The SUV outfitted with loudspeakers started making the rounds earlier this year than last, it seems. It drives slowly through Bayfront Park in Hamilton, a light flashing on its roof and recordings of eagles and other predators emanating from its speakers.
It’s never a welcome sight for me. The vehicle is meant to scare away Canada geese in order to keep the grass and pavement clear of feces and usable for special events. That may not sadden most people, but to me it means losing something vital: without the geese, Bayfront Park becomes little more than a well-manicured lawn.
The vehicle reminds me of the uneasy relationship the city has with the wild, such as it exists at the park. It’s a natural discomfort, I suppose. Nature can, after all, be unpredictable and not particularly mindful of regulations, and the city has to protect the safety and health of its residents. The goose itself doesn’t help matters; its poopiness, incessant honking and perceived ugliness make it one of our least popular birds.
But to me, the Canada geese are a big part of what makes Bayfront Park so magical.
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Before I moved to this area of Hamilton, I primarily knew Canada geese through visual art. They were the elegant subjects of Benjamin Chee Chee paintings or the lofty creatures immortalized in sculpture at the Toronto Eaton Centre. At Bayfront Park, though, they came to life in front of me: landing, navigating, squabbling, preening, pairing, defending, moulting, relaxing — even dying. I’ve seen them cock their heads en masse upon the entrance of a dog to the park, lie down with goslings under their wing, and endeavour to cross busy Bay Street in single file.
Bayfront Park isn’t just a clean, decorative green space for humans. At least, it shouldn’t be. It’s a place where we animals — geese, humans and the rest — get a privileged glimpse of all the others doing their thing, provided, of course, that we give each other the space to do so.
When I’m able to share the park with the geese, I end up feeling connected to parts of myself beyond what is urban and contained — to what is wild, untamed, sacred. In the process, this part of the city becomes a threshold space: a place that is both city and somehow beyond city.
I like to think that the movements of the city residents at Bayfront Park might even connect the geese and other animals to something they might not otherwise have access to; maybe an untouched part of their animal soul. Who knows?
I understand the need to not let feces accumulate, but do we have to employ scare tactics to chase out the geese? The SUV reminds me that urbanites often desire nature, but on our own terms: curated and cultivated, and without the mess, inconvenience and sometimes even ugliness that comes with it.
But a little mess seems to me like not such a big price to pay for the privilege of connecting to nature’s unscripted magic. Honk if you agree.
This column was first published in Broadview’s March 2020 issue with the title “Wild goose chase.”
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Hamilton spent (and is spending) millions of dollars in cleaning the harbour. If you can find a way to rid the geese other than scare tactics, and more money from the taxpayers, offer the solution. Otherwise the work that has been done so far will drift back to an e-coli cesspool once again.
The other issue is people feed them, and they don't migrate as they should.
Wendy Samaroo says:
Honk, honk, Ms. Plant! Your article brought to mind a childhood gift of mine from Canada when I was still living in Trinidad. It was a copy of Manka, the Sky Gypsy, and it was all about the life of a Canada goose. I grew up loving them!
Years later, when I immigrated to Canada, I began to see real live Canada geese in public green spaces in Toronto. I understand that they are poopy, but to me they will always be a very real and beautiful aspect of life in Canada.
Colleen Francisci says:
Very well-written and thought-provoking!! I'd never looked at it that way before--I've seen Canada geese as the "weeds" of the bird kingdom but now I'm reconsidering...