My children are warm-hearted and inclusive. Last night I was very excited to have been invited, very spontaneously, by Cayley, to the viewing of the documentary, The Peel, in the intimacy of The Blank Page studio.
It was Cayley who, 27 years ago, picked purple flowers for me, while surrounded by wolf willow, at the edge of the Oldman River at Maycroft Crossing.
I had missed the huge public viewings of the film the night before. So, as I look back on last evening, I’m very grateful that I was able to curl up on a sofa and enjoy such remarkable vistas coming out of the Peel Watershed documentary and to enjoy, in part, the narratives of the participants on this wondrous adventure. I could not help but connect with the narratives, struggles and histories in the documentary, given my close connection with the Oldman Watershed in southern Alberta in the mid 1970s through the 1980s.
First, to describe the Peel project, directly from the website, this…
The Peel is a multi-layered project bringing together film, the arts and sciences as a means of telling a uniquely Canadian story of art, adventure and Canadian identity. The Peel highlights the landscape, culture and wildlife of the Peel River Watershed (PRW) in Yukon/Northwest territories. This watershed is one of the last undeveloped watersheds left in Canada, spanning nearly 68,000km2 of intact arctic wilderness. As of January 2014 71% was opened for economic development related to mining and oil exploration — that decision has been continuously fought.
There is something very interesting about aging…one collects a whole bunch of experiences that later, become reference points for others. I’ve always treasured the words and stories of my elders…now, very slowly, I become the elder. It makes me smile. Life marches forward. We are left with the photographs and the archives and the documentaries.
Surprisingly, as I sat down this morning and did a search of the internet for the steps that we took in defiance of the building of the Oldman River Dam, there was very little in the way of an ideological footprint (there have been a couple of books written, one newspaper archive and the mention of the Oldman River Expedition appears sparsely on a whole number of artists’ Curriculum Vitaes) and so I decided to dig up my own archives coming from the late 1980s.
First of all, SAAG in Lethbridge celebrated the works of the following artists in an exhibit, as a response to a shorter but similar journey down the Oldman River.
In the summer of 1990, a group of well-known artists in all media from across the country took part in a week-long rafting and camping expedition down the Oldman River, arriving in Lethbridge on Canada Day. This exhibition will document that trip by showing that the work was initiated by that experience. Participating Alberta artists are: Barbara Ballachey, Carroll Moppett, Stephen Hutchings, Jeffery Spalding, Janet Cardiff, Billy McCarroll, Catherine Burgess and others include Dan Hudson, Tim Zuck, Judith Schwarz, Toni Onley, Tak Tanabe, Terence Johnson, Robert Blake and Landon MacKenzie. Although the work in this exhibition is diverse in media and approach, it is unified in its tribute to the southern Alberta landscape. – See more at: http://www.saag.ca/art/exhibitions/0516-the-oldman-river-expedition-exhibition#sthash.Z0dUPaWF.dpuf
I continue to admire the work of several of these artists and have followed their careers and work with great interest.
While painting could not be my sole focus through this precise period of time, I had been painting the Oldman River as a subject for a number of years. Nestled on the edge of the river, the University of Lethbridge had already been my home for four years at this point. The river became an obsession with me for many years and I had spent countless days/hours exploring and dreaming in the coulees and at the river bottom. When the politics became heated over all aspects of irrigation and development of a Dam on the Oldman, I was consumed and soon became a contributing member to the “Friends of the Oldman”. My own grandfather, the owner of Magrath Wool, Card and Spinning Mill, had taken a position on the Oldman Planning Committee.
The number of connections I made and conversations I shared around the river, grew. I remember meeting and speaking with Joane Cardinal Schubert at the time. It was an image of hers that became the poster for our legal and artistic struggle.
I began painting a series titled Oldman on the Edge and continued to paint the river right into the 1990s.
I snapped some photographs from my albums this morning…as our family, like many others, headed out very early in the morning and drove from Calgary to Maycroft Crossing for a musical festival to raise funds and to voice opposition of the dam that was already in the works. That day, I met Ian Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Andy Russell and Chief Crowshoe.
So…was it any wonder that I felt deeply about the documentary, The Peel, last evening? I’m glad I had opportunity to talk with both Katie Green and Daniel J. Dirk for a short while. I admire their attempts to integrate the power of the journey, their artistic practice and their strong desire to preserve, for future generations, this last remaining watershed in North America. It’s crazy what has happened to our rivers, in the name of progress and in support of industry. I understand their efforts to articulate what their journey on a portion of the Peel has come to mean to them. I know that, given my own physical/emotional/psychological efforts on a 31 day Outward Bound experience (white water and mountain climbing), what it means to try to ‘be an artist’ on a journey and how it must have been challenging for the artists on the Peel Project.
Reflecting back, again, on ‘my’ river…take a look at this…the land use…the cut lines.
I’m publishing a few pages that come out of a 2010 report on the Oldman Watershed…I think it touches on the history of a river and might give my readers something to think about. I guess something that really touched my heart last night were Daniel’s words to me…and I paraphrase…
I guess even if our voices aren’t heard and we are unsuccessful in our efforts to create sustainability, where the watershed is concerned, we will have been defiant and stood in opposition. Maybe that’s the best we can do sometimes.
Aldo Leopold’s words ring true…
“We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the 20th century; our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history; to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”
Congratulations on the North American premiere The Peel, a free Art!Flicks documentary directed by Calder Cheverie and Anthony Wallace. Congratulations to six artists; Aurora Darwin, Carleigh Baker, Anthony Wallace, Katie Green, Daniel J. Kirk and Callan Field.