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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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