Terminology, very confusing. As a child I learned that the difficulty in laying down the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s was crossing muskeg, which swallowed tracks and even whole trains. This is what happened in the north, which I assumed was in Northern Canada, somewhere in the Northwest Territories, and as with things you learn in grade 8, I never examined it again until this past week in Sudbury.
It is not that muskeg isn't a treacherous thing, great wetlands that form where there isn't drainage: bogs, full of decaying plant material, trapped moose and train tracks which eventually form peat and I suppose, ultimately coal. No, the other treacherous thing is the word north.
The northern imagination written about by Northrop Fry, Margaret Atwood, embodied in the Group of Seven and Georgian Bay is not the north I thought it was, The North, north of the provinces. It is actually western Ontario.
This came as something of a surprise, given that Sudbury sits at 46°N and has a growing zone of 4b. Calgary, which no one would consider north at all, sits almost 600km north at 51°N in zone 2b.
In another instance, the Ring of Fire is generally known as the zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific tectonic plate grinds against the North American plate, the Eurasian, Australian and Nazca plates. In the west we hear a lot about it, especially in Vancouver where all buildings have been essentially rebuilt to earthquake standards.
But in Ontario, Ring of Fire is a mine in the James Bay region where chromium was recently discovered and for which a smelter is planned, much to the purported benefit of First Nations in the area. It is seen as a revitalisation of Ontario's mining interest and will be introducing Chinese development interests to Sudbury. I only know this because I watched Steve Paikin's Agenda last night on TVO where there was a debate on whether industrial development or species protection was more important in the north. Their north. The wishy-washy conclusion was that we should have both, which means that mining and forestry will proceed with glee and with a few ameliorative concessions to fish, birds and migrating herds. Who do not vote.
It is a different country, Ontario.
Anyway, this train of thought was triggered by a new subdivision (above) on a ridge that looks down on Sudbury. Downtown Sudbury has a problem with drainage, sitting as it does on the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. Water sits in lakes or in muskeggy wetlands, (they'd be called sloughs on the prairie, bogs on the coast). In older districts, streets and the little houses lining them in the bottom of the basin in which downtown Sudbury sits, regularly flood, the streets become culverts and swales, the water hasn't got a lot of options. Thus, new development perched on ridges above the city has a certain appeal.
Putting in services for new development requires, by convention, that they be underground. But there is no underground here, it is solid rock, so ground is created in a cut and fill way. The rock is blasted into rubble and shifted around to make flat sites for houses with the sewer and water safely installed beneath.
There are a lot of similarities between Sudbury and Yellowknife, where new development does exactly this, rock blasted into coarse gravel for developer houses on cul-de-sacs one could find anywhere in Canada. Aleta Fowler wrote about this in On Site 14: does one go to the north to live as if one was in a southern Canadian suburb?
Kenneth Hayes has introduced the term geo-cosmopolitanism to the discussion of urban development which, in its rough outlines means being aware of and taking into account the deep geo-logic of place. The naming is important, we can put geo-cosmopolitanism in all its complexity onto a different way of looking at cities, more deeply rooted in their history, their industries, their place in the world.