Seeking inspiration in the Canadian wild

The Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency, started in 2015, invites artists to experience the magic of extended wilderness tripping in the hopes of inspiring works and dialog surrounding the themes of nature and national identity.


F. H. Varley’s “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay”, 1921


he story of the artist travelling remote regions of the Canadian wilderness in order to create works inspired by their experiences is not a new one. After all, it is the story behind some of Canada’s most recognized art and its most famous artists, the Group of Seven. In the early twentieth century, the project of the Group of Seven was to document the Canadian landscape in order to establish a unique parochial aesthetic, distinct from the European tradition.

The artworks produced have served to cement the Canadian national identity as inextricable from the natural environment. In part, the goal of the Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency is for their artist residents to investigate this relationship. Through the residency program they “aim to broaden an understanding of the Canadian identity through art, community engagement, and reflection on the roles that nature and diversity play in our national narrative.”

Now in the early twenty first century, 100 years after the Group of Seven was formed, as we struggle to negotiate the balance between environmental health and human progress, the project of the CWAR has a renewed sense of vitality and urgency.

I spoke with Carly Dow, a recent participant, who articulated the importance of spending time in the outdoors in order to better understand our place in the world:

“It’s so important for people to realize that we are just a small part of a bigger picture. It’s easy to lose sight of that. Even as such emotionally intelligent beings we forget that we’re just a very small component of a larger system…it takes a bit of spending time in nature to regain that perspective and to appreciate how we fit into things and how we affect things. Hopefully all of that would result in recognizing the natural world’s intrinsic value and caring about it enough to protect it.”

Recreational Canoe

Photo taken during the Yukon River trip with CWAR by Dow, August 2016

Carly is a musician based near Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba and is no stranger to spending time in the bush. She describes her music as a “wildcrafted soul folk” with elemental rhythms and lyrics based in natural imagery. While the CWAR is open to artists who work in all mediums, this summer Carly was the only musician in the group of ten artists-in-residence who spent 25 days in the Yukon, travelling the Yukon River by canoe from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

While the group rafted their canoes and enjoyed lunch floating down the river Carly often entertained them with her banjo. CWAR organizer Calder Cheverie captured this in his stunning video for Carly’s song “Something Lost”, filmed during the residency in August. “Something Lost” and its accompanying video offer a sense of what stands to be gained by encouraging creative engagement with wild spaces.

Since the Yukon River trip Carly has been paddling frequently and is fine-tuning a couple of the songs she penned during the residency. We can’t wait to hear them.

Watch the video for “Something Lost” below and learn more about the Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency here.