The city of my birth

(part of my notes from a few weeks ago)

For my flight out of Williams Lake there is the same number of airport security people as there are passengers. Bored out of their minds, they took the opportunity to test out all of their new tools – swabbing, testing, and probing my backpack and laptop for explosives and explosives residue. We sit in a little windowed area watching kids running around outside where we would soon be walking to the plane. Good thing security is tight.

I’m at this little airport because it was the easiest way to get to my grandmother. My mom and aunts have been there for a while taking care of her – she has had lung cancer for the last few years, and is nearing the end of her fight. Even while she lies in pain she possesses the ability to make a room erupt in laugher. I’ve never met someone so charming, it is little wonder she ran a busy cafe for decades. There are constant callers, in person, and on the phone. She handles them all with ease. I can only hope to have half the grace when it is my time.

With a population of about 11,000, the city doesn’t seem to have changed a huge amount. A lot of the town along the highway is the same, but the big box stores seem to have hit downtown hard. I suspect the walmart coming next year will finish it off. The old stampede sign is missing, but the event is still a big deal. The large number of keep your car secure signs suggest WL hasn’t dropped off the top spots for car theft in Canada – I’ve got a story about that I’ll have to type up some time. Economically the city seems to be a mixed bag, but I supposed that’s the way it has always been.

Forestry, lumber and pulp, still dominate the town. My family has been working in forestry related industry for at least three generations, probably even more than that when you expand out of the area. The wilderness is viewed in equal parts reverence and business – The forest is beautiful, but I can’t feed my kids with pine needles. Consolidation between multinationals has hurt quite a bit. Worker protections have evaporated, and it is not infrequent to hear of closures wiping out a town. Everyone is worried about the stronger Canadian dollar, or rather, a weaker US dollar.

The other concern is mountain pine beetle. You can see vast swaths of brown and red from this bug, turning valleys into tinder boxes. As my uncle says “It used to be that you looked for the red, now you look for the green”. The larvae kill the trees and bring a blue mold that will kill them if the bugs fail to do the job. The winters used to be cold enough to control the bug, but that isn’t happening these days, and probably will never again. Eventually a defense or a predator will emerge, but by that time it could be too late with moving climate zones. Trees here are very tall and slender, each trying to outgrow its neighbor to get the most of the limited sun. With growth taking decades, the idea of large swings is pretty scary – a lot of things won’t be able to keep up.

In some ways this place is a paradox to me. Everything seems to mirror my earliest memories, yet fundamental changes are underway.

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1 Comment

  1. I really appreciate posts like this – little slices of time of small towns across North America. Williams Lake is a town I would have never heard about and certainly not cared about were it not for you. Now I find myself incredibly curious what it’s going to be like in 20 years. Who knows, maybe I’ll even pass through it.

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