Have you ever been struck by a sense of awe when you reach the viewpoint of an unfamiliar trail? Art philosopher Denis Dutton believed that when a transformative scene causes us to stop in our tracks, we may actually be experiencing the emotions of our ancestors. We are “transfixed by the intense sense of longing and beauty, determined to explore that valley, to see where the road leads,” he wrote in his book, The Art Instinct.
The Indigenous people who have occupied these lands for millennia express their connection to their ancestors in their art and cultural traditions, which they share with visitors to the region. In the Thorsen Creek Valley near Bella Coola, you can pause and watch the smoky mist rise high above stretches of tumbling whitewater, then hike through a dense forest with a Nuxalk (nu-halk) guide to mysterious petroglyphs. The spiritual beliefs of Indigenous artists who carved depictions of the universal mystery and power of nature into the stone have been preserved by the shelter of the area’s nature for thousands of years. Nuxalk carvers continue to use materials from the forest floor like red cedar and bark to create traditional masks, paddles and plaques. You can view these artworks, which have great ceremonial and cultural significance, at various art galleries and shops throughout the valley. Contemporary artists have also been deeply affected by the contours and contrasts of this region, from its rugged coastal mountains and volcanic fields to its softer ranches and grasslands.
In 1904, friends of the legendary artist Emily Carr invited her to visit their ranch at 150 Mile House, instructing her to “Make it a long visit. Leave the C.P.R. train at Ashcroft,” they wrote. “You will then travel by horse-coach… up the Cariboo Road, a pretty bumpy road, too.” Reflecting on her month-long visit, Carr wrote in her autobiography, Growing Pains, “I can never love the Cariboo enough for all she gave to me.” Carr, who is widely acknowledged as an unofficial member of Canada’s Group of Seven artists, toured the region by “cow pony,” memorializing what she saw with her modernist interpretations of the natural world. In works like “The Church at Lillooet,” a watercolour of an imposing mountain dwarfing a simple house of worship in the small Fraser River community, the landscape looms large. You can’t help but acknowledge its omnipotence as it bears down on the humble church.
The Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson was said to be equally captivated by the Cariboo when he toured the area in 1914. He returned in the 1940s to produce works that are now displayed in galleries around the world. Today, artists find themselves in good company at arts, music and cultural festivals throughout the region. Some 475 kms away, the central coast also has a powerful magnetic force for artists.
Mark Hobson painted the biologically diverse Calvert Island to raise awareness about preserving the coastline for future generations. He and more than 50 of Canada’s most celebrated artists published a book entitled Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil-Free Coast. Filmmaker, photographer and environmentalist Ian McAllister is also focused on conservation in this part of the region. He shares remarkable scenes from the world’s last intact rainforest in a powerful IMAX film called Great Bear Rainforest and in a book of the same name. Honoured by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper as one of 133 highly accomplished Canadians, Ian and his wife, Karen McAllister were also named “Leaders of the 21st Century” for their tireless efforts to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest.
Longtime Cariboo resident Chris Harris is a passionate environmentalist, too. The prolific photographer and outdoor explorer has been capturing the beauty of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region for more than 30 years. Through his lens, we see the world differently. Harris takes us to places that are intensely inspiring, like the technicoloured Rainbow Range in the West Chilcotin’s Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. With Harris, we can also visit inaccessible places, like the high country of the Chilcotin Plateau. For Motherstone: British Columbia’s Volcanic Plateau, one of Harris’ 13 books, the photographer hiked through a sparse landscape few have experienced. “I’ve ridden through these mountain ranges before,” he says, “but this time I walked through every inch of it. When you walk, you feel like you’re touching the earth. You feel the energy coming up through the earth.”
That unmistakable feeling of connection to something larger than ourselves defines this region, whether we’re retracing the steps of others or blazing our own trails. As philosopher Denis Dutton said, “We are what we are today because our primordial ancestors followed paths and riverbanks over the horizon.”
Bella Coola Music Festival Enjoy intimate performances by award-winning artists from across Canada at this family-oriented event offering a wide range of music from roots, rock and world to blues, folk and more. When: July 7-19, 2020-01-12 Website: bellacoolamusic.org
Arts on the Fly Festival, Horsefly Catch top performers in jazz, indie, folk, rock and other musical genres, plus many of the area’s talented artisans. When: July 17-18, 2020 Website: artsonthefly.com
BC Metis Music Jamboree, Mcleese Lake Groove to an old-fashioned bluegrass-style festival featuring country music, Metis fiddling and non-stop dancing. When: August 6-8, 2020 Visit Facebook to learn more
South Cariboo Garlic Festival, Lac La Hache Watch Garlina and other mascots strut alongside food vendors, musicians, and cheer on your favourite culinary master at the annual battle for the title of Master Garlic Chef. When: August 29-30, 2020 Website: garlicfestival.ca
‘Q’emcin 2 Rivers Remix Festival A 3-day feast of contemporary Indigenous music and culture in Lytton. When: July 10-12, 2020 Website: 2riversremix.ca
Emily Carr’s BC: South Coast to the Interior by Laurie Carter (Little White Publishing, 2019). Sonia: the Life of Bohemian Rancher and Painter Sonia Cornwall, 1919-2006 by Sheryl Salloum (Halfmoon Bay, 2015).
Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society centralcaribooarts.com