My name is Chris George. Look me up on Google and you will see that I am not the only one. I am not Chris George, the Senior Web Manager at ATB Financial in Edmonton. Nor any of the Chris Georges who appear in the first ten pages of results on Google. (Although that might change!) I’m the Chris George who lives in Notch Hill, British Columbia, Canada.
I was born in Trail, home to one of the largest zinc and lead smelters and refineries in the world. My parents moved to Kamloops, British Columbia when I was three as my father was looking for work and Trail was getting a little small for our growing family. I grew up shadowed by clouds of dioxins and furans from the Weyerhauser Canada pulp mill, one of the largest in North America at the time. “The smell of money,” Phil Galardi, the MLA for the area, said.
In 1974, we moved to the small town of Avola. Any 11 year old boy would have thought that he had died and gone to heaven. Snowmobiles, dirt bikes and miles of trackless wilderness, complete with huge clear-cuts and thousands of kilometres of forest service road. The North Thompson River rolled right on past the town, bringing dead wood from the jams further up and as the years went on, silt drifted down from the clear-cutting up the valley as they opened the upper North Thompson for logging. By the time I left in 1981, you could no longer see the bottom of the river from the deck of the highway bridge in August, as the water now ran muddy year round.
Over the years I have lived in a number of communities in the Pacific Northwest. Three years in Vernon, two in Enderby, two in Brookings, Oregon, three in Salmon Arm, many in Kamloops. I spent many summers holidaying at my aunt’s property near Celista, just across Shuswap Lake from where I live now. I remember swimming out with my flippers and goggles when I was ten years old. The water was clean and clear, right down the slope of the drop off, down to the sand and rock that was also clean and clear. The last time I visited the property in 1994, all you could see was the green algae and silt covering every pebble.
All of this in 40 years — toxic waste flowing down the Columbia River from the Teck Cominco smelter. Persistent dioxins found in Kamloops Lake from the Domtar Corporation pulp mill. Agricultural runoff from the Salmon River and its impact on the salmon. All of this damage while I was growing up, and I can hardly afford to pay for it. The economy is now nearly three times the size today as it was then. How will my children be able to pay for the damage if we don’t stop it now?
I now live on a small farm, 1 3/4 hectares in size, on the edges of the small community of Notch Hill. With my wife, Samara, our two children, the dogs, cats, ducks and two crazy geese, we are carving out a sustainable way of living and a new way of looking at the natural world, our broken culture and what it is going to take to make things right for future generations of Georges, Notch Hillians, British Columbians and Canadians. That may seem like an awfully large mandate for one normal family from a small place on the edges of the civilized world.
But someone needs to do it. And since we live here, I guess it might as well be us.
What about you?