasca River. Photo by Chris Evans, Pembina Institute

I most want to hear from others and share different perspectives in any way we dream up. I want to learn about any person's sense of place as they wrap that feeling around the presence of oil in any form - production, transport, infrastructure, and accidents. I want to ask the right questions and hear from people who feel good and hopeful in an 'oil landscape' as well as those who feel frightened and hopeless. My hypothesis is that as I look deeply, my biases will crack open. My hope is that yours will too. 

If you or anyone you know would like to contribute more perspective to Oilands, please do get in touch. 

- Angela

 

4 thoughts on “Oilands: Prospecting

  1. Karl

    I like your concept. A friend of mine pointed out last summer that there are legal restrictions on green space development that can help drive up the value of existing homes. I find it funny that I live in a stunning hundred year old neighbourhood in Niagara Falls with rock bottom property values but sturdy and beatiful old homes that you can buy for a song, and yet our councillors fall all over themselves to stamp out suburban greenspace while our downtown struggles and these old homes get snatched up more and more by paint-to-flippers or slumlords.

    I am not sure how in tune with your vision my dreams are, but it is a goal of mine to try to be a part of a living breathing old fashioned neighbourhood in a place like Niagara Falls. I live here so that we can preserve this nieghbourhoods link to our past. I know that the brows of the immigrants who settled my adjacent blocks were haggered with the sweat of their hard work, but the reward for them was to come home to the block where my children live. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but if we could see the value in what we have, then maybe we wouldn’t have to dig everything up and stamp out every greenspace to build something new.

    I think your aims and objectives are noble and I look forward to reading more of what you are doing,

    1. Angela Garvey

      Karl, Thank you for these comments – I definitely see the shared interest in connection to place and valuing what already exists. And that’s exactly the kind of conversation I’m hoping to have here. Please continue to share!

      Coincidentally, I’m one of several Willowbank students studying the past, present, and future of Niagara Falls this academic year. Specifically, we are focusing our study on Queen Street and the neighbourhoods surrounding it. If you are open to lending your perspective, please email me at agarvey@students.willowbank.ca.

  2. Carew

    I like the fact that you are conflicted, but I think your guilt is misplaced since you are forging within your self and skill sets the tools to make the kind of difference in the world that matters. I happen to be conflicted by the argument that poisoning our environment is good for our economy. So many people who have struggled to find any job, or one that pays decent wages, have found good work in Canada’s oil efforts. How do we tell these people they are somehow wrongly placed? Bankers will assert that the oil sands have insulated Canada from the economic downturns that hobble so many other countries. Of course, their argument is somewhat weighted by their wallets. A nation needs leadership in a million corners. You are occupying your own. Keep whittling.

    1. Angela Garvey

      Thanks for commenting Carew! Very encouraging.

      There are those who choose not to work in Canada’s oil industry despite being cut out for the work. Their reasons include being averse to the isolation and environmental impact of the work, awareness of substance abuse trends in work camps, and not wanting to feel like a cog in the wheel. I also found it fascinating to learn that many folks have moved out of Alberta in protest. Probably a blip on the radar compared to the number of new residents.

      These activities are leaving permanent marks on our shared landscape, around oil reserves and across Canada, at a rate that feels unbridled and reckless in my opinion. In the wake of this change, Canadian culture is also in a state of revision.

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