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Heritage Days

Sunrise Beach, Alberta
Sunrise Beach is situated an hour northwest of Edmonton, and a place where I spent no insignificant amount of time.  The Summer Village of Sunrise Beach sits on the west side of Sandy Lake, with the Summer Village of Sandy Beach (pictured off in the distance) on the east side.

A recreational location within a short distance of the capital region, the Summer Villages saw their fortunes decline with the water level as the lake became eutrophic, its underground springs overcome with mud and sediment, the waterbody riddled with noxious weeds, and eventually too shallow, and the shoreline too soft to launch even a paddle boat.  In there is a lesson of neglect and ignorance, as efforts to prevent the lake’s decline went either unfunded, left perennially in limbo without governmental support (dredging and weed cutting being the primary victims),  or simply misdirected all together.

The lake in its prime had a life all its own, from early homesteads and subdivisions to provide homes for soldiers returning from WWII, the formation of the Summer Villages, Regattas, Heritage Days, float planes, and fishing off of the causeway.  While there are two Alberta Heritage grain cars out there somewhere bearing the names Sunrise Beach and Sandy Beach, the heritage of this place is largely private, sitting in individual’s photo albums or community newspapers without modern digital records.  Council records from major decisions to major (and sometimes entertaining) arguments sitting in the closets of former Councillors, waiting inevitably to be thrown out as residents leave the area.  Perhaps most importantly, at least on the larger scale, the lessons in lake (mis)management which I dare say would serve future government ministers and public servants well, are likely to go unrecorded in any detail, or in any public record.

This is why the October 31st Edmonton Journal article on the Hamlet of Hairy Hill caught my eye.  Hairy Hill’s decline has links to causes all its own, but is not so unique on a grand scale, as Alberta’s, and Canada’s population is shifting towards more urban centres. While the Journal took the time to speak with long-term residents and provide us with a window into its history, as we lose older generations of Albertans and rural residents, first to population migration and then to time, a great deal of the past and heritage of Alberta’s smaller municipalities is on the verge of never being recorded in depth, or in detail.  It’s not oil or coal, but it is valuable, and something I think we should seriously consider mining, treasuring and banking for future generations, in a larger heritage endeavor, while we can.