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Dax Justin Inducted Into The RCGS College of Fellows

By ANNOUNCEMENT

5 min read

In November of 2019 I flew to Ottawa, ON, Canada for the first time in my life to become elected as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. RCGS Fellows are nominated based on their significant contribution to Canadian geography, culture, and their embodiment of the longstanding values and tenets of the RCGS: the determination to build, courage to explore and outstanding service to Canada.

by Dax Justin

I’m now officially a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society! Out of Canada’s estimated population of 37.59 MILLION, there are just 1,176 RCGS Fellows – and I’m proud to be one of them.

On November 20th, 2019, I was inducted as a Fellow into the College of Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS). All RCGS Fellows are deemed to have distinguished themselves by directly contributing to scientific knowledge in the field of geography, geographical exploration or allied sciences (i.e., archaeology, atmospheric sciences, marine biology, zoology, etc.). Such accomplishments are evidenced by published books, scientific publications or major mainstream media coverage documenting fieldwork, or exploration.

RCGS Fellows are nominated based on their significant contribution to Canadian geography, culture, and their embodiment of the longstanding values and tenets of the RCGS: the determination to build, courage to explore and outstanding service to Canada. Fellowship in the RCGS College of Fellows has, since its inception in 1929, represented the very best of Canada, and includes many of Canada’s most intrepid explorers, geographers, astronauts, actors, and even some former Prime Ministers.

 

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“The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows Annual Dinner is the standout event of the year for hundreds of people who share the Society’s passion for making Canada better known to Canadians and the world. But 2019’s event, held Nov. 21 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., was even more special, as the Society celebrated 90 years of exploration, curiosity and storytelling. Read on for some of the highlights of the evening, as captured by those who attended..” Read more

Photo: Ben Powless, Canadian Geographic

Nominations to the RCGS College of Fellows can only be made by another Fellow and must be approved by the Society’s Fellows Committee before being presented for election during the RCGS Annual General Meeting. An RCGS Fellow is an individual who has demonstrated an interest in the mandate and programs of the Society and is willing to engage in efforts to sustain and expand its capacity to “make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world.” Fellows agree to serve on committees, foster partnerships, provide opinions and expertise, organize events and contribute to fundraising efforts.

 

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Dax Justin, FRCGS, Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Thank you to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for this amazing honour!

ABOUT THE ROYAL CANADIAN GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY:

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is dedicated to promoting and enhancing public awareness for Canadian geography, and to strengthening the bond between Canadians and their diverse and vast geographical heritage.

As one of Canada’s oldest and largest educational, non-profit organizations, the RCGS, and its iconic publication, Canadian Geographic, has been our country’s most recognized voice for connecting Canadians with the land, culture and environment in which they live.

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Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.

It’s Official⁠ — I’m a National Geographic Certified Educator!

By ANNOUNCEMENT

5 min read

In the Spring of 2019 I undertook a National Geographic course for the first time and it's called the National Geographic Educator Certification course. This course seeks to inspire Pre-K—12 formal and informal educators to teach students about the world in innovative and interdisciplinary ways. As an Informal Educator, this 3-month course was like jet fuel for my youth initiative, Explore in School.

by Dax Justin

I’m over-the-moon excited to share with you all that I am officially a National Geographic Certified Educator! After a few months of work over Spring and Summer, I got the official word that I had earned the certification.

MORE THAN EVER, OUR WORLD IS INTERCONNECTED.

National Geographic Educator Certification is a free professional development program that recognizes pre-K through 12 formal and informal educators committed to inspiring the next generation of explorers, conservationists, and changemakers. These educators are part of a powerful movement to make the world a better place by empowering students to be informed decision-makers equipped to solve meaningful challenges in their communities and beyond.”

DON’T JUST TEACH STUDENTS ABOUT THE WORLD—TEACH THEM HOW TO CHANGE IT.

The course is made up of three phases, each with their own objectives and set of criteria for completion. In the first phase, I worked on developing my Teaching Mission; taking a goal and expanding that into formidable action. Before the course, my teaching mission was to basically just go into schools and give presentations about walking with polar bears… After I completed the first phase successfully, my Teaching Mission is now to EXPLORE – ILLUMINATE – ACTIVATE through a series of visual storytelling presentations and lessons on wildlife conservation, human impact on the planet, and, inspiring students to become young adventurers and stewards of the environment.

In the second phase, the course dives into the National Geographic Learning Framework. “The National Geographic Learning Framework lays out what we believe children and youth should learn from their experiences with the Society. It communicates National Geographic’s core beliefs and values, and has been created to provide guidance for every product, resource, service, and experience we design. The Learning Framework supports educators—everyone who teaches and cares for children and youth—with resources and tools to meet our mission: We teach kids about the world and how it works, empowering them to succeed and to make it a better place.”

“Key attitudes encompass the mindset of an explorer. National Geographic kids are:

Curious and adventurous—curious about how the world works, seeking out new and challenging experiences throughout their lives.

Responsible—with concern for the welfare of other people, cultural resources, and the natural world. They are respectful, considering multiple perspectives, and honoring others regardless of differences.

Empowered to make a difference. They act on curiosity, respect, responsibility, and adventurousness, and they persist in the face of challenges.”

After implementing this learning framework into my lessons I had injected my presentations with more meaning and depth.

The third and final phase of this course is all about your Capstone Project. It’s like the season finale! This is a multimedia project that includes short written reflections, photos, and a video. The purpose of the capstone video is to share the story of one of your course activities, its impact on the students, and its connection to the learning in the certification course.

I LEARNED HOW TO INSPIRE + ACTIVATE YOUNG PEOPLE THROUGH AN EXPLORER MINDSET.

Thanks to all who stood for me to achieve this goal. Speaking to you, my fearless mentor Allison Fuisz and the Team at Inside NatGeo!

I highly recommend this program to any educators out there. It will advance your aptitude and shape the way you (and your students) think + act on our planet’s habitats. If you’re an educator interested in enrolling National Geographic Educator Certification this Fall please view registration details here:

DAX JUSTIN, National Geographic Certified Educator

ABOUT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY:

The National Geographic Society is an impact-driven global nonprofit organization that pushes the boundaries of exploration, furthering understanding of our world and empowering us all to generate solutions for a healthy, more sustainable future for generations to come. Our ultimate vision: a planet in balance.

Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.

Part III: Endless Summer Spirit – #ExploreLethbridge

By ON ASSIGNMENT

8 min read

What defines Lethbridge Spirit? This is the question I set out to answer through an exploration of endless Summer fun in the third installment in this three-part series finding the spirit of Lethbridge. Thus far on this journey I’ve discovered the spirit of adventure inside Lethbridge in Part I of my trek and I’ve unearthed the spirit of the culture and history of this land, as documented in Part II.

by Dax Justin

Now what about the spirit of play? You know, let your hair down and just have fun kind of day. Lethbridge in Summer is like the perfect place to explore with your friends and family. Everyday on this journey has brought unexpected gifts around every corner and today was no different! This piece showcases what you could do with 24 hours or 1 day to spend in Lethbridge, and focuses on endless Summer fun and discovering a sense of play for the whole family. The following activities are about getting the most fun into one day! Pack the car. Bring the kids. Go wave surfing. Explore Japan. Seriously, it all happens through Summer in Lethbridge.

Let’s Start Here: The Stoketown Cafe + Cure

Before kicking off your full day in Lethbridge I recommend stopping into the Stoketown Cafe + Cure for pure human fuel. Here’s where you’ll find delicious handheld sandwiches, baked goods and a decadent cup of coffee. Our time here turned into a small feast as we took advantage of the variety of snacks and beverages, great company and conversation, and basically not wanting to leave! What a start to the day, we were all fired right up.

Discover Your Vitality at the Cor Van Raay YMCA at ATB Centre

After we grabbed food and drinks from the Stoketown we made our way over to the West Side of Lethbridge, where you’ll find the new at ATB Centre. This is a multi-use facility and has everything under one roof. Phase I of this building included recreational arenas for skating and curling, and Phase II has been the Cor Van Raay YMCA within ATB Centre. Honestly, this complex is an athletic and recreational haven suited for anyone wanting to achieve any level of physical activity. When we stepped inside this place we instantly couldn’t believe the amount of amenities and opportunities to step your game up! You can even go wave-surfing and hit the slides at the pool or even go ROCK CLIMBING IN THE POOL.  You can even ride trails in other countries on a large screen in the exercise bike room. Am I still in Lethbridge?

This facility has something for everyone, and just opened to the public this year! You will have a smile peeled across your face the entire time you’re here, and you will leave full of vitality.

ABOVE: Photo by Dax Justin in Lethbridge, AB

Witness the Future: Exhibition Park

As I took part in the Indigenous culture events from Part II, I couldn’t help but notice what’s happening at Exhibition Park. This is a GAME-CHANGER for this region. If you’ll look at these renders – you’ll see first-hand what is coming to life at this place! Since the first fair in 1897, it has hosted more than a century of agriculture, trade shows, midways, rodeos, sporting events, and numerous special events. That was the past… and the future is what is going to be absolutely spectacular for this place because this will become the largest outdoor festival venue in Alberta!

The future of Exhibition Park looks extremely bright, and it’s also the hot spot for the upcoming Whoop-Up Days starting this August in Lethbridge.

Another World in Lethbridge: Experiencing the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden

There is an unexpected oasis right here in the prairies, and it holds a special place in my heart. Once you enter the gates at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden you’ll find yourself inside an unforgettable cultural experience, combining the sheer beauty of nature in a serene setting. Japan and Canada come together. Established during Canada’s Centennial in 1967, Nikka Yuko was built to recognize contributions made by citizens of Japanese ancestry to the multi-cultural community of Lethbridge, Alberta, and as a symbol of international friendship. TOGETHERNESS.

ABOVE: Photo by Dax Justin in Lethbridge, AB

You can experience this place through horticultural, cultural, and historical programs offered consistently throughout the week. When you visit I recommend booking a private tour for a deeper look into the garden and the history that has brought it to life. Beyond that, you can also get a Japan-Canada Experience, led by a historical expert.

You know, the reason why this place is special to me is that I had the opportunity to meet and photograph the original architect of this place from Japan. From the beginning, it was agreed that the garden had to be REAL, and accurate in a high quality, immersive experience. An authentic Japanese garden not only reflects the local natural landscape, but also the culture. Respected Japanese garden designer and landscape architect Tadashi Kubo, of Osaka Prefecture University was commissioned to design it. He was here visiting for the first time a couple years ago, and I was blessed to meet him and capture his portrait.

I’ve visited in both the Fall and Summer, and they both hold unique photo opportunities for photographers. You won’t be disappointed by the views, and if you can catch the calm water you’ll be gifted reflections that will make your jaw drop! If you happen to visit on a Sunday, be sure to drop in for Sumo Sumo Sundays – where you can watch sumo tournaments streamed from Japan, and enjoy Japanese beverages and snacks. You can even dress up like a sumo wrestler and wrestle opponents as your sense of play comes alive!

Huge Smiles, Laughs, and Food & Drink at Mocha Cabana

After experiencing the Japanese Gardens your appetite will need some serious attention. For that, Lisa, Amelia and I went to a place called Mocha Cabana. It’s situated right in the heart of downtown Lethbridge and I’ve never been to this place until now. What we discovered is that Mocha is Lethbridge’s original farm to table restaurant with a commitment to all things fresh & local. What that means is here you can taste and play with the flavors of Lethbridge. You can also support local and enjoy the patio throughout Summer! After enjoying dinner you have to try a slice (or two) of cheesecake, as this is a specialty of theirs. Overall, this restaurant is a hidden gem of southern Alberta… Bon appetit!

Listen & Watch Live History: Fort Whoop-Up

To complete our journey, we went into the past and found ourselves experiencing an immersive, interactive play from the old days in the valleys and coulees of Lethbridge.

This experience at Fort Whoop-Up is called “Trader Tales” and the next one is coming up on August 15th and runs from 7:00PM – 9:00PM. “Fort Whoop-Up is excited to partner with New West Theatre to present Trader Tales—a fun, interactive evening.” The stories brought to life cover parts of the rich history of Fort Whoop-Up and southern Alberta. This was a blast! Most of the time was spent laughing and admiring the performance, we loved every moment and even got to try fresh bannock as we were transported into the old west.

Accommodations for this journey were graciously provided by the team at the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge, where you can unwind in the pool, catch some Zzz’s and get a hot breakfast in the morning. This place is southern Alberta’s premier lodging and conference facility, and I couldn’t even believe there was a hot tub in my room. AMAZING, and I now wouldn’t stay anywhere else.

BELOW: Photo by Dax Justin at Fort Whoop-Up in Lethbridge, AB.

Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.

Part II: The Vibrancy of Indigenous Spirit – #ExploreLethbridge

By CULTURE, ON ASSIGNMENT

12 min read

What defines the Lethbridge Spirit? In Part 1, I explored the spirit of adventure. In the second installment in this three-part #ExploreLethbridge series, I continue to explore the culture and history of this great community.

by Dax Justin

This is all starts with the opportunity I had to take part in the 50th anniversary of the Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society (SFS), making it the longest standing Indigenous organization in Lethbridge, providing programs and services to the Indigenous population of this region since 1969.

This celebration was taking place at the Exhibition Park South Pavilion, and included a traditional Powwow ceremony and Indian Relay Races, where Indigenous people and groups from across North America came to this event to participate. I was placed right in the middle of everything, and I came out of this experience with a feeling of pride and community that I have never felt in this place until this day. This is a glimpse of Spirit.

“Oki, Napi.” Welcome friend

The Powwow

At the Powwow, I was woven between the threads of history, passion, pride, and spirit. The arena filled quickly as people from all walks of life gathered and waited anxiously for the grand entry to begin. The grand entry is a complete spectacle – this is when the Indigenous communities are united in entry and this formal presentation is a powerful display of pride throughout the nations. An entrance as one.

After the master of ceremonies from the Friendship Society introduced the nations, the event was now in full-vibration and it wasn’t long before the traditional drumming and dancing began. To say this is a spectacle is somewhat incomplete – it’s WAY deeper than that…it is a full-body, totally-sensory experience. Young and old alike made their way around the floor performing an intricate display of movements along with a deep drum beat – you’ll feel the beat in your bones as you watch in awe.

For one brief moment saw a glimpse into the life of a man named Peter Anthony. I was standing on the outskirts of the red carpet, where everyone was dancing, and one individual particularly stood out to me. Full regalia. Layers of meaning. Proud and strong. Not a beat to miss. He was the most charismatic dancer on the floor. His name is Peter Anthony. He danced with soul, you could tell. This man was in this element and he ended up winning the Sr. Men’s competition. Although I rattled off about 1000 photos of the entire event, he was the only man I photographed a portrait of. Why? For some reason unknown to me, I solely shot his portrait and no other.

ABOVE: Photo by Dax Justin

I posted Peter’s photo on Instagram and this is where the context changes and power of community comes to life…

A couple hours after I posted the photo on Instagram I noticed a direct message from someone. I opened the message and it was from Peter’s Granddaughter! Her name is Kira and she wasn’t yet following me on Instagram but had seen the photo through the hashtag #powwow and exclaimed to me, “That’s my Grandpa! His name is Peter Anthony!”

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It’s likely that her and I were in shock at the same time. What a small world! She wasn’t opening Instagram that day expecting to see a photo of her Grandpa, and I never would have thought these connections and community would formulate from taking this photo. When I asked Kira about her Grandpa she said, “I’ll never forget watching him run towards the little table in the arbor at Beaver Lake, AB after getting First Place – with a great big smile on his face! It really warms my heart to watch him dance…he dances from the heart and he dances because he loves to. He told me after this powwow.” Since communicating with Peter’s family I have also learned that he is from the Adams Lake Indian Band, Secwepemc Nation. The face paint he wears has a story, his regalia is made by him, which also has a major story. Then it hit me – everything about this experience has been sacred, and I feel weaved into this new presence.

Being present at this celebration has enabled me to not only experience the spirit and vitality of the Indigenous people, it has also given me the opportunity to gift the Anthony family with the photos from this gathering. Thank you to the Friendship Society for being a stand in strengthening Indigenous cultural distinctiveness.

Taking a Glimpse into the Past at the Galt Museum

If you’re going to Lethbridge looking to unearth the past, you’ll achieve more than what you came for when you visit the Galt Museum. I’ve been here a total of three times and every time it’s completely different. Shaped by time, literally! Stories are consistently unearthed at this place, it’s like a never-ending time machine through the past.

When I visited I was fortunate enough to get a personal guided tour from Graham Ruttan, the Marketing and Communications Officer at the Galt Museum. Graham took me through the various exhibits ranging from Indigenous history to the formulation of the Lethbridge region itself. The difference is that this museum shows, through intricate and creative displays, the connections between these communities and how this place came to be the flourishing cultural hub it is.

ABOVE: Photo by Dax Justin in Lethbridge, AB

One very unique displays is the St. Michael’s exhibit, and it’s all about this early hospital in Lethbridge. This is an especially meaningful exhibit to people who have had family born in the region and one of the really special pieces they have is infant identification bracelets. Instead of modern birth/hospital anklets that we all know of, this infant identification kit from the 40’s uses thread and beads to create hand-made I.D. bracelets. I can’t imagine you’d be doing this now as there are many small beads and choking hazards, so it is unlikely you’ll ever see this system present anywhere else today. This piece was an in-use kit as you’ll see in the photo from some letters being used more commonly than others. This infant identification kit has been preserved as it was found from when it was in use – absolutely incredible! Thank you to the hospital for donating this collection to the museum to preserve this piece of Lethbridge history.

During my visit to the Galt Museum I was really present to the fact that we are standing on history. If the soil beneath us could speak – what would it say? I was impressed how Graham was able to thread between various exhibits and weave them into reality that gave me presence to this land. I have respect for what has taken place beneath my feet, and I felt complete. When I left the museum, I remember thinking to myself, “I feel whole. Lethbridge feels like home.”

Experiencing Traditional Indian Horse Relay Races

This day of the journey has been rich in history and now I would have the opportunity to see history come alive! The finale of the 50 Year Anniversary were “Indian Relay Races.” Now if you have no idea what these races are you are in the same place I was prior to attending – I had never heard of these types of races before. Being from Calgary, Alberta, home of the Calgary Stampede, I am very familiar with chuckwagon racing, but that’s the closest reference point I had to what was about to take place…

So imagine you’re at the chuck’s and in front of you is a horse racing track and several groups of horses. Now take away the horse’s saddles and the chuckwagons, and what you’re left with is a bare-back display of sheer grit!

Alright let me paint this picture for you – there are 5 teams of racers. 5 racers and 1 horse to a team. All decorated through pride. The loud horn sounds and they’re off! One rider from each team fires around the track as fast as possible, eating mud as they come around the corners. As they pass by their team the rider leaps into the air, disembarking the horse and jumps up onto another horse, in a mad dash to go for another lap. Fast as lighting, best way I could describe it. The emotions and power behind the facial expressions I saw held my gaze as I peered through my lens. I was energetically-engaged the whole time and it’s easy to miss (everything) if you’re not paying attention.

I would like to acknowledge and congratulate the Carlson family who traveled from Montana, US and entered two teams, Two Medicine Relay and Carlson Relay, into the event, with Carlson winning the championship relay! Each team was extremely impressive and I was in amazement at what I saw. I like to think that I see a fair bit of “athleticism” in my profession as an explorer, but this was at a completely different level. These were highly tuned athletes who blew everyone’s minds through their courageous and enthusiastic presentation of this coveted sport in Indigenous culture.

You’re With Good People at the Water Tower Grill

I’ll say it now – there’s no better way to end your evening in Lethbridge! After the races I went to the Water Tower Grill to wind down from a day spent in the past and take in the sunset – a great belated place to take photographs! This is where I met Lisa and Amelia who will be alongside with me for the rest of the journey. I could tell instantly it wouldn’t be boring. 🙂

In my journey to define Lethbridge spirit today I saw through one glimpse that cultural expression is so important; for people to have a sense of self-identity and cultural-identity. Standing in that, it’s about one thing – TOGETHERNESS.

Stay tuned for Part III where we dive into endless Summer fun in Lethbridge!

BELOW: Photo by Dax Justin in Lethbridge, AB.

Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.

Part I: The Spirit of Outdoor Adventure – #ExploreLethbridge

By ON ASSIGNMENT

6 min read

Welcome to Part I of my #ExploreLethbridge journey across the land and into the dramatic landforms and endless coulees of Lethbridge, Alberta. Trekking through a very different landscape, exploring the spirit of Lethbridge through adventure, culture, and finding ourselves among the discovery of a palpable “pulse” of this flourishing region in southern Alberta.

by Dax Justin

Warm through Summer, rich in culture, and caressing one steep valley into the Oldman River. Located on the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Lethbridge is a city notorious for agriculture and undeniable grit in the Western Prairies. Once a classic whisky-trading post, the city where I spent four years of my University life — is now a blooming cultural hub speaking loudly in color, adventure, and a palpable new “pulse” I’ve never felt here before.

Meet: Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

When I think of Lethbridge, Alberta I recall a whirlwind of endless memories. Driving from Calgary to Lethbridge and shaving off time by going the “Granum” way, living on the West Side, wearing Von Dutch hats while strutting through the endless halls of the University. Street Wheelers. The Water Tower. The old outdoor city pool that had like, no security… and Essie’s on Monday nights! I recall these memories because I spent my formidable years here learning about design and technology achieving my Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in the New Media program at the U of L. Of course, I thought I knew this place inside-out…then, when I was deployed on this assignment I immediately learned that I was wrong! Working in tandem with Tourism Lethbridge and ZenSeekers, I return to revisit a place I thought I knew in a three-part series focused on discovering the Spirit of Lethbridge. 

I spent four years in Lethbridge and I don’t think I rode a mountain bike once…that changes NOW! For the first part in the series I saddle up on an e-bike for the first time to explore the iconic valley and Six-Mile Coulee. What I expected was great views. What I didn’t expect was a day of athletic re-awakening! Racing through renegade bike trails, dust in your teeth, eyes-wide and knuckles white.

ABOVE: Tracey going through “The Muff”.

The True Lay of the Land

In southern Alberta, you’ll find the third-largest city in the province: Lethbridge. This place was once a whisky trading post. Picture an old Western movie. Wild intentions and raw grit. Now, Lethbridge is a luscious cultural hub, gaining an energetically-tangible momentum I’ve never felt here before. The city is divided by the Oldman River Valley, saddled into a chain of parks running south to north through the valley bottom. The landscape in this region is characterized by distinct formations called “coulees”. A coulee is a V-shaped valley, often incredibly steep and otherworldly-looking. They are created by glacial erosion or wind and water erosion. When it comes to Lethbridge specifically, this iconic valley has grown into one of the largest urban park systems in North America at 16 square kilometres of protected land. Indian Battle Park is situated under the High-Level Bridge and commemorates the defeat of a Cree war party by Kainai (Blood) and Piikani (Peigan) warriors in 1870. This is where my experience in Lethbridge begins as I re-traced these steps and trekked the valley by mountain bike.

Dust in Your teeth: Biking the Valley & Six-Mile Coulee

For the first part of my journey I teamed up with two local cyclists, Justin from Alpenland and Tracey from BikeBridge Cycling Association, to act as guides through our trek in the valley. We met up in the valley under the High Level Bridge, which is the longest and tallest of its type of construction in the world and was built in 1909. This is where my experience exploring the adventure inside Lethbridge really kicked off!

Before this assignment, my mountain biking skills were OK. Not the worst, but not world-class either. I do feel extremely comfortable on bikes and since I have never been on an e-bike before, this was the perfect opportunity and everything was going to plan.

ABOVE: Justin V. catching air in the “Playground” in Lethbridge, AB

Riding through the city we explored features along the trail such as “The Muff” and “Barley Brew” – two distinct areas you won’t want to miss when you come explore by bike. The Muff is a long and narrow tunnel-shaped area, completely enclosed by nature. With stairs alongside,, you can hike up the side of the trail then go through the tunnel as many times as you wish! Not far away, Barley Brew is a quick and steep dive down the edge of a hill, as pictured below. Justin and Tracey look like pro’s and when I went to the edge and looked down with all my camera equipment, I wasn’t going to risk it. My plan was to stay focused on the photo-shoot and not completely exert myself athletically or physically, as this was only day one of the journey.

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Wait, the word depletion is more accurate than exertion in this case… As we rode through the valley and through numerous features I got what I call throttled. Throttled as in totally depleted mentally and physically from lack of: nutrition, preparation, stability, the list could go on…riding along the edge of the coulee, I feel heavy and unstable. The Blackfoot referred to this area as Aksaysim (“steep banks”), and I learned harshly how incredibly accurate this interpretation is. Why was I so unstable on the bike?

Justin and Tracey ride ahead as they are well-versed (and extremely admirable, consistent, tuned, you name it) on their mountain bikes, riding into the sun like we were in a movie. Then comes the wave of being unsure. You know, when your inner dialogue really kicks in and you start questioning everything. As they rode ahead I pedalled slowly, wiping the sweat from my brow as I entered my mind, wobbly and trying to maintain composure on this ride. Is my photo backpack too heavy? Did I drink enough water? Do I even have enough water? How hot is it outside? Is my seat too high? Did I have enough electrolytes? Do I have a sustainable source of energy to eat? I have an electric freaking bike, why am I so depleted? That’s the world I was in until we stopped for a break. I was starting to feel very “off” and it was becoming noticeable. I stop smiling as much when something is wrong and I’m not running around all-electric anymore. Although I did have some nutrition and water with me, it was gone at the start and when Justin and Tracey saw I was not-myself, they offered water and energetically-focused nutrition faster than I could ask for it. Why? Because they are badass and come prepared for a hardcore adventure. I sit down, being sure to avoid the nearby cactus then it hits me – I’ve discovered it! THERE IS THE SPIRIT OF OUTDOOR ADVENTURE. It was within Justin and Tracey and it shined on my whole existence in that very moment when I felt as though I was ready to throw in the towel. Almost called a helicopter to take me out of there, you know? Haha! Instead, I felt their spirit then and there. Like a punch of jet fuel. They have my back and I have theirs. This is now, dare I say – raw adventure. A rattlesnake goes by as I replenish nutrients and experience these thoughts and feelings…

I now feel grounded again. Back to reality. My focus turns to my muscles, my breath, the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation within. Keep the mind and body steady, Dax – the day isn’t over!

We then rode over to the far south end of Lethbridge where you’ll find Six-Mile Coulee, a six-mile long coulee filled with distinct features and playgrounds for mountain bikers. We rode into a feature called “The Playground” – the perfect place to photograph mountain bikers getting stoke in an unrealistic terrain! As if I spent four years at University here and had no clue this intense topographic playground for bikes even existed.

Nature at Your Back: Exploring the Helen Schuler Nature Centre

As you’re biking through the valley you’ll enter the Lethbridge Nature Reserve, located just north of Indian Battle Park. and it’s the location of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. The Nature Centre has been offering environmental education programming since 1982 and I came back to experience the sights and sounds of nature in Lethbridge. This is the ideal spot for exercise enthusiasts and photographers, or those looking to explore nature in the city. Bikes are not allowed in the park, as it is a protected area home to a unique ecosystem and diverse wildlife, and this is one of only a few places in the world where three species of Cottonwood trees are found. You can fully embrace the sights and sounds under the bridge.

I’ve spent time here on two other assignments and to be honest – there is something new to experience every time. Apart from offering nature-based exhibits, art, interactive and fun outdoor programs, this team includes volunteers, staff, and community partners that are dedicated to connecting people to the great outdoors. I’m a stand for the people behind this work! When you visit you can explore numerous self guided walking trails which highlight the unique features of the park, or you can attend one of the regular programs with a volunteer guide.

The first day was significantly mind-blowing and challenging, and I felt a tangible and addictive “pulse” of adventure as we explored the coulees. This day couldn’t have been embraced with anything but an adventure mindset, as we rode 30km through an intricate array of trails and features including the famed Six-Mile Coulee, all accessible for mountain biking, hiking and trail running.

Stay tuned for Part II of my trek where I explore the Indigenous culture and spirit of this region.

BELOW: Looking to the mountainous landscapes south of Lethbridge towards Waterton, AB.

Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.

Life in the inter-tidal zone, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia, Canada

Water is the Elixir of Life

By EXPEDITION

8 min read

Kayaking in a magical marine ecosystem and becoming one with a community of paddlers, I embark on my second sea kayaking expedition with TRAK Kayaks paddling the only National Park on Vancouver Island, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia.

by Dax Justin

Meet the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve — a place of sacred solitude along the rugged west coast of British Columbia. The moment you enter this place you’re struck with an onrush of scenery that leaves you feeling electrically charged.

e·lix·ir
/əˈliksər/

noun
1. magical or medicinal potion.
“an elixir guaranteed to induce love”

Water is such an important part of the human experience.

The entire province of British Columbia holds a sentimental value in my heart. Defined by its rustic Pacific coastline and mountain ranges, I spent all year counting down to the moments of our family vacations in Summer to B.C. I’ve LOVED everything about this place for as long as I can remember. In my first five years as a photographer I’ve had a handful of incredible experiences across several regions in B.C., discovering the various mountainous and coastal identities of the province. 

ABOVE: Setting off from Horseshoe Bay on the ferry, crossing the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo, marking the start of our journey.

This planet does not belong to us; we belong to her.

ABOVE: You’ll meet trees as large as life while you explore the nearby trails.

Welcome to Basecamp.

Exploring the surrounding coastal region of Wya Point in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, B.C., Canada

ABOVE: Our yurt accommodations at Wya Point sat nested within a coastal old growth spruce forest, meeting a rustic coastline.

After settling into basecamp I went out to stand on a large distinct rock where the water meets the sand. As I stood atop the rock, eyes closed, I was misted by the ocean spray as a wave of emotion flooded my stance, I BELONG HERE, said my inner dialogue. That was the first time in this holy atmosphere I paused for a moment in reverence.

ABOVE: Exploring the intertidal zone of this near-shore ecosystem.

We live on land; but we came from water. I’ve had this reality in mind since going on my first sea kayaking expedition in May of 2018. On that journey I learned that through kayaking you can harness a profound connection to water – a connection often misunderstood or under-explored. Is water some kind of magical elixir or potion for human beings?

ABOVE: TRAK ‘Pilot” Paige Olson, riding waves at Long Beach.

WATER IS SUCH AN ESSENTIAL PART THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE, AND BEING IN A KAYAK IS AN INTIMATE EXCHANGE WITH NATURE.

Enter the TRAK 2.0 Kayak

Imagine you’re in a skin-on-frame portable kayak in a remote location, you’re distancing yourself from the shore as the incoming tide raises you vertically – this is the will of the ocean. Situated in the cockpit of your TRAK 2.0 kayak, always keeping your paddle in the water, you feel wholeheartedly taken by the energetic forces of the water. You can feel them through the boat, harnessing an ultimately spiritual connection with the water. Your paddle blade grabs the water as you thrust yourself forward, rhythmic and harmonious with the tides of the sea. I mean, how else can I describe it? Actually, my fellow expedition participant Francine said it pretty well:

“This boat is like no other, it’s like it’s alive.”

— Francine Petit

Humanizing

We had 16 people on this expedition, and over five days of on-land and on-water training participants are coached by our very own TRAK Pilots. TRAK Pilots are the most enthusiastic group of people you’ll meet – these are the brand ambassadors for TRAK. They will likely be your first point of contact when you want to jump in a boat on a TRAK Discovery Day. The TRAK Pilots are experienced and certified paddlers and are specifically selected for the area and region to come educate camp participants in tandem with our expedition Guide.

I witnessed a profound change within the camp participants and saw the fear in their facial expressions turn to bravery and grit. The paddling aptitude of the participants grew rapidly and as they learned and began executing dream-like paddling strokes their fears turned into confidence and I FELT it in their faces through my camera’s zoom lens. The paddling aptitude of the participants grew rapidly and at this stage I can say I was in each and every boat alongside those people facing adversity. We all found a deep connection to water – everyone transformed.

Participants from the TRAK Kayaks Pacific Rim Skills Camp 2019

ABOVE: Participants from the TRAK Pacific Rim Kayaking Skills Camp 2019

Through my lens, I witnessed paddlers from all skill levels take on the unforgiving waves of the west coast growing in unforseeable feats of human accomplishment. Every participant accepted the challenge with alacrity.

This year I wanted to visit coastal communities and marine life that inhabits the wild Pacific coast of B.C., Canada. I began exploring the nearby areas and found myself instantly mesmerized by the vibrancy of marine life in the inter-tidal zones. This rich aquatic environment provided a home multitude of sea creatures and life.

ABOVE: We found one single red urchin among a community of purple urchins in the intertidal zone.

“When you love something, you protect it. My position and responsibility is to explore, illuminate and activate. The care for our oceans must occur as a global movement.”

Safeguarding the Seas

As a kayaker, you truly feel like you’re part of the ecosystem. We are interconnected with the living water and we depend on it – all life does. The Earth’s surface is made up of 71% water and basically as humans, so are we. My insatiable desire to explore this connection between people and water shouldn’t seem that crazy, right? Oceans provide food for billions of people on the planet, and they support 100% of life on Earth.

ABOVE: We weren’t alone! The region provides rich coastal nutrition for nearby wildlife including wolves like the Vancouver Island wolf (Canis lupus crassodon) is a subspecies of grey wolf, endemic to Vancouver Island.

By protecting delicate marine ecosystems we are also standing for the future of the oceans spellbinding inhabitants. No matter where you are in the world, the well-being and homeostasis of the ocean is reflective of our very survival as a species.

“Oceans host more than 80% of species on the planet, and they produce more than half of the world’s oxygen. Showing perspective through photography can captivate minds of all ages and help demonstrate why we need to unite against the preventable tragedy of ocean plastic and marine debris.”

ABOVE: Meet the Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica)

For every second breath…

Since oceans cover two-thirds of our planet, 50% of the oxygen on Earth is produced by our oceans – which means that EVERY SECOND BREATH we take depends on the health and well-being of this sacred water. Water is the elixir of life and it all comes down to the protection of our marine ecosystems. On the surface, a great way to start acting is to side with SeaLegacy. Founded by National Geographic Photographers, Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier, they’re on a mission to create healthy and abundant oceans, for us and for the planet. Join The Tide, a passionate community invested in the health and sustainability of our oceans, or consider a donation to create a world where our oceans are full of life.

Fact:

Canadians produce 3 MILLION TONNES of plastic each year; and then we recycle only 9% of it.

Nine percent. Are you kidding!? We need to drive this number to 90 percent. Literally. We also have the power and capacity to do it. There is no “one solution” that will get us to zero plastic waste – it will take ten thousand changes, small and large, to help us get on this path. Here’s how you can take immediate action to reduce your plastic footprint: All you have to do is visit the website 10000changes.ca, follow the “Make a Change” button, and make a commitment to changing the way you live with plastics. As an Ambassador of this program, I have made a commitment to a lifestyle free of plastic bags and refusing plastic straws. Canadian Geographic and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in partnership with the Recycling Council of Ontario and Environment & Climate Change Canada have joined forces to re-imagine the recycling revolution with the new program 10,000 Changes.

Canadian Geographic and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in partnership with the Recycling Council of Ontario and Environment & Climate Change Canada have joined forces to re-imagine the recycling revolution with the new program 10,000 Changes.

I believe that it’s (extremely) important that we protect our planet and serve as environmental stewards for future generations.

ABOVE:  Exploring the intertidal pools at Wya Point, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, B.C.

The Conquest of the ‘Blue Mind’

I’m not crazy when I say there are energetic forces in the water. Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, and author who works to inspire a deeper connection with nature. He took notice of these profound properties of water and founded the notion of the Blue Mind. I need you to discover this power. “Using our oceans as the prime example of how insignificant humans can feel while also being unmistakingly connected to the spirit of nature, Nichols urges us to embrace our natural surroundings in order to live robust and full lives.” Learn more and watch his TEDx Talk – Exploring the Blue Mind.

There’s something to say about knowing how to harness the energetic forces of water. It wasn’t just the growing capabilities of the paddlers, it was a force found in a deeper context of spiritual energy between the electrons in your body and the ions in the water. What does this all mean? You’re capable of unreasonable human achievement, when you’re in and around water.

There’s no better time to be brave.

BELOW: As the expedition came to an end, we were graced with a stunning evening in Parksville, British Columbia.

Dax Justin is a Canadian explorer and adventure photographer, currently based in Calgary, AB. His photos and stories are focused on connecting humans back to nature. His work is concerned with ocean health, Indigenous rights and distinctiveness, and our environment, covering stories such as eco-tourism in the Great Bear Rainforest, the human impact of marine debris, and trekking with Polar Bears on the Hudson Bay tundra. Dax is a newly-elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (FRCGS), Contributor to Canadian Geographic, a National Geographic Certified Educator, TEDx speaker and creator of the the ‘Explore in School‘ (EiS) initiative. You can explore more of his images and adventures on instagram.com/daxjustin or facebook.com/daxjustin.

The Rise of the Mobile Creator

By PHOTOGRAPHY No Comments

Today, we’re all part of an incredible global movement:

?  ‘The Rise of the Mobile Creator’

The moments of our lives are happening right in front of us and you may already have hundreds (or thousands) of photos on your smartphone. YOU are the mobile creator.

_

Question: How many photos do you currently have on your smartphone?

Earlier this season I was presenting my Smartphone Pro Mobile-Photo Workshop to a group of people in Calgary, Alberta and I ran a poll asking them how many photos they had on their phones. My poll went up to 3,000 photos because as a photographer I have around 3,000 photos and didn’t expect people who weren’t photographers to have that many. THE MOST COMMON ANSWER WAS 5,000+ and this proved to me instantly that the ‘Rise of the Mobile Creator’ is happening faster than we realize. These are the moments of our lives and this I value very highly.

For the first time in history, the lines are being blurred between Digital SLR Cameras and Mobile Phones. 

Today our smartphones are now readily-equipped with camera functions that enable us to capture professional photos as if you were using an expensive camera setup. Your smartphone is your new professional camera.

The best camera is the one you ALWAYS have with you and that camera is now our phones.

Your phone will be with you mostly all the time, your other camera’s won’t. It makes sense to know how to properly capture and express the vitality and essence of a moment while you’re in it.

Reduce your photographic workflow.

Since I began shooting on a smartphone more seriously, I’ve been able to reduce the tedious photo workflow between his cameras, laptop and hard drives. I can just SHOOT – EDIT – SHARE with my fingertips right from in the field. This has allowed me to spend more time capturing + sharing the vitality of the moment while it’s happening. Game-changer.

Why take the best photos possible on a mobile phone?

Accessibility: You will almost always have your phone on you and knowing how to properly capture that fleeting moment can be the difference between a blurry photo and an award-winning photo.

Technique: Maybe you LOVE photos, and even have a Digital SLR Camera – but don’t exactly know how to use it. In the workshop you’ll learn basic photography fundamentals and will gain confidence through shooting on something you’re already familiar with: your phone.

Barrier to Entry: Maybe you have a smartphone and don’t feel like spending another $5,000 or $8,000 for a legit camera setup.

Or maybe this: You want to take amazing photos on your next trip or vacation. You want to become more serious about photography. You’ve taken photos on your phone but they didn’t turn out how they expected. You want to take the best photos of your child when they’re born, or graduating, or getting married, or anything. Your maybe your moments just mean something more to you, like they do for me.

 “Your photos deserve more than a ‘filter’ or ‘preset’.” — Dax Justin

Why did we all started using ‘filters’ or applying ‘presets’ — is it because we all want our pictures to look better?

OF COURSE IT IS! These days we all want to share the best photos we possibly can. But why filters? Because they’re easy. You don’t need to think, you just tap a button and all of a sudden you have a photo with a generic set of values applied to it. Can we stop this? Lighting in your photo is NEVER the same, so why would you want to edit every photo the same way?

Instead, learn how to shoot and edit your smartphone photos like a pro photographer!

Over the last few months I have been creating an online workshop that will take your mobile photography skills to the next level…

Today, I’m proud to introduce:

The Smartphone Pro Mobile-Photo Workshop

An online course that gives you the tools and teaches you step-by-step how to capture, edit and produce professional-level photos from your smartphone with your fingertips, all while in the field or on the go. Regardless of what phone you take photos right now, you are capable of capturing and producing professional-level photographs directly from your smartphone. This is an empowering photography course for anyone!

You’ll learn how to shoot jaw-dropping photos from your smartphone and will show you how to bring the life and vitality out of your photos from wherever you are, regardless of what device you’re shooting on.

I can’t wait to have you in the workshop, you future mobile-creator, you! ? 

Dax

As always, drop me a line and follow my adventures on:
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The State of Life on Haida Gwaii

By ON ASSIGNMENT No Comments

“Water bottle! Plastic bag! Bottle cap! Fishing net! Shotgun shell! Rubber tire!”

 

We walk across the sandy beach, eyes down, sweat beading, shouting out each piece of trash we find.

I’m in Haida Gwaii, B.C. with 40 youth aged 18 to 30. They’ve come from all across Canada for a 10-day expedition, part of the year-long Ocean Bridge program, which aims to equip young people with the knowledge and confidence to become advocates for ocean health in their communities. I’m here to photo-document the experience for Canadian Geographic. The next 10 days turn out to be a hands-on, eyes-wide awakening to the problem of plastic debris in the ocean, not just for the youth, but for me. This is the story of why Haida Gwaii has been etched into me forever.

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The Location: Haida Gwaii, B.C.

Most people I tell this story to have never heard of Haida Gwaii, and they often think I mean Hawaii! Once known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is made up of 150 rocky islands off British Columbia’s coast. This is Haida Nation territory, home to lush old-growth rainforests and dramatic landscapes surrounded by the crashing waves of the ocean. Stretching along the Pacific coast, this archipelago includes Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, which are protected by Parks Canada. Every one of your senses is heightened as you trek through the islands. Everything has a story. You’ll find hidden passages and ancient Haida totem poles, sunken shipwrecks and mysterious stick-men hanging from trees.

To explore this place is to discover an indescribable mythical ambience…it comes from the land, the people, the collective pride in their history. It’s beautiful. People have tears in their eyes when they speak of this place. Everything has meaning. Everyone waves at each other 100 per cent of the time. No words are said without intention. Haida Gwaii has the most love in the world and it’s contagious.

No ordinary expedition

Ocean Bridge is about something that impacts each and every one of us: the health of our oceans. When Canadian Geographic told me I was to plant myself on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii and photograph an ocean youth initiative, I had no idea what to expect. I was amazed to meet 40 driven leaders looking to make a positive difference. These young people are determined. I saw fire in their eyes. The second I spoke to any of them, they immediately lit up and began talking about what they were working on and why. Observing their team dynamic, I couldn’t help but feel proud and inspired.

For me, the most memorable day of the expedition was the day of the shoreline cleanup on North Beach, behind Hiellen Longhouse Village, our basecamp for the expedition. I arrived on the shore that day to find the youth spread out down the beach as far as the eye could see. I joined them in picking up trash, and took photos of them lugging tires, garbage bags, and fishing rope. By the time we reached our garbage drop zone my own backpacks were full of plastic containers and labels from around the world. Everyone carried as much as they possibly could, without complaint. The younger people took on the heaviest loads and it was inspiring to see such action. Once we weighed the full load of trash we learned we had removed more than 1,000 kilograms of ocean debris from the shore in one day! The local BC Parks Rangers said they had never seen the beach that clean, and local residents were amazed and concerned to see how much waste had accumulated on the shore — most of it from places far away from Haida Gwaii. We made an impact.

The Haida

Haida means “people.” The Haida have inhabited this region for 13,000 years and these islands have always been the heart of their nation. The ocean is in their DNA and they have navigated the waters and lived off the sea’s bounty since the beginning. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this is a very close community and your intentions must be positive if you are to communicate with and relate to the Haida people. Meaningful conversations and dialogue lead to deeper relations. 

As I waited to board my flight from Vancouver to Sandspit, I posted a short Instagram Story of an impressive display of Haida totem poles and boxes in the Vancouver Airport. By an amazing coincidence, at five the next morning I found myself having coffee with the carver himself, Reg Davidson, pictured below in his workshop. Reg is an internationally acclaimed Haida artist, carver, and Elder who had a great impact on me during our conversations. Reg wakes up at 3 a.m. and you can usually find him in the wee morning hours working on a traditional mask or smoking salmon in his smokehouse. I sat across from Reg, surrounded by Haida carvings and artifacts, as he told me about how traditions are weaved into the Haida culture. Sacred learnings are passed down through the generations by the Elders. The Haida history, language, dance, art, and how to fish are all elements of the Haida culture. Developing a symbiotic relationship with the ocean means life for the Haida people. Forming this sacred relationship and relying on the ocean requires you to respect the ocean. Hearing this, I awakened to the fact that we all rely on the ocean.

Oliver

Oliver was the first person I met from the Haida Nation. He was our link to the local community. Oliver is an artist, carver, family man and fisherman. He learned how to fish when he was only four years old and trained on his uncle’s boat until he turned 18 and became a deckhand. It wasn’t long before Oliver acquired his own fishing licences and vessel, and took to the waters as a commercial fisherman. These days, he takes visitors on chartered fishing tours. Oliver told me the secret to how he attracts the fish which he provides to his family and community. It is believed in Haida culture that certain fish can be lured to the boat using specific language and vocal calls, passed down by Haida Elders. Most of the words used would be those of taunting and mockery, making the fish angry and therefore vulnerable. I asked Oliver what the ocean means to him. “200 years ago these beaches were covered in canoes and kayaks,” he said. “The Haida are an ocean people. Our ancestors used to read the clouds — the greys and blacks, the puffiness of the clouds, would all be signals to read the sea. The water is everything to us.”

Meet: Danika Lalonde

During the expedition I had an opportunity to speak in depth with one of the Ocean Bridge program youth members, Danika Lalonde, about her 10-day experience here in Haida Gwaii.

Dax: Hi Danika! Tell me, why did you want to be part of this expedition?

Danika: I’m a student in the Health Sciences Program at the University of Ottawa and I have a very strong health perspective on the environment. I believe that human health directly impacts the environment and I’m studying how marine pollution fits into the health of our lives. This experience is a chance for all of us to come together and make a strong impact on the local community.

Dax: What have you been doing while you’ve been here?

Danika: I’ve loved learning about ocean health, spending time near the water and meeting new people. So far we’ve been doing a lot of service work and beach cleanups. We’ve been helping the environment and as a group we’ve been dedicated to helping each other. The locals have been so welcoming and it has been amazing to learn about the Haida culture and how the ocean impacts every point of their lives.

Dax: Have you had any “awakenings” or “fundamental shifts in thought” while you’ve been here?

Danika: Yes, we were at Lepas Bay doing a shoreline cleanup and although it felt rewarding it was also devastating. This is the moment we first saw piles of plastic on the beach. This is a place where the tide pushes debris onto the island. We only had an hour at this place and on our way back to the longhouse we all felt defeated because there was so much we could do with more time.

Dax: What will you feel upon departing from Haida Gwaii and what will you take away from this expedition moving forward?

I’m very excited to share the story of this experience with my local region and I’m leaving here inspired. I’m also somewhat upset because now that I’ve seen the debris I know there’s so much service and clean up we could do. I also want to share my story with people younger than I am. I believe that if we impact the young the youth will inspire those even younger.

Dax: What is one message you want to share with the youth and people who are interested in being a part of this program?

Danika: Apply in great detail to the Ocean Bridge Program and for those didn’t get selected this year – definitely keep applying! You’ll love being here with no cell service and no wi-fi, and you’ll be able to spend time with like-minded people from around the country.

Dax: What is the simplest thing you can do to start making a change?

Danika: Just reduce plastics in-all. Especially single-use plastics such as straws. Reduce the amount of water usage. Leave no trace. The little things do add up! I also invite people to connect with me on my Instagram account AquaClean (@aquaclean1) which I have created to take action and create youth initiatives to help improve the health of the ocean.

Wave of impact

I’ve been impressed beyond belief by the 40 young leaders from across our country and the team at Ocean Wise. Apart from removing 1,000+ kilograms of marine debris from North Beach, the unspoken impact of this program is the one hidden between the threads. This expedition was ultimately about building an everlasting relationship with the environment and each other. From this experience, I have no doubt that these 40 young leaders will go back to their local regions to foster what we’ve all learned. My heart beams for the Haida people and being able to document the Ocean Bridge Expedition and spend time in this remote sanctuary has forever impacted my view of ocean life. This will shape my work moving forward towards environmental awareness and conservation.

I’m proud to say we positively impacted the state of life on Haida Gwaii. Haw’aa!

** BONUS ROUND: Not on the itinerary! **

This was not part of the plan! Throughout the last 10 days I have become very close with the Haida people and feel uniquely connected to this place, in a very serious and committed way. I had this idea of leaving here with something I’ll have with me forever…a tattoo. Early in the expedition this idea was not realistic – and nobody gets a tattoo while on assignment. There is never time. I remember looking into Barb Wilson’s eyes and seeing tears of time as she spoke about the Haida connection to the Ocean and the land. The people who visit here become a piece of this place and this was something I could not ignore. The feeling of connection is very tangible here and Haida Gwaii feels like an untouched piece of Earth. You can see and feel it. In my time here I have become a part of this soil, and as the days went on the thought of getting a tattoo stood strong. I even approached Barb Wilson and one other Haida Elder for a blessing of intention before approaching the Haida tattoo artist. Our final day in Haida Gwaii was dedicated to mostly travel but I was able to find a sliver of time in the morning prior to boarding our ferry. Could this be the moment? The tattoo artist’s name I found was Gregory Williams, or as his friends call him, “Gig.” He is the Owner and Tattoo Artist at Haida Ink. When I met Gig we hit it off immediately! We had many similar alignments in personality and experiences almost instantly after meeting one another. In the short time I visited the shop I was able to commission a custom Haida Bear piece from Gig, and it was perfect. I’m absolutely honored! I only had one hour left before I needed to board the ferry as the sacred Haida ink pierced my skin. “No worries man we’ll get as much done as we can and I’ll give you a ride to the ferry” said Gig, offering to lend his speed to make sure I made it to the ferry on time. Which I did! But, barely. Many members of the Haida culture will pursue one or more forms of art, whether that be carving, painting, sculpting, but not many pursue the art of tattooing. As it turns out, Gig is the first Haida tattoo artist in 150+ years!

 

Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia | Go Haida Gwaii

Learn more about the Ocean Bridge program by Ocean Wise.

Listen to the My Ocean podcast to hear stories from true ocean champions.

 

Connect with Canadian Geographic:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/cangeo
Twitter: www.twitter.com/cangeo
Instagram: www.instagram.com/cangeo
Online: www.canadiangeographic.ca

Dax

As always, drop me a line and follow my adventures on:
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Dax Justin X TRAK Kayaks

By ANNOUNCEMENT One Comment

I’m excited to proudly announce that I’m now a TRAK Kayaks Sponsored Paddler! “But hey Dax, you got no mad-kayaking skills.” Well this isn’t a normal ambassadorship because TRAK is taking me from Beginner to ‘Pro’!

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I first became fascinated with kayaking about 3 years ago and had no idea where it would – or could lead. I picked up a standard hard-shell sea kayak, mounted it on my roof and began exploring lakes in Alberta and British Columbia. I was heavily inspired by the photographic work and sea kayaking adventures of Tomasz Furmanek, an adventure photographer in Western Norway who has photos that will drop your jaw. See them on his Instagram here →

After I began exploring these places by kayak I fell in love. There was something different about exploration by water, especially in a kayak: You’re CONNECTED. You are one with the water and you become part of the kayak. There’s a symbiotic energy here that felt so zen to me; as if I belonged in the water. That I felt instantly.

It turns out I ran into a few immediate issues… First of all I wasn’t that good in a kayak. I didn’t know any proper kayaking technique or types of paddle strokes, and my confidence level wasn’t all that high. And how the hell was I going to store a huge sea kayak when I wasn’t using it? I knew I’d require something that could store into smaller places.

Then I got in touch with TRAK Kayaks.

I found a local, Alberta-based company who makes a “collapsible” kayak that stores into a portable bag, that wasn’t a “blow up” boat. Thank you, Universe! At the time, there was only one other kayak on the market that could “fold up” into smaller locations, but I had not found something as tough as the military-grade canvas skin on the TRAK Kayak. I reached out to TRAK and told them my story, and it wasn’t long before we began what would be a long-term relationship that has now become official. Does it come in black? 🙂 Since then my friends at TRAK are still blowing my mind on their recent developments in creating the ultimate touring kayak. It’s the first and only one of it’s kind – and they’ve now successfully crowdfunded the TRAK 2.0: The ULTIMATE Touring Kayak across Kickstarter & Indiegogo. (and yes, it comes in black!)

The Back-Story: I have a slight(ish) fear of capsizing.

I made a huge mistake one day in 2016 and I capsized my kayak in glacial-cold water in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. There was still snow on the ground and ice surrounded the surface of the water. It was my first time in a kayak that season and I was super excited to get into the water! I got into my kayak and tried to nudge myself through the snow to “glide” into the water. GLIDE, DAX!? I slid through the snow into the water and immediately bailed to my left, tipping the kayak completely over! TYPICAL: I put myself into an immediate state of panic. I had my Canon DSLR camera around my neck and phone with me, which both went for a swim (and were compromised) as I tried to pull myself up onto a thick sheet of ice. When you tip into the water with full gear and Winter boots you end up weighing yourself down – you feel 100 times heavier and your body is panicking because the water is literally freezing. Luckly a good friend of mine was at the same location on a photo shoot, so he made me a trusty cup of coffee from the back of his Jeep and I began to warm up, and did have the proper dry gear for back-up. Though my camera equipment was no longer usable, I still had my GoPro’s, and didn’t yet have the shot I was looking for… I warmed up, strapped on the GoPro’s and went back into the water and got the shot. Our past mistakes are meant to guide us, not define us. That being said, I still have a healthy fear of “going under” and I need to get out of my comfort zone to get past this…

The Training.

Phase One of my kayak skill training began in February of this year, as I began to learn kayaking techniques in the tank at SAIT in Calgary. In both February and March I learned the fundamentals of paddling and the various strokes. But there’s only so much I can learn in a pool. Through April and May I’ve been taking my skills and applying them in Ghost Lake, about 45 minutes from Calgary. Without the help of the internal TRAK Team, TRAK Pilots and my Lead Instructor/Coach, Keith Braun, I wouldn’t be able to learn at such an accelerated rate. Phase One is now complete and on Wednesday, May 22 I head out to Tofino, British Columbia to the TRAK Surf Skills Progression Camp to kick off Phase Two of my kayak training.

TRAK Surf Skills Camp: Tofino, British Columbia

One thing I couldn’t be more excited about is that I’ll be participating in a TRAK Progression Camp to advance my skills in the ocean! I will be heading out with a few members of the TRAK Team to beautiful Tofino, BC, Canada for a blend of sea kayak surf skills development, hands on risk management, teaching and coaching this May 17th-21st, 2018.

Photo by Jaime Sharp

“Couched in a base camp setting in the west coast forest, this TRAK Tour is designed to help you upgrade your surf kayaking skills (no matter what your skill level is now) in one of the world’s best locations for surf and waves. Your facilitators include life long paddlers with extensive knowledge of the industry, kayak skills, vessel design, education and risk management.”

At this point, I’ve never kayaked in the ocean and this will be my first time in Tofino as well! About the Surf Skills Camp →

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I can’t wait to paddle the ocean waves this May in Tofino! ? While I’m there I’ll be paddling the TRAK 2.0 ULTIMATE Touring Kayak. Meet the TRAK 2.0 →

About TRAK Kayaks: TRAK Kayaks has been making revolutionary portable, performance kayaks since 2006. These 16ft touring kayaks have gained a reputation as the kayaker’s portable kayak. Created and designed at its head office in Canada and manufactured at a world renowned outdoor gear facility in the Philippines, TRAK Kayaks are sold in more than 30 countries and paddled on oceans, lakes and rivers the world over. In 2017, TRAK launched its cutting-edge TRAK 2.0, Ultimate Touring Kayak through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Made of military-grade polyurethane and a rugged carbon fibre and aluminum frame, TRAKs are virtually indestructible, fast and (thanks to an adjustable hull), suitable for any water and any level of paddler. With its state of the art travel bag system and newest lightweight components, they can go anywhere. For more information visit www.trakkayaks.com.

 

 

 

Connect with the TRAK Team Directly or on Social Media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/trakkayaks
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trakkayaks
Instagram: www.instagram.com/trakkayaks

Toll Free: +1 403.723.0077

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Dax

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Meeting a WARRIOR: Dr. David Suzuki

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This year I was asked to be one of three Keynote Speakers at the Prairie University Biology Symposium at the University of Calgary and this is what lead me to meet a warrior.

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As one of the most powerful voices for nature and conservation on the planet, being able to spend time with David and talk about human impact on Earth was a perspective-bending experience. He is our environment’s wisdom-warrior.

Photographed by: Dax Justin. Equipment: Samsung Canada Galaxy Note8, Moment smartphone lenses.

Dr. David Suzuki is a passionate elder of grit & heart beyond anything I imagined…

Dax

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