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Cannon Conflict: Loud blasts fray neighbours' nerves

Downes Road resident Diane Danvers surveys her own net-protected berries at her hobby farm. - Tyler Olsen
Downes Road resident Diane Danvers surveys her own net-protected berries at her hobby farm.
— image credit: Tyler Olsen

Read part one of this series

Living next to a propane cannon can feel like being in a war zone, according to some neighbours.

Ken Howard and his wife Diane Danvers had lived on Downes Road for some 25 years when the first blueberry farm moved in across the road.

“It used to be a nice, quiet hay field,” Howard says.

But in 2008 the first blasts of a propane cannon rang out across the couple’s five-acre hobby farm.

“When it first started, I thought there must be something wrong,” Danvers says.

The couple’s dog sought refuge in the house and Danvers’ milk cow became jumpy. That summer, a company hired by the couple measured the cannon sound at 92.8 decibels. That year there were two cannons, each firing three shots every five minutes.

By 2011, five cannons were firing across the street. The cannons are allowed to fire from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a pause between noon and 3 p.m.

Last year, the grower was asked by the Farm Industry Review Board to modify his practices and try other measures to keep birds away.

It wasn’t enough for neighbour Barbara Fischer, who lodged the complaint. She has since moved to Osoyoos, saying the cannons were the “final straw” that convinced her to leave. Her property was bought by a farmer who has planted much of the land with blueberries.

Danvers and Howard say the cannons have changed the way they spend their time at home, which has been in Danvers’ family since the 1940s.

“We go away during the day,” Danvers says. “It’s quite precious when they stop.”

••••

More than 40 million pounds of blueberries are grown every year in Abbotsford. In the last decade, hundreds of acres of farmland across the city have been plowed under and replaced by blueberries.

Many, but not all, of the farms use propane cannons to ward off birds. It’s in the city’s east, where rural acreages abut the blueberry fields, that the conflict between farmers and neighbours is most felt.

Christine Bellerive-Esmail and her husband, Hari Esmail, bought their six-acre home three years ago in March. Then, one day in the early summer, they and their two young children awoke to the cannons.

Now, Bellerive-Esmail tries to wake up before 7 a.m. so she can shut her window. Her window faces the farm and its cannon, which is obscured only by a row of hedges. If it remains open, she’ll be jarred awake by the blasts from the blueberry cannon next door.

“When you’re not expecting it at seven o’clock in the morning, it’s really a shock,” Bellerive-Esmail says.

The couple worry about their six-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son.

“The noise really affects the kids because they’re up at the first cannon blast,” Esmail says.

They also have concerns about the psychological and physical effects of repeated and long-term exposure to the blasts.

“It’s that anticipation of that second blast, or third blast,” he says. “That can’t be healthy for anybody.”

The Abbotsford-based BC Blueberry Council employs a liaison who tries to minimize conflict between the two groups. But many residents wish the use of propane cannons was covered by stricter rules. There is unhappiness with the provincial government, which quashed a move by the City of Abbotsford to restrict the use of noise devices.

As the cannon fire continued next door, Bellerive-Esmail said: “In order to allow them to have their right to farm, you’re basically stripping us of or rights.”

Related: Farmers say devices needed to keep birds away

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