Farmland comes to an end for a while

John Varty and his fiancée Molly Daley are driving across Canada in an effort to speak to farmers about the issues that concern them, and to bring those concerns to urbanites. They’re doing it in an unusual fashion — towing a "farmhouse" behind a Massey Ferguson 1660 — and will post periodic reports here of their trek.

So we’re firmly in the Rocky Mountains. You don’t see a lot of farmland in these parts; however, as person whose PhD research incorporated a lot of environmental history, I can never ignore the connection between the Rockies and Prairie farming.

You see, about 50 million years ago these mountains weren’t formed yet. Western Canada at that juncture was pretty much flat to the coast. Then, in a geological instant, this mountain range emerged from the ground. Over the ensuing years — tens of millions of them — rain and melting snow washed down the Rockies’ eastern slopes, carrying vegetation and unconsolidated rock eastward. This material fanned out — geologists call this formation an “alluvial fan” — across the interior plains and became that deep, rich soil that supports prairie farming to this day.

Now, we have a lot of farmers talking about getting older, but I’m pretty sure none of you were around for this event.

Anyway, jump ahead to present times. The town of Canmore, Alberta rose to international fame during the 1988 Winter Olympics. This is where Nordic events such as cross-country skiing and biathlon were held.

At that point the town was little more than a small collection of residents, summer cabins for vacationing Calgarians, and a very limited commercial district along Main St.

Not so anymore. If you haven’t been to Canmore in a while, and plan on visiting soon, this is no longer the sleepy, cheap alternative to Banff. Granted, it’s smaller, and somewhat less busy, but it’s chock full of pricey clothing and art stores; there are lots of Ye Olde craft stores, etc.
This isn’t a complaint, necessarily. Canmore is a lovely little town, but it has definitely turned the corner toward “Banffness.”

I mentioned the lack of farmland above, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been short of conversations about farming — just of a different sort. In fact, we’re being approached constantly by mountain biker types from places like the Kootenays, Fraser Valley, valleys of the Cascade Mountains, and, of course, Salt Spring Island. They’re telling us about various friends in those places who’ve “gone organic,” or “gone off the grid” in various ways. We’re getting plenty of contacts for the mountain leg of our journey.

And, on a street in Banff we ran into a New Zealand dairy farmer. He milks 2,200 cows. Imagine that operation! He says his biggest problem is succession: his son doesn’t want the farm, and he genuinely doesn’t know how he is going to go about retiring. He could sell, of course, but he’s truly worried about the future of the land he’s spent a lifetime improving. The opposite side of the world perhaps, but problems that are close to home.

We’re pulling out of Banff early this afternoon. We’ll stop in Lake Louise so Molly can have her first look around there.

Then we’ve gotta get rolling. This Massey won’t drive itself over the Roger’s Pass.

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