It takes cities to save a city

It is the nature of cities to share beauty and horror. Waterton, a small town at the edge of one of Canada’s national parks, was threatened by wildfire this fall, a reminder of the real threat faced last year. It was also a reminder of how towns, communities and cities are intrinsically related to each other.

September 2017 saw the Kenow Wildfire lick and nibble at the edges of the town; the visitor centre was consumed by fire, as well as other park buildings, bridges, roadways, housing and water and electrical systems. This September’s threat was a reminder of the relationship a town has with other towns and cities.

Photo: Ponoka News

The Kenow wildfire of 2017 started with an intense lightening and thunder storm west of the park and town. The official message of Parks Canada, in the Park’s activity guide, describes events like this: over the course of a week, “hot weather, strong winds and extremely dry conditions fulled the extreme behaviour” of the fire.

Further: “Parks Canada worked closely with partner agencies and neighbouring jurisdictions as the fire progressed. Fire crews created fuel line breaks and helicopters dropped water on hotspots to prevent the spread of fire. In addition, fire retardant was sprayed on picnic shelters, washrooms, and other visitor facilities. In the Waterton townsite, high-volume water pumps and sprinkler systems were installed around the edge of the community and trees, shrubs, grasses, and other flammable items were removed from properties.” While this work was done by Parks Canada employees and residents of the townsite, others came to their aid. They did not fight the fire on their own.

Photo: Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Services

The activity guide: “Heroic efforts by Parks Canada, with the support of the firefighters from agencies across the country and municipal fire departments from nearby communities and the cities of Lethbridge and Calgary, saved the Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site and the community of Waterton. We are forever grateful for your courage, your tireless efforts, and for all that you accomplished.”

Others came to their aid. They did not fight the fire on their own.

Simply put, the town could not save itself; it needed others to come in and help. A year later, the town was still saying thank you.

A Waterton home’s living room window

Not only do we require each other to survive within a city, but this survival strategy also scales up. Cities need other cities to survive.

Waterton’s Bertha Lake trail 11 months after the 2017 Kenow fire
Waterton’s Bertha Lake trail 11 months after the 2017 Kenow fire

It is in the nature of our cities and communities to share what is both horror and beauty. We move between our cities to escape horror, or provide assistance and support to those experiencing horror, and we move between our cities to enjoy beauty.  It is in our nature.

Waterton’s Crypt Lake

The wild reaches in, the city reaches out


A few weeks ago, as I was walking through my city, right in the middle of it, I came across a bold and wild coyote.  We stopped and looked at each other for a bit, but as I looked away for a moment to put my hand on my phone for a picture, it vanished. It was a wonderful reminder of how the city is in relationship with its region ecologically as well as socially and economically.

The coyote is an example of how the wild reaches into the city.  Wild animal life reaches into the city, either straight in across the land or through the tentacles of rivers and the natural landscape.  The wild also flies overhead, or burrows underground. We are surrounded by the wild.

The city itself reaches out beyond its boundaries into the wild.  The development of the oil sands in northern Alberta’s boreal forest is an example of the city reaching out into the wild. This development is taking place because of our energy demands around the world, which in so many ways are related to city life.

Our vast network of settlements, large and small are in relationship with each other and the wild. As settlements began, the relationship with the wild was very explicit: food supply, resource extraction for trade, transportation routes, etc. Over time, what our cities offer other cities and citizens evolves. An article in today’s Edmonton Journal on the new Kaye Edmonton Clinic is a prime example:

The influence of the clinic is far beyond Edmonton. People who come from a significant distance will have the potential to do many things with one trip ~ Dr. Dylan Taylor.  

Each city is in relationship with far more than the citizens within its boundaries.  The Kaye Edmonton Clinic will serve citizens in the Edmonton area as well as northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. This facility’s reach is far beyond its host city; in fact, it reaches into the wild.

The wild reaches in and the city reaches out.

Where is the wild in your city?

How does your city reach out into the wild?

_____ _____ _____

Interested in urban coyotes?  Check out the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project, a study out of the University of Alberta about coyote habitat, coyote diet and the knowledge and perceptions of residents about coyotes.  It seems that coyotes have been inhabiting cities across North America at increasing rates over the last 20 years.  They are in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Toronto, Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.