Part of the on-going project Back To The Land
Val Marie is gem of a town that lies on the borders of the Grasslands Nations Park surrounded by some of the most stunning prairie landscapes with incredible morning and evening light I have never witnessed. I suggest if you're looking to explore some of Canada's unknown or less listed parks, this would be at the top of my list as it boasts wild roaming bison, camping, backcountry camping, hiking, informative seminars on the grasslands ecology, tours and is within a half days drive of the more popular Cypress hills.
Throughout my travels I have noticed where there are beautiful landscapes there are always beautiful people. During my stay in Val Marie I was welcomed with open arms and support even when I did not ask for it. The day I spent with Wes Olson the bison rancher, he immediately recommend I try and contact Jim Commodore.
With every great man there is an even greater woman and that's when I met Carol Masecar, Jim's Wife in the local coffee shop. Carol was so friendly and full of so much joy. She even convinced Jim to meet with me, as it turns out he is quite shy and doesn't like to be interviewed let alone photographed. I mentioned to Wes I was heading to see Jim one day and he immediately asked if he could join me as he wanted the pleasure of introducing the two of us including a possible photo-op of the two of them together.
Jim was born in 1941 during a time when the Canadian prairies were drastically affected by serious drought from the dirty 30's. People had no money and relied heavily on the land and animals they raised. Being born during this time moulded you into something more than just a farmer, you were a survivor. In 1935 the PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) program was created to help save drought affected areas with community pastures and to keep the ecology from collapsing. This continued for 80 years.
The day Jim and I met he was 74 years of age. His body looked frail at face value but what he lacked in physical size he made up for in experience and miles. I watched him handle a horse better than any young cowboy half his age. Jim is a man of little words when it comes to talking about himself or his life, and that made getting an intimate interview with him quite difficult. Frustrating at first, however, I have come to realize that isn't such a bad thing with a man like Jim. I like to believe he is an actions speak louder than words kinda guy. And for him to allow me to witness his day to day activities on his farm, I believe, that was his way of trusting me with his story and leaving the unknown for my imagination.
I spent the day watching Jim closely with his animals, feeding them, calling them, reacting to their presence and periodically taking a knee to roll the occasional cigarette. I was also lucky enough to see him care for a horse with a limp and upon closer inspection it looked like some type of infection with a mysterious black goop coming out from the animals sole. To anyone who owns horses this may not be anything even worth mentioning, but to an outsider like myself, it wasn't just the act alone, it was witnessing something greater. Whenever the name Jim Commodore is mentioned in conversation throughout the community and surrounding towns, the name was soon followed by words like legend and prolific. I wish I knew more about this man of few words but I am honoured he picked me, a stranger to take his picture, and to see a brief glimpse into the life and eyes of what a real cowboy is and stands for.
If you enjoyed this story and others in my blog, feel free to join me at the Whyte Museum, in Banff as I will be featuring the start of my project "Back To The Land" in part with Exposure Photography Festival. The event is free and feel free to bring your family and friends. Also if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
Exhibition: January 30th - March 27th, 2016
Opening Reception: January 30th 7pm-10pm
Address: Whyte Museum - 111 Bear Street, Banff, AB.