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ON ASSIGNMENT

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.

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.

 

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Dax

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#Route97: Wells Gray Provincial Park, B.C.

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On Assignment for #Route97 chasing waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia

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It was a classic British Columbia day with the morning fog hanging in the air, creating a magical atmosphere and making the colours of autumn seem more vibrant. Moments later the sun would peak through. That’s the thing I love about B.C.’s weather, it’s always full of surprises, and you just have to learn to roll with the whims of Mother Nature. It felt like the perfect kind of day for chasing waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park in the Clearwater Valley of east-central B.C.

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Behind the Lens with Dax Justin in Wells Gray Provincial Park B.C. →

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Dax

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#Route97: Okanagan Valley, B.C.

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On Assignment for #Route97 soaring above the land of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia

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Someone, take my pulse, I thought as we flew over the Okanagan on a gorgeous fall day. My adrenaline was pumping while we were getting treated to an awesome aerial perspective flying on a helicopter – without doors – over Mission Hill winery. The experience allowed me to take some gorgeous photos during the 20-minute flight with Valhalla Helicopters. I was having my James Bond moment in this door-less helicopter, dangling my legs in the air – except there were no bad guys chasing us. There were only good vibes coming from the scenery a few thousand feet below and photographing from way up here was pure joy.

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Behind the Lens with Dax Justin in the Okanagan, B.C. →

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Dax

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#Route97: Kettle Valley Trail, B.C.

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On Assignment for #Route97 biking the Kettle Valley Trail in British Columbia

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The drive up to Myra Canyon, just 30 minutes outside of Kelowna B.C., was a bumpy one, so my expectations for our bike ride were that it might get a bit gnarly. But I was in for a nice surprise on this clear September day, with the changing colours of autumn all around us. Be Curious. Discover the Kettle Valley Trail. We were taking the Trestles and Tunnels tour along the Kettle Valley Railway with Ed Kruger from Monashee Adventure Tours . Ed’s a pioneer and ambassador in this region and you can tell he loves his job. He’s one of those people whose taken his passion for everything outdoors – from cycling to snowshoeing – and turned it into a full-time job, which lets him share his backyard with people who want to explore the beauty of the Okanagan.

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Behind the Lens with Dax Justin along the Kettle Valley Trail, B.C. →

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Dax

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#Route97: Gold Country, B.C.

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On Assignment for #Route97 exploring in Gold Country, British Columbia

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Driving into Cache Creek in the early morning light, I could see why they call this region Gold Country. Especially in autumn, when the hills are turning that burnished shade of yellow. I instantly felt I was worlds away from the city, yet I was only 350 kms north of Vancouver. As I would discover over the next couple of days, this is a place of beautiful and varied landscapes – desert-like, with rolling hills of ranchlands and grasslands.

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Behind the Lens with Dax Justin in Gold Country, B.C. →

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Dax

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SkiBC: Radium Hot Springs

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Nothing beats a ski and soak at Radium Hot Springs

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I was pumped to head to the Purcell Mountains in southeastern B.C. It would be a fitting end to my ski B.C. ski tour. The last time I was in the area, I was way up in the sky paragliding from the summit of Panorama Mountain. I remember the rolling cliffs and spectacular views of the Rockies. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get back here, but this time with something much more down to earth and relaxing.

Read the full story: http://bit.ly/2ljZFKG

Panorama will always have a sweet spot in my heart

I have a cool connection to this place because Panorama Mountain is where I learned how to carve on my snowboard. A decade ago, I’d been snowboarding for a season and hadn’t perfected the infamous ‘carve’ yet and instead spent time catching both of my edges, and crashing. Then I went to Panorama for a weekend and on the last day of my trip I carved like the wind. I will never forget it. So, revisiting this mountain on a board again was like being back in that moment 10 years ago. But this time I also I had someone with me to make my trip memorable in a different way. His name is Karl, and I’d like you to meet him. Read more: http://bit.ly/2ljZFKG


Meet Karl

When I arrived at Panorama Mountain I met with a long-time local legend, Karl Fahrni. Karl arrived here in 1974 from Australia via Switzerland and missed the Alps. That’s when he discovered the Radium area and has never left. Karl loves hang-gliding and being on the mountain. In summer, you’ll find him hiking or fishing in the backcountry lakes. “You have to have a connection and love mother nature to live out here. It is very special.”

Karl and his daughter Karen skied with me for the day and I learned just how much this place means to them. Karen was born and raised in the Radium area, but went to school in Calgary then travelled the world for a year. Then she returned to her hometown. “I keep getting drawn back here, I love being with my dad in the outdoors. He … taught me the essence of hard work. I have no regrets.” Read more: http://bit.ly/2ljZFKG


Soak it all in while surrounded by winter’s icy beauty

An overwhelming sense of relaxation surrounded me as I entered the Radium Hot Springs. The pools are a comfy 39 C, and people speak in hushed tones knowing this is where we all come to chill out. But as a landscape photographer, I was struck by beauty of the ice and snow encrusting the trees, creating magical ice sculptures surrounding the hot springs. Read more: http://bit.ly/2ljZFKG

 

Meet a “headbanger”

After leaving the hot pools, I was wondering if I was going to get chance to meet the local wildlife, the big horn sheep, known as ‘headbangers. Karl told me stories of these curious yet protective creatures, known very well to the locals. They get the name for their fall mating ritual, in which they literally butt heads to see which will win the mate of their choice. They roam the hills – and even the streets – making themselves one of the highlights of visiting this area. As if they knew I wanted to photograph them, they appeared on the side of hill, off the main highway. I pulled into a rest area, jumped out of the car with my camera and began shooting. I had their attention now, and these not-so-shy creatures seemed to love modelling for me.

I can honestly say I found physical and emotional exhilaration in Radium. Chilling out in the steamy hot pools and then having the local wildlife pose for me; it just doesn’t get better than that. Read more: http://bit.ly/2ljZFKG

 

Read the full storyhttp://bit.ly/2ljZFKG

For more information on our journey visit: http://bit.ly/2lAOb2l and follow the expedition on my Instagram and Facebook pages! x

Partners: SnowSeekers – Tourism Northern BC

Dax

As always, drop me a line and follow my adventures on:
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SkiBC: Kimberley Alpine Resort

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Kimberley isn’t just for families, it’s for powder enthusiasts and explorers, too

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Kimberley Alpine Resort is well known as a family oriented ski hill, so naturally I didn’t anticipate anything too crazy. It seems my perceptions of places get completely altered when I visit, because once I start talking to people they shape the identity of these places in unique ways.

After skiing with the locals, I discovered terrain for all levels, a friendly vibe and, also found out, that although this place is super family friendly, it’s not just for families.

Kimberley’s nickname might give you a clue about the place – ‘The Bavarian City of the Rockies,’ – but that certainly wouldn’t be telling the whole story. As always, you need to scratch the surface when you’re checking out a new place. With a population of 7,600 and loads of winter sport activities, I’d spent some time exploring the Purcell Mountains and Columbia Valley region, but Kimberley was new to me.

Read the full story: http://bit.ly/2lXKBQ4

Myth-busting Kimberley

I came here to do a bit of myth-busting about the fact that Kimberley isn’t just a family mountain. Sure, it’s got something for all kinds of activities for outdoorsy families, but what I found out is that Kimberley is more like a community mountain – for all ages.

I was struck by the fact that there appears to be no age gap. People seem supportive of all ages. I saw young kids who looked up to the “cool teenagers” and 30-year-olds, with lots of encouragement between everyone. I didn’t see any judgment, just people having a good time together doing what they love. To me, that’s priceless. Read more:  http://bit.ly/2lXKBQ4


Meet Steve

Steve Black is 100 per cent in love with anything alpine. He and skiing are totally dating – in fact he has been downhill skiing for 77 months straight without missing a month!

He works in the pro shop at Kimberley. I’ve now discovered this is where the locals share stories of powder and pleasure. And, they all know their way around all kinds of terrain. Steve grew up here and although he has visited other places and hills, there’s no way he will leave this mountain. He and a small clan of renegade powder-heads have invested countless hours creating a huge gathering area around one of the runs. It’s been dubbed “The Pit.” It’s like this cool outdoor snow patio, that can fit up to 200 people. Some years the walls have been 10 feet high. It is the place to relax and hang out with like-minded ski enthusiasts when they’re skiing Kimberley. Read more:  http://bit.ly/2lXKBQ4


A hill for explorers

After skiing the mountain with Steve, I found out how this entire area is ripe for exploration and discovery. Ski the mountain and you’ll find new terrain all day. Or, throw your skis on your back and go on a search for untouched, deep powder. That’s what Steve taught me. Even though he’s been here for a long time, he can still go and find new gnarly terrain to shred.

One thing I learned is that just one day at Kimberley is not enough. If you’re lucky enough to visit, be sure to ask Steve to take you up to ‘The Pit.’ Read more:  http://bit.ly/2lXKBQ4

 

Read the full storyhttp://bit.ly/2lXKBQ4

For more information on our journey visit: http://bit.ly/2lAOb2l and follow the expedition on my Instagram and Facebook pages! x

Partners: SnowSeekers – Tourism Northern BC

Dax

As always, drop me a line and follow my adventures on:
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