Canada: Great hunting, but why all the trash?
October 24, 2007
This is the first October in many years that I’m not busy guiding elk hunting, so I eagerly accepted an invitation from my friend Dave Alvarez to go to Saskatchewan for a bird-hunting trip. I had always heard that Saskatchewan was the ultimate for upland bird hunting and waterfowling, and as I get a little older, bird hunting has much more appeal to me than dragging elk quarters out of the mountains.I’ve also taken up the habit of listening to talk radio when I’m driving. I mean, you can only listen to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones a couple hundred times, and then you’re over it. I enjoy the gamut, from Michael Conniff’s liberal talk show on KNFO to Michael Savage. I find Sean Hannity to be a pedantic little whiner for the Republicans and Jim Rome to be a hilarious interpreter of the zeitgeist. One thing the political talk-show hosts have in common, however, is their disdain for Canada and their so-called socialist government.So, trying to be open-minded, I wanted to see for myself. My experience began at the border. Now I’m in the hospitality business, having hosted close to 10,000 people in my outfitting and guiding career, and one thing I learned was how to welcome people who are going to spend a lot of money with you.There we were with a pickup full of gear and a trailer full of dogs, ready to drop a couple thousand bucks apiece for the opportunity to shoot a few birds, and let’s just say that the border guards didn’t welcome us with open arms. It took us two hours to pay duties on our guns and a few bottles of good wine, and no one smiled at us the whole time or made one welcoming comment.OK, fine, they’re civil servants protecting their country’s borders.We ended up meeting our friend Jeff in Edmonton, where he had flown in, so we got to see a lot of Alberta and Saskatchewan on the drive up there. The roads north immediately deteriorated into a minefield of potholes and asphalt patches.Calgary sprawls north and south along the highway, and it took 30 minutes to drive through it. It’s not a little cow town anymore. It’s beset by the same problems of suburban overdevelopment as any major city in the U.S.Edmonton was actually a very cosmopolitan city, with interesting ethnic neighborhoods, great restaurants, skyscrapers, a nice river walk and friendly people.Saskatchewan is a great expanse of prairie grain fields until you reach the far northern reaches, whereupon the wheat, rye and barley give way to birch and aspen groves, willows and spruce, like a flat version of our Rocky Mountains at about 9,000 feet. There are ponds and streams everywhere, prairie potholes left over from the receding glaciers of the last Ice Age. Ducks, geese and sandhill cranes darken the skies.Canadians don’t seem to mind trash. It’s commonplace to see garbage piled up in vacant lots, along the highways and in common areas. We visited a gas station in Edmonton where the operator kept the place sparkling clean, but that seemed to be the exception. In one town, the gas station offered full service and a hefty woman presided over the gas pumps not 2 feet away from a 55-gallon drum of trash heaped so high that one more apple core would have caused an avalanche of trash to slide down to the concrete. The back lot was piled with trash 2 feet deep. The restroom, instead of featuring graffiti for tawdry sex liaisons, had missives such as “Why don’t you clean up your trash?”One of our hunting locales was on an Indian reservation, and we found the piles of trash heaped along old logging roads to be a jarring contrast to the romantic vision of the noble Indian.In Edmonton, one of the ethnic neighborhoods was definitely Middle Eastern, and a throng of Muslim men, one of whom wore a red-and-white Palestinian kuffiyeh, crowded outside the doors of a teahouse. There must have been 60 or 80 of them, grown and able-bodied men with absolutely nothing to do at midmorning on a Tuesday.”They don’t have to work,” Dave explained. “They just wait for their welfare checks.”I couldn’t imagine any good coming from this situation. Dave told me about a friend in Swift Current who needed a hip replacement and waited so long that he finally drove south to the U.S. with a pile of cash and had the procedure done.The game regulations in Canada were quirky. We had to put a tag on each bird we killed, which was a new one for me, and the outfitter we hunted with had to fill out a report on our bag and send it in to the provincial government – paperwork to keep the bureaucrats busy. Apparently outfitting licenses are very hard to obtain, and a farmer who owns thousands of acres thickly populated with game birds and deer might have no chance at all of guiding hunters on his own property. So, he ekes out a living farming grain while being denied the opportunity to make some cash from the abundant wildlife that he raises with his grain crop.We were well-hosted and well-guided on our trip, and we had excellent hunting. We really enjoyed our time in Canada. But it made our day when we drove over a horribly bumpy road back to Montana. The ICE border guard took one look at our rig and asked us, with a big smile, if we had enjoyed our hunting trip. He took our passports, returned in a couple of minutes, and waved us through with a hearty “Welcome home.”The road immediately smoothed out, and Dave began singing “God Bless America” with a big smile on his face.