A Review of John Terpstra’s Daylighting Chedoke: Exploring Hamilton’s Hidden Creek
Review by Darrell Doxtdator
John Terpstra’s Daylighting Chedoke weaves together various exploration stories of one particular watershed. The author’s search for a near extinct waterway is paralleled by an imagined historical arrival at one of Hamilton’s many creeks.
Accompanied by family members and assorted companions, Terpstra attempts to trace the natural pathway of Chedoke Creek, no longer in its original incarnation, after being artificially re-constructed. Reduced to concrete, culverts and other man-made structures, it has long since become a conduit for civic water management. The Frankenstein version of its former self.
Terpstra tells the reader that daylighting “… is the term used when buried creeks are freed to run in the open again. A different relationship between running water and the urban environment can then be entered, one in which the landscape is part of the conversation.” According to his research, several cities around the world have been experimenting with raising their waterways back into the light, reaping “ … surprising civic benefits from having water run freely beside their streets and past their front doors.”
The author is quick to acknowledge that to actually daylight Chedoke would be unrealistic. “I don’t hold out much hope that Chedoke Creek will be cleaned and uncovered any day soon,” he writes, “… Our way of thinking about how we urbanize a landscape would need to become more flexible, but our way often seems set in concrete.”
Therefore, he makes the personal undertaking: “I damn well better do its brave waters some justice.”
To emphasize his commitment, Terpstra cites Lee Maracle, from her work My Conversations with Canadians:
Some of our people wish Canadians would move back to their original homelands. Not me – I hope they fall in love with the land the way I have: fully, responsibly, and committed for life.
Unfortunately, Terpstra’s love for the land is shared by few others. He quickly discovers that the waterway is polluted with sewage, garbage and chemicals. E.coli counts are too high due to sanitary sewer lateral cross-connections (or “illegal hook-ups”). Consequently, Chedoke Creek has been dubbed “Shit Creek”; Terpstra notes wryly that a “certain percentage of the population always wants to pee into the stream.” Or worse.
“People with such a level of geo-incomprehension need to be protected from themselves,” he observes.
Based on an earlier, shorter work called Citizen Geography (awarded the Hamilton Arts & Letters (HAL) Small Works Prize for Non-fiction in 2016), Daylighting Chedoke will complement this Hamilton poet’s other non-fiction works Falling into Place and The House with the Parapet Wall.
While Hamilton readers may be familiar with the geography and place names, other readers would benefit from detailed maps. The inclusion of current and historical maps would aid in understanding the author’s references to waterways, geological features, and current street names.
Terpstra never again cites Maracle, nor any other Keepers of Traditional Knowledge. He fails to acknowledge the circular aspect of the Life of Water. If he had, he would realize that there is no end. And there is no beginning. It is a continuous cycle, one that encompasses every living being — water, creatures, plants, animals and humans —within its life path. So, what happens to Chedoke Creek will eventually happen to all of its inhabitants; the cycle will continue.
Despite his initial passionate undertaking to do Chedoke creek some justice, Terpstra can only observe that, in terms of justice, the creek itself is wrongly blamed for flooding, rather than the inadequate, poorly maintained infrastructure that surrounds it.
With global warming, flooding will intensify in severity and frequency. The world will have to contend with the various Frankenstein monsters it has created. It may not be what Terpstra was seeking, but it is one form of poetic justice.
John Terpstra’s Daylighting Chedoke is a lament for the loss of our environment in general – and the loss of a local waterway in particular. It is a meandering tale of an attempt to uncover a (once) meandering stream.
Darrell Doxtdator is an author, artist and advocate. A citizen of the Oneida Nation of the Six Nations Confederacy, he grew up on the Haudenosaunee territory of the Grand River. A graduate of McMaster (‘86) and Osgoode Hall (‘89), he had his call to the Bar in 1991. Darrell refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. Instead, he re-affirmed his commitment to Mother Earth. After considerable debate, the Law Society of Upper Canada (as it then was) made that Oath optional. Darrell continues to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable” and finds that singing karaoke can be an effective instrument in achieving both of these objectives.