Since I posted two weeks ago that we weren’t doing that well out here COVID-wise, I thought I’d mention that things are now looking a bit better. We only had 14 new cases over the past week, compared to 51 new cases two weeks ago. Almost all of those new cases—11 out of 14—are in the Fort-Coulonge/Mansfield area, whose local outbreak may actually be showing signs of running out of steam. Shawville hasn’t had a new case in a week, Campbell’s Bay longer than that. The special emergency measures come to an end on the 17th, as they do for the rest of the Outaouais, at which point we’re back in the red zone.
Having spared us during the first wave—during which we were behind police checkpoints that turned back non-essential traffic—and being under relatively good control during the second, COVID-19 has just erupted in the Pontiac MRC during the third wave. In the space of one month the number of people who have tested positive has more than quadrupled, from 39 on March 25 to 173 today.1 This is mainly due to a major outbreak in the Fort-Coulonge area: Fort-Coulonge went from fewer than 5 cases2 to 34; Mansfield-et-Pontefract from 7 to 64. Together they make up more than half the cases in the Pontiac MRC while comprising only a quarter of the population.
These numbers may not seem like a lot—a total of 1.2 percent of the Pontiac MRC’s population has tested positive for COVID as of today, compared to Gatineau’s 3.2 percent or Quebec’s 4 percent, and with our small population (14,251 according to the 2016 census) the raw numbers are pretty small in comparison. But to reiterate: more than three-quarters of the our total COVID cases have come just in the past month. Cases are increasing by 30 percent a week—and 30 percent of this week’s numbers is a lot more than 30 percent of a month ago. This is how exponential growth works.
Meanwhile, last Friday the Pontiac Hospital—the front door of which is less than 300 metres from my home—reported an outbreak in its acute care ward: nine patients and three staff members tested positive initially; that number has since risen to 17 patients and 13 staff. For context, the ward has 34 beds. Fortunately some have been vaccinated, and some have tested positive without showing symptoms, so this may turn out to be the best possible version of the worst possible scenario. But still: the whole point of last year’s checkpoints was not only to keep COVID out of our community (which tends older and in poorer health than the Canadian average); it was to keep it out of our hospital.
So yeah. We could be doing better out here.
For the first time since before we moved out here, the Pontiac’s weekday bus service is seeing some major changes. Based on what I can figure out from what’s been announced, for most people they should be improvements.
What we’ve had until now is a standalone commuter bus service that started on Isle-aux-Allumettes and ran the length of Route 148 before terminating at Ottawa’s downtown bus station. It was run by Transport Thom for many years before being taken over by Transcollines, the rural bus service of the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, a few years back. Transcollines didn’t change anything about the service—same route, same schedule, same price—and kept it essentially separate from the rest of the network, but did promise that the route would be upgraded and integrated at some point in the future.
It’s years later than originally promised, but those changes have now been announced. New as of next week is Transcollines’s Route 910, which from what I can gather has a number of notable changes over the old service.
I live in the federal electoral district of Pontiac, which includes the rural counties and reserves of the Outaouais north and west of Gatineau, plus some suburban neighbourhoods in Gatineau. It’s about one-third anglophone, with a large concentration of rural anglophones, especially here in the namesake Pontiac MRC (an MRC is basically a county) that have much in common culturally with people on the Ontario side of the Ottawa Valley. The presence of those voters, who tend to vote Conservative, has made for some interesting electoral dynamics in the past.
I didn’t think we’d find turtles in Shawville proper, but Jennifer encountered one, a Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) trying to cross the street, while she was walking to work.
No idea why the turtle was going where it was going— trust me, the nesting opportunities were poor in that general direction—but once she spotted Jennifer, she did a 180 and hightailed it back to the pond from whence she came, peeing all the way. Only she was distracted by some nearby parked cars that looked like a good place to hide, so Jennifer intervened at that point, aiming the turtle back at the pond. At which point the turtle took the hint, and belly-slid the last part of the way there.
The problem with helping turtles on the road is that it’s momentary. Sooner or later the turtle will venture forth again and run the same gauntlet—especially if it’s surrounded by a fairly built up environment like this one is. It’s a crap shoot whether the turtle will make it across, be helped along, get run over deliberately or accidentally, or be taken home, illegally, to be a child’s pet.
Momentary isn’t the same as futile, though.
It’s not spring until the garter snakes come out of hibernation. And after a winter that seemed longer and more brutal than usual, we finally got spring last week.
Last Tuesday, some of Jennifer’s students pointed her to a site near the school where Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) were emerging from hibernation. And when I say pointed her to, I mean told her about it by handing her a bunch of wriggling snakes, because the kids know her. The kids released the snakes where they found them, but she told me about it and we made a note to check the site out after classes were done.
The location the kids told her about was at the edge of some seriously snakey habitat: lots of ground cover, and next to a wetland that was already echoing with the calls of Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) and Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). Which is to say, snake food. A good spot, in other words. But in our initial search we only found one snake, which musked all over Jennifer. It took us a while to find the entrance to the hibernaculum, the precise location of which I will not reveal here to ensure the snakes’ safety and privacy, but once we did we found the area fairly crawling with snakes. I had brought my Nikon D7100 with me and took some pictures.
“You’re from the city, aren’t you?”
That was the then-mayor of Shawville, watching me walk gingerly through the mud during the groundbreaking ceremony for what would soon become the village’s day care centre. It was the fall of 2003 and I was covering the event as a reporter for the local newspaper. For various reasons I lasted all of five months in that job, but it gave me a crash course in the town, the surrounding countryside and the MRC du Pontiac in general.
Yes, I was from the city—I grew up in suburban Winnipeg—but Shawville, a town of some 1,600 people, most of whom anglophone, about 75 km northwest of Ottawa, seemed somehow familiar. I spent a lot of my childhood staying with my paternal grandparents in Hartney, Manitoba, a village two thousand kilometres away and about one-third the size. But there were some similarities: both communities served as service centres for the surrounding farms. And both had demographics that tilted elderly. To me, it felt like moving to Shawville was like moving in with elderly relatives with whom you had to mind your manners and steer the conversation away from politics as much as possible, but apart from that you loved each other to bits.