By Cameron Fenton
I’ve always had a fondness for trains, I think it has something to do with my Grandfather. He used to be a conductor on the old CN line, driving freight and people on steel rails across this country. There is photo of him that hangs in my grandmother’s den – he is decked out in the full conductors garb of old, leaning out of the window of an old engine that I always remember when I step onto a train.
Earlier this week I left the banks of the St. Lawrence with thousands of kilometers ahead of me, the better part of a nation to cross. I fell asleep last night with the sun setting on the Canadian shield somewhere just north of Lake Superior, a lone moose raising its head to watch the train snake along past the birch forest. I am constantly in awe of the sheer beauty of this landscape, having crossed it at least twice before, once as roadie for friends more musically gifted than I and once under the auspice of the dreaded family vacation.
Two days into this trip I pulled out of Winnipeg. Rolling across South-Western Manitoba, I realized that something was wrong. Looking out my window I saw a vast river, out of which sprouted barns, grain silos and the tops of poplar trees. The course of the river was crossed by short fences, the type used to stake the boundaries of a cattle paddock.
This river was not supposed to be there.
I had heard of the flooding in Manitoba, read that it was impacting farmers and ranchers in the region, but it wasn’t until I saw the conical roof of a feed silo in a ranchers field, his cattle grazing on the eight feet of land between the train tracks and the edge of this deluge of silt, runoff and rainwater that I really got it. People are losing their livelihoods here. The journalist in me wants to jump off this train here and now, to snap photos that capture the haunting feeling of a field of half-drowned hay bails and the piles of tires and other assorted equipment swept up in the flood piled on the ad-hoc banks of this unwelcome river.
Unfortunately VIA doesn’t care much for my muck-raking instincts, so instead I sipped my drink as we cross into Saskatchewan and took a moment reflect. I have no doubts that the sort of extreme weather that has soaked and drowned Manitoba can be linked to a changing climate, and I question whether we have the time to stop it from happening again. The simple fact is that as long our government continues to fail to act nationally to drastically cut our emissions and take no steps to transition out of a dirty, fossil fuel driven economy we can only expect more of the same. More barns under water, more drowned fields, and more livelihoods lost.
But there is also inspiration in this river. As the water flows it is carving a new path, changing the landscape as it goes. A river has the power to cut through stone itself, to move immovable landscapes and carve valleys in even the most stubborn of vistas. This river gives me hope for our movement. Building a just, sustainable future requires us to act like this river, to go where we are not expected, to flow against the current and to cut away at and change the political landscape of this country.
As these steel rails take me further west towards the first Power Summer camp I am reminded of the old labour saying “don’t mourn, organize!”
See you at camp.
Cameron Fenton is the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, he will be writing a regular blog this summer as he crosses Canada to do action, strategy and education trainings across the country as part of the Power Summer project. Find out more and sign up for a camp near you!