From Where I Sit – In My Backyard

For the past several weeks I’ve been doing some contract editing for the Kalyna Country tourism guide. At 26,000 square kilometres, Kalyna Country encompasses 10 rural counties and is Canada’s largest ecomuseum. According to the guide it is a ?heritage and eco-tourism district that invites exploration by visitors from near and far and helps preserve the unique historical, cultural and natural features of the landscape.? The word kalyna is the Ukrainian word for highbush cranberry, a plant indigenous to this region. The berries make flavourful jelly, sauces, wine, and syrup and were a popular source of food for early pioneers, aboriginals, and wildlife.

As I read the community profiles that I’m checking for typos or grammatical errors, I’m struck by how much this region of northeast Alberta has to offer. Of course there are lakes, rivers, parks, and designated natural areas to explore and enjoy, including Elk Island National Park. Naturally there are historic sites, museums, interpretive centres and markers including the one for the Frog Lake Massacre. Rodeos, parades, car shows, festivals, fairs and more boggle the mind.

As expected there is a cross-section of communities ranging in size from Sherwood Park to tiny dots of civilization with not much left but a post office. But what hits me, story after story, is how hard communities and volunteers are working to preserve what they’ve got and maybe even attract more.

Some are doing a better job than others. Some are having more success than others. Part of me is irked by those municipalities that can’t be bothered to reread last year’s copy and make some changes. Fifty or 60 thousand copies of this guide will be printed and distributed through businesses and tourist information centres. The potential exposure is huge. Yet some can’t be bothered to make their piece sparkle. The other part of me is happy to get the work tinkering with the cosmetics of these stories.

As an eventual end-user of the guide I resolve to do a better job of exploring my own backyard. I want to see what Vilna, about an hour away, has to offer. With only 275 people, it has managed to preserve and enhance its historic main street, which includes Alberta’s oldest pool hall and barbershop. It is also home to the world’s largest mushrooms; an attraction weighing 18,000 pounds and standing 20 feet in height. Or maybe I’ll finally make it to Josephburg’s famous annual chicken dinner. In September I must make it to Gibbons for its town-wide garage sale, apparently one of the largest in the province. Or I could go to some of the performances staged by small town theatre groups.

As a visual artist I could design my own driving tour to check out the murals in Kalyna Country. Or I could take advantage of the annual Doors Open church tour taking place right around me in Lamont County. That would be a divine day.

I’m not sure where in this great country you live, but I’m willing to bet there are treasures large and small in your backyard too. We all need to check them out, from where I sit.