When served up with the opportunity to talk about art, explore a distinctly Canadian part of Canada and make new connections with the People of Canada, the appropriate response is, YES PLEASE! My journey through the Canadian art landscape continues this summer, this time in the true north, Canada's north, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. I spent Canada Day week in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Here is my day to day, in the land where the sun, and the people, never sleep. Naps only please!
ART AND THE CITY: Day 1 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories Canada
Last night I landed after flying in over Great Slave lake as the midnight sun chased us throwing gilded glistening spotlight from rivers to lakes as we touched down. Global warming is definitely having the most dramatic impact and visible shifts, say my hosts who shared some pizza with me at a neighbourhood watering hole just a stroll down the gravel lane. Last night I slept in an artist shack moved to Old Town in 1980 from nearby Jolliffe Island, seems fitting I would rest my head inside this tiny piece of Canadian history. Today I walked into downtown Yellowknife and toured the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre named after the British prince himself. It is a thoughtful and impressive museum for its size, telling the story of the first people, the Dene First Nations. The current featured art exhibition, by a Victoria College of Art alumnus Robert Burke, My Residential School Experience, is a visceral journey painted in vivid colours on large format canvasses. So far, so much to absorb. I have been welcomed with open arms and look forward to the next few days.
ART AND THE CITY: DAY 2, CANADA DAY ON THE EDGE
My hosts here in Yellowknife are a savvy media team, Kyle creator of YK Online and Jen who is the Creative Director for Tait Communications here in the city. Both are community connectors who have made my trip both educational and entertaining. We ventured into town and took in the Canada Day Parade on this sweltering day in the Canadian desert. Our evening featured a cast of local characters and creators, and a feast of blueberries, white fish, trout, and a little homemade birch syrup delivered by Pike Mike. Pike Mike is best known for his role on the Animal Planet series, Ice Lake Rebels. A man with serious skills, he can weave a yarn, play the mandolin, help you catch record sized trout, and teach you about surviving off the land all in one evening. Then we settled in for a patio round table of five creative women; a filmmaker, engineer, graphic artist, printmaker and myself. It feels like a residency of sorts, all in one day in a small community in a land of extremes. Tomorrow we're hiking and getting out on the lake. It's 1 am and still light out, on with the blackout mask, here's to some much needed zzzz's.
ART AND THE CITY: DAY 3, on the edge
Yesterday was exhilarating and active, so here I am typing this on a smokey skied morning in Yellowknife. Saturday was spent exploring what this area of Canada does best; the wild and life on the edge. The day started with some JEEP off-road exploring and a hike to Cameron Falls with Kyle, Jen and Steve Schwarz a geologist and Getty selling photographer. It has been such a vivid and informative experience here, my brain is buzzing and firing on both halves. As a mineral and precious metal rich ground, rocky climbs are endless and evidence of tectonic shifts and things bubbling up to the surface have left blueprints for geologists. Scattered with spindly Birch and Spruce and Drunken Forests, it makes for rugged hiking. In the afternoon the lake beckoned and we hopped in a boat bound for a close-up tour of the colourful houseboats around Jolliffe Island. Parking the boat on an uninhabited island, another chance for exploration climbing lichen and moss covered rock. Evening landed us at the Wildcat Cafe, an old town log cabin turning out food since 1937. An evening walk over to Latham Island through a neighbourhood of architecturally diverse homes with million dollar vistas. The thing I have noticed here, many homes whether million dollar or shack, have a nice rack of horns or a skull and a lot of Canadian flags. We ended the night with one more hike up and across rock to Pilots Monument, affording a 360 degree view of the town. Days are full here this time of year with the midnight sun, everyone is trying to squeeze out every minute of this golden time, with the long winters here, now is the time to shine.
ART AND THE CITY: DAY 4 A city tour, a cemetery and a bistro. Yesterday was a day for circling the city by car and filling in the blank spots in my Yellowknife visit. The outskirts of the city here are spotted with communities that blend million dollar properties and contemporary architecture, with modular homes and funky workshop shacks. Everyone here seems to be a tinkerer, a creator, a craftsman, or an artist. A seemingly inconspicuous shed, can hide a meticulous and treasured workspace. You can easily find a Timmys or a six dollar iced cappuccino, which was well worth the bucks during this continuing sweltering heat. We took our custom coffee to the Lakeview Cemetery, with grave sites as meticulously crafted as the coffee in hand and the creations in the makers sheds seen this day. Grave sites encircled with white picket fences, some with trees growing in the centre. Miners, children, natives, hockey fans and even Elvis fanatics, this cemetery reflects the lives I have seen in the area. Our day ended with a feast fit for a mine worker at the famous Bullocks Bistro in Old Town. A legendary shack brimming with diners graffiti and things left stapled to the walls and ceiling. It's a sassy and humorous place serving up fish, bison and even caribou ribs. A thunder storm and a rainbow marked our way home. Another full day on the edge.
ART AND THE CITY: DAY 5&6 the studios, the sled dogs, some really big planes and the sun. Monday I spent half the day visiting with two distinctive and well known Arctic artists. The first connection was made possible through Visual Arts Alberta/ CARFAC, a dynamic arts organization I support in Edmonton, Alberta. When I mentioned my trip to Yellowknife, they were quick to connect me with a like-minded artist in the city. Jen Walden is known for many things besides painting; coaching hockey with the Junior women's team at the Arctic Winter Games, performing, and founding the Borderless Artists Movement in Yellowknife. Her distinctive, dimensional and textured style explores Canadian and Northern life through people, wildlife and topography. Before my trip I also reached out to my mailing list, it's amazing what comes back when you tell people you are headed on an art trip. This time my art crate supplier, VEVEX Crates, told me to be on the lookout for a well-known Canadian photographer, Fran Hurcomb. A veteran Canadian photographer and photojournalist, with over 30 years capturing Canada's North. Hurcomb recently published a book about the Yellowknife in which she lives, Old Town, containing a vivid history about the area and the people over the past 30 years. We then hit a molten hot tarmac at Buffalo Air and got a personal tour from Mikey McBryan, from the docu-series, Ice Pilots. My evening included a visit with a husky sled dog team, a little Ykea scavenging (nothing gets thrown away here) and a late night climb with a bottle of vino, some blueberries and some 'art chat' as a red sun crested the horizon, not to set, only to rest and rise again. Today, before flying out I had a chance to visit the talented folks over at Tait Communications, checked out the aboriginal owned screen printing company at Erasmus, and viewed the new topographic mural in the recently completed Stantec offices. That's it, six days on The Edge of The Arctic Circle. Canada's Northern Desert, this time of year, and a place where 'helping your neighbor' really is the first order of business and the only way to survive in this land of extreme weather and extreme living. These people have heart and grit and talent beyond whatever expectations I had going in, I love you Yellowknife, see you for the freeze.