Pierre Kasongo and Kelly McGillis
In denotative terms, the river valley is the mostly natural area surrounding the river. When Edmonton natives think of the river valley, however, they picture more than just grass and trees. The river valley connotes feelings of community to many recreationalists, although the social experience can be quite varied depending on which activity an individual is involved in. Our main area of focus was Hawrelak Park and the surrounding trails. While wandering around the trails, we realized that visiting the river valley is not all that different from visiting the Valley Zoo (another river valley attraction). Various groups of people can be represented by different animals.
The social joggers could be called the 'ducks". Often found in pairs, their physical effort is comparable to their conversational effort. Typical attire usually involves a t-shirt from some sort of sporting event, which apparently supports their role as an athlete.
The serious joggers are the lone wolves. Often outfitted in t-shirts with the sleeves cut off, the "v" of sweat down the front is reminiscent of a wolf's ruff. These individuals tend to skirt around other, more social groups. These "wolves" can sometimes be found in pairs, but they usually keep a silent sort of companionship. They prefer to remain focused on their hunt for physical perfection.
On the river, paddlers and rowing crews battle it out for dominance of the river. The rowing teams have set formations, and follow the currents of the river to their advantage (much like migrating seaturtles). Kayakers generally stay close to the shore, like curious bears just out to enjoy the scenery. Canoers, on the other hand, are more like herds of cattle who tend to scatter across the route and impede the flow of traffic.
Two types of walkers were apparent in the river valley: the "geese" and the "squirrels".
The geese would be those people who choose to meet up in the river valley as an alternative to going out for coffee or to bingo. A lot of chatting was coming from the stroller gang, and from older couples.
The animal flocks of geese were just like the people gathered around the lake: they travelled in groups and seemed to be moving in the same basic direction. The main difference was that while the humans were the ones feeding, the geese were the ones being fed.
Other walkers followed whatever they found curious, most snapping pictures of whatever caught their fancy. These "squirrels" were the most obvious voyeurs in the area. A few, more determined walkers challenged themselves by trying to get close to the wildlife, or choosing to go places it seemed nobody had gone before (for example: up a tree, or across sketchy ice).
Although skating and walking are different types of recreation, and forms of movement, ice skaters couls be sorted into the same categories as walkers. On any public rink, you can see social "geese" skaters among the more active, risk-taking "squirrel" skaters.
A characteristic almost all of the river valley wanderers seemed to share was an inclination to hibernate in the winter. Over a few weeks, we experienced two very different versions of the river valley. After a snowfall, the area became sterile, white, and empty. When the sun was out, so were the people, as if the sun had provided them with energy (although a few people seemed to be less inclined to awake from their hibernations than others).
People go to the river valley to see nature and other people, while unconsciously trying to avoid leaving their own footprints. When an area is less crowded, each individual becomes more visible. When there is mud or snow, you can easily retrace the steps of others. Grassy areas signify safe zones.
Communication between different "animals" was also interesting to watch. Bikers and skateboarders would often announce their presence to pedestrians by calling out to them or ringing a bell. Voiced warnings could be interpreted in a straightforward manner, while the ringing of bells was a signifier of the message "coming up behind you". These announcements were always unthreatening, which meant there was no dominant species in this communication link; simply multiple species sharing the environment.
Sometimes the river valley was used in ways that opposed associated connotative meanings. One such instance was a playground occupied by adults. When people think about playgrounds, they usually connote them with children. In this case, we see adults on playground equipment but connote this with reliving childhood memories.
During on-site research, we came upon a 1926 Model T Ford in one of the vehicle-friendly areas. The owner graciously allowed us to not only take pictures of the car, but to be in the vehicle when these pictures were being taken. The Model T embodies the river valley because it is physically rooted in history. Like the river valley, the car is and has been an environemnt in which human activities naturally occur. Both will go on to witness future human activities beyond our human lifespans.
The river valley is home to many different animals, both literally and metaphorically. This natural diversity helps make everyone feel welcome to participate in recreational activities in the river valley.
Cartwright, Lisa and Marita Sturken. 2009. Images, Power, and Politics. In Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. 9-48. New York, NY: University of Oxford Press.
Ganeri, Anita, Jen Green, Lucinda Hawksley, Malcolm Penny, Joyce Pope and John Stidworthy. 2000. Question and Answer Encyclopedia: The Natural World. Produced by Monkey Puzzle Media Ltd. Parragon Publishing.
All photos were taken either by Pierre or by Kelly.