Sun Jun 18 2023

All along the Watch House

by e(Liz)abeth (Mars)ton

Today I visited the Burnaby Hug the Mountain protest against the Trans Mountain Pipeline, probably the only thing with ‘Trans’ in its name to which I am opposed.

Hug the Mountain is, among other things, an annual celebration of the Watch House, an Indigenous-led resistance-in-place, what you might call a permanent-temporary autonomous zone.

The Watch House itself, a small cedar cabin off a hiking trail, is a humble miracle of resilience, persistence, and clever engineering. It has been standing in the sightline of the enormous tanks built to store the oil intended to transit through the pipeline, from the Alberta oil sands, to the Vancouver shipping terminal, from where it will presumably reach all corners of the Earth, heating it at every step.

The tanks themselves are a holy terror, a standing reserve of flammable, pressurized petroleum products, ready to go up at the slightest provocation. Even if not ignited, the oil they contain could easily flood the inlet, a spreading miasma of death.

This is what Canada gets for $30.9 billion dollars of taxpayer money: a knife at the throat of one of the most beautiful, dynamic ecosystems on the planet.

Against this billionaire nightmare stands this single cabin, painted with formline art, and staffed year-round by a team of activists, artists, and indigenous elders. Surveilled, yes, but surveilling back. Keeping an eye on the juggernaut, waiting for it to slip.

The cabin has been built in such a way that it can be disassembled and reassembled in a hurry. “It only took five hours to put up,” one activist told me. “It’s built like lego.”

Despite its modular construction, the cabin itself feels both comfortable and, in small ways, luxurious, a delicate cedar aroma permeating the air. It reportedly smells amazing when it rains.

Thus the celebration today marked time: five years of resistance in place.

Happy birthday!

Calligraphic embellishment of the name 'Liz'