Between May and early October this year, I cycled 15,000 kilometres across Canada from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific oceans. Alongside fellow photographer Asad Chishti, I traversed the rocky coastline of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, the headwaters of the Great Lakes, the wild passes of the northern Rockies and the lowlands of the Arctic tundra. The purpose of our journey was to discover and document the country’s lesser-heard stories and histories to add a counterweight to the celebratory narrative of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Through photojournalism, conversations and independent research, I had my eyes opened to realities within Canada that I had never before considered, nuances within historical events that I had never fully understood.
As the days and kilometres passed, I gradually learned two powerful lessons. First, I learned that we are connected to the past. The land claim and self-government agreements of Carcross/Tagish First Nation in 2006, for example, drew on the leadership of Yukon First Nation chiefs in 1973 and the centuries of Indigenous resistance to colonization before them. And second, I learned that we are connected to each other. I met a fisherman in Nova Scotia and a farmer in Saskatchewan who both feared losing their homes to climate change. I met an oil worker in Alberta and an activist in British Columbia who were both committed first and foremost to caring for their families. Common threads like these ran through each of the stories I heard across Canada.
So, we’re a diverse country. Our history is complex. Moving toward a more just and compassionate future is challenging. If I can offer one piece of advice, however, one simple reflection after five months on Canada’s long, worn roads, it is this: Start with connection. Connect to your neighbour, and reach out to the stranger. Connect to our shared past, and commit to our future. As this year draws to a close, let us set our sights firmly on the next 150 years. Together.
St. John’s, N.L.
Irma Gerd strikes a pose in the doorway of St. Michael’s Printshop in St. John’s. Two hours earlier, I’d met Jason Wells, a young man wearing a David Bowie T-shirt, at the studio. As he put on his makeup, he shared stories about his roots as a drag artist, from dressing up as a kid to performing in the nightclubs of Toronto. Suddenly the transformation was complete, and Jason was gone. In his place was Irma, the drag queen, her presence as bold and uncompromising as her mascara.