Sunday, 30 August 2015


The Nowhere Road

We live a few hundred metres from a recent ruin in the river valley everybody around here knows as the End of the World. A useful, poorly engineered connector called Keillor Road slid into the North Saskatchewan River, the casualty of a steep and swiftly eroding river bank. The mini disaster occurred in 2003. And good riddance, uphill it was a bastard of a bicycle climb. Fortunately, City of Edmonton engineers were savvy enough to listen to the warning tremors. Keillor was closed to traffic long before it dropped off the face of the Earth.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty and despair!” There’s something compelling about “vast, trunkless legs of stone,” ruins, whether they date from antiquity or these times. All human structures (indeed our institutions and every single one of us as well) must eventually decay and collapse. Perhaps counter-intuitively, we tend to preserve remains because mortal wreckage possesses its own eerie beauty and, anyway, we seem to value our touchstones and reminders.

The End of the World as I know it consists of a concrete ledge, graffiti tagged cement pilings, a treacherous slope and an incredible vista of the great meandering river which eventually empties into Hudson’s Bay. The area has been fenced off and NO TRESPASSING signs are abundant. Unsurprisingly, the site, with its whiff of illegality and danger, became a magnet for young people after dark. And honestly, if I was 35 years younger, I’d probably be hanging out on this spectacular precipice with a six-pack and a bag of pot albeit wearing sensible shoes with their laces tied and double-knotted.

Congregating kids create community concerns. Whether they were reared by Baptists or educated by Jesuits, unleashed teens are more destructive than house pets. As the gang grows, so does the lack of good manners and common sense. The trouble with bush parties isn’t young people having frowned upon fun so much as the aftermath of ecological damage, vandalism and, particularly galling to me, littering a parks area.

Thanks to the efforts of our community league members, End of the World has become bigger than our neighbourhood. The City is now actively engaged in determining the future of the site rather than just ticketing trespassers. To me, the most sensible solution of those floated is to safely exploit the uniqueness of a modern urban ruin. Transform End of the World into a modest attraction in a river valley trail system already rife with modest attractions, opening the site to all would virtually eliminate its existing illicit lure.

The fundamental flaw of any community is that it must necessarily be made up of people, some of whom can be incredibly petty. It’s impossible to please everybody; the greater good becomes an abstract sticking point. The impending irony is that the uptight folk who agitated about a localized and extraordinarily minor social problem may yet gripe about the fallout from a potentially visionary and elegant civic action: an increased influx of visitors to our neighbourhood and a lack of parking. I suspect that these are the same sad souls who moan about the happy, lively noises that emanate from the outdoor amphitheatre and the university athletic field in our district. While the process is far from concluded and there are no guarantees that the correct course of action will be taken, there is one fragment of advice to impart to a cohort of my concerned neighbours: When you contemplate the End of the World, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

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