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Entries in roads (8)


more summer

Looks like Castle Mountain and the highway to Banff before the Trans-Canada was built.  It is paved; even in the 1960s most of the Trans-Canada through the mountains was still gravel.  It certainly reduced speed.  What I do now in a day used to take two at the minimum, three if one was being leisurely.

The station wagon looks roughly like a mid-50s Pontiac, but people kept cars longer then. 


copper mines

The Kemess South copper mine. A second mine, dubbed Kemess North, was stopped by the Tse Keh Nay First Nations before Amazay Lake could be turned into a waste dump. J P Laplante, photographer

The Kemess South mine site in northern BC is a large porphyry gold and copper open-pit mine that was scheduled for closure in 2011.  It is near Mckenzie, at Highway 97.

In looking up Highway 97, I find it is so-named because it connects to US Route 97 at the border at Osoyoos.  It ends at Watson Lake, Yukon, 2000 km north.  The last 965 km is part of the Alaska Highway, built during WWII to connect Alaska with the United States.  The rest of the Alaska Highway sets off to the west, through Whitehorse. Another section of Highway 97, just before Highway 16 going west to Prince Rupert, is part of the Highway of Tears.

In the 19 years the mine was worked, 7.5 million tonnes of ore produced 2.4 million grams of gold and 9.7 million kilograms of copper, roughly speaking. BC Ministry of Energy describes it thus: The Kemess South deposit is hosted by the Early Jurassic Maple Leaf intrusion, a gently inclined sheet of quartz monzodiorite. The ore body measures 1700 metres long by 650 metres wide and ranges from 100 metres to over 290 metres thick. A blanket of copper-enriched supergene mineralization, containing native copper, overlies hypogene ore and comprises 20 per cent of the deposit.
There is much more in this line here.  Kemess south includes both argillite and graphitic argillite.  In my childhood there used to be a great trade in argillite carvings, something which seems to have disappeared. 

Mining areas are rough, topographically and socially.  There is money to be made, but it is exported before it hits local ground.


oyster shell middens

John Heron, Hidden Midden 1. 2011

We are talking about numbers of oysters at an almost inconceivable scale: there is an Oyster Shell Beach in Hong Kong, Oyster Bays in both New York and New South Wales, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Oyster Point in San Francisco, Oyster Cove on Vancouver Island, Oyster Bed in Prince Edward Island.  There is an Oyster, Virginia.

Oyster middens can be miles wide: two kinds, the discards of oyster-eating peoples, and natural banks of oyster shells on beaches.  According to Kaitlin Pomerantz, the erosion of empty shells releases calcium into the water needed to build new oyster shells, plus providing a foothold and a habitat for new oysters.   

However, tons of oyster shells were used as road beds in the early twentieth century; more tons were ground up for chicken feed and agricultural use.  It is a similar story to the mountains of buffalo bones photographed beside the CPR line in Saskatchewan in the 1890s: destination, fertiliser.   Oysters are under threat from over harvesting and the removal of habitat. So, nothing new then.  

Pomerantz has built a monument, Hidden Midden, for Chesapeake Bay (between Maryland and Virginia), not quite as tidy as the drawing above, but better: it is topped by a slab of asphalt road that registers the destruction of oyster middens, and offers a footfall for occupation, not for oysters unfortunately given that it is in a sculpture garden, but for other kinds of life.

Kaitlin Pomerantz, Hidden Midden, Annmarie Sculpture Garden, Solomons, Maryland. November 2011.



Metalled road, Reinga, New Zealand.

Aggregate, in general, is mined, either as gravel or as stone which is then crushed to roughly 10mm sized pieces for concrete.  Historically this rock was called metal, from the Greek, metallon, or quarry/ore/metal, from which comes the term, a metalled road, something one finds in John Buchan novels where the hero and his invariably boyish girl companion hurtle across Scotland in their roadster on narrow tracks and if lucky, a metalled road.  Which merely means a gravel road.  The term is still used in New Zealand evidently.

Metalling is a process developed by John McAdam in 1820 where layers of ever-smaller sized aggregate are laid down on the road bed and with wear the sharp edges will pack together making a dense and weatherproof surface.  It is made even finer if the surface is coated with a mixture of stone dust and water, filling up any gaps between the stones.  Coating the lot with tar (tarmac) reduces dust as the surface stones break down with excessive wear.  

Asphalt is a name for bitumen, something we know a lot about here: originally called the tar sands of northern Alberta, the scientifically neutral term is the bitumen sands, the industry term is the oil sands: it is all heavy semi-solid petroleum.  Whatever, an asphalt concrete road which is what most of our roads are, is a gravel road topped with a layer of aggregate mixed with bitumen as the binder, rather than cement.

None of this is exotic, the basic materials seem to be everywhere, and evidently aggregate mining is what most of mining consists of.  There is a nasty history to rock breaking however, considered hard labour and done by prisoners well into the 20th century – including Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, and it is still done by women and children in the more benighted parts of the world.



the Big Bend Highway

Map of Big Bend Highway from the commemorative booklet. 29 June 1940. Big Bend, Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia

Before Roger's Pass there was the Big Bend Highway, a long loop of road following the Columbia River between Donald and Revelstoke.  It went north from Golden up one long valley which separates the Selkirk Range from the Rockies, and then south down the next valley leading to Revelstoke.  A dam at the top of the loop at Mica Creek was built in the early 1960s, after the whole route was made redundant by the section of the Trans-Canada that goes over Roger's Pass. Another dam in the 1980s and much of the Big Bend highway was lost to the consequential new lakes.

Originally there had been a wagon road along the Columbia River, as there had been a gold rush on it in the 1890s.  In the 1930s relief camps were established in the Big Bend: single, homeless and unemployed men who, in exchange for housing food and a very small wage, logged the route for the highway and contributed to the building of the road which was to be part of the Trans-Canada Highway.  It was opened in 1940.

The Big Bend was never paved, indeed great stretches of the BC sections of the Trans-Canada remained unpaved until the late 1960s. I often wish it was still there, the Big Bend, as it avoided the steep elevation change of Roger's Pass.  But, like the Coquihalla Highway built in 1985 bypassing another longer but safer section of the Trans-Canada between Kamloops and Hope, and also subject to horrible winter weather and endless closures, these new sections of road cut the mileage.  Fine in the summer, often fatal in the winter.


avalanche clearing

The importance of not being in a hurry:

March 5, 2012

Although a slide over the highway might seem small by air, as above, on the actual road it is a mess.  These avalanches, usually small because larger slips have already been released farther up the hill by avalanche control, shut down the passes for at least a day, often longer.  All the trucks line up in tight ranks at brake checkstops, wide laybys or at Rogers Pass itself where there are services.  Cars turn back, if they can, and try another, invariably longer route.

Glacier National Park, on the Trans-Canada, January 17, 2011


a handful of drives

Polly Hill. Driving map of Santa Cruz, 1912

There is a nice write up of this hand map on Strange Maps.  It reminds me that there was a time when people got into cars and drove around, looking at things, usually on Sunday afternoons.  Let's go out for a drive!  Who today in their right mind would think this was a treat?  but it used to be.

Driving has become such a chore: too fast, too much road surface, too noisy, an A to B experience, preferrably without incident.  No time to look at scenery, no stopping for gas and finding a courteous attendant, in fact little courtesy on the road itself.  It is all such a struggle. 


the Dominion Grid

an image that everyone on the prairies has: incoming weather, driving in a straight line, fall fieldsThe Dominion Survey turned land into property in the tradition of the Enclosures Acts in Britain, where land commonly and traditionally farmed was enclosed by fences and walls by often self-appointed land-owners.  The Dominion Survey prepared the ground for the CPR and western settlement. Land held for millennia and used in accordance with constantly re-negotiated peace treaties, all of a sudden within a few years in the 1880s, was ruled off into one-mile squares, 6 mile sections, 36 square mile townships.  Road allowances were made at the edges of the sections and the first nations were bundled into reserves.

Metes and bounds, the survey system that measures land between this rock and that river, this mountain ridge and that path at least acknowledges that land has form, and in determining reserves in eastern Canada often the boundaries were negotiated according to an organic and aboriginal understanding of land use.  Not so for the Sarcee Reserve, now the Tsuu T'ina Nation, which was given three townships sitting in a row, a 36 x 6 mile rectangle running from 37th Street in south Calgary to the mountains.  Rivers and streams cut into this block and out again.  One could perhaps understand the same area being defined by the watershed of the Elbow River perhaps, but not this indifferent and random assignation of land. 

If you can measure land, you can draw it and if you can draw it, you can sell it.  Is this not at the base of survey systems?  I grew up with a western Canadian and an architect's love of the Dominion Grid, its absolute rationality that was nonetheless full of errors, correction lines that occur because of the curvature of the earth, delightful incongruities as a road slices over a hill and down a valley, standing on an escarpment and seeing the road go to the horizon twenty miles away.  Old Saskatchewan farmers could still reel off the legal description of homesteads they'd left in the 30s:  Section 22, Township 26, Range 2, West of the 4th Meridian.  I thought all this was magical, and in some sense still do.  But I also see it as a commercial project.  The CPR was given astounding bonuses for building the railway connecting BC with eastern Canada: $25 million (about $500 million today), 25 million square miles (exactly half the land) in a 50-mile zone either side of the main line and a monopoly on rail connections to the US.  Why does most of Canada live within a hundred miles of the US border?  Does the CPR have something to do with this? Are section roads straight?

CPR land was evenly dispersed, effectively limiting the size of a homestead (obtained free from the Canadian governmnent) to one section.