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A Question of Sovereignty Friday, 8 October 2004
written by Teresa

The Queen of Canada looks suspiciously familiar and I almost feel that there should be an a.k.a. underneath her stenciled portrait on the country's currency. In fact maybe a similar list should appear on the currencies of Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and the rest. While the republican movement in Australia gained sufficient momentum to bring about a referendum on the issue in 1999, the Canadian sister organization seems less popular in its appeal. I read recently that the majority of Canadians are unaware of the fact that constitutionally the Queen is head of state, believing that the Prime Minister holds this role and maybe this accounts for the lack of enthusiasm to be free of the last of the colonial ties. It also has to be said that the drive within Quebec to become a sovereign nation has been a more burning constitutional issue than cutting the last strings to a small country thousands of miles away. The issue is of such importance to the people of Quebec that during the 1995 referendum, over 93% of the province turned out to vote, and sovereignty was missed by a mere 1.2% of the vote. Maybe it is just a matter of time.

Lake Louise On our way back through Banff National Park we stopped in the Lake Louise area for a few days. On the maps it is referred to as a town but it misses the mark by quite a margin. It is instead a small shopping mall set amongst a sea of hotels and motels. Our first attempt to get cash, from the ATM in the small grocery store, came to naught. An inquiry at the tourist information centre sent us on a wild goose chase up to the local ski resort where the machine again refused to give us anything other than a slip of paper informing us of the invalidity of our banking institutions. At this point we changed tack and decided to find a currency exchange where we could swap one set of notes with the Queens head on, for another set that would be more readily acceptable to the local merchants. Enquiries about this possibility sent us back into the alleged town in search of the post office that we found masquerading as the local bank. Unknown to any of the people we had asked, the bank had an ATM that recognised our cards and handed over the dosh, saving the somewhat bizarre exchange of one set of Her Majesty's portraits for another.

The issue of available cash had caused us some confusion a couple of days earlier when we pulled up at the nearby campground. We did not have enough Canadian cash to pay for the site but fortunately for us the National Parks in Canada will often accept American currency and helpfully provide an exchange rate. Sterling is one for being prepared for all eventualities and so carries a small amount of emergency money in the crown of his Tilley Hat, and during our travels in Canada a note from that country had joined the usual American and English ones. Having rummaged in the hat, he inadvertently went to put a twenty-pound note in the envelope before the familiarity of the design woke me from my daze and I stopped him just in time.

There are two campgrounds at Lake Louise and one of these is of great interest; it is enclosed by an electric fence in order to keep out the grizzly and black bears that live in the area. By nature, bears choose to give humans a wide berth but the topography of the area combined with the developments at Lake Louise results in them being channeled close to the edge of the campground as they attempt to skirt around the town. The fence keeps the bears wild and hence safe and probably gives the people in tents a better nights sleep. For some bizarre reason, for which I could find no explanation, the fence is only electrified between late May and the end of September. Moraine Lake Soft sided campers and tents are allowed in the campground during these months and while the bears hibernate but not during the rest of the year.

Moraine Lake is probably one of the most recognized landscapes in Canada, appearing on the twenty-dollar note between 1969 and 1979. It sits at the head of the Valley of Ten Peaks, the snow covered pinnacles sweeping in a curved line far above the brilliant turquoise of the lake. The day we went up to Moraine the sun shone with unfamiliar warmth, the sky was a solid rich blue and autumnal tones speckled the slopes beneath the brilliant white of the upper reaches. The small lake is readily accessible by road and so immensely popular, and of course the crowds were out in their droves on such a beautiful day. We rented a canoe and leaving the throng behind glided out onto the remarkable waters, their depths clouded by the minute particles of glacial flour carried down from the ice, the colour even more intense and startling. The dark rock of the surrounding mountains rose immediately from the west shore towering over the tiny boat, the elliptical line of the peaks curving around to the north, nestling glaciers and ice pockets in their folds. Moraine Lake Inlet There is no option but to feel humbled and small, a tiny inconsequential speck passing through this massive evolving landscape.

A short trail follows the east shore out to the feed river and in spite of its length there were very few people out on it later that afternoon. We dawdled and sat, gazed and absorbed as we ambled along it, reluctant to leave, endlessly impressed by the unnatural looking colour of the water. As Sterling commented, it was exactly the shade that swimming pool manufacturers imitate in their bid for something inviting and if we hadnít known that the water temperature was somewhere around three degrees Celsius, we might have been enticed to dip our toes.

A couple of days later we rose before the crack of dawn and went back up to Moraine in search of early morning photographs. As luck would have it, and contrary to the weather forecast, the clouds were down and there was little evidence of sunrise other than a gradual lightening of the grey blanket in which the lake had spent the night. Moraine Lake Reflections In spite of the lack of photographs it was worth dragging ourselves out of bed. No tourist coaches sat in the car park, no hordes of people milled around; the silence was total, the water completely still, the air cold and the steely blue scene a picture of perfection. And then, as if in consolation, a few rays made it through, suffusing the white dusted peaks with the gentle pinks of first light.

Lake Louise for which the area is named is a shock even after the number of people at Moraine. A huge multi-storey hotel rises at the eastern end of the lake and the concreted promenade seems somehow incongruous after the four-kilometer trail up from the campground. The northern shore is a buzz of activity along the paved path and so we took the loop around the opposite side. There were few people out here mainly because the course crosses steeply up the mountainside, numerous rocks and roots underfoot, the going slick. The setting is not on the same majestic scale as Moraine and due to the light, the most impressive vista was from Fairview Lookout, back to the hotel and out across the mountains beyond, an excellent publicity shot for the accommodations on offer.

Adjacent to Banff is the much smaller Park of Yoho, named for a Cree expression of awe and wonder, and aptly chosen. The season was coming to an end and only one campground remained open, unfortunately positioned in close proximity to both highway and rail line; not only this but also at the bottom of a steep hill where trucks employed their air brakes and the squeal of metal on metal as the trains struggled to control their progress echoed out across the valley. On the plus side the mountains were immediate and dramatic, the autumn golds contrasting against the dark evergreens and the sun bathing the valley bottom until late in the afternoon.

Spiral Tunnel - this is a single train In the early days of the Canadian Pacific Railway this stretch of line had a gradient of 4.5% up what was known as The Big Hill. It was a dangerous section of rail where many trains came to grief, unable to control their speed hurtling down the steep incline. Side spurs were built, not in an attempt to save the out-of-control trains, but in an effort to keep the main line clear in the inevitable event of the crashes. With time a plan was hatched to build two spiral tunnels through the mountains on either side of the valley, thus reducing the gradient to a more manageable 2.2%. On the lower loop, long goods trains can be seen entering the lower portal before emerging from the higher upper entrance some ninety seconds later, while the containers at the end of the train are still vanishing into the tunnel. The train has in effect looped across itself and performs the same trick in the tunnel across the valley, thus gaining altitude on its tortuous passage criss-crossing literally through the mountains.

The trail around Emerald Lake and up to the basin of the same name was varied and impressive. Emerald Lake Reflections At the head of the Lake, the path crosses an alluvial fan, created by the debris carried down in the melt-water streams. Slowly but surely the body of water trapped by the damning moraine is being filled and will eventually disappear. The fan surface is a mixture of loam studded with rocks, a moderate growth of trees and smaller vegetation already having a hold on the newly created land. The course climbed steeply for a short distance through densely wooded slopes before emerging into the edges of the wide open basin, the tip of the Emerald Glacier peeping over the horizon; Butterfly On Rock a perfect lunch stop shared only with the numerous butterflies brought out by the suns warmth. The final stretches of the walk took us around the rest of the Lake, reflections of the mountains mirrored in its blue green waters, the wooded slopes illuminated in the bright light, the yellowing water grasses rusty tipped in their decline.

We decided on a quick visit to Glacier National Park before we started south towards the border. The last campground there was due to close at the end of September as long as the weather held. Since the sky was clear, the sun shining and the forecast good we drove the couple of hours only to find that it had been shut the day before. A smug grin and shrug of the shoulders from staff at the visitors centre did nothing to improve our opinion of matters and we returned to Yoho for a couple of days before heading back to a deserted Redstreak in Kootenay National Park and a final and prolonged dip in the wonderful waters of the Radium Hot Springs.


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