The last stop on this journey going deeper into the Canadian subconscious had me in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories on Canada Day 2016; land of the midnight sun and Canada's last frontier. Last week I packed up my camera and boarded a 737 for Winnipeg, Manitoba; the friendly land of 100,000 lakes and the postage stamp province.
Day 1 – Winnipeg
An endless grid of gold and green, with hues of eggplant and rust imprinted on my mind as I flew into Winnipeg today. Farmers fields freshly swathed and crops being harvested leaving precisely cut patterns for us to view. Puzzle like pieces of land merging with bright white roads and the curves of cerulean blue lakes. This is Manitoba, from the sky. As my yellow cab rolled into downtown I noticed that I am in a truly multicultural city. My multicultural experience continued with my destination today of Canada's Museum of Human Rights. A new destination and the first museum in the world dedicated to the evolution, celebration, and future of human rights. The architecturally impressive structure of glass, marble and concrete houses a collection of thought provoking galleries that explore human rights issues from around the world. A true melting pot experience where every race, religion, creed and belief is represented and honoured through sharing our history. Tonight was a celebration and launch for the Canada150 events coming in 2017. A shoulder to shoulder evening walking six floors of lighted marble ramps reaching to the sky. An impressive and unique museum. Up tomorrow Winnipeg art gallery tour.
DAY 2 - Art in the Exchange District and the Granola Belt
Today was all about the galleries in the exchange district and my host, Andrew Valko. From dawn until dusk we talked Canadian art and took in shows at a handful of galleries including the national fine art appraiser and art dealership, Mayberry Fine Art, artist run centres and even an epic printmaking studio called Martha Street. Assiniboine Park offered a retreat from the city in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden. Mol was a famous Ukrainian Canadian sculptor and stained glass artist. From The Pope to Terry Fox, wildlife to Moses, he was endlessly inspired to make work. My day ended in the 'Granola Belt' a funky neighborhood called Wolseley with Queen Anne style architecture offering romantic enclosed porches and glowing lanterns. This street has come to attract an array of artists over the years from musicians, to dancers and painters; by far my favourite neighbourhood so far. My night ended with a nice aged tequila sipped between friends and ideas shared. As we passed a roadside billboard reminding us to #artpause , I smiled at the image on the sign.
Day 3 – The Winnipeg Art Gallery & The Fort Garry Hotel
I'm not a big breakfast person, but when I'm on the road spending long days talking and exploring, protein is a priority to get the day started. The grand old Fort Garry, a century old in fact, is one of Canada's grand CP railway hotels and was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981. They serve a pretty great breakfast buffet complete with an egg bar where they will make eggs any way, you name it. Florentine, Benedict, scrambled, omelette, poached, hard boiled, you name it the chef at the 'egg' bar whips it up with a side of Canadian pea meal bacon, of course. A nice omelette and a cup of dark roast and I was off to the Winnipeg Art gallery to see Winnipeg artist Karel Funk, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, the WAG collection, The Modernist Tradition, and Qua’yuk tchi’gae’win: Making Good. For lunch I stumbled upon the largest gathering of food trucks I have ever seen at the 'Food Truck Wars' in front of the Winnipeg legislature. Perogies were calling my name along with a cabbage roll and some nice homemade sausage, satisfying the 33% Ukrainian in me, comfort food heaven. I signed in at the legislature and took the grand tour including the must see gallery of painted portraits of mayors and such over the years. I specifically went to see Andrew Valko's impressive and hyper realistic portraiture, something we had talked about yesterday during our visit. My day ended along the Red River at the Forks National historic site where the muddy waters meet the the Assiniboine along the river valley. Another day filled with Canadian Art and Canadian history. Until tomorrow... Below: Lawren Harris, Andrew Valko, Karel Funk and E. Prudence Heward.
Day 4 - Leaving the city for Happy Rock
Today the second part of my trip began, with a drive almost two hours out of the city to my destination in Gladstone, or 'happy rock'. My hosts none other than the couple who provided the inspiration for my 'Canadiens Gothic' painting. Our day began with lunch at a famous diner named Nick's Inn, family owned and operated for more than 50 years. A good way to begin this leg of the trip providing fuel for an evening of 'Chase The Ace', 50-50 and Meat Draws - all designed to raise funds for the local Gladstone Legion. A stroll down the centre of town back to my hosts home near the railway tracks. Via Rail commuters, grain trains and car drops provided the soundtrack for the evening with the squealing, clanking and horn blowing of steel on steel machines. Tonight I am sleeping in the 'hockey room' with signed photos of Howe, Habs and The Great One. As I tuck in under a beautiful quilt I find myself holding the gaze of the goalie in Ken Danby's famous painting, 'At The Crease'.
Day 5 - The land of 100,000 lakes and crops
The destination, Riding Mountain National Park. The problem, put a photojournalist and a visual artist in a car together and you arrive at your destination after succumbing to numerous roadside distractions. Van Gogh worthy fields of giant sunflowers ready for harvest as far as the eye can see, bowing their heads and waiting to be transformed into seed, oil and ethanol. Crops of canola lay flat and orderly in rows, wheat sways, soy a gold and lime green hue, alfalfa with its dioxazine purple blossoms and flax with a dark eggplant tinge. These crops with their colours, shapes and textures induce kaleidoscope eyes. The sounds of crickets, Canada geese, crow, and critters scurrying along the ground provide the soundtrack. Only the need for food and drink could distract us away from Manitoba's serenade. We finally arrived at Riding Mountain National Park. The park is a protected area, the forested parkland stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding prairie farmland. The park protects three different ecosystems that converge in the area; grasslands, upland boreal and eastern deciduous forests. The park is home to wolves, moose, elk, black bears, hundreds of bird species, countless insects and a captive bison herd; and we only saw the birds. Evening found us in Sandy Lake, and then more farmers fields as we headed home. Manitoba was made for Van Gogh, Rothko, Wyeth, and me.
Day 6 - From farm to table, and one culture to another
I grew up on a small 'hobby farm' of sorts, my parents had a big garden and raised chickens for eggs and meat. As children we never knew store bought bread, and sweets were home baked. I feel lucky to have had such a healthy start to life, which included family meals and hiking in nature. Today my hosts treated me to life on Canada's 'real' farms, the ones that have been farming the land and raising families here for generations. My day began with a visit with the horses and mules, before turning fields that have been harvested, using big expensive machinery. I squeezed into a window seat and rode a 'disker' - a tractor pulling a trailer with rows of disk-shaped steel blades designed to turn the soil, digging deep into the soil and drawing orderly patterns as we rolled along the field. A couple laps and a thank you and we were off to lunch at the golf course. The food here is hearty, well portioned and tasty, fit for those working long days on the farm. Afternoon found us with an invitation to coffee, cake and a private tour of one of the many Hutterite colonies here in Manitoba. A religious colony, the basic tenet of Hutterite society has always been absolute pacifism (nonresistance), forbidding its members from taking part in military activities, taking orders, wearing a formal uniform (such as a soldier's or a police officer's) or contributing to war taxes. They are a peaceful, generous, hard-working and spirited group quite open to sharing their home with us today. With 6500 acres and 85 residents, they are almost totally self sufficient growing food, raising pigs, cattle and chicken, crops, and building all their own structures, furniture, homes and businesses. They run their own schools, make all their clothing, and work together to care for their community. A day spent meeting some people, and characters of Canada in Manitoba. Tomorrow is my last day here, and I am Brandon bound, the second most populous city in Manitoba. Until tomorrow...
Day 7 - Spuds, Spirits, Sand and the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba
For seven days I have been in 'friendly Manitoba' and I can honestly say that when you visit this place you instantly find yourself at the centre of a generous and curious community. Generous with their food, hospitality and in sharing all they have to offer. Curious in what you have to share and offer. A warm coffee, some rye toast, a few good mornings and a handshake later at the Gladstone bakery, and we were off on our day. Our first stop, the potato production line. The soil and climatic conditions in the southern and western regions of Manitoba make it one of the most productive places in Canada to grow potatoes. This results in Manitoba producing approximately one-fifth of Canada's total potato crop. Manitoba has approximately 50% of Canada's French fry production capacity and process over 1200 million pounds of potatoes each year. The potatoes I saw spinning off the trucks onto the conveyor belts today are to become tomorrow's french fries. The mountains of potatoes creating a Canadian landscape of the food variety. From potatoes near Gladstone to art at the Southwestern Manitoba Art Gallery in Brandon, the themes of landscapes, people and what we produce carried throughout the day.
We caught up with painter and sculptor Daryl Hicks at his Eras Antique shop after viewing his show at the AGSM where you can find him buried in collections of Canadiana and curiosities. An antique store and a steak sandwich later, we were refuelled and ready to sink our feet into sandy hills in Manitoba's dune landscapes that began more than 15,000 years ago at Spirit Sands. The Assiniboine River, much larger than it is today, created an enormous delta as it brought glacial meltwaters into ancient Lake Agassiz. Of the original 6,500 square kilometres of delta sand, only four square kilometres remain open; the rest is now covered with a rich variety of plants and wildlife. For centuries people have come here to see something special. World-renowned nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton walked the sandhills wanting to learn more about this unique natural phenomenon. Tomorrow I fly home and process all the gifts received on this trip. Much painting to do, and experiences to process as my journey deeper into Canada's subconscious continues. I am thankful for the generous spirits willing to share their slice of Canadiana, further deepening my connection to this land, our land, that is Canada. My six year love affair with Canada continues as my body of work, #ICONICCANUCK continues to evolve. Next stop, Art Toronto in October. See you there!