The Silence of the North

Is an antidote to all the hot air being generated in Copenhage, I devoured a fantastic piece of historic Canadian literature, The Silence of the North, a memoir by pioneer trappers-wife, Olive A. Fredrickson, as told to writer Ben East. Frederickson reminisces from her experiences in the north of Alberta and British Columbia in the 1920s when all was wild up there. Her travels in the then wilderness took her all through the area around Fort McMurray, now the epicentre of the Alberta Tar Sands planetary blight.

Here, I quote a poignant and alarming passage from her book, which documents a massive, destructive ice-jam which tears down the Athabasca River, creating destruction and havoc right into Fort McMurray. I shudder to think that a similar catastrophe today will tear apart the flimsy, earthworks ramparts which shore up the massive and totally poisonous tailings ponds which contain the by-products of dirty-oil production:

“…all of a sudden we heard a thunderous noise upriver, and looking that way we could see a pile of ice like a small mountain springing up in midstream. I had lived along the Athabasca long enough to know what that meant. The river ice had started to move and a jam was forming in the rapids a half mile above. I knew the awesome power of that ice, and knew we needed to get back to Fort McMurray without losing a second. We were in no actual danger for if the ice cut us off on the trail, we could climb the tar-sand hills back from the river. But those hills were brushy and rough and that would mean a very hard hike, especially with the baby. Walter wasn’t as concerned as I was, for he had never lived close to a big north-country river, but he took my word for it, and we started to hurry back. We had not gone a quarter mile when the jam began moving slowly down, and with blasts like the crash of cannon, the three-foot-thick ice ahead of it, where we were, started to break and go. The Athabasca was over a half mile wide there, but there was no room in the channel for that huge, moving mountain of ice. The whole groaning, cracking mass ground and shoved its way along with unbelievable force, tearing trees out by the roots, gouging away tons of riverbank, and where the shore was low, pushing onto the land, flattening brush and tipping trees in a smashed tangled rubble. At a small canyon, we found it thrusting onto the shore for about 400 yards, and we made a long rough detour up the hill, and then clawed our way through the thick stuff back to the trail. Back at Fort McMurray we met a sight that was hard to believe. A huge ridge of ice was piling up on the three-acre island in the middle of the river, plowing and churning trees, earth, rock until the whole island was ground away. Then the ice stopped moving, except for a muddy channel one hundred feet wide on our side. Another jam had formed. That jam backed the ice up a mile up the Clearwater, tearing boats apart, knocking down houses, and wrecking a sawmill. Many people took refuge on the hill behind the settlement. But within an hour the pent-up force of the mighty river broke the jam, and the ice moved once more…”

Now check out this GoogleEarth image of some of the tailings ponds along the Athabasca River.

When, not if, those tailings ponds discharge their effluent into the river, that will irreparably pollute the Mackenzie River watershed all the way to the Arctic Ocean, -the 10th largest river system on the planet.

This horrific scenario underlines the dreadful Greenwash fraud of the Gordon Campbell regime, which is encouraging the development of an 1100 km, one metre diametre pipeline right across our province, to deliver tar-sands oil to the BC coast, which will then be loaded onto a veritable super-tanker traffic-jam of 200+ 1000ft VLCC’s (Very Large Crude Carriers) to be distributed to the worlds insatiable internal combustion engines. We have to ask, -how is it that reknowned Nobel-prize winning climatologist Andrew Weaver and the various other collaborationist sycophants, (ForestEthics, Dogwood, Pembina etc.) who helped reelect this government can purport to care about our beleagured planet.

INGMAR LEE is an activist living on Denny Island in British Columbia. He can be reached at