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Published: August 31st 2019
We go down to the hotel breakfast area and quickly feel like we’ve been transported to the tropics. It’s in an atrium next to a swimming pool surrounded by tropical plants. Issy asks me what it feels like to be surrounded by so much plastic, but on closer inspection it seems that the plants are real; well either that or they’re made out of plastic that has a few brown spots on it and that you can tear really easily. We spend a long breakfast chatting to Michael’s parents, LeeAnne and Steve, and learning a lot more about life in Alberta.
Steve’s grandfather was an English military man, and he decided to leave the mother country in the 1920s with his new bride to make a new life for himself across the water in Canada. They made their way from the east coast out to the prairies of Alberta, where there was very little of anything at that time. His bride was from a very well to do family and didn’t even know how to cook. They had very little idea what they needed to do to farm the land, and thought they could get through the first winter living
in a makeshift wooden cabin. They only survived because kindly neighbours took pity on them, taught his grandmother how to cook and supplied them with some of their food. It seems amazing that this all happened less than a hundred years ago. Steve’s grandmother wrote her memoirs of those times and LeeAnne plans to turn them into a book. Steve’s continued the farming tradition, and this is clearly “in the blood”.
The mystery of why most Canadian houses have basements is finally solved. The frost here in Alberta goes down a couple of metres in winter, so the footings of the houses need to be at least three metres deep so that they don’t move around when the frost freezes and thaws. Water pipes need to be at least three metres deep as well to make sure that the water doesn’t freeze and burst them. ... and I thought that building houses in Australia was difficult.
Steve and LeeAnne run 80 head of beef cattle in an area where the average annual precipitation is only around 400mm. It’s apparently a bit warmer and drier here than it might be otherwise due to the chinook winds, which blow in
from the Pacific, and then lose their moisture and warm up as they come up over the Rockies. Lethbridge has a semi-arid climate, and only gets a bit over a metre of snow per year on average, which is a lot less than I would have expected. Michael and Emma might actually be able to see out of the ground level windows in their basement apartment in winter, which is a lot different to what I thought when I first saw them yesterday. I was worried that they might break when the snow piled up against them. The average low temperature in Lethbridge in January is only a balmy minus 12. These kids are going to get soft living here. I think they need to move up north. There’s a place called Iqaluit up in Nunavut Province where I see it gets down to minus 45, and minus 65 if you chuck in a bit of wind chill. That should toughen them up a bit.
I’m not entirely sure how we got onto the subject, but Steve and LeeAnne tell us that Alberta is apparently well known for being one of the very few large areas in the known
world that is free of rats; and it seems that they are very determined to keep it that way. They have an entire provincial department dedicated to killing any of these vermin that manage to sneak in here, say in a trailer load of hay. If you happen to spot a rat on your property, you call up the provincial rat department, and they will then turn up very quickly in large numbers and with shotguns loaded, and they won’t leave until they have obliterated every last sign of whatever it was you said told them you saw.
We collect Emma and Michael and head off to Lethbridge’s very attractive Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. This was developed on the initiative of a local Buddhist Minister in conjunction with local newspaper editor, and was opened in 1967. The wooden elements of the garden’s pavilion were made by artisans in Kyoto, and then reassembled here in Lethbridge.
We pass a fenced off enclosure around a series of grassed areas with a small pole in the ground at one end of each of them. Steve and LeeAnne tell us that this is the local “horseshoe pit”. The idea is to throw
horseshoes across the grassed and see if you can get them to catch around the poles. This is apparently a very popular sport amongst Canadian seniors, much the same as lawn bowls is back home, with the added advantage that you can still play it in the snow.
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