Part of the on-going project Back To The Land
With the southern Saskatchewan stories wrapped up and a final blog post on Jim Commodore, I will have more adventures from southern British Columbia and Vancouver Island as I continue to photograph people from small town and remote areas across Canada. If this is your first time reading one of my posts on Back To The Land I'll give you a quick brief on how each trip starts. First, I do very little research on the places I visit and usually end up staying in towns based on intuition and nothing more. Prior to my departure for each segment of this project, I do a test pack a few days before, triple checking everything so not to forget items that could potentially hinder my progress or worse, force me to come home with my tail between my legs; like forgetting a light modifier or camera... it's happened. I do this also to keep my head clear and not scrambling the day I leave.
The BC portion of Back To The Land was a bit different from my Saskatchewan leg of the trip, outfitting the back of my tacoma with a basic backcountry mattress from MEC and strapping my photo gear along the inside rim of the trucks box with bungee chords as I spoon my equipment each night to replace my wife. I left on May 1st, 2015, glancing at google maps before leaving and picked a route on my paper map in hopes to find a few potential spots and seek out the people from rural Canada.
A friend of mine mentioned a town called Ymir which is located in the Kootenays just outside of Salmo and connected me with their friends that live there as potential contacts in the event I needed a little support and insight within the community. I left Calgary at 9:03am and headed down highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway) making a quick stop in Bellevue to see my fiancé (now wife), enjoying lunch with her and a friend at our favourite place in town; The Crowsnest Cafe and Fly Shop. The one thing I love when you cross provincial borders in Canada, especially Alberta into British Columbia is the recognizable change in people's homes. The best way I can describe it is houses start to resemble the Weasleys home from the Harry Potter movies. Now I'm not suggesting this is a bad thing, more of a playful observation that continues to make me laugh out loud each time I cross from Alberta into BC. If you have never taken highway 3 before I suggest try it as it's a refreshing change from the trans Canada, plus when you drive into Creston this time of year... HOLY S%$T the greenery is incredible. With a quick stop in Yahk and a friendly conversation from the owners of the Yahk Soap Company, I continued west until I finally made it to Ymir around 9:30pm pulling into the riverside campground that sits right off the main street. Happy and excited to stretch my legs, I found myself struggling to find the energy to set-up my trusty coleman stove, instead went to the Ymir hotel in hopes of finding something to satisfy my grumbling belly.
As I walked in I could not help notice the massive collection of mini statues and artifacts from either Africa or Central America along with a variety of impressionistic paintings. To say the walls were covered is an understatement as you could not even tell the walls existed as it looked as though the roof was supported by the art itself. I proceeded to the bar where I notice a man sitting there enjoying a drink and an older man half busy behind the bar. I asked if food was being served and unfortunately I just missed last call, but they did have some leftover pizza and I settled on that. I also ordered a beer which was a nice treat given the days drive. Satisfied with the homemade hotel pizza, I made small talk with the owner of the hotel; Hanz and the cook Monty. The two gave me a little history about the town, I payed my bill and made my way back to the campsite and excited to crawl into the back of my taco where my sleeping bag was waiting.
The next morning I woke and decided to do a little exploring and also reach out to the couple whose contact information I received through my friends in Calgary. Their names were Jay and Michelle and as I made my way to their home, I found Michelle working in her garden. Their property consisted of a small cabin on the side of a slight embankment and the house was accompanied by various planters, small trees out front, and two smaller shed like structures; one near the back of the house and another to the side with a small rectangular garden. Michelle and Jay greeted me with genuine kindness that you can only find in small towns. After pleasantries, I told them what I was doing, what I planned to do and any help reaching out in the community would be greatly appreciated. Michelle immediately dropped her shovel and said "Well lets go meet Carla, she lives just down the road and she know's everyone".
Within five minutes and a quick walk down the street, we knocked, and the door immediately opened with a enthusiastic "Hello" and energy that could lift you up on the darkest of rainy days. Carla was a short woman with dark hair and two long french braids with subtle streaks of grey that came over her shoulders and down to her waist. She immediately wanted to know more about the project, I told her, she was excited and said lets do a tour of the town. Right from the start how could you not like this woman. Michelle left as she wanted to get back to her gardening and left me and Carla to explore. We jumped into my truck and she proceeded to take me everywhere pointing out the historic buildings, checking out the natural spring that supplied the towns water supply, stopping into local businesses with introductions, and even heading into the far back roads where more of the towns people live. After about an hour or so of driving from location to location and a variety of names and phone numbers, I had a growing list of people to search out and possibly photograph as well. I went back to my campsite excited and anxious to start.
I never intended to photograph Michelle, however after hearing her playfully inspiring story the fist day we met, I asked and she willingly accepted. Michelle was born in Kelowna, B.C. and upon graduating high school she moved to Calgary and attended the University of Calgary studying Environmental Science. Once she graduated and still having an urge for adventure, she moved back to Kelowna to be a ski bum at Big White Mountain Resort, but instead of operating the lifts, she randomly managed to become a carpenters helper. Michelle has always been around tools thanks to her father and has enjoyed the process of using her hands to create and fix things. After one year of carpentry in Big White, her and her husband Jay left for New Zealand, travelling for a year with only the their bicycles as a means of getting around.
With their return from Kiwi land and realizing Kelowna was too chaotic and not close enough to the mountains, Michelle and her husband headed for the Kootenay’s. With a small stint in Nelson, the stars aligning, Michelle and Jay both received carpentry jobs from a custom home builder and a day later purchasing a fixer-upper in Ymir. Now Michelle teaches and programs the woman’s only carpentry course at the Selkirk College in Nelson, she also does custom carpentry for people in the community and surrounding towns, Ski tours in the winter, runs policy development and waste management for the “Tiny Light Festival”... AND is pursing a passion for painting. Oh and she taught herself how to play the violin. One can only feel inspired when encountering such a wonderful human being.