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‘Witnesses to history’: University makes 3D virtual replicas of residential schools

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CALGARY — A new project from the University of Calgary is creating 3D digital records of some Alberta residential schools.

The Taylor Family Digital Library, in consultation with Indigenous communities in Alberta, has created accurate virtual and physical models of three former residential schools with plans for more in the future.

Prof. Peter Dawson, the project’s leader, said it is important to preserve a dark part of Canada’s history.

“Why preserve these buildings that are associated with so much tragedy and human trauma? It’s for precisely that reason that we are working with (three groups) to preserve these schools. Because these schools really are witnesses to history and sites of conscience,” said Dawson, head of the university’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

“They’re the physical manifestation of an education system, in name only, that caused great harm and suffering to generations of Indigenous children.”

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada over a century. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has detailed mistreatment at the schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.

With the use of lidar technology and original building plans, three dimensional images of the Old Sun Indian Residential School at Siksika Nation, east of Calgary, Blue Quills school in St. Paul, Alta., and Poundmaker’s Lodge Carriage House, which once formed part of the Edmonton Indian Residential School in St. Albert, Alta., have been created.

Stories from residential school survivors are to be embedded into each virtual replica.

“The sad reality is that many, many people don’t know about this history. I thought it was important to preserve it digitally because the young people, as they heard more and more about the residential schools, were angry,” said Vivian Ayoungman, 75, who spent nine years the at Old Sun school.

“I thought we’ve really got to do some work. We can’t be part of erasing our own history. We have to have the evidence. We want to preserve that building so that people know that it wasn’t a figment of our imagination. That it really happened to us.”

Ayoungman eventually became a teacher and now works at a community college located in the old residential school building where she attended as a child.

“We have really painful memories of those times when it was a residential school,” she said.

“I got strapped for speaking my language at a very young age. I entered that school not speaking a word of English.”

Ayoungman said those who survived residential schools are getting older, and having a digital record will ensure their history survives.

“There’s no danger of it being forgotten. It’s preserved how forever long digitization lasts,” she said.

Her nephew Kent Ayoungman, 42, said both his parents and grandparents attended residential schools and he had no idea what they went through.

“Growing up, they never talked about their experiences, what they went through. So we didn’t really know,” he said.

“Who wants to hear about what they went through when they were in those places? It just changed the life of our people. We need to talk about it. Our people need to hear these stories of what they went through.”

The project is entering a second phase, which is to digitally document the original grounds surrounding the three residential schools — a landscape that included hockey rinks, athletic grounds, gardens, and barns — to provide a more complete account of daily life at the schools.

The scans are eventually to be archived at each former school and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

 

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Canadian basketball star Natalie Achonwa preps for her fourth — and final — Olympics

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VICTORIA – Natalie Achonwa had plans for motherhood.

As a professional basketball player and competitive person, she believed she’d quickly figure out feeding and sleep schedules after her son, Maverick, arrived in April 2023.

Babies, Achonwa learned, have little respect for plans.

Balancing parenting with returning to elite sport has been full of challenges, especially as Achonwa prepares for the Paris Olympics with the Canadian women’s basketball team.

“I wouldn’t trade being Maverick’s mom for the world. But I don’t want to glamorize the life of being a professional athlete and being a mom at the same time,” she said.

“I’m not saying you can’t do it. And I’m not saying women aren’t superheroes. I want to be real in the sense that there are plenty of perks, plenty of fun things that I get to experience with him. But it’s hard as hell.”

Achonwa, a 31-year-old forward from Guelph, Ont., joined Team Canada as a teen.

Her first Olympics were the 2012 London Games and she’ll play the tournament for a fourth — and final — time at the Paris 2024 this month.

Selected ninth overall by Indiana Fever in the 2014 draft, Achonwa spent eight seasons playing in the WNBA for Indiana and the Minnesota Lynx, with overseas stints in Italy, France, South Korea and China.

Being a professional athlete made becoming a mom harder in some senses, she said.

“I was so hyper aware of how I should be feeling mentally and physically that when I was going through some postpartum depression, I could see myself but I couldn’t feel it,” she explained at Team Canada’s training camp in Victoria, B.C., last month.

“I’m like ‘This is wrong, but I don’t know what to do about it.’ And thankfully, I’ve created such an amazing group of family and friends that really pulled me through that.”

Achonwa teared up as she described how refreshing it felt to return to the women’s national team.

“Coming back to this group makes me feel whole,” she said. “Canada Basketball has been a part of who I am since I was 14, 16 years old. And now, adding my son, coming back from maternity leave and being a mother has changed my mindset and pushed me deeper into this Canada Basketball family and life.”

Paris will mark the fourth consecutive time Canada’s women’s national team has made it to the Olympics. Achonwa has been on all four squads. This time around, the Canadians head into the tournament ranked fifth in the world.

The team has a different feel, Achonwa said.

“This group is different because I don’t feel like I’m pushing them to be somewhere. I feel like I’m opening the door for them to be there,” she said.

Canada finished ninth in women’s basketball at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021. Expectations were high for the team heading in, with thoughts they would bring home a medal.

“I think it was almost a hyper-focus of suffocating your dream,” Achonwa said. “And throw in COVID, throw in all the things that kind of derailed our peak, not to make excuses, but it just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”

The result was tough, said forward Kayla Alexander.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted in Tokyo. That was the worst,” she said. “Firstly, we didn’t get the results we wanted and then second, we were stuck there. You couldn’t leave straight away and we had to sit in it. It wasn’t exactly a fun feeling.”

Changes were made. Canada Basketball hired Victor Lapena to coach the team in January 2022. Some players moved on, others moved up from the development program.

Canada finished fourth at the 2022 World Cup, then took bronze at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in 2023.

In February, though, Canada nearly missed clinching an Olympic berth after going 1-2 in qualifying. The team secured its spot when Spain beat Hungary with a dramatic comeback.

“Between (Tokyo) and how our Olympic qualifiers went? That is all the motivation I need,” Alexander said. “That’s what’s been fuelling me to keep going, just having those memories of how it felt and not wanting to repeat that experience again.”

Competition at the Paris Games will be fierce.

Canada opens the tournament on July 29 against host France, who are ranked seventh in the world. Group play will also pit the Canadians against No. 3 Australia and the 12th-ranked Nigerians.

The composition of Canada’s team is unique, Lapena said.

“Thinking about basketball, we have great athletes. We can do pretty dynamic basketball,” the coach said. “And we have different tools in different positions that make this team very, very difficult to defend. Because we are a little bit unpredictable. And I like that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.



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‘Not OK’: Closing only pool in Ontario town points to growing climate challenge

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CLINTON, Ont. _ Randy Marriage was a regular at his hometown’s only pool when he was growing up, cooling off with friends on summer days. His grandchildren won’t have the same chance.

Despite hotter summers and more intense heat waves, partly induced by man-made climate change, local authorities have decided to close the only pool in the small southern Ontario community of Clinton, citing its high refurbishing and maintenance costs.

“It is a terrible decision to close this pool,” said Marriage, 58, a lifelong Clinton resident, standing by a splash pad next to a now waterless pool.

“Our council is trying to tell us, you know, it is OK,” he added. “It is not OK.”

Clinton is facing the same climate challenges as larger communities, but is suffering more because it isn’t “deep-pocketed,” Marriage said.

Experts broadly agree that smaller communities, which often have few options to raise money, will struggle to adapt to a warmer world.

“Certainly it makes sense that smaller and rural communities with fewer resources, fewer sort of services overall will have a tougher time supporting their most vulnerable residents in the event of extreme heat,” said Ryan Ness, director of adaptation at the Canadian Climate Institute.

Property tax is often the only avenue for small communities to raise new funds. Getting money for new projects, like a major pool renovation or building cooling centres, typically requires a grant from the provincial or federal government.

Rural communities often lack the capacity to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles involved with getting grant money, Ness said.

Salomé Sané, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said the federal government should create a climate adaptation fund specifically for small communities to help them upgrade buildings to make them cooler, improve transportation and improve access to real-time information about incoming heat waves.

“What we actually need is a strong investment … into preparation and adaptation to extreme heat that is very much tailored to the needs of rural communities,” she said.

Clinton, a community of roughly 3,000 people located about 200 kilometres west of Toronto, is part of the municipality of Central Huron.

Jim Ginn, the mayor of Central Huron, said the community does not have enough resources to meet the coming climate challenge.

So far, the splash pad and the community’s cooling centre have proven enough to cope with bouts of extreme heat, Ginn said, but he conceded the municipality isn’t prepared for a future with hotter, more intense summers.

“Until it becomes a higher priority for the senior levels of government that they fund us more, there is not much more we can do,” he said.

Clinton’s only pool was initially closed in 2020 as a temporary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. It reopened in 2021 but closed again 2022 because it needed repairs. Ginn said the decision to close it permanently was made last month by the local council, which determined it could not afford the more than $5 million needed to renovate and re-open the pool.

The mayor said council asked residents to weigh in before making the decision but didn’t get feedback.

“Everything blew up” after the decision was made, he added.

The council vote is reversible if the community secures funding either through public fundraising or government grants to cover part of the expenses, the mayor said.

Stacey Petteplace, who moved to Clinton nearly a decade ago, said the pool’s permanent closure means residents need to drive to neighbouring towns to swim, which is a problem for those who don’t have a vehicle.

“Our kids needed us to give them this safe place, so they have a place to cool down in the summer,” she said. “We failed to do that.”

Angelee Bird, another Clinton resident, said losing the pool means losing one way community residents might have found some relief during hot summers.

When her apartment building lost power during a heat wave in June, Bird said she was lucky to have family members nearby who she could stay with overnight. Others might not have many options, she said.

“Our entire building was outside, sitting on grass because it was the only way to cool down,” the 28-year-old mother of two said.

In Seaforth, Ont., a little north of Clinton, spirits are higher after the town’s first and only splash pad was opened last month.

Dean Wood, who spearheaded the project, said local businesses and residents raised $330,000 to build it.

Wood said he used to drive his children to splash pads in neighbouring towns when they were growing up, trips his relatives and others in Seaforth now don’t have to make.

“It is a wonderful sight to see because every time you pull into the park on a hot summer day, the splash pad is being used,” he said.

Nicole Ward, who visited the splash pad recently with her child and friends, said Seaforth’s residents feel lucky to have a place where they can stop by to cool off.

“We love it, it is very family oriented,” she said.

“We have a nice big pool, a splash pad and our town is more fortunate than other places that don’t have as much funds coming in for them to build facilities to keep cool.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.



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Climate-related extreme weather puts oil and gas assets, production at risk

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CALGARY – Suncor Energy Inc. filed a disclosure document last year laying out what would happen if extreme weather were to force a 10-day shutdown of its massive Base Plant oilsands mine in northern Alberta.

The document — which Suncor filed with CDP, a global non-profit that maintains a database on corporate environmental action and climate risk — details the financial risk to the company posed by such a scenario.

While the likelihood of extreme weather events remains “unknown,” Suncor said in the document that a 10-day Base Plant shutdown could cost the company $56 million per day (more than half a billion dollars in total) in the form of lost revenue due to production losses.

When analysts talk about the oil and gas sector’s exposure to climate change-related risk, they often come at it from a policy or demand forecast perspective. They look at the risk that climate change will prompt governments to impose more regulation on the fossil fuel sector, or that the energy transition will lead to a decline in demand for oil and gas.

But the oil and gas sector, like all industries, is also exposed to climate risk in a physical sense. That risk has been hammered home this month, as out-of-control wildfires in northern Alberta forced several Canadian oilsands companies to evacuate non-essential workers from their sites. Suncor itself, Canada’s second-largest oilsands producer by volume, has temporarily curtailed production at its Firebag complex due to the fire danger.

Also this month, Hurricane Beryl forced the temporary shutdown of offshore oil platforms along the U.S. Gulf Coast, one of North America’s most important regions for energy resources and infrastructure.

“Oil and gas infrastructure, like everything else, has been increasingly exposed to severe weather events fuelled increasingly by climate change,” said Craig Stewart, vice-president of climate change with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“We’ve seen it all the way back to Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted activity in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2005. We saw it in the Fort McMurray fire in 2016, where oil and gas sector or oilsands activity was disrupted for a month … and we’ve seen it elsewhere in the world as well.”

More than 40 per cent of the world’s commercially recoverable oil and gas reserves are highly exposed to the effects of climate change, according to a 2021 report by risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft. The report pointed to that year’s deep freeze in Texas that knocked U.S. oil and gas output to a three-year low, as well as the effects of Hurricane Ida, which caused a record 55 spills in the Gulf of Mexico and created historic disruptions to the supply of both crude oil and refined products.

Refineries, drilling rigs, export terminals and pipelines are also vulnerable to flooding, tornadoes and even drought, which has the potential to limit the amount of water the industry can draw on for processes like hydraulic fracturing. And all of these weather events are becoming more common, Verisk Maplecroft said.

“These types of events are going to become more frequent and more extreme, creating even greater shocks within the industry,” the report stated.

There’s big money in oil and gas, which means there are millions of dollars at play every time a tropical storm rears its head or a refinery trips off during a heat wave. If weather knocks out a significant amount of a jurisdiction’s oil output, it can cause temporary commodity price spikes that trickle all the way down to the consumer.

For example, nearly half of the total petroleum refinery capacity in the U.S. and 51 per cent of that country’s total natural gas processing plant capacity is located along the Gulf Coast.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration warned of the potential for a “particularly intense” hurricane season in 2024, suggesting there is a heightened risk of weather-related production outages.

The EIA has also said a “high-impact” hurricane that significantly disrupts U.S. oil production could increase monthly average retail gasoline prices by up to 30 cents US per gallon.

In Canada, the largest oil-producing region is the oilsands, located in the boreal forest of northern Alberta — an area highly prone to wildfires. Thousands of oilsands workers were evacuated in the 2016 wildfire that destroyed part of the community of Fort McMurray, forcing companies to reduce their oil output by a million barrels per day.

The resulting economic impact was so severe that Canadian GDP contracted 0.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2016. Economists say GDP would have grown 0.1 per cent that quarter, excluding the impact of wildfire on Canadian oil production.

Thomas Liles, vice-president of upstream research for Rystad Energy, said while that event took place more than eight years ago, it remains fresh in the minds of many.

“From the industry’s perspective, there’s still a lot of scarring from the events in 2016,” he said.

Environmentalists say it’s ironic that the fossil fuel sector is being affected by climate change-related disasters, even as it makes plans to continue to grow oil and gas output in the future.

“They’re just throwing fuel on the fire,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada.

“These companies have business plans that are going to make extreme weather even more extreme.”

But Liles said while the risk remains, the energy industry is better prepared for weather-related disasters than it was a decade ago. Companies have spent years developing detailed emergency response plans to protect their workers and their assets.

“I think the industry at large is pretty used to judging risks and dealing with those accordingly,” he said, adding that even if extreme weather intensifies in the years to come, it’s unlikely to dissuade companies from investing in lucrative areas like the oilsands or the Gulf of Mexico.

What fossil fuel companies are increasingly doing, said the IBC’s Stewart, is seeking insurance coverage to protect them against not just physical loss and damage, but against the impacts of business interruption in the event of extreme weather.

So far, they have had “varying” success, he said.

“Reinsurers have reduced their exposure to the commercial market in Canada over the last five years due to the growing threat of climate-driven disaster,” Stewart said, adding that getting insurance in wildfire-prone areas like the boreal forest is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses.

“Any operations, whether oil or gas or something else, that are located in those areas are going to have difficulty.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.



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