When I first moved to Edmonton from Vancouver, I was not sure if the term Bush was used. As high school graduation season rolled around that first year, I first heard the term Bush Party, then a popular way for the entire graduating class to get together and celebrate.
Elsewhere in Canada, the only similar term that I have heard is in New Brunswick: Wood Lot. The focus is different, however: on small scale logging by individual owners.
Bush is a combination of native trees and undergrowth, more or less left on its own. Even tree falls are left to rot. The presence of a maintained trail does not suddenly make it no longer Bush.
I remember how surprised I was when I had the opportunity to visit Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. What I still assume was an untouched area of trees had virtually no undergrowth, a result of the climate, soil and mainly the type of trees that grew there, not careful maintenance.
Growing Up with Bush
There seemed to be Bush everywhere for kids to play where I grew up in East Burnaby in the 1950s-70s. On East 15th Avenue, I can still remember my first few years of school when there was 18 feet of Lane Allowance in an “H” shape: behind our house, and behind the houses on Cumberland and Wright Streets. The best blackberries anywhere nearby were behind the Wright Street houses, which was also the first to be cleared and made into a gravel lane. The last of the Bush in the Lane Allowance disappeared when a sewer line replaced each house’s septic tank.
Bush was also what you found in the many areas where houses had not yet been built, usually just one or two Lots, but a few places were half a City Block or more of trees and undergrowth. I cannot remember any that did not have trails through them. The longest went from behind Cariboo Hill Junior Secondary school to Cariboo Road, passing by Coldicutt Street on one side and a farm on the other that was still there when I left Burnaby in 1974. Today, 16th Avenue has been extended, roughly following that old trail that I traveled so much as a teenager.
Of course, the grounds of Cariboo Hill school were originally Bush, too, and I remember watching the school being built in the early 1960s, several years before I spent three years there as a student. There was still Bush on two sides of the school when I left Burnaby in the mid-1970s.
A friend all through school and university later lamented that raising his children in Calgary, without the Bush that both of us grew up with, left them missing something important. Not only did it put our generation of children in close touch with Nature, but it also let us explore it in creative ways not possible in a Park or other protected area. For example, when I was 12, a group of aspiring Civil Engineers learned the perils of tunneling in a wet climate. One heavy rain and everything they had left in the tunnels was buried forever.
My wife’s parents bought a 160 acre farm when she was 12, half of which was Bush. She had ample opportunity to explore it both as a leisure activity and as part of her daily chores, when she had to find all the cattle who had wondered off into the Bush.
For both of us, Bush still gives us a necessary stress-relieving Grounding with Nature. Backing on to one of Edmonton’s first Urban Forests made choosing the lot for our current house an easy choice.
No Visible Human Presence
What I consider Edmonton’s most remarkable combination of a great view and no visible sign of human presence has been gone since 2010. At least in terms of easily accessible locations in the central part of the City. It was along the walking trail accessible from Summit Drive near 97 Avenue and 142 Street.
The trail offers almost constant views of the River. Despite being well above water level, at one point only a few years ago, you suddenly realized that there was no sign that a human being had ever been there. Other than the trail itself, of course.
A number of tall buildings have since been built on the University of Alberta campus that can now be seen. But while it lasted, it was an amazing place to view in the centre of a major city.
There are many places along the trails through the Whitemud Creek Ravine, and even a few places in the River Valley, where you are surrounded by trees and cannot see anything other than the trail you are walking on that indicates human presence.