First impressions often go a long way in making you feel either at ease or on alert when meeting a new person or visiting a new place – doubly so when relying on a stranger met online to accomodate and welcome you to a totally new country. Driving across country borders, into a small farming community south east of Vancouver, Canada; where agricultural properties are arrayed in mile long grids synonymous with city blocks and blueberry farms are in full harvest, one would not expect their host to greet them by flying overhead in their two seater Cessna and landing on an oversize driveway that has dreams of being a full scale agricutural air port. The character who piloted that Cessna took all this in stride and welcomed his new Australian guests by providing a satisfying mix of authentic Canadian cuisine, drinks and tales that would in turn create smiles when eating the popular dish poutine, grimace when tasting a foul concoction of tomato and clam juice with some kind of liquor added and laugh out loud when listening about that time he landed the Cessna on a school oval after engine failure.
Just one mile from the air strip is a temporary set for the television series Bates Motel; based off the 1960 Hitchcock classic ‘Psycho’ an entirely false motel and hilltop mansion have been built on property previously used as landfill. The film and series are set in Oregon, however production costs in Canada are lower and regulations allow them to build sets on landfill. As the ground is not stable the property is unsuitable for a permanent dwelling, but the placement of an empty building is permitted. The multistorey mansion, which is a replica of the 1960 original is empty and during off season the whole facility is boarded up, enclosed with fences and put under 24 hour security. As a testiment to the lasting legacy of Hitchcock, one of the windows in the mansion features a silhouette of Hitchock placed in such a way as to emulate a scene from the original film where Bates’ deranged mother walks across the window creating suspense and tension. When the series reaches it’s conclusion, the set will be taken down and all that will remain is the landfill below.
Moving east from British Columbia to Alberta and into a city wealthy with oil industry, Calgary is home to a community that is somewhat at odds with the primary source of economic development. The urban farming movement is gaining momentum in the city as more people are demanding fresh locally grown produce; people from all walks of life are leaving their day job or seeking alternative employment by trying their hand at farming. Pocketed in the most unlikely of places in Calgary, farms located on suburban house blocks are crammed full of crops and bicycle paths have various forms of planters where locals can grow their own produce. This community is brought together at local grocers and farmer’s markets where people feel a sense of self sufficiency and sustainability by supporting local farmers who will in turn give back to the buyers.
On such a small farm, every plant is highly valued to maximise harvest quantity and there are of course environmental factors that are always at odds with the farmer. The jack rabbits in Calgary are nothing like the wild rabbit commonly seen in Australia; jack rabbits are big, mean and very hungry. When approaching a wild rabbit it will flee as soon as it senses danger, however, the Calgary jack rabbit will ignore you as it lounges in the sun of a busy park or continue to eat crops until you are so close you could reach out and touch it, at which point it will begrudgingly lop away four or five steps and continue as it was doing.
Needless to say, the jack rabbit is an issue for the urban farmer. When replanting his crops, urban farmer Kye took down a section of his fence to more easily access the rows, it is a big task for one person to tend to an entire farm year round and the jack rabbits were taking advantage of Kye’s crops when the fence wasn’t reinstalled. Kye uses an online community website called Couch Surfers, he will give travelers a place to stay in exchange for some assistance on the farm. The extra hands for a few days was all he needed to get the jack rabbit probem back under control with a newly erected fence.
Our warm welcome into Canada made us feel very at home and gave us a nice break from the huste and bustle of the United States; we enjoyed the activities such as watching ice hockey, skating paths in both Vancouver and Calgary, chasing gophers, spending time in the Rocky Mountains and Banff National Park. We thank our kind hosts and derby leagues who taught us a thing or two. We hear Montreal is amazing so look out for posts later in our trip to see if we make it there.