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Look Out For Each Other

Fire has always been a part of who I am.  Growing up at Candle Lake, fire meant warmth for our family home, as it was heated by a wood burning furnace all winter.  In the summer,  we’d gather at my Uncle’s cabin where we’d sit at the fire pit sharing stories, laughter and songs.  Somewhere along the way I gained a reputation for being able to build a good fire with little effort.  I’m sort of a ‘one match wonder’ and I won’t lie, I feel a sense of pride when I’m able to light a fire with just one match.  In my family, I’m the fire keeper.  And it’s a role I cherish and enjoy very much.  The smell of the smoke, the colour of the flames, the way the wood snaps and crackles reminds me of a time when life was so simple without the heavy burdens of responsibility associated with adulting.  

One of the memories fire triggers is of my Dad smoking fish in a smoke house he built.  The shack had a door and a chimney but it was sealed otherwise.  Inside was a wood burning furnace and rows of wooden racks for hanging fish.  After soaking the fish in a brine, Dad would rinse the fish and hang them over the racks.  Then he built a slow burning fire, making sure there was always smoke rolling off the fire and filling the smoke house.  The heat cooked the fish and the smoke infused the meat with a delicious flavour that resulted in moist and succulent fish second to anything else I’ve ever tasted.  It was due to the smokehouse I remember commercial fishing season as a really special time that I looked forward to.  Not all my fire memories are happy ones though.

Every other weekend we headed to Prince Albert to stock up on groceries and pick up what items were necessary in running a household with a family of six.  Dad was away at work during the week and, at that time, Mom didn’t have a driver’s licence, so this was our only opportunity to stock up.  On this particular Saturday, we all loaded up into our family van and made our way to the outskirts of Prince Albert.  Dad said he would fuel up and we’d go back home, that something wasn’t right with the van.  At George’s gas station he checked the oil, topped up what needed attention under the hood and purchased a full tank of gas.  Then we made our way back the way we’d come.  I was disappointed not to have the shopping trip I’d been looking forward to all week but I knew better than to complain.  Especially since the atmosphere in our vehicle had changed and there was an air of concern emanating off of my parents that hadn’t been there before.  As we approached a curve in the highway, near Meath Park, Dad pulled to the shoulder of the highway and my brother got out to check under the hood.  As he opened it up, we could see flames shooting over the hood cover.  My Dad turned off the vehicle and got out to assist my brother, who was scooping snow onto the motor, trying to squash out the flames.  In the end, we evacuated the vehicle and two vehicles stopped to give us a warm place to sit as we watched the van burn.  Fortunately, it didn’t explode and the RCMP carried a fire extinguisher that killed the fire.  My cousin and one of my older brothers happened to pass by and my brother recognized the tires, as he’d just bought them, so they stopped and gave us a much needed ride back to our house in Candle Lake.  I’ll always remember that day with fear and gratitude.  I hadn’t really seen the power of fire before or how devastating it could be.  And I hadn’t been the recipient of people putting their plans on hold to ensure the safety and well being of others, as the people in the cars who stopped had that day.  Later I learned how cold it was, -40 plus wind chill.  We were really fortunate people were so kind to us that day.

This summer fire has played a fairly significant role in our lives as a community, and as individuals.  Wild fires caused loss of power from remote northern communities all the way to Prince Albert.   People were forced to evacuate their homes in a bid to save their lives and there were some very tense moments when people simply didn’t know if they would have a home to return to, once fire swept through their neighbourhood.  Once the wild fires were out, I noticed there were a lot more fires within the city limits.  Houses were literally going up in smoke but, until there was a house fire within a few blocks of my home, I hadn’t really noticed anything unusual.  We heard the loud explosion from our living room, followed by emergency response vehicles a few minutes later.  Social media was full of information regarding the fire, including a body being discovered as authorities investigated.  Then a friend posted about an automobile parts company losing some of their inventory after it caught on fire.  Another friend reported taking a little girl into her home while the Dad watched their home burn down, helpless as fire fighters battled to contain the blaze.  This was the second fire on that street, as the house next to my friend’s had also burned.  Then someone put a question up on social media regarding police tape near a local public school in the West Flat.  People responded back saying there’d been an altercation resulting in someone going to the hospital, a fire in a home and a disturbance of some kind.  I spent some of my best years, as a teenager, growing up in the West Flat and I have particular affection and warmth for the neighbour hood.  My experience growing up in the community is this: strangers to the neighbourhood treat it with blatant disregard.  Residents of the neighbour hood look out for, and treat one another, with courtesy and respect.  If we saw something unusual happening outside our window, we phoned to make sure our neighbour was okay, we stepped out of our house to make our presence known and we didn’t encourage a feeling of isolation amongst ourselves and our neighbours.  I guess you could say we had a neighbour hood watch, even before it was known as such.  There was an innate sense of taking care of ourselves meant taking care of one another too.  And I still feel a sense of security when I visit my west flat neighbour hood, which I do often.  There are a lot of really happy memories for me when I visit this area.  So it makes me really sad when my friends post messages on social media recounting how a stolen vehicle was located in the back alley, burned and charred beyond recognition.  And that the vehicle was only discovered after an explosion and garage fire at an elderly neighbour’s house.  This isn’t the first fire to victimize someone on this street or in this community.  And it likely won’t be the last.  But I think if we start looking out our windows and keeping an eye out for people who don’t belong, then making our presence known, it will help.  I’m not saying we should confront someone, that’s just not safe, and being hurt isn’t proactive.  However, most of us have a camera phone with a recording device.  It’s not difficult to document what is happening while speaking with emergency responders and reporting what it is we are witnessing.  All of us need to work together to keep our neighbourhoods safe and crime free.  Our being more vigilant and observant also helps each of us feel a little more secure, even when we keep the doors locked, day and night.  

At Candle Lake, Mom never let us children be outside at night.  Later we came to learn part of her reasoning was that, should something occur under the shadow of darkness, she knew her family was safe and weren’t involved in anything that might have occurred.  For me, ensuring I was inside only taught me to feel insecure if I was outside at night.  And I’m still vulnerable and a bit more fearful in the dark, even when I’m inside.  Unless there’s a thunderstorm.  Then there’s no better way to observe it than with the lights switched off and the curtains on the largest picture window open so we can see what we can see.

Ultimately, even with the advent of social media bringing us closer together, keeping us talking and aware of what is going on around us, there is no cost to being neighbourly and looking out for one another.  It helps keep us safe and gives us peace of mind.  And with so many unusual things occurring in our neighbourhoods these days, taking a little bit of time to stop and watch what is happening outside our window could result in preventing another tragic event happening in our back yard, or someone else’s.  If we take care of one another, we ensure someone is taking care of us too.  And that leaves me with warm, nostalgic feelings of a bygone era that I grew up in, one that I’ve missed seeing in my current, everyday life.  At the same time, I think there’s just a good feeling inside when we stop and take a moment to look out for one another.  I wish all of you safe and positive interactions with one another as you look out for each other in your communities.

Take care and have a great week, everyone.

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Wednesday November 17, 2021