Field Journal #1 - 6 Jul 2008
by Anthony Marr
founder of HOPE
lead campaigner of GEO
“road warrior” of CARE-1, CARE-2, CARE-3, CARE-4, CARE-5 & CARE-6
On July 1, 2008, Tuesday, I set out from Vancouver on the first leg
of my Compassion for Animals Road Expedition #6. With me for this leg
was HOPE-GEO team member Taina Ketola who volunteered to serve as a
second camera-person especially for the fly-over of the tar sands
scheduled for July 3.
The last thing I did in Vancouver was to bid farewell to my
89-years-old mother whom I’m not sure I will see again. And I’m sure she
thinks likewise about seeing me again. She put on a brave face and
blessed my journey, and promised me to pray for my safety and success
every chance she gets. She and I held in our tears, but Taina said that
she was on the point of losing hers.
The drive through the constant magnificence of the British Columbian
scenic vista ended on this day at the foot of the spectacular Mount
Robson in a village called Valemont near the British Columbia/Alberta
border, where we over-nighted at a “cheap” motel ($90 – lowest among the
three I saw). I was there while conducting my anti-hunting campaign back
in 1996, and it is one of the most beautiful inland places I’ve ever
After a heavy thunderstorm in the night, we started at 8, but within
half an hour, we encountered a highway closure due to a landslide some
miles ahead. Quite considerate of them to block the highway at a
roadside rest stop with an info centre and a restaurant. The flip side
is that we were trapped there from before 9 a.m. to after 4 p.m., by
which time it was too late to for us to reach Fort McMurray (almost 1000
km/600 miles) by a reasonable hour. Thankfully, my Vancouver friend Judy
McMillan’s sister Glenda lives in Edmonton, and we’ve met in years past,
so Judy called Glenda, and Glenda, who had invited us to stay at her
place on the night of July 4, extended her hospitality to also this
night of July 2. We arrived at Glenda’s place well after 10 pm.
Due to the delay, I also called to cancel on Super8, the cheapest
motel I could find at Fort McMurray ($150), for that night and changed
the flight over the tar sands from 9 a.m. to 4 pm.
On the morning of July 3, Thursday, we started driving the 435 km
from Edmonton to Fort McMurray due north at about 9 a.m. The highway was
a 2-laner, i.e. one lane in each direction, and reputed to have an
inordinately high accident rate, though, having been to India three
times, and saw my fair share of the accidents there, this was nothing.
It was paved, but bumpy and dusty. We arrived at this most expensive
city (of about 60,000 and rapidly growing) in the middle of nowhere by
about 2:30. We checked into the Super8 and I did a little catching up on
email with the hour I had before going to McMurray Aviation at the Fort
While the weather was at least dry on our drive, it turned overcast
by 3. Our pilot Jonathan told us that we could expect some turbulence
and thunderstorms on our 1.5 hour fly-over of some half a dozen mines,
starting with those of Suncor and Syncrude. The first half went fairly
smoothly, but then we began to be enveloped in rain and we saw numerous
lightning flashes all around. At one point, the turbulence got so bad
that if not for the seat belt, my head would have hit the roof. Jonathan
decided to do an emergency land at the Albion Mine airport to wait till
the storm had passed, and the landing was the roughest in a light plane
(a Cessna 172) I’ve ever witnessed (I’ve been in bush pane a plenty in
my younger days). Jonathan informed us that a cross draft of 10 kph at
the landing strip was about the max in which a light plane could be
landed safely, and after the landing, the airport personnel told us that
the cross draft at our time of landing was fluctuating between 15-25 kph.
The wait lasted about 2 hours, during which time a 727 landed and
disgorged a plane load of Albion workers, and took on an out-going load
which was crowding the waiting room. Now I saw the faces of tar sands
evil up close. Jonathan made repeated calls to check on the weather
condition, and each time, it was not good. Finally, he decided to take a
round-about route back, and the return trip was uneventful. Back at the
counter of McMurray Aviation, the young woman at the counter, asked the
pilot how long the plane was airborne. He said 1.4 hours in total, or
about $300. She thought about it and said that it was not fair to charge
me the full fair because I did not receive the “experience” I had
reserved the plane for. The pilot called his boss Renee, who told them
to charge me for 0.7 hours, or about $150. So, we saved on both one
night of moteling, and on the flight. And what we saw and filmed was
priceless. We’re going to make it pay.
On July 4, we went on our bus tour (10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.) of the
Suncor and the Syncrude mines. What we saw on the ground was no better
than what we saw from the air, plus a olfactory assault of unsavory
odours which made Taina momentarily ill.
After the tour, I called the Fort McMurray Today newspaper. I did not
precede the call with a media release several days before, because I did
not want to alert the mines and the locals of my intent to prevent any
unnecessary disruption. The chief editor was not in, and a reporter
named Carol came on the phone. Initially, she sounded tired and
lukewarm, but when I told her about the tour and the time capsule, she
brightened up a little. At the spur of the moment, I added that I was
there in Fort McMurray to choose a place for burial of the time capsule,
and she brightened up even more. She asked if we were burying the time
capsule on that day, I said no, and she cooled off slightly, and said
that I should call back on the day of the burial. Too late to change my
tune then. She asked me about the location of the burial, and I said
that it was to be kept a secret anyway, so it wouldn’t make any
difference when the burial would be. While still on the phone, I walked
show her the car magnetic signs and the brass plaques. Without further
ado she asked me to come down to her office for an interview and
photography. She took photos of me holding up the two plaques while
crouching next to the car-side magnetic sign that said “Fix Global
Warming or kiss our children’s future goodbye”. She also recorded
the interview with an MP3, and took down copious notes, and said that if
the main editor approves, the article should come out by Wednesday next
After the interview, I asked Taina for her impression, and she said
that Carol understood and agreed with over 95% of what I said, and that
she was not uninformed, but was in a state of semi-despair and
resignation about the whole climate change situation.
After the interview, we drove back to Edmonton (435 km) and arrived
back in Glenda’s place in the late evening. Her son Andrew and daughter
Jennifer were both there, and I had a good chat with the family, and
with Jennifer after the others had gone to bed.
One thing I learned from this experience is that the time capsule is
indeed a media draw, capable of exciting jaded journalists and changing
their mind from a no or maybe to a yes. Further, what they want to know
is that the capsule would be buried on that very day.
July 4, I called the Edmonton newspapers the Journal and the Sun. I
used the story of us burying a time capsule at a secret location
somewhere in or near Edmonton that very night under the cover of
darkness, and had no trouble securing an interview with the Sun. The
Journal was also interested, but by the time I had to leave, could not
find a reporter to interview me, and asked me to call after I had
arrived in Calgary.
Arrived in Calgary by about 5:30 pm. I had a talk to give at the
Cardel Theatre at 7:30. I just parked there and went in to set up. The
talk was attended by only about 15 people, including , but the energy
was excellent. I spoke for 1.5 hours and had all in the audience commit
by a show of hands to sign and comment on the UN Global Green Fund
petition, and to pass it on to at least 10 people.
In the audience was a journalist from the Fast Forward magazine, and
she asked me several more question after my speech. It seems that I will
have an article there as well.
My host for the coming two nights is Karen Orr, who was the first
person to call me in 2005. She was with her daughter Brittany at the
talk. They gave me Brittany’s room and Brittany slept in Karen’s bed.
This is the kind of warm hospitality I’ve been shown everywhere I go in
my tours, bless their hearts.
Care Tour 6