Two bridges have been built to cross the Peace River in northwestern Alberta, one at Dunvegan and another at Fort Vermilion. In our region, wood chips used for making strand board are transported from mills in and around La Crete, a Mennonite settlement in the region, to a strand board plant north of the town of Peace River. Rather than follow a circuitous route back through Fort Vermilion, then High Level and down to Peace River, a road has been carved through the Blue Hills forest and farming community to a place on the river called Tompkins landing. Here, a ferry runs through most of the year, night and day to keep the chip trucks moving and to provide travelers from La Crete access to the highway taking them south to Peace River, Grande Prairie or Edmonton; in size, the ferry can hold four chip trucks in one go across the river.
In late November or early December, with colder temperatures the ferry is pulled from the river and ice clusters. A few brave souls who have the knack for it create a pathway across the ice, watering it daily just as you would an ice rink in your back yard. An old red, seventies three-ton GMC grain truck holds a portable cistern – each day, morning and night someone pumps river water into the cistern and then drives the grain truck across the ice bridge spreading water on the ice surface. The mass of ice increases on top and from the bottom until with sustained colder temperature -20C to -30C, the ice bridge that is formed is four feet thick, able to hold the weight of a chip truck crossing the kilometre wide path. Ice bridge creation is a practice repeated two hundred kilometres further up the river at Fox Lake, on the edge of Wood Buffalo National Park.
The photographs here present the ice bridge somewhat compressed with a zoom lens; the actual distance across the river is more than a kilometre. Those driving across the bridge need to travel at a speed of 10 km/h. The photographs also present a look at a dry-docked ferry.
Listening to Radiohead’s There, There from the Best of Radiohead; other songs have been Unknown Caller from U2’s No Line on the Horizon and finally there’s been Over the Rhine’s Born from Drunkard’s Prayer.
Quote to Inspire – “Different levels of photography require different levels of understanding and skill. A ‘press the button, let George do the rest’ photographer needs little or no technical knowledge of photography. A zone system photographer takes more responsibility. He visualizes before he presses the button, and afterwards calibrates for predictable print values.” – Minor White – [Minor White, Richard Zakia, Peter Lorenz The New Zone System Manual, Morgan & Morgan, Inc., Dobbs Ferry, New York 1978 (Fourth printing), p. 93]
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