The Otenaw Chronicles
We will give this story a starting date, a point of reference as to when it all fell apart, what came afterwards, and where we are at now. I am the Chronicler, the bearer of these tales. The date is 2045 CE. We have kept the old calendar, because we are looking at this period as the New-Dark-Ages, from which we anticipate eventually emerging from. (Hope is still manifest in some of us.)
Our world is the region south of the GreatNorthSeas, which in the previous era were called James & Hudson Bays. They got bigger, of course, with the rising of the waters, expanding inland, bursting the puny dams on the Abitibi River, adding salt where salt had not been (which is part of our trade now; but that story is for later).
Those of us who are old enough to remember the Previous Time, knew this place as a wild and mostly uninhabited land. Those people who did populate the region were in towns and villages near the 11Road, or on the farms and countryside around them. As the Warmings took hold, and as the surviving migrants escaped the heat and brutality of the South, some of these survivors fell into our lands like Barbarian hordes (that they had become). They travelled a great distance to get here; but desperation and survival can be an incentive that pushes us forward.
The Boreal World had not fared well in the new climate: Forests were decimated, much had burned with the mad fluctuations in temperature and the swings between floodings and drought. Of course, the Mother was adaptable, so some species flourished, while others simply disappeared. Spruce trees were some of the first to go. A few skeletons remain; but most of those which escaped the Fires were cut down to build shelters or for use as firewood in the refugee- camps and slums of the migrants. (We remember them from the previous-time, heavy with snow, towering skyward –green against winter’s white –a winter that does not exist much anymore.)
The lands that are not cultivated now, are dominated by a few species of trees –willow and balsam poplar mostly (adaptive survivors). Much of the land has become wind-blown savannah, perhaps in transition to a new ecosystem, something that is still unfolding. New species are appearing, too –more southerly ones. Those of us with such inclination document the changes and adaptations. These are interesting times, if you can survive them. Perhaps some of the humans are like these tree species, finding niches where they become available, acclimatizing, adjusting.
Some of us saw the signs of Change early enough, and prepared for them as best we could; but even that was not enough really –not everything was in place for complete self-sufficiency. Our numbers were decimated as well, just like the forest around us. We have survived though, and a New Order is emerging –a hybrid culture of survivors that is making due with what is.
Having been raised in an age of plenty, with few ties to the Land, preparedness had to be learnt. A shift in perception was also necessary: To see ourselves at the End of Empire was important –that a degree of urgency would help move us forward.
We left the Southlands in mid-2005, through the dark grey smog of late June, escaping the sprawlzone of Lake Ontario’s NorthShore. It took two days to reach the Lowlands. At the midway point, on the shores of Lake Nipissing, we spent the night. My gift at midnight, was the healing vision and presence of Owl, welcoming me North, to a new life and new beginnings.
The next few years were spent settling in, finding land that would welcome us. Our focus was west of the Frederickhouse River, north of the 11Road, an area where my own ancestors had settled one hundred years before, where my mother had been born.
To now, forty years after that voyage: How did those years slip by? Through struggle, hardship, famine, drought, guerrilla wars, loss. The list of suffering could go on; but I will leave most of those negatives to the reader’s own imagination, and patience in the telling of these tales.
By 2012, a small band/tribe had formed a network of communities and farms west of the River –a scattering of clans that kept a low profile, but who worked at Knowledge and Preparedness: alternative agriculture, health-care, architecture, technologies, defence and the old wisdoms. We divided up into groups according to skill and interest, to learn what we could. It was hard to be disciplined at times, with the local-mainstream going about its routines without a sense of the impending change –living lives that paid no attention to the signs all around them.
We made forays northward, away from the settled lands, away from our own settlements –into the great and damaged wilderness that spread north of us for over three hundred kilometres to the coastline of the NorthSeas. We knew that if (and when) the Changes came, we would need an escape plan, a way out –that being as far north as we were, was still most likely not enough. Any survivors who were not with us, would take what they could, at whatever cost.
We had much to learn about survival: How to snare rabbits; how to build a shelter; which plants were edible; how to cook a grouse-partridge over a campfire. From 2005 to 2015, we honed our skills. It was a decade of grace, to learn a knowledge-base that had passed away for most people at least two or three generations before. The RiverSpirit-SurvivalSchool was born. We would learn what it took to survive and hopefully prosper.
Our bush-forays north on the Frederickhouse appealed to some more than others. A core group of explorers became responsible for developing a network of escape routes and refuges, stockpiled with supplies and weapons. The camps needed to be well-hidden and remote. These frontierists developed a series of clandestine sanctuaries that were staggered strategically: One could drop a canoe or kayak into the water anywhere north of the 11Road on the River, and within a few hours, reach the first camp. Each clan-farm had individuals responsible for knowing where these places were, and how to reach them. This would become essential knowledge in the years to come.
In the new year of 2017, winter did not arrive in South’Ontario. Instead, the days kept getting progressively warmer. There were no more subtleties: January days at 30°C; February was more of the same. By June of that year, temperatures in Toronto reached 50°C, and people started dropping dead in the street. As is usually the case when crisis hits, the weak were the first to go: the elderly and children, the sick and infirm. This reality was new for most Ontarians –nothing in living memory had prepared people for this.
Mayhem broke out on a planetary basis. The sudden, extreme shift in temperatures sent societies world-wide into chaos. Mass migrations began across the Global Centre as people moved towards the poles. Social infrastructure collapsed as desperation set in.
Millions of lives were lost to heat, thirst and hunger. From Central America, to Mexico, to the US, to Southern Canada, people were on the move. It would take a strong will, cunning, strength and determination to make the journey to the Canadian North. Borders became irrelevant. Time was the imperative factor.
Few people from the southern regions made it, though, especially on foot. The wealthy, of course, had the resources, initially, to sequester transportation North. But upon arrival in the northlands, unless one was prepared for bushlife, refugee status became everyone’s fate.
News poured in initially, documenting the Changes. As the chaos continued to worsen, this OutsideWorld contact lessened, and the torrent became a trickle, with the only news coming from the refugees who slowly made their way North into the Lowlands. We were left, for now, relatively alone in these lands.
From the beginning, Otenaw-Communities (as we called ourselves) had factored in the likelihood of climatic displacement on a mass scale. The Refuges for the Climatically Displaced (RCDs) were an integral concept in the planning of our settlements.
By 2008, a prototype development was begun about 15km west of the River. This would be where ideas on new-settlement could be put in place. If we could see ourselves as refugees, right from the beginnings, then welcoming the true climate-refugees at some future date, would be easier –as welcoming them would be, no doubt, necessary, if we were to hold onto any semblance of our humanity. In that decade before the Change, we were able to develop rudimentary bases in the lands north of the 11Road and west of the River –with enough infrastructure in place to hopefully survive, if not thrive– in the new-climate that was unfolding around us.
This was when the real work began: Building infrastructure from the ground up –learning how to be on the land in completely new ways. But slowly we built the first prototype-community, and as it took shape, people came –anxious for a degree of stability in a culture that had adopted a laissez-faire attitude to the polar meltdowns, the ice-free summers on the Arctic Ocean, the coastal wildfires and hurricanes.
The storyline has been introduced. You have an idea of the groundwork, some of the reality of how we began, where we came from. As was stated in the introduction, the decade of grace before the Great Change, was a good, hopeful time (apart from the underlying anxiety of impending doom). But who can live with that on a day-to-day basis! We worked at self-sufficiency and an autonomous existence on the land.
Over the decades since the early beginnings of Otenaw, I have collected the stories of certain individuals from our society, and will try to retell them in this context –part of a continuum that spans forty years of history. These are my retellings, as well as the tales of others. Some of these people are still with us, while others are not; but they will all be remembered as long as the stories can be preserved. That is the purpose of these Chronicles.
Having Left the Southlands: Alexandra's Story
We left long ago, it seems –me, Mum (Angie), Pascal & Malcolm (my younger brothers), Auntie Nan and Gran (Marie), along with other friends (whom I’ll introduce later). My name is Alexandra or ‘Alex’ for short. Home was Cabbagetown, part of Toronto, near the Don River (which played such an important role in getting away from the chaos of those early days). I was ten years old when the Heat came that winter of 2017. Some people were happy that the cold had gone; but Mum & Gran would stay up late that January, after we went to bed, to discuss these changes. They worried: With winter gone, what would happen to spring and summer –how hot would it get? (I would sit at the top of the stairs, quiet as a mouse, listening.) They figured the heat would worsen.
By early February, the discussions ended and action began: In those early days, Mum told the boys that we were preparing for a March Break camping trip (even though that was still a month and a half away). When we were alone, I confessed to Mum that I had listened in on their late night conversations, and knew what was really going on. Angie seemed relieved. She told me that I would have to be a big girl, and take on a lot more responsibilities. I had helped her with the boys for as long as I could remember; although it had been only in the last two years, since Jennifer (Mum’s ex) moved out, that I felt like it was hard work at times. But I knew that it was my job to help out as much as I could, being the oldest kid. Malcolm was getting older now, and could also help with the chores around the house. I could handle it. Mum didn’t ask too much of me. Plus Gran lived down the street, and Auntie Nan (Mum’s older sister) was fifteen minutes away by streetcar.
Life in the city continued pretty much as usual for those few months. People kept at their lives thinking nothing of shorts and t-shirts in February. We persisted with our preparations, though, as did others. A few neighbours and friends joined in, and by the end of February of that year, a small group had formed, with a plan in place: We would continue preparing ourselves, as much as we could, and at the first sign of craziness, we would leave –heading North.
Some people in the group, Martha and John, neighbours from down the street, wanted to speed things up, and get out of the city as soon as possible. Nathaniel and Robert, Mum’s friends who lived across the River, were also interested in that idea. Their daughter Sylvie was a friend of mine, She was a year older than me. Angie, Auntie Nan and Gran-Marie were talked into joining this smaller group. I felt relieved. Our parents gave us some responsibilities in the preparations: We were given projects to do, such as learning different wilderness survival techniques from books and the Internet.
Sylvie’s older brother Jared, who was thirteen years old at the time, took part in these lessons. We were responsible for Malcolm and Pascal, too, so we turned these sessions into games, practicing in the ravines close to home. (We had all been pulled out of school by this point. Our teachers were told that we were being homeschooled.) We had to learn things like catching squirrels and pigeons –even though it took awhile to get used to it.
The adults kept reminding us that we might have to learn how to hunt, fish and survive in the forest. We took it all in stride, and turned the lessons into games: building camps, lighting fires, practicing with our sling-shots and bow & arrows. Even though we still couldn’t bring ourselves to eat the squirrels and pigeons from the forest edges, or the fish from the Don, we learnt how to prepare them (and then fed them to Sylvie’s dog, Duffy).
These lessons and preparations took us to late March. Our small group of twelve felt almost ready to leave the city behind. The heat was not letting up, and it seemed to get worse –the thermometer kept climbing little by little. It had felt like summer since January, and it was only getting hotter. The news from down south wasn’t good: Places in the southern States and Mexico were having a hard time of it. They were feeling the heat more than us, and there were stories of people dying in their homes, and of others heading north. Torontonians started to take notice. By this point, we were ready to leave.
Departure & the Journey North
The decision was taken: We would leave Toronto in three days. The adults had been organizing themselves diligently for over a week. We were enlisted at this point in helping in the preparations. The city had become chaotic and uncertain. Fear and panic were all around us. Neighbours with cottages or with relatives outside of the city were packing up and heading out. Roads and highways were clogged. Vehicles had been abandoned. Emergency services were overburdened. People were taking their chances going by car; but what choice did they have. Those without cars had fewer choices –with a few belongings, they left the city, and started walking north.
We would join them; but our advantage over many others, is that we had been preparing for this journey for months now –and we had a destination. It would take us a long time to reach the Lowlands, but we felt some confidence that we could do it; even though it was 800 kilometres into a new uncertainty.
We woke up early that Saturday in May 2017. We had packed everything the day before. We had left the departure too late. Maybe the adults thought that things would improve. Maybe they were being hopeful. Whatever the reason, here we were, eleven people who would have to make our way out of the city without a vehicle. On foot it would be, and the eleven of us, a pack on each back, down to the youngest, set off northward through the Don Valley. We had maps, camping gear, food to last us for at least two weeks, and weapons to defend ourselves, if we had to.
We left our old lives behind us. I didn’t feel bad about leaving by that point. I had all of those months to prepare myself for this day. I felt relieved; even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy. We could do this (and we did). We left our homes in the pre-dawn, after a fitful sleep, everyone huddled in John & Martha’s house. We would do what we could.