Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ever been to Grand Cache?©

By George Epp

Maybe you’ve heard of Grand Cache, Alberta. It’s a coal-mining town north of Jasper, now working hard to be more of a tourist destination for hikers, canoeists, and other aficionados of rugged mountains and rushing rivers.

Some dozen years ago, Grand Cache’s coal mine closed down, the population fled for other employment and houses went on sale for $20,000 or so as the “last one to leave turn out the lights” syndrome kicked in.

Recently, a consortium of local entrepreneurs reopened the mine and are currently selling coal to China, mainly. The town is alive again and a lady told us this weekend that a mobile home in Grand Cache today sells for ca. $220,000.

We spent a few hours of daylight and a night in Grand Cache, not for any particular reason except that whimsy occasionally takes us to places we’ve never been before, and after a day and night in Edmonton at our kids’ place, we hit on Grand Cache as one of those places that hadn’t yet had the pleasure of our presence. Also, we needed to be near mountains for a few hours and away from telephones and email.

At breakfast in the motel, we chatted with a labourer who was on his way to Grand Prairie where the Manitoba steel-construction company for which he works was just starting a big project. He said he’d be working in southern Alberta next before going up to Yellowknife for another project that would take years to complete. I asked him if there wasn’t enough work in Manitoba and he said there wasn’t much going on there at all.

On the way back to Edmonton, we stopped for lunch at a grubby Smitty’s restaurant in Edson. A group of burly young men were feeding at the next table, apparently on their lunch break from work. The one with his back to us wore a T-shirt that read “I got a new gun for my wife yesterday; the best trade I ever made!” We reminded ourselves that we were in rural Alberta and—trying to be less judgmental—considered the possibility that the gentleman had picked up the shirt at a thrift store and that the message on it was not his message at all, but an accidental consequence of picking up a bunch of work shirts cheap.

What motivation would result in anyone buying a shirt with such a clearly misogynistic message on it—and wearing it blatantly in public? There must be men in this world whose association with women would no longer be necessary. . . if they could only find a way to have sex with their rifles.

Had we taken the time to scoot up to Grand Prairie and to drive back to Edmonton down the Alaska Highway, we would have passed Mayerthorpe, where a man with a bunch of guns and a festering rage killed four Mounties a few years ago.

We used to live and work in the Stony Plain/Spruce Grove area, and as we drove through these towns, we marveled at how what had been towns were now cities: construction of buildings, roads, overpasses everywhere, heavy traffic at midday; along the highway, car dealerships overflowing with sleek cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and RVs. Suburban sprawl as far as the eye can see. We wondered how life had changed for the people of the two bedroom communities.

Gas in Grand Cache sells for 123.9 today; Macs on 109th Street and 61st Ave in Edmonton was selling it for 120.4 and here in Rosthern, it’s 129.9. The president of Exxon-Mobil was asked by a senate committee hearing in Washington yesterday how much he earns in a year in salary and bonuses. He said he had earned $12,500,000 last year.

I can’t understand how Exxon expects him to live on that!

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