Canadian Birthdays
01 December 2005

The centennial events in Alberta and Saskatchewan celebrated the diversity of our peoples.

Over the last year the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan have been celebrating their 100th birthdays. They cover a vast territory from the North American prairies to the Rocky Mountains and from the border with the USA to the Arctic tundra. The centennial events, which included a visit from the Queen and Prince Philip in May, celebrated the diversity of our peoples.

The original negotiations involved powerful leaders, colourful personalities and nearly ten years of border and resource discussions which affected the Cree, Stoney, Sarcee and Blackfoot aboriginal nations, by then largely settled on reservations. The struggle for balance between local needs and central government still goes on today.

Nordic roots
I live in central Alberta, a magnificent tapestry of grain fields, lakes, forests and snow-covered mountains.

Alberta's capital, Edmonton, with its large population of Ukrainian and Polish immigrants, recently hosted the World Masters Games. Impressively fit competitors-some as old as 85-came from Scandinavia to take part in the orienteering events. They reminded us of the Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns who arrived here as woodsmen and farmers and left their mark in place names and archival photos of tree-felling camps, sawmills and boomtowns.
The province's rich farmland, forest, fresh water, oil, gas, and coal reserves, and its world-class tourism destinations, continue to draw people from the rest of North America, Europe and, increasingly, Asia. Employment is high, and the service sector and construction industry are struggling to keep pace.

The oil industry is booming. Fourteen thousand new wells were drilled in Alberta in 2004: the total for 2005 is expected to exceed 22,000. The activity is so intense that motels are full, trucks and rigs are everywhere and it is almost impossible to hire an able-bodied man for other work. We expect to see a new drilling rig every time we go out and might find one in our back garden one of these days!

Not too strangely perhaps, prosperity has created its own special problems. Politicians, developers, conservationists and fiscal managers are forever debating how much money should be held back, how much put into alternative energy systems and how much into research, education and care for those who are not benefiting from the boom.

Farm families in particular are finding things tough-as a result of harsh weather conditions, unfriendly trade policies, and the powerful industrial forces operating around, under and often over them. And the oil rush raises a host of environmental issues such as limited fresh water supplies, noise, air pollution and destruction of habitat.

Albertans find it impossible to ignore our intimate relationship with the United States, its people, its industries and its trade policies. We export raw materials to them, while into our chilly winter flow fruit and vegetables from their southern states, as well as machinery parts, appliances and automobiles.

No bigger knife to the heart of our cattle industry could have been envisioned than 2002's BSE crisis. The US border was closed to our beef and live cattle exports and has only recently been partially reopened.

Added border security, trade disputes, and the controversial invasion of Iraq have strained a relationship that has worked for decades. This has affected holiday travel and, of course, the family connections that go back to American settlers and involve the many US companies that developed industries in our provinces.

Tomorrow country
Those searching for the 'Old West', with its cowboys, Indians, red-jacketed Mounties and buffalo, will still find it reflected in country community gatherings: rodeos, barn dances, and colourful Aboriginal pow-wows. But they will also find tensions beneath the surface as they talk to local farmers, teachers and civic leaders.

Canada's size and complexity have made it difficult for Canadians to maintain concern for each other's needs and aspirations. Alberta is no exception. The province is severely insular, partly as a result of its internally generated wealth. Our regional concerns and individual struggles sometimes deafen us to other voices, including those of the wider world.

Alberta is often called 'Tomorrow Country' because of the perseverance and optimism of its people. That's partly what drew me here from England in 1963 as a chemical engineer.

Our hope lies in each of us listening beyond our own interests. Not complacency, but compassionate local and global involvement must be our mandate, as this dynamic province moves into its second century.

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