The recent news that the Trumpeter swan is off the endangered list came as bright spot on our horizon. Let’s not forget though that this largest swan in the world remains on Canada’s take-care-of-me list. This magnificent bird has rebounded from near extinction in the early 1900s. It has been a long slow recovery but all good news.
The Trumpeter is kinda special to Lois and I. We’d never heard of it until we immigrated in 1970 and settled in the Alberta Peace Country City of Grande Prairie. The County of Grande Prairie has many lakes and sloughs which attract the Trumpeter for the nesting season. The county has spent a great deal of effort over the years to protect the bird and preserve these breeding lakes. The community unofficially adopted the bird in the 1930s and when the town gained city status (1958) the trumpeter was soon chosen as the city crest in 1960 and remains in use today.
So when we arrived in the Swan City we were fascinated and my work has a photo-journalist at the Daily Herald Tribune (DHT) spurred my interest. I befriended Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) conservation staff and as a newspaper we did what we could to keep awareness of the swan at the forefront. Our family interest was well beyond occupation. It was personal. Grande Prairie’s focus.
My old boss and former DHT editor, Bill Scott, recently wrote in his newspaper column Pot Pourri that the swan sculpture that became the city emblem celebrated its 50th anniversary this past June. The iconic bird continues to reside happily in Jubilee Park, 10ft high, a model of a young bird stretching its wings. The swan was everywhere in the city and I recall interviewing aspiring Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed at the White Swan Motel. The statue graced collector teaspoons and other souvenirs and the city was in the habit of giving out statuettes to visiting dignitaries.
Lois created this beautiful painting of Trumpeter cygnets which I captured on a lake out in the county. The CWS confided their location to me and a friend loaned me a Folboat (a collapsible kayak) to float through the reeds into the lake and get the following pictures which appeared in the DHT.
These black and white shots were taken during a banding trip with the CWS in the mid 70s. Using an airboat, the CWS guys would come up alongside a cygnet scoop it up and head to the shore to weigh, measure and band. The day I was out with them was cool and raining. This was in the pre computer and digital picture age. I processed and printed my film at the DHT darkroom.
Lois worked as an artist at the Department of Education regional office and used her drawing for the cover of a reading manual.
The Chamber of Commerce developed a trade coin promotion: local artist Robert Guest created the front side Trumpeter and Lois’ historical drawing was among those by Robert to grace the reverse.
Brian Wilson and Bob McFarlane hired me on as editor of their weekly newspaper Grande Prairie Booster while I recovered from a nervous breakdown and we had Lois design the masthead. I wrote a column in that paper Roamin’ Round and a paragraph of the June 30, 1976 edition read:
“Called in at the Canadian Wildlife Service office in Edmonton during a visit last week and found biologist Bryan Kemper and his team cutting up Trumpeter swan eggs collected during a survey week in Grande Prairie this summer. About eight eggs had been collected and were taken from nests last month, well after the hatching period. Kemper said eggs had never been taken or examined so the abandoned, unhatched eggs provided a good opportunity for analysis. The CWS will have the contents of the eggs and shells examined for several points including mercury levels and such things as pesticides. The researchers also want to try and find out why the eggs did not mature for of the eight collected only one produced a fully developed embryo.”
Habitat protection, reintroduction programs, sanctuaries, greater awareness and a ban on hunting have helped bring the Trumpeter back from near extinction to a healthier population of around 16,000. An adult bird can be around 25lb, five feet or so long and with a wingspan of six to eight feet.