Slave Lake : a love story

 

I want to share these pictures and words as a homage to my hometown. Now that our town is in the spotlight after the disastrous fire I want to give people a chance to see how beautiful it was and remind the rest of us how beautiful it will be again. This is my story.

 

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I’m a proud Slave Laker. My great grandfather immigrated to this land and my family has been here ever since. We have strong roots, ties to the lake, stories that have been passed down. Yes, I’m a proud Slave Laker, but this hasn’t always been the case.

 

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When I was young the SE was my playground. I was free to run amuck in the bear trails building forts, climbing trees, and getting grubby. I was allowed to go to the park provided I was home by dark and I felt safe riding my bike to my friend’s house blocks away. Now I cherish those carefree innocent days and feel a pang of sadness when I think of how parents now don’t feel secure letting their child walk down the street by themselves.

 

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As got I closer to graduation Slave lake began to lose it’s shine. Cruising around the neighbourhoods and down main street listening to loud music didn’t have the same appeal. I was bored of going to all the same restaurants and stores. Even the beautiful beach looked dirty and offensive in my eyes, the whole town did, to tell the truth. All I saw when I looked around was the negative and anywhere else was where I wanted to be.

 

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It took me awhile to come around. I left for college, came back to Slave lake, then left again to go to different college. Still I could feel the pull of my hometown all the way in Vancouver. Sitting on the beach watching fireworks explode over the impressive city skyline I knew I had to go back. This was during a very low point in my life. There was a battle raging inside of me and  I knew of only one place where I could work through it. 

 

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It was during this time that I began to see Slave Lake in a new light. It didn’t happen over night but slowly I started to remember.

 

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The aerial photos were taken in June 2009 from a helicopter. It was an amazing ride. The town looked so beautiful, quiet, and perfect. These pictures make me smile because I know every street. I’ve driven by every house countless times. I know where friends and neighbours live and where they used to live. I could probably drive it with my eyes shut. This is Slave Lake and I know it like the back of my hand.

 

 

My favourite street is 6th ave SE in the summer. I can’t explain why I get a little rush when I drive around the bend and cross the bridge. I have memories about every inch of that street. How when my grandpa would say every time he drove over that bridge when it was raining “how high’s the water mama?” Maybe it’s because when I was young Tags was THE candy store.  Or maybe because this was the road that led to my grandparents, my aunts, my friends, my school.  Now some of those things just aren’t there anymore. Although the landscape may have changed the residents haven’t.

 

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I used to hate how everywhere I went in Slave I saw someone I knew, a face I recognized. But now that’s another reason why I love Slave Lake and I’m sure lots of people feel the same way. It makes me feel special that I have a place to go where I’m known. Even a little bit. Like I said my family has roots. Even though I have once again left, this place will always feel like home. It’s the people who make this such an amazing community. The people who keep their lawns so well groomed, who pick litter up off the street, who sweep and shovel in front of their businesses. Community members who lend a hand, go that extra mile, and give you a smile and a wave. Without these people I’m sure the trees wouldn’t look as lush, the grass as green, or the lake so dazzling blue. This is why I’m certain not all is lost.

 

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The fire on May 15th broke my heart. Many tears fell. But I believe that the community will come back stronger then ever. We’ve rebuilt twice before and I know this town is too special to let go. It feels like there are cracks being mended every time I see that a pet has been reunited, a fundraiser is being held, or hear a miraculous story of survival and heroism.

I wish I had more pictures, but I took it for granted that my home would always be there, that it would stay forever the same. I won’t do that again. The lake is still the same though. When I come back I can’t wait to go sit on the beach at Devonshire at sunset. Just before the sun hits the water there is an electricity in the air. Go there, you’ll see. A charge that fills your body and makes you shiver in a good way. It makes you think of the future and that anything is possible.

*all pictures property of the author

11 thoughts on “Slave Lake : a love story

  1. Thank you somuch for your story:) I spent a total of 16 yrs in Slave Lake; half as a child with my parents and the other half as a wife and mother and have the best memories ever! This fire was a set back in many ways, however, the people WILL rise above and strength will prevail! SL is a special community which calls us all back…it is the lake, the people, the entire package. I will soooo miss the old town but am looking forward to the new changes to come!

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  2. Wow, thank you so much for this. The picture, and your writing is beautiful. I too, am from Slave Lake Alberta, and now live in Sherwood Park. I miss it so much, and am devasted to know how many friends and family member lost homes and businesses. We still go home about once a month, and my husband fought the wildfires there in May. Like you, I moved away breifly as a teenager, but used to miss seeing familiar faces so much it was like a whole in my heart. I remember just longing to walk into the mall, sit down and watch people pass by. I did as soon as I returned home, and, that day, I didn’t even happen to run into a friend. But seeing people pass by that I didn’t know, but had seen many days of my life, really healed by heart ache. This town is so strong, and there’s no escaping the hold it takes on your heart. Slave Lake will rebuild, an dbe more beautiful than ever.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this – I grew up in Joussard and definitely remember the fun of summer. There definitely is that electric moment when the sunsets. My favorite still is the thunderstorms. I also know that our grandparents can do spirit is alive and well – Slave Lakers will rebuild , be even stronger in community spirit, continuing to support one another. Please continue to share the progress.

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  4. My parent’s moved to Slave Lake the year I was born 1947, we lived there till 1961 then moved to Canyon Creek for one year then to Widewater for one year. My heart is still there along the shores of Slave Lake with lots of good memory s all along those shores. We moved to BC when I was 15 , I still have lots of friends and family that are still living in Slave Lake and still think of all of you and my prayers go out to all of you.

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  5. I too, lived in Slave Lake from 1981 – 1992, those were years of growth … from saying hello to nearly everyone you knew to meeting many new faces as the changes transpired. Slave Lake will always hold a special place in my heart and it continues to beckon me too. The years our family lived there, we faced some challenging circumstances, but we overcame. There is something to be said about a community that continues to draw you back … is it the landscape or really the people that impact your life – I’d have to say it’s both and more. This was/is a place of new beginnings and thus the book is not yet complete. Thank you Jesus for no lost lives, but a determination to pursue new heights and triumph over this tragedy!

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  6. My grandparents moved to Slave Lake in the early 40’s and one of my brother’s was born here sixty years ago this summer. I met my husband here when we both came to work in this little ‘Oil Town’ where there were mink ranches scattered along the lake shore. The town consisted of about four hundred people back then and there was no pavement and rubber boots were called Slave Lake Oxfords! Yes, there definately is a great sense of pride in living here. Thanks for posting such a beautiful blog of what our town is all about. Great pictures!

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  7. Wow, this is amazing. I also grew up in the area at Widewater and the lake pulls me back there every year and yes I will be brave and come to see the heartbreaking scenery now. I can’t imagine what everyone who lives there now must be going through…
    Thank you
    Mae

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  8. Victoria Hedin!! I found your blog because Brandi Cote reposted your Slave Lake post. It was so fun to read about what is going on in your life 10 yrs after high school. The fire broke my heart too… and I am left with this ache in my soul to go home, but can’t right now. Anyways, nice blog and your designs are just beautiful.

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  9. This was a beautiful post and I am so sorry for the fire that ravaged Slave Lake. I donated some clothes and female items to you guys and I know my work has been helping out as well. I am a fellow Edmontonian and when I saw this post, it absolutely made my heart reach out to you and your family and all the members of the Slave Lake Community. You are in my prayers.

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