Documentary before development: The Peel Project

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Finding an untouched ecosystem in any corner of this well-charted globe is a rare event. But when Vancouver filmmaker Calder Cheverie took his canoe up Yukon’s Peel Watershed, he knew he was paddling through pristine landscape.

“Despite over a decade of guiding across the country, it’s still the most vivid wilderness I’ve ever encountered,” Cheverie told Vancity Buzz. “At 68,000 square kilometres, it’s one of the largest intact wilderness areas left on the planet.

The Peel is home to Yukon’s largest herd of woodland caribou and acts as the wintering-grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of the largest herds in the world. There are healthy populations of wolves, grizzlies, black bears, wolverine, lynx, and birds of prey. The landscape vibrates with life.”

Although the watershed contains a sensitive boreal ecosystem, Cheverie said this could change soon: The Yukon Supreme Court is currently deciding just how much of the area to protect and how much to mine, trying to strike a balance between the interests of First Nations and environmentalists, against those of developers.

The strength of the resource economy indicates that the days of the Peel Watershed’s untouched majesty are numbered. So before the first company moves in, Cheverie has made a documentary showing it in its original state. He guided six artists up the Watershed by canoe.

The assignment? Create an enduring art piece representative of their trip.

The Peel Project uses arts, sciences, and film as a means of telling a uniquely Canadian story. The film follow six artists through their journey into the Arctic and beyond. The artistry, scientific work, and film will culminate in an exhibition set to begin touring in the fall of 2015 with plans to stop in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Whitehorse,” he said.

Although the “environment versus economy” subject matter is contentious, Cheverie says his documentary is not a call to arms. But at the same time, he feels that the “northern wilderness” as a national identity has been eroded.

“In the last 10 years we’ve seen the dismantling of the Navigable Waterways Act and the Fisheries Act, the shuttering the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario, budget cuts to national parks & park staff, and in 2014 we surpassed Brazil as global leader in deforestation,” Cheverie said.

He went on to emphasize the wider impact: “This shuffle of federal priorities demonstrates a different set of values internationally, but it also has an impact on our collective identity as Canadians. The Peel Project illustrates the obvious and rapid shift in Canada’s relationship with its natural environment.”

Since writing this article, the Yukon Supreme Court judge decided the government must revisit the consultation process before the watershed will be developed.

 

Feature Image: The Peel Project / Calder Cheverie

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Sarah Gray is wearing a few hats these days, as a public relations manager, part-time writer, and radio producer. She is a fan of beach days, wine, and peanut butter, and is the proud mom of a rescue pup named Walter.
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