A STROKE OF LUCK (4 of 6 Chapters)

4 ̶ Memorable Moments

On that first Saturday night, long after I had retired, a party erupted in my room. The festivities endured the rest of the night, all the next day, all Sunday night, and tapered off on Monday morning.

The new residents of our semi-private room numbered somewhat less than two dozen and never more than four. The patient, a guy, had some heart-related problem, so periodically a nurse turned up to hook him up on a pulse and blood pressure machine and performed other functions behind the drawn curtains. I will say this: the newcomers were friendly, and when they moved to another room (apparently to give me a break), they offered the paid-up television subscription for me to use up.

On Monday evening, a nice old lady moved in. Every five minutes, without pause, she offered some variation of “I want to go home” and “I shouldn’t be here” and “Why are they keeping me here?” Every time, a member of her numerous family would explain that she would have to stay until her assessment was complete. At one point, when everyone had stepped out of the room, she wheeled herself to my bedside and borrowed my cell phone: she wanted to call someone to take her home. I dialed a number for her. A nurse appeared and gently removed the phone from her grasp. She was a nice old lady, had been driving her own car up till a month ago, living alone in her own house, and had just turned 100 years old.

The next day, Tuesday, her family arranged for her to transfer to a room closer to the nurses’ station. I checked on her on Wednesday and she seemed fine and I wondered why they were keeping her here. At that time I was ready myself for a lift home.

My most memorable procedure was the MRT scan.   I was wheeled into a half-dark chamber which seemed to double as a laundry room. The technician asked me to sit on a level surface, swing my legs over, and watch that I didn’t knock my brains out when I inserted by head and shoulders into the huge machine. I was locked in. The gurney or whatever slid noiselessly into a tubular arrangement, an emergency signal button was placed in one hand, and the technician left.

I now know what it feels like to be prepped for cremation. I couldn’t move at all. Then the noises started. Very mysterious, very creepy, very ominous noises, varying in intensity. A series of clicks and rumbles and creaks and staccato hammerings. After ten or fifteen minutes I felt myself dozing off as I waited for the burners to kick in.

The technician returned to extract me from the vault. The gurney slid out. But the gurney hung up. The locking mechanism wouldn’t release me. “Darn,” said the techie, “I’ve been meaning to fix that.” After another ten minutes he did fix that. That’s the sole reason I am around today to recall a special Robins treat.

I mentioned that I was less than thrilled with the hospital menu. Not finding myself lashed to a bed or a gurney, on the last day I ventured outside the ward to find some real food.   I found myself in a single long, very long, corridor into which other wards discharged. I found a staircase and descended. Another long, very long, corridor seemed to lead to places where the action was. I eventually emerged into another long, medium long, corridor that served as the hospital lobby. Drawn to tantalizing scents, I joined a lineup at Robins. I ordered a café mocha and a glazed doughnut.   The Robins mocha did not hold a candle to a Timmy’s mocha. But the doughnut, ah, the doughnut . . . !

Now, back to Level 3 North of St. Joseph’s Care Group . . .

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A STROKE OF LUCK (3 of 6 Chapters)

3  ̶  Recovery

 It was probably on Monday, May 1, that I was wheeled into a department where I began therapy. The speech therapy was really basic stuff. The neurologist would say four or five words and ask me to repeat them. Every time, I got two or three of them without fail. The physiotherapist would ask me to stand on one foot for a whole minute. I never managed that ̶ that was really tough. She asked me to go for a walk, turn a couple of corners, climb one flight of stairs, and return. That was a piece of cake. I was ready to do somersaults.

What about procedures performed on me? The first record in my chart, dated Saturday, April 29, described my first diagnostic procedure. It was a heart ultrasound, technically called a Carotid Doppler Imaging, ordered by Dr. B. Technically, it was Greek and Latin jumbled up hopelessly with some plain English.

“Peak systolic velocity right internal carotid artery is 62 cm/s, CCA 67 cm/c with a ratio 0.92.” I plainly understood the words “peak”, “is” and “a”.

Apparently, there was no urgency in scheduling further diagnostic procedures because next came an MRI Head Scan on Tuesday, May 2. Apparently I agreed to that scheduling because I did not register a complaint. Dr. S. ordered the Magnetic Resonance Imaging. One line in the full page description stands out: “Skull base reveals no abnormality.” Apparently the procedure did not shrink my head. That was good news. I think.

On the same day, Dr. S. ordered a Carotid Angiography. I remember being told they were taking an angiogram ̶-“gram” meaning “picture”, and “angio” meaning “of ankles”. Everyone knows what an angiogram is. One line in the description stands out: “The cervical, petrous, cavernous, and supraclinoid ICA is patent, without stenosis, aneurysm, dissection, or thrombosis.”

Which I interpret to mean I have a distended cervix, somewhat petrified; however, a super clinician with patented scalpels with cut out the aneurysm or thrombosis located in my chest (sternum). All good news. As far as I could tell.

Nobody made an effort at any time to inform me of a diagnosis or a prognosis, but on my prompting, a nurse would suggest everything was looking good.   Doctors remained aloof.

The chart that Dr. Z. shared with me had further details of angiographic findings, including “the midline structures are essentially unremarkable”, suggesting that I have not gained an ounce of weight about the waist.

That is true. Over two weeks I lost some ten pounds, thanks to a diet of alleged foodstuffs unrelieved by taste or texture. Thanks for that. I mean that sincerely. I did not need the ten pounds.

In my chart, under the heading of Discharge Diagnosis, the first notation was “new onset of atrial fibrlillation”. I had heard vaguely about “a-fib”. Further notations indicate I had both a CT scan of my head and an echocardiogram but no abnormalities were detected. These procedures were not dated in the chart.

The Discharge Diagnosis did note that I was doing well even though I still had difficulties expressing myself and “had a visual field defect that was improving”. I did indeed have difficulty finding the right words, and Dr. B. had pointed out that my peripheral vision on my right side was impaired. Still, my ability to read had improved quickly as well as my ability to solve simply math problems, such as 3 + 5 – 2. I still believe the right answer is 4 if you divide my age by 19.

Conclusion: “He would benefit from a short interval of time at 3 North.”

I was leaving the regional hospital acute care. That’s what I gathered from the buzz from medical personnel from Monday onward. I fondly believed I was well enough to go home.

By Wednesday, I had resigned myself to moving to a rehabilitation facility. A paramedic and an escort drove me to St. Joseph’s Care Group on North Algoma. I arrived in Ward 3 North in time for supper. But no one offered me supper. I was relieved.

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A STROKE OF LUCK (2 of 6 Chapters)

2  ̶   The Hospital

By 6:00 that Friday evening I was sprawled in a hospital bed, fully clothed, in the emergency ward, hooked up to monitors for pulse and blood pressure. The attending doctor, Dr. L., had to determine if my condition was serious enough to ship me to the Regional Health Sciences Centre in Thunder Bay. Our son and the doctor amused themselves by watching my fluttering heart rate. The doctor reached a decision: he called in the air ambulance helicopter.

Nothing else was happening. After several hours, I suggest Rob go home to supper. Periodically, someone, either a nurse or the doctor, checked my progress. Foul weather was delaying the ambulance. About four in the morning on Saturday, someone announced its arrival. Two paramedics bundled me up in a stretcher, ensured the parka did not leave exposed flesh. Dr. L., still available, escorted me to the helicopter. It was a comfort to know Dr. L. had stuck around. He’s been attending members of our family at various times for close to fifty years.

It took about a quarter hour for the pilot to rev the engine to prepare for lift off. One paramedic accompanied me, the other sat with the pilot in the cockpit (if that’s what you call the enclosed cabin with all the controls and instruments). The sound and vibration increased in intensity

We left the lights of Geraldton behind us. I was awakened by the lights of Thunder Bay as we cleared for landing on the pad beside the regional hospital. I was whisked through subterranean passages to a room on Level 3. I had a semi-private room all for myself. I checked the time ̶ 6:00 a.m. I still wore my original clothes. I slept and dozed. Was not offered breakfast. Was not offered lunch. Finally someone offered me a glass of juice and a biscuit. I thought this was my new prescribed diet. I took my usual meds although I skipped my daily 81 mg aspirin. (I suspected the aspirin had something to do with my condition.) Nurses checked my pulse and blood pressure regularly.

I had my phone with me, so I was able to advise Olga and Rob and daughter Laura and sister Susanne that I was actually in the city. That was news to them.

I lived in that hospital room from Saturday to Wedneday. Memory does not permit me to detail my exact schedule. Somewhere around Monday or Tuesday I decided I needed a shower. A nurse pointed out the facility, built into the washroom next door. I stripped, spent ages trying to turn the water on, then gave up. I dressed in my dirty clothes and waited for someone to instruct me. I got my shower and clean clothes.

 At some point a nurse suggested I switch my apparel to the open-backed nightshirt supplied to patients. Naw. I wore regular clothes night and day. Day and night.

After long periods of nothing happening, I was whisked away by wheelchair or by gurney to take tests. God bless the porters, the volunteers who do the whisking. A porter would wheel me through mysterious passages and abandoned me in some subterranean chamber. Eventually somebody claimed my body and put me through an esoteric procedure. And eventually the porter reappeared and replanted me in my bed.

I saw doctors on different occasions for a few minutes. A Dr. B. (supposedly overseeing my recovery) saw me and in a matter of minutes confirmed that I had suffered a stroke and he ordered sundry tests. A Dr. S. waved a sheaf of documents at me and ordered me to sign or suffer dire, unspecified consequences. That’s when I lost my driver’s licence. Another doctor, who does not appear in my medical chart, checked that I was following some vague regimen and was responding to instructions. He was a garrulous, friendly old chap who answered any questions I posed. A different nurse was assigned to me during every twelve-hour shift; I regret not recording their names so that I can now thank them.   They became friends. Dr. B. showed up one more time for a few seconds and gave me a simple test: Hold up your right arm. I responded with alacrity and he chortled. Apparently I had held up my left arm. I don’t think doctors should be allowed to chortle. On the last day, Wednesday, I was allowed to choose which blood thinner pill I preferred.

Meanwhile, Laura and Rob and Susanne paid visits at least once a day, along with a few other friends who had heard of my misfortune and came to commiserate. I made daily reports to Olga by phone. Overhearing their chatter, I settled on the blood thinner I wanted ̶ Xarelto ̶ and also chose a supplementary pill to control my blood pressure ̶  Coversil ̶ that I need take only once a day. It’s nice to have choices. Several medical personnel assured me that, having had a mild stroke from which I was making a rapid recovery, I would be back driving within a month. They had not yet heard the bad news from Dr. E. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a Dr. E.

Speaking of doctors, I never did get the straight goods from any doctor until I finally got an appointment with my family doctor, Dr. Z., in the first week of July.

Yes, two-and-a-half-months after the incident, I finally saw my chart.   I asked for a print-out.   It was an eye-opener.

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A STROKE OF LUCK (6 Chapters)

A weak spot . . .

1 ̶ The Incident

I am now officially a senior.

I knew I was getting older, but in my mind, I was never there yet.

Until recently, I could read a blue streak, write a decent paragraph, solve a mess of cryptograms without cheating, rake up a yardful of dead leaves, and power-walk three kilometres in my bare feet on sharp stones. (Okay, there’s one little white lie in there.) Several weeks ago, that all changed. They have yanked my driver’s licence.   I have to bum rides. Now I’m a senior.

What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened. I never saw it coming. I had a stroke.

On Wednesday, April 26, after Olga and I finished supper, I retired upstairs to watch tv. I often left Olga alone, sometimes for hours, as I worked on the computer or watched a program. All of a sudden I felt different. I couldn’t adjust the set. It was too much of an effort. When I got up, I found I couldn’t walk properly. I couldn;t speak. Over the course of an hour and a half, I fell several times as my legs failed to support me. I managed to climb to the third storey with intention of turning off my computer, but I couldn’t find the switch. My right arm lost all feeling; it became detached from my trunk. I couldn’t find my right arm. I left the computer and the lights on as I collapsed down one flight of stairs. My legs wouldn’t work; I couldn’t grasp the handrail because I had lost the one arm.

Somehow, I still don’t know how, I switched off most lights. Feeling returned to my right arm. I edged down one more set of stairs. It felt too far to trudge to the living room to let Olga know I had problem ̶ not that I could speak anyway. I ducked into the bedroom.

I stripped down to the flesh. I had to clean up. Somewhere en route I had voided my bowels. I sponged myself off, tucked the dirty laundry in the washer. I slept very well.

Next morning, I felt pretty normal, but Olga sensed something was wrong. There were evidences of my accidental discharges.   I could speak but I couldn’t articulate what had happened to me. All day we weathered ice-storm conditions, so even if I felt like frolicking, I couldn’t. We rarely have visitors, for we live in the country. My memory of that day is hazy, but I must have read and watched tv.

Next day, Friday, Olga was getting really worried about me. I myself knew that something extraordinary had occurred. She suggested I go to the Emergency. I didn’t think it wise to drive myself, 30 minutes away, and Olga no longer drives. Finally I found words to describe my condition. I had been trying for a day and a half to find the words. I blurted them out: “Heart attack!”, I said.  The wrong words, as it turned out.

I couldn’t find the word “stroke” in my vocabulary. I called our son, Rob, who had finished his work week. He lives three hours away. He had some errands to run but he came as quickly as he could. I took along an overnight bag and my meds.

The weather was still miserable.

Some journeys take forever . . .

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The Discovery

In July, 1934, Ted Eliot, a high school teacher and writer, was traveling by train from Longlac to Port Arthur. When the train stopped in the bush just south of Beardmore, Ontario, to pick up a prospector, Eliot chatted with him. Eddie Dodd told him about some “French armour or Indian relics” he had found on his claim.

Thus began a saga which is still unfolding.

In September, 1937, the Royal Ontario Museum sent an academic to examine the site of the discovery. ROM had already authenticated the artifacts as genuine Viking relics. Dr. T.F. McIlwraith made an inspection that may have lasted an hour or two. He found Eddie Dodd to be a credible witness.

A controversy erupted, reported in the national media. Dodd’s credibility was vigorously attacked. Another “owner” of the relics stepped up, claiming that Dodd had stolen them from the house he rented to Dodd in Port Arthur. Academics and researchers leapt into the fray.

In the 1940’s, the controversy died down, only to erupt in 1956 when Maclean’s Magazine and the Toronto Globe and Mail revived it.

In 1966 ROM issued a booklet titled The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History? It reviewed the history and the controversy, and stated that “opinion leans strongly towards the view that it was a hoax”.

However, the last paragraph also allows “the possibility that Norsemen did reach the central area of North America”. It goes on to say, “Perhaps some day unequivocal evidence will be uncovered to support that theory. At present, there is none.”

The Re-Discovery

None had reported visiting the site since the 1930’s.

There were few clues in the historical record to guide Lavoie in his search. At different times, he enlisted people to conduct a grid search pattern. One clue was the fact that Dodd had a cabin in the vicinity. Robert Coté, who had been a key person in the search, reported the ruins of a cabin he had found while hunting. It proved to be Dodd’s cabin.

On November 17th, Lavoie came upon a promising location. It was not the foot of a rocky “knoll” which Dodd had always described as the site of his workings. It was the foot of a small cliff in a long sloping hill.

Lavoie immediately contacted Coté, and together they examined the site. Coté, a prospector, agreed that the site conformed to all available evidence.

In a rather feeble effort to provide some protection for the site, Lavoie staked a claim that day that encompassed the cabin and the site.

Lavoie made some moves to encourage a modern, full-scale archaeological examination of the site, and received little to no encouragement.

Today the relics supposedly repose in the Royal Ontario Museum. When Lavoie asked to see them many years ago, no one knew where they were, exactly. In the case of the sword, it had apparently been co-opted to serve in a generic exhibit of Viking artifacts. No one knew where, exactly.

The Last Re-Discovery

In the summer of 1999, a huge fire swept through the forest east of Lake Nipigon, burning some 30,000 hectares. It wiped out the vegetative landmarks in the area where Dodd claimed he had found the relics.

In the fall of 2009, Lavoie set out to re-discover the site. Using notes he had kept on the searches in 1990, he narrowed down the prospective area. One major clue was a mileage marker on the CN railway. The Kinghorn Subdivision line was slated for demolition, and in 2010, that marker likely disappeared.

The area has re-vegetated with thickly packed bushes and saplings. With the assistance of friend Dave Alcorn, Lavoie cut a trail towards Dodd’s pit and trenches, and with a lot of figuring and a little luck, hit them dead on. Back in 1990, no one had traveled the bush taking GPS readings.

The entrance to the trail is disguised in order to discourage curiosity-seekers. Lavoie’s goal remains the same: a proper archaeological examination of the site in order to determine if the relics once reposed there. Or not.

Replicas of the Beardmore relics are, at this writing, in the custody of the Municipality of Greenstone.

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I have lost a great many gray hairs, and I do not regret one of them.

I am proud of every one. RIP.

This rumination comes to mind because yesterday I addressed a class of student teachers at Lakehead U. Young men and women ̶ kids, really ̶ just starting out. I do not envy them at all. Little do they know what lies ahead. Mind you, most of what lies ahead is good, as it was for me. Yet, if you asked me to re-live my life, I would run screaming in the opposite direction. Been there, done that. It was good, much of it was fun, but I have earned the right to be my age.

Fifty-five years ago I attended Lakehead Teachers’ College, and yesterday I went back for the first time. I had to be directed there because they have changed the name. Now it’s the Bora Laskin Building. I don’t remember him as a teacher. But, he must have done something right to be so honoured.

The prof who invited me, Walter Epp, is teaching geography ̶ or rather, teaching how to teach geography ̶ and exposes his students to as many geography-related experiences as he can. Last year he sent a group of students up to my home on Wildgoose Lake to pick my brains on being a writer and historian and a wanna-be geographer. Walter admires my historical-geographical novel, The Beardmore Relics, and it was, I believe assigned reading in one of his courses.

In the hour I had, Walter asked me to first reminisce about my attending the first graduating class at Lakehead Teachers’ College. Well, I didn’t say much ̶ I had a lot of ground to cover ̶ but I did mention that when I was attending Queen’s U to upgrade my certificate, I aspired to be a geographer. However, the labs were formidable, absorbing a huge block of a student’s time and energy, so I chose something easy ̶ English Literature. I have never regretted it.

I had 50-some slides in a PowerPoint presentation. I reviewed the history of The (historic) Beardmore Relics, starting with their discovery by a weekend prospector near the community of Beardmore in the early ’30s. I showed how, as a relatively young teacher, on my weekends in the fall of 1990, I set out to re-discover the discovery site, and succeeded. Then, after the great fire of ’99, when some 30,000 hectares of bush was wiped out between Macdiarmid, Beardmore, and Lake Nipigon, and all the vegetative landmarks had disappeared, I set out in the fall of 2009 to re-discover the site of my re-discovery of the discovery site.

In the next post, The Beardmore Relics, I recount all that stuff.

I segued into slides I took while researching The (literary) Beardmore Relics, focusing on locations in the novel that showcase the grand geographical and historical features of Lake Nipigon and the Beardmore region.

Foundations of the old Northern Empire mill, July 2009.

After the presentation, there was the obligatory applause. But I had to wonder what the students were really thinking. When I was in their shoes ̶ and I was, fifty-five years ago ̶ I too was addressed by some old fogies fifty-five years older than me, and some of those were my teachers (though I still don’t recall Bora Laskin).

I can still recall some of my thoughts from that long-ago time: I can’t believe that guy was once my age. What went wrong? And how much of what he is telling us can we really believe? How much is fake news (okay, we didn’t even know the term “fake news”, but we thought it). This old geezer is telling me he was recently sailing on the sixth Great Lake and canoeing and hiking and scrambling up a mountain in wild country and that he knows how to deter a charging black bear and . . . Aw, this is all an elaborate hoax by our beloved Professor. Are they late with that bell again?

As you can imagine, my presentation was a typical educational experience.

Still, I enjoyed it. I am a born teacher and a life-long student.

As I was leaving the Bora Laskin Building, I looked for some familiar landmarks. There’s a library in the extension (we had to use the university’s central library). The auditorium where we met regularly to hear old fogies speak, was locked. I couldn’t spot the entrance to the gymnasium, but a student I asked said it is still there.

The flower bed is gone where I buried an empty vodka bottle. But that’s another story.

Book cover, representing a view of Bish Bay on Lake Nipigon.

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Olga & Miko, Valentine's Day 2017

Olga & Miko, Valentine’s Day 2017

Two days ago, I took Miko for his last ride.

Our little Shih Tzu mixed loves a car ride. Usually, when Olga and I leave home for a quick trip to town, we leave Miko in a baby pen. We can’t let him roam the house because he will attack the portal we left from. He has already chewed and clawed a good portion of the cedar door and the frame through which he has seen us disappear.

When we return, there is always an enthusiastic welcome.

We acquired Miko four years ago from our granddaughter, Heather. Heather acquired him in Sudbury, where she was living at the time. When she visited us at Wildgoose Lake, Olga acquired him. We had recently lost our own dog, Shiloh, when her hips collapsed. And Olga had always wanted a lap dog.

Miko wasn’t a lap dog.   Miko’s first owner was a senior in Sudbury, and when he entered a seniors’ residence, he had to surrender Miko. Miko never forgave him, apparently, for he was a tough animal to warm up to. He frequently bit us. Nearly took off Olga’s big toe once. When Heather visited the next time, he bit her.

We understood his trauma. We caressed him, indulged him with special treats, let him sleep with us. Over the months, he warmed up to us, bit us less often.

We have a habit of acquiring rescue pets. We still have our cat,Trouble, after many years ̶ she grew up wild in the Dorion bush, fed occasionally by animal-lovers Penny and Doug. We later acquired Bushcat when son Rob found him half-starved roaming the nearby bush. Miko was our rescue dog.

These last few months, Miko became a true lap dog. Loved jumping into our laps. Loved visitors. Loved our cats. Almost never snapped at us.

When we travelled to TBay, three hours away, we took Miko for a ride. Sometimes to the vet. Sometimes to the groomer.   Sometimes just to keep us company. We certainly couldn’t leave him penned up in the house overnight. Miko loved those rides. Especially with Olga along. He was Olga’s dog. Olga called him my dog because if I left home for a day or more, he pined for me. Whimpered, wouldn’t eat.

We were never sure of Miko’s age. We thought he was age seven when we acquired him. Heather later revised that to nine. And just the other day, to age twelve. Go figure.

For several weeks now, Miko has been ailing. Off his feed. Lackadaisical. Sometimes not eating a bite for a whole day. Urinating wherever he felt like. Dropping sticky gifts on the carpet. For a year we’ve known he suffers from kidney stones, often resulting in his leaving bloody patches. Medication hasn’t helped much, and surgery is beyond our means.

For the last while, he will not stay on our bed at night. Jumps off, curls up on the floor. Sometimes hides under the bed. In daytime, likes to lie down in cramped places, under a table or kitchen chair. It is our experience with pets that they often isolate themselves when they feel the end is near. Shiloh dragged herself into the nearby bush, wouldn’t return to the house. Had to lift her into the car for her last ride to the vet.

Lately, Miko has had his fine moments. Snatches up a toy and invites us to play. Never growls if disturbed. Never dreams of snapping at us. When we receive a visitor, he arouses from his lethargy and cavorts.

Four days ago, Olga said it was time. I made arrangements with the vet.

Two days ago, I told Miko, “Going for a ride.”

He leapt up. He toddled upstairs like a young puppy. He followed me out the door, tail wagging. He waded through the knee-deep snow (his knees, mind you) although I was prepared to pick him up. He joyfully ensconced himself in the back-seat hammock. He never really complained that Olga wasn’t coming along. He was going for a ride.

It wasn’t a ride that Olga was prepared to take. If I could have skipped it, I would’ve.

Three hours later, I left Miko at the vet’s.

Gave him our last caresses. Collected his collar and tags. Miko was happy enough. Maybe he thought he was going to be groomed.

Yes, we’ve shed a few tears. I’m crying now.

But we are collecting Miko a week from today. Bringing him home in a sand-coloured urn. When the ground thaws, we’ll find a sandy spot for him.

Give him one last caress.

He’ll be so happy.

Heather & Miko in happier times

Heather & Miko in happier times

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Creelman Creek in the fall, looking towards Wildgoose Lake . . .

Creelman Creek in the fall, looking towards Wildgoose Lake . . .

How safe is a 60-year-old natural gas pipeline when it’s converted to carry heavy crude?

The short answer: not very.

That was the consensus of the public meeting last night at Geraldton’s Community Centre. Common Voice Northwest invited everyone to comment on a serious issue. Of course, everyone turned out. Everyone that counted. Nine or ten of us.

CVNW is an intervenor in the proposed Energy East (aka TransCanada Pipelines aka TransCanada Corporation) pipeline. The proposal is to take an ancient natural gas pipeline that runs 1900 kilometres across Northern Ontario and through the Ottawa valley and to repurpose the unused or underused sections of it to carry diluted bitumen.

What is diluted bitumen? It’s the stuff that the Alberta tar sands wants to ship out of the province as fast and conveniently as it can because it doesn’t want to deal with it (i.e., refine it on site). Dilbit is the most horrible toxic sludge you can imagine. Compared to it, fentanyl is lemonade.

CVNW is the creature of NOMA ̶   Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. CVNA has hired KBM Resources Group to conduct meetings in communities along the TCPL corridor. Last night, the facilitator, Steve, made it clear that neither KBM nor CVNW is taking sides. Nor are they defending any aspects of the Energy East proposal. Nor are they equipped to answer anyone’s questions about the multitudinous questionable aspects of the proposal. They are simply gathering information.

And CVNW, as an intervenor (an official input-er ̶ if there is such a word ̶ of the review process). Their expenses are underwritten by Energy East. And CVNW, via KBM, will pass on the gathered information to the big guns that call the shots on whether Energy East gets approval to proceed.

Steve wanted two types of information. One, identify which water crossings are significant. That’s the label, “significant”. If a rupture should occur at or close to a water crossing in the proposed converted pipeline, how sensitive is the spot to environmental damage?

In the detailed proposal that I examined two years ago (and I suspect that little has changed since), Energy East had identified not a single “significant” water crossing in Northern Ontario. I guess somebody told them that they had to do better. I guess they now believe they should get some information. CVNW is stepping up.

The consensus of the meeting last night: every water crossing is significant. I know. That is not news. If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that in every public meeting, Energy East is being advised that every water crossing in Northern Ontario (and they are thousands of them) is significant.

Supposedly, Energy East will monitor these crossings more closely than other spots in the pipeline. How good are their proposed leak-detection-and-response systems? Not very. Check out my article, How Energy East’s Pipeline Could Contaminate Beardmore, the Blackwater River, and Lake Nipigon Without Hardly Trying ( http://bit.ly/2jfIqpw ) .

Two, rank nineteen (yes, nineteen) areas of environmental sensitivity at water crossings you are familiar with.

Back to the first classification of info. I identified Creelman Creek as a significant water crossing. It is two kilometres from our home on Wildgoose Lake. The creek is not big, but it is significant. You can wade across it in many places, but still, a rupture where the pipeline crosses it could have major consequences. Given the poor record of current and proposed leak-detection-and-response systems, it could have catastrophic consequences.

The first consequence: our drilled well is replenished with water that runs in the geological formation where the rupture would occur.

Other consequences: Creelman Creek drains into Wildgoose Lake, where our home is. There are hundreds of other camps and residences on Wildgoose Lake, some of which have wells, others of which draw water from the lake.

We have a great sport fishery. We host a multitude of waterfowl in season. We are home to countless wildlife that depend on water (moose, beavers, otters). We enjoy many water-based recreational activities. And our water helps replenish the Great Lakes. Yes, the waters of Creelman Creek and Wildgoose Lake drain westward into other lakes and rivers, run through Lake Nipigon, and on into Lake Superior.


In this region through which the converted pipeline would run, there are thousands of water crossings and wetlands (muskegs may be classed as wetlands). Water in our region (whatever its location) does one of three things: it evaporates, it recirculates in soil and living species, or it finds its way into the Atlantic Ocean (via the Great Lakes) or the Arctic Ocean, via James and Hudson Bays.

Dilbit kills whatever it touches.

Another thing: this converted pipeline will leak. Even Energy East admits that. What it hopes to accomplish is to mitigate the damage. Small hope.

With regard to the second classification of information: the consensus of the meeting last night was that the most sensitive area would be a community’s water intake downstream of a rupture. Much farther down the list of nineteen sensitivities were caribou calving areas and habitats of rare plants. Remember, we were asked to identify sensitive areas that we knew of. There might have been fourteen or more areas that were sensitive that we knew nothing about, from personal knowledge. Perhaps the experts should be consulted.

As I said before, everybody in Greenstone had a chance to comment on Energy East’s proposal. By everybody, I mean the nine or ten of us who attended the meeting. So we commented on behalf of everybody in Greenstone. Well, on behalf of at least half of Greenstone . . . because there’s a meeting in Longlac tonight.

Having said all this, am I against the Energy East proposal? The short answer is yes.

Am I against a pipeline that would carry heavy crude across this region to a refinery in the east? Not necessarily.

My first condition for approval would be using an existing utility corridor. That, apparently, is no problem. Dig up the old natural gas pipeline and recycle the metal. Second, a new proposal should be based on a brand new pipeline constructed to the highest standards. Not, I’m afraid, according to current industry standards. Those kinds of pipelines leak regularly. The new standards should incorporate what is known about almost 100%-leak-proof pipeline material and advanced leak-detection-and-response systems and 24/7 eyeball surveillance.

This technology does exist now. Yes, it is expensive. But, we think our environment is priceless. We like it the way it is. We’ll take a pass on the dilbit cocktail.

The next time you meet an Energy East official, ask him or her about stainless steel pipelines, and pipeline pigs (you could look it up), and drone inspections.

He or she will say, But that’s way too expensive!

And you will say . . .

Creelman Creek in winter . . .

Creelman Creek in winter . . .

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by Edgar J. Lavoie


[This op-ed article is adapted from the last chapter of a four-chapter post on E.J. Lavoie’s Blog (ejlavoie.wordpress.com ). The post (dated 23 January 2015 and titled TCPL PROPOSES, NATURE DISPOSES) arose from the author’s participation in a public meeting on 14 January 2015 in Thunder Bay. The Ontario Energy Board has been charged with making a recommendation to the Minister of Energy on TransCanada Pipeline’s proposal for an Energy East pipeline. TransCanada proposes to convert one of its mainline natural gas pipelines to transport diluted bitumen. The converted line would run for about 1,900 km through Ontario, passing through, among other places, the Greenstone region, in the boreal forest north of Lake Superior. An extensive news article by the author is also available in PDF format ( http://1drv.ms/1BueH2X ).]

Another four principles in the letter of the Minister of Energy stipulate that Aboriginal communities must be consulted, that local communities must be consulted, that TransCanada Pipeline (TCPL) must demonstrate “economic benefit and opportunities to the people of Ontario”, and that the proponent (TCPL) must take financial responsibility for emergency responses and remediation (up to a point).

Let us address a sixth principle: “Pipelines must have world leading [sic] contingency planning and emergency response programs”.

The TCPL Application (TCPL-A) provides scenarios for addressing spills in different environments and seasonal conditions. I am choosing the scenario that seems to most closely resemble our situation in Northern Ontario. It comes from Appendix Vol. 7-9, Terrestrial Spill Response with Impacts on Navigable Water.

“In this scenario, a land-based release of 10,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil from the Project’s mainline pipeline occurs in the winter in an area with deep groundwater (depth greater than 10 vertical meters [sic]), sloping terrain, with nearby wetlands, and river within 300 m. There is a public water intake one kilometer [sic] downriver and a partially ice-covered lake/wetland complex two km downriver.”

Bakken crude is diluted bitumen (aka dilbit).

The scenario continues: “Because of the sloping terrain described in this scenario, the oil would migrate horizontally down-gradient and into the nearby river. As the river flow is approximately three kilometers [sic] per hour, it is likely that crude oil would reach the location of the public water intake one kilometer [sic] downriver within 20 minutes (and prior to it being contained).”

Yes, you may well shudder. Eventually, though, notifications would go out and responders would react.

A containment boom would be deployed around the public water intake within one hour. There would be “further deployment of cascading deflection and booms [sic] in multiple downriver locations, all of which would occur within 24 hours.” The booms would direct the oil to the shore where responders would collect it with suction equipment and surface skimmers.   Helicopters would transport personnel and equipment.

To give you an idea of the containment strategies, here is the list taken from Section 6.5.2 of Volume 7: Construction and Operations:

  • securing the release site . . . to minimize access by wildlife or unauthorized access
  • using dams and dykes
  • deploying containment booms and diversion booms, including sorbent booms
  • installing underflow dams or overflow dams
  • ice-slotting where waterways are ice-covered

Here is the list of removal strategies:

  • applying sorbents and other absorbent materials
  • deploying oil skimmers
  • deploying suction equipment, including vacuum trucks
  • dredging
  • ice-slotting
  • deploying filters and various netting techniques

There could also be chemical dispersants and in-situ burning. “These responses have a short window of opportunity for effectiveness . . . “

Okay. It sounds as if they have the situation covered.

But I’m a “show me” kind of guy. So I imagine the 10,000-barrel spill occurring in Greenstone. I imagine it happening in Beardmore, where the current TCPL mainline passes within a few hundred metres of the river that skirts the edge of town. The Blackwater River flows from east to west, emptying into Lake Nipigon about 25 kilometres away.

Hold on a minute. How much is 10,000 barrels anyway? I burn a good portion of that in my little Kia every year. Okay, let’s look at a rail tank car, model CTC-111A (called DOT-111 in the U.S.). It carries up to 30,000 U.S. gallons. That is close to 700 barrels. So, 700 divided into 10,000 . . . is . . . Oh, that can’t be right.

It is simply impossible to imagine 14 tank cars being dumped on Beardmore’s doorstep.

On the ice near the water treatment plant. It is, remember, wintertime.

Okay. The municipal emergency response team is likely to be the volunteer fire department. So the guys arrive promptly at the water intake with their brooms, shovels, rakes, and possibly even a containment boom.

Uh oh. The river is frozen solid. The dilbit is accumulating on the ice. Can’t use the boom. Maybe use sand bags, then ̶ make a dam? Uh oh. Not part of the equipment.

But no matter. As the dilbit cascades downriver on the ice, it bypasses the water intake. What fantastic luck. Before the churning wave of black goo leaves town, it meets a waterfall. Can they use the boom there? Get real. The toxic sludge slips under the ice downstream.

Now it’s the turn of the nearest TransCanada personnel. If they’re quick, they arrive from the nearest pumping stations on the line just as the firemen are nailing up signs to advise the wildlife to keep their distance and warning off any onlookers (who are unauthorized personnel) who show indications of wanting to throw lighted matches into the oily torrent.

Wait. Back up. The TCPL guys will have a ton of equipment to transport to Beardmore. So they don’t arrive until the dilbit is well on its way to Lake Nipigon. Under the ice.

Note this: references to dilbit in the TCPL-A suggest that it has many of the qualities of conventional oil. It will even float on water.   Well, it does, mostly. When it’s hot. To make this stuff flow through the pipeline, it has to be heated, from 41 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise it is a sludge. So, as soon as it hits the snow (between the pipe and the river) and tumbles onto the ice (of the river), it is cooling off. As it slips under the ice, a lot of it is no longer skimming the underside of the ice. It is sinking.

Okay. Finally the TCPL guys start deploying their equipment. Downriver.

Wait. Back up. There is no road paralleling the river downriver. There is not even road access to any part of the river downriver.

Call in the helicopters. The nearest chopper service is likely Thunder Bay . . . less than 200 km away as the oil-coated raven flies (but that raven will have heavy wings). Hopefully, the fleet of choppers will have been under contract since the oil first started flowing through the line way back when. The pilots have been keeping the engines warm and chewing on wake-up pills to keep alert. So there is no problem getting them up to Beardmore in a couple of hours.

The helicopters load up personnel and equipment.

Aw, geez. Where are they going to offload their cargo? A chopper needs a proper landing pad. A piece of flat ground, cleared of snow, with trees and shrubs well back from the whirling blades.

Okay. Offload the cargo. Get a bunch of guys with snowshoes and chainsaws and hot coffee and hack out a few helipads.

Where? What do I mean by “where”? Well, part of the response strategy is to track how far the oil travels downriver so that containment procedures can be implemented. The TCPL-A strategy for this scenario is “helicopters and drones [yes, drones ̶ that’s verbatim] would also be used to track the oil flow trajectory”.

These would be futuristic helicopters and drones which can track the oil which is invisible to the naked eye or any digital camera lens.

But wait. Far, far downriver is a major waterfall. They can track the oil at that place. Sure, it’ll be tricky positioning a containment or deflection boom at the top of a waterfall, but let’s not say it can’t be done until we try.

Do you hear that dull drone? It is the voice of the prophet. The voice is saying, over and over, Man proposes, God disposes.

Meanwhile, back to business. More personnel will be arriving from far-flung places like Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, maybe even Calgary. They will be bringing the really serious equipment and the more seriously trained responders.

If the Blackwater River flows at the rate of 3 km per hour, then the water that left Beardmore 8 to 10 hours earlier is emptying into Canada’s sixth Great Lake ̶ Lake Nipigon.

I’d love to go on because I’m having so much fun. But it’s time to get (more) serious.

We haven’t even gotten into the remediation phases of the grand strategy. We are talking of remediation of soil (where brooms, shovels, and rakes are some of the tools), of groundwater (vacuum trucks may help), of marine environment (I believe Lake Nipigon qualifies as one), and urban landscape (we imagined the rupture occurring within the boundaries of Beardmore).

What’s it all going to cost? No problem, TCPL is responsible for all costs (up to a point). At the public meeting in Thunder Bay, references were made to a 1-billion-dollar limit. Not bad.

Wait a minute. The Kalamazoo River spill has cost 1 billion Canadian dollars already. And the job’s not done. And that’s just one spill.

The nightmare becomes more marish. The dream of a leak-free pipeline begins with the highest technical standards of an industry that takes leaks in its stride. It continues with a description of a leak-detection system second-to-none. It . . . Wait a minute.

I found this headline in a Huffington Post article dated 11 July 2012: Government Investigation Provides Damning Picture of the Kalamazoo Tar Sands Spill.

Here is an extract: “Enbridge continued to operate the pipeline for 17 hours after the spill despite warnings from the leak detection system. The operator took no steps to investigate the potential leak, did not respond to 911 calls reporting the smell of oil, and only shutdown the pipeline after third parties located the spill.”

Of course that could never happen in Greenstone. Some berry picker or bird hunter would report the spill long before 17 hours are up. Wait a minute   ̶ the scenario is wintertime, so no berries and no birds in season.

To continue: TransCanada Pipeline has described a foolproof emergency response system. And TCPL believes that diluted bitumen is not as difficult to clean up as some scaremongers would have us believe. And TCPL will post a bond for 1 billion dollars. And think of the jobs, man. Think of the jobs.

Remember this principle from the Minister’s letter?: “Projects should provide demonstrable economic benefits and opportunities to the people of Ontario, over both the short and the long term [sic]”.

Okay, the TransCanada Pipeline Application has not provided any figures yet ̶ nothing demonstrable ̶ the information is coming. Some day. Don’t know when. Cross their heart or they hope to die.

Having one of the six principles ignored in the TCPL-A is not a problem. Unless you’re a stickler.

One last thing: does Ontario, or does Canada, need a pipeline to transport heavy crude oil to ships on the Atlantic seaboard?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have the credentials for that.

Ask the professionals. Det Norske Veritas (Canada) Ltd. (the OEB’s technical advisor) has 16,000 of them to scrutinize the 3,000 pages of the TCPL-A. Alright, to be fair, only a few will be assigned to that task. They began the task in early December. I began the task last week. I got through a few dozen pages. And I don’t have the credentials anyway, except . . .

Personal experience . . .

And an enquiring mind.

Why should anyone take me seriously?

I am just Joe Public.

When’s the last time your politicians listened to you?

P.S. The OEB is not accepting any more public input after February 6. Yes, this year.

[The author lives on a lake in Greenstone, Ontario, and draws his water from a well. The TCPL mainline passes over a geological formation and a creek within two kilometres of his home. The creek flows into the lake and the geology replenishes his well. A PDF version of the complete blog post is available ( http://1drv.ms/15rvzJs).]

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[Originally dated February 2006, & published in “The Jarheads of Goshen”.]

The grand leap of the whale up the Fall of Niagara is esteemed, by all who have seen it, as one of the finest spectacles in nature.

               When he wrote this to a London newspaper, Benjamin Franklin was pulling the flukes of those Englishmen who knew squat about New World experience.   Of course, we know today that the whale leaps only down the Fall.

Just the other day, a whale went to London to visit the Queen. On a Friday, Londoners spotted a northern bottlenose whale swimming past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was obviously lost, and in distress. Its natural habitat is the deep water of the North Atlantic.

Londoners jammed the river banks. Boatmen launched a flotilla of small craft. The drama extended into Saturday. Citizens waded into the murky waters of the Thames to dissuade the leviathan from beaching itself. The civilian navy tried to steer the beast downstream, to the North Sea, sixty kilometres east. Professionals — marine biologists and veterinarians and conservationists — became involved. They slipped an inflatable pontoon beneath the six-metre-long monster, cranked it out of the river with a crane, and laid it gently on a barge.

It’s been about a century since the last bottlenose was spotted in the Thames. What occasioned this visit? Yes, the Queen was in residence, but still, speculation was rife. Our planet’s seas are stressed, from global warming and massive pollution and extensive oil and gas extractions and busy shipping lanes and sonar. Yes, sonar. The British Royal Navy has developed extraordinarily powerful submarine detection technology, and the whale, which navigated acoustically, could have become disoriented.

I was reminded of my own encounter with a deep water creature. It, too, was out of its depth. I was eighteen at the time, on a work detail for TransCanada Pipelines, labouring on a stretch of right-of-way through the land o’ Goshen. At one point, to quench my thirst, I scooped a handful from a stream that trickled through the ditch, and lo! Leviathan reared its head. It flopped about in the shallows, Godzilla’s offspring, diabolically black, slimy and serpentine, and a good 150 millimetres long . . . Yeah, six inches long.

Freshwater ling cod . . .

Freshwater ling cod . . .

I was nonplussed. I was yeanegatived. I was aghast and aghust. I was . . . well, you get my drift. And my draft. A co-worker called it a ling. A ling. I have seen ling only twice since, but that’s another story.   One Goshenite in a thousand is lucky to see a ling in his lifetime, yet it is a denizen of our domain. It is the Goshen equivalent of the North Atlantic bottlenose whale. If you can imagine finding a ling in a Toronto sewer, you have some idea of the sense of wonder and the waves of compassion that swept over Londoners.

The ling, also known as a burbot, haunts cold, deep water lakes. The largest catch in a North American lake weighed 24 pounds, 12 ounces. It is usually landed as an incidental fish, but there are fishers who target them. In some parts of the continent, they are declared an endangered species.

Which brings me back to the whale. In 1973, conservationists managed to ban the hunt for the bottlenose. The whale on the barge suffered from a damaged eye and several cuts to the torso. As the barge moved seaward, the creature’s condition worsened. As it went into convulsions, its nurses prepared to euthanize it, but then it expired.

A necropsy determined that the immature female died from dehydration, muscle damage, and failing kidneys. It had not fed for days, its favourite food being Atlantic deep sea squid. Squid also provided its hydration. How did the youngster find itself so far from home?

The best guess of the scientists is that the bottlenose took a wrong turn at Scotland, swam into the North Sea, and then, harkening to its instincts, swam west, seeking the Atlantic. It was not visiting the Queen after all.

The whale left a legacy. Animal welfare and conservation agencies, especially the Save-the-Whales variety, reaped a windfall of donations. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people had followed the whale’s progress, and received an education. Children a half century from now will remember those whirlwind days.

Which brings me back to the ling. How did this youngster find itself so far from home? Was it seeking the next cool, deep water lake? Was it seeking the North Atlantic? Or was it seeking some intelligent species, an author sapiens, that could, a half century later, commemorate its odyssey.

Do not expect anytime soon a Canadian campaign to Save the Ling. There are three things lacking. One, a foreigner to initiate it. Two, celebrities to pursue it. And three, the talent to Disneyfy the ling.

But first, above all, someone must sound the alarm. Someone like me.

Ding a ling. Ding a ling.

Is anybody out there listening?

Even a ling can have a whale of a time.

The ling or burbot comes in all sizes . . .

The ling or burbot comes in all sizes . . .

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