Photographer Kieran Doherty in Canada
In February and March each year, Canada’s capital city Ottawa, in partnership with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, undertakes ice breaking and clearing operations along the Rideau River between Rideau Falls and Hogs Back. This allows water to flow unrestricted and it alleviates potential spring flooding in flood-prone areas. So together with Human Planet Rivers team director Ciaran Flannery, technical wizard Patrick Murray and cinematographer Gerry Dawson, we set out to document this amazing spectacle. We first met the men who operate the Amphibex, which is pretty much a JCB that floats on water. This machine can dredge, gouge and crush anything on water and it was tasked with breaking the ice at the bottom of the falls so that when the controlled explosions further up the river take place, the avalanche of ice that is carried down stream actually has somewhere to go.
At the base of the falls is the Ottawa river here the ice is around 3 meters deep . The idea was for the Amphibex to clear away the ice from here but today it broke down. Tomorrow, the explosives will be set on the Rideau river at the top of the falls, and seven miles of ice will come crashing through the opened sluice gates, piling on top of the ice you can see here. In previous years this has resulted in a mountain of ice piling up as high as the falls themselves and stretching out 500 yards across the river. 2010 however, is unique. Ice dam workers have never experienced such high temperatures at this time of year. The Ottawa river ice is melting and opening up very quickly, which means the residue ice coming over the falls should clear very quickly.
A 50 foot crane arm was used for this picture that gives an overview of the Rideau river dam as it meets the Ottawa river. The crane was manually operated with incredible dexterity by Brad Irwin and Tyler Frysby who were able to place the remotely operated camera attached to the end of it to within an inch of where specialist remote (hothead)…that is technical terminology…. operator Brian Morris wanted it. I decided to attach a stills camera with a manual 24mm lens onto the end of the arm. Using a pre focused manual exposure with the Nikon intervalometer, I was able to set the camera to shoot one frame every five seconds. Brian was able to view everything his camera could see via his monitor. We would line up the shot director Ciaran Flannery wanted and I would then mirror my camera angle to the hothead camera angle and away we went. It’s important to remember here that the film takes priority over any stills, so to have these three pros allow me the freedom I had was really exceptional. Although it was pretty much a hit and miss affair for my stills, I came away with some shots that are just physically impossible to achieve any other way. A huge thank you to Brian, Brad and Tyler for their patience in helping the crew achieve some truly stunning footage.
The next stage of the process after channels have been cut in the ice, is to drill holes for the explosives. Sticks of dynamite that really do resemble the Acme ones we used to see the Wily Coyote use to no avail against the Roadrunner, are then strategically dropped through the holes into the river to maximum effect. Fortunately these experts have far more success than the hapless coyote.
However this visual feast of amphibexes carving out flow channels in the Ottawa river, buzz saws cutting 50 metre blast channels, dynamite, explosions and mountains of ice flowing downstream just doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a dedicated team to pull this off. They are a handful of city of Ottawa workers who are each specialists not only in their knowledge of the flowing water of both the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, but in ice dams, heavy duty machine cutting, dynamite explosives and above all, safety. These men take to the ice every year and are passionate about the job that they do. In temperatures as cold as -20 these men will be out on the ice doing what they do best. You could almost say that it is a labour of love.
Who else would be working, let alone under such conditions, while the remaining 26 million Canadians were witnessing their Ice Hockey team making history at the Olympics in Vancouver? The camaraderie and sense of humour these men share is infectious. They keep each other entertained on the ice but never once will their focus waver during this dangerous job. They do all this and readily accommodate a demanding BBC film crew? It is consummate Canadian professionalism at its finest.
Mar 15, 2009 | Categories: Travel | Tags: amphibex, BBC, BBC Earth, BBC Human Planet, blogsherpa, Brad Irwin, Brian Morris, Canada, Ciaran Flannery, David Attenborough, Discovery, Discovery Channel, dynamite, explosions, freshet, Gerry Dawson, Hogs Back, Human Planet, human planet blog, Ice breakers, ice dam, John Hurt, Kieran Doherty, narrator, North America, Ottawa, Patrick Murray, Planeta Humano, Rideau Falls, Rideau River, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, Tyler Frysby | Leave A Comment »