My motivation for this project comes from a place of personal guilt. As a former student of environmental issues, I felt wrong committing to the study of old buildings (friends, forgive that vast under-statement), while many of my peers were committing to voicing their reactions to the climate crisis and Canada's burgeoning role as a major oil producer. It wasn't enough to take comfort in the innate connections I see between heritage and environmental preservation. An internal struggle began to emerge while I practiced the patience of craftsmanship during a time of such national and international impatience.
I am learning to saw and measure at an idyllic estate in a sleepy colonial village on the Niagara Peninsula, while fellow Canadians actively oppose the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, and Line 9 pipelines. I can't help feeling that people are finally galvanizing, while I've cloistered myself away to whittle.
Environmental Defence. Enbridge's Line 9 Proposal
Fortunately for my conscience, studying at Willowbank goes beyond lessons in patience and craftsmanship. Last September, we were introduced to Cultural Landscape theory when the 'Defend Our Coast' movement against tar sands pipelines and tankers in British Columbia was making waves. Throughout first year, we were exposed to the nuances of First Nations culture and its overdue inclusion in the field of Heritage Preservation. Meanwhile, the 'Idle No More' movement was gaining momentum. The feeling began shifting from guilt to "I am where I'm supposed to be." I even realized I could think about these connections during a long day of dovetail perfecting.
On October 22nd 2012, in Victoria BC, five thousand people gathered on the BC Legislature lawn for the Defend Our Coast day of action against tar sands pipelines and tankers. This was one of the largest acts of mass civil disobedience in the country's history.
My role as Cultural Landscape Fellow allows me to dig deeper into the connections I began noticing last year, and I'll be discussing those I just mentioned more in later posts. I will not be directly confronting the heavy economic and scientific arguments embroiled within climate change and oil sand debates. There's enough heated discussion in that salon without my voice. This will be focused on the human connection to place. Cultural Landscape. Everyday Life. Ritual. Home. Sacred Space.
Suncor upgrader complex adjacent to the Athabasca River. Photo by Chris Evans, Pembina Institute
I most want to hear from others and share different perspectives in any way we dream up. I want to learn about any person's sense of place as they wrap that feeling around the presence of oil in any form - production, transport, infrastructure, and accidents. I want to ask the right questions and hear from people who feel good and hopeful in an 'oil landscape' as well as those who feel frightened and hopeless. My hypothesis is that as I look deeply, my biases will crack open. My hope is that yours will too.
If you or anyone you know would like to contribute more perspective to Oilands, please do get in touch.