Nothing is more summer than a road trip and I kicked off this season with a road trip north to Fort McMurray. My Aunt Barb wanted to go up there and see what it looks like after the fires and since she left in 1994. My family moved away in 1999 and I have nothing but fond memories of the northern town I was raised in.
We set off as a group of five; Aunt Barb, my cousin Jenn, Jenn’s daughter Robyn, TyTy, and myself. I was a little nervous to take him on such a long trio but I figured it would be good practise for our flight to Seattle next week.
It was a great trip up and the first 10 hours FLEW by! We chatted, sung along to Pop2k on Sirius, and stopped at local spots to eat and pee.
My heart soared shortly after we passed Grassland and headed north on Highway 63. The familiar landscape made me feel like a kid again. We even stopped in Wandering River and Aunt Barb showed us where my grandparents used to live, tucked away in this small rural community on the edge of the forest.
As we sped north from Wandering River, the burned trees started to show. It was crazy to see the pathway of the fire, it twisted and turned and left a black pathway with the other trees untouched. I was also surprised at how much regrowth was already showing.
We got to the hotel at 10 p.m and TyTy and I went straight to bed.
When I got up at 3:45 am to feed him I noticed daylight peeking out the curtains. I had to snap proof that it was light out already. I remember the super long summer days and the super short winter days too.
The next day we were up early to do our sight seeing tour of memory lane. We first hit Gregoire and went to see if the double wide we lived in for years was still there, and it was.
Growing up here is a large reason I love the outdoors so much. Behind these trailers was a greenbelt with pathways into the woods and my siblings and I spent our days catching frogs, picking raspberries, riding our bikes, and playing in the trees.
We drove into Beacon Hill to see the church that my grandma was instrumental in helping build. She helped raise funds to build it and because it was all brick it withstood the fire. Not much of Beacon Hill did though, everything was being rebuilt.
Next we drove down the hill and into Waterways. Like Beacon Hill, it was completely decimated and being rebuilt. The only thing still standing was the Legion’s Hall where we held my grandpas retirement party. I was all turned around because I used to spend a lot of time in Waterways with my friend Amanda as a kid, and I couldn’t tell you where her house or her parent’s business used to be.
Next stop was Abasand, another area that was burned badly by the fires. Only half this area was burned and the half that wasn’t included the graveyard where my Dad is buried. We stopped at the cemetery to visit his grave and it was nice to see the fire hadn’t damaged his headstone.
We went downtown and went down Moberly Crescent where we passed the house my grandparents built in the 70s. The picture isn’t great because of all the greenery but Barb and I both had great memories of living in that house.
Before lunch we went to the Snye on the Clearwater River to show Robyn the float planes taking off and landing only to find out they no longer dock float planes on that section of the river. I snapped a photo of Jenn and Robyn by the water showing the burned trees in the background. It looks like winter not the end of June because of the lacks of greenery.
After lunch we drove across the Athabasca bridge to see the spot along the river where my family raised sled dogs. We couldn’t believe how different that section of highway was and all the businesses that were built along it. Barb wanted to go walk into the woods to see the exact spot where they kept their dogs but they were doing construction almost right in front of that spot.
We ended the day taking Robyn to Lion’s Park to hunt for fossils on the Hangingstone River. This was my FAVOURITE thing to do as a kid but she didn’t seem too interested. We skipped rocks and I hunted fossils. We didn’t stay long though because the mosquitoes were so bad. I had completely forgotten about all the mosquitoes in the area.
We talked about how crazy it was that the town had changed so much but at the same time stayed the same. These familar places and our homes were the same but the city itself was almost unrecognizable. And to see all the beautiful trees that surround the city burned up was pretty sad. But like I said, the regrowth has started and nature will repair itself.
The next day we said goodbye to my hometown and headed Southeast toward Spedden, Alberta to visit my grandparents old farm. We were on as mission, we had some of their ashes we wanted to spread on the property.
Jenn and I spent our entire summers on the farm during our childhood. I’m not exaggerating; we were there July & August and only came home for back to school shopping and to prepare for the new school year.
We were all so excited when we pulled into the driveway but I was super sad as we pulled up because the farmhouse was so different. The new owners had completely renovated the house and cut down all my grandmas beloved trees.
But the barnyard was exactly the same and I got choked up as I thought of my very happy childhood spent in that barnyard.
My grandpas beloved garden had been allowed to grow over which was a shame. He had put in the work to build a low rock wall o field rocks around it, but it was all grown over. We spread their ashes in this spot so they would always be a part of this beloved place.
On the way back, we made a quick stop at the nearby farming community of Vilna for pictures in front of the world’s largest mushrooms. Ha ha!
It was such a great trip full of memories and laughter! Sometimes I feel rootless because of all the moving I’ve done in my life, but this visit reminded me that I do have roots and a history with one place.