Photo: Joel Luet
Calder Cheverie isn’t one to be pigeon-holed. Neither is is his latest project.
The 27-year old Ontario-born Vancouverite with a background in summer camp and outdoor education is also a wilderness guide, photographer and filmmaker. Ask him what he identifies with most, and he’ll give you the 30,000-foot view.
“I just want to inspire reflection and self worth in people. Creating experiences in nature, and capturing stories about their experiences, is the way I know how to empower them.”
Fortunately for six Canadian artists, he’s done just that with the The Peel Project. Calder and producer, Tony Wallace, led a crew of 12 this past September, in canoes full of camping gear and film equipment, from Whitehorse to Northern Yukon and down the Peel River to experience one of the last intact watersheds in Canada. And they did it while 71% of the watershed is potentially threatened by development, should the Yukon Supreme Court rule in favour of the Territorial government later this month.
Photo: Anthony Wallace
But as Calder makes clear (through all the grant applications, crowd-funding campaigns and personal savings withdrawals), the project is not a direct advocacy campaign for the Peel watershed, just like the development of the watershed itself is not a regional dispute. According to Calder, this is an issue of national values.
“If an incredible amount of our vast wilderness is slated for development, does the story we tell about ourselves as Canadians change?”
Photo: Joel Luet
Hence the six artists from urban Canada — a musician from Toronto, a writer from Vancouver, a visual performer from Calgary, a glass welder from Toronto, a photographer from Toronto and an illustrator from Calgary — were provided paddle training, water-tight supplies and enough guidance to safely experience “wilderness” to produce their own expression about the impact of political-economic decisions in “the north” on the romantic narrative of “the south”.
Calder is the first to admit that artist expeditions aren’t new. Since before Canada’s birth as a country, artists have reflected on our national worth, often articulating values that the average Canadian takes for granted — our untouched wilderness being just one.
But unlike historical artist expeditions that parachuted in, “captured art” and left without return, The Peel Project will screen the doc and show the art exhibit in the Yukon communities that hosted them and shared their lives so generously.
“The Peel Project invests,” says Calder. “Yes, we will share it with communities across the country. That’s part of our objective. But the other vital part is to maintain lasting connections, and we’ll do that by sharing the project in the communities where we were first accepted, and by giving of ourselves.”
Photo: Joel Luet
Now with the outcome of the Peel Watershed court case poised to ripple across the country, Calder is back in Vancouver editing the doc and reflecting on the 10 days he and Tony spent after the trip interviewing local First Nations and conservation advocates in the Yukon.
“If only loosely, The Peel Project contributes to a fight that our friends and partners in the North feel very passionately about. The main intention is to engage in a conversation about national collective values with Canadians—through film, art and science. It’s not about tearing apart our identity. It’s about looking at how our values are shifting, and recognizing that decisions made on a provincial, territorial and national scale do impact the character of the nation as a whole.”
So which way does he think the Supreme Court ruling will go?
“I have a feeling the Supreme Court ruling will end in a forced compromise between the government’s proposed Land Use Plan and the 2011 recommended plan that resulted from the territorial inquiry and was agreed upon by First Nations.”
And, when asked if that will be good or bad, his response is again from the top:
“That’s for Canadians, both in the north and in the south, to decide.”
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In addition to The Peel Project, Calder Cheverie is the founder of Our Nature Foundation and co-founder of the Vancouver Outdoor School. Contact Calder at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a screening of the film and exhibit of the art show or invite Calder to speak at your event. More information:
Calder with partner and The Peel’s lead scientist, Emma Hodgson.