This is Canada

By Dr. Robert Berdan
May 27, 2012



Pickup Hockey Game at Lake Louise by Robert Berdan ©

Pickup Hockey game at Lake Louise was chosen as a finalist in the "This is Canada-Photo Competition"

In May, the Calgary Herald published an article that Getty Images was looking for photos that symbolize "This is Canada". I was intrigued, because photographing Canada is my passion, and this web site for the most part features images from across Canada. I have not visited all parts of Canada; at least not yet. One of my goals is to someday have a diverse portofolio of images from across the country. I have only briefly visited the eastern parts of Canada. About 30 years ago I spent two weeks at a marine biology station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. It was the most interesting and enjoyable course I had ever taken. I hope to return one day to the East coast and photograph Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, and parts of Quebec. My bucket list also includes going even further north and visiting Churchill in order to photograph polar bears.

Some of the photo entries into "This is Canada-Photo Competition" uploaded on Flikr.

One of the requirements of the Getty photo contest "This is Canada" was that those submitting images must have a flickr account and transfer or upload the files to this account. So I went through my files and pulled out some images that I felt represent or signify Canada. A week later I learned that one of my favourite photos made the finals and to my pleasant surprise it's the photo that I felt, of all my images, most made me think of Canada. The photo is entitled. "Pickup hockey game - one of Canada's pastimes" shown at the top of the page. The contest motivated me to create a short article and include some of my favourite photographs of Canada from British Columbia to Ontario.

Morant's curve and the Canadian Pacific Railway in Banff National Park, AB

When I went to grad school in Houston Texas, Canada was mentioned in the news only so far as it was a source of cold air. On US TV they often showed the comedians Bob and Doug McKenzie drinking beer and wearing a touque. I figure that is how most American see us. Texans also put an end to me saying "eh" at the end of my sentences and made me realize that Canadians do have an accent. After graduating, I married my sweet heart from Houston and moved to Calgary. We sent back pictures to our friends showing them our first home, an igloo and a dog sled, photographed at the Lake Louise winter festival. It looked pretty convincing to me.

For most Canadians, winter is something we endure for almost half the year and ice hockey is the official winter sport. A picture of kids or even adults playing hockey on an outdoor rink in winter says "Canada" to me more then any other image I can conjure up. However, there is more to Canada then winter and hockey and as a photographer I am inspired to capture images of Canada's beauty across the country. I currently live in Calgary and for this reason most of my pictures are from Western Canada, though I lived in Ontario for two decades.

Ancient rainforest Carmanah valley, B.C. by Robert Berdan ©

Ancient rainforest in the Carmanah Valley on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

What makes me proud to be Canadian is that our country is young, we are made up of diverse cultures and there are still large tracts of unsettled land, wilderness and wildlife. However, we Canadians are not without our problems and there is no question we can and need to do a better job to protect and preserve our special places. I believe, and hope , the tide is changing and more Canadians are beginning to care and get involved. The ancient rainforests on the West Coast is the issue that bothers me most. If it were up to me I would declare the entire west coast and the waters offshore a protected area or National Park. If we continue to allow clear cut logging of ancient rainforests, over fishing, and in the future the passage of large oil tankers into the pristine coastal inlets, we will surely pay the price in the long term.

Alberta is often criticized for the Oil sands development as being "dirty oil". I have photographed the oil sands from the highway and wondered if, and how, we could do a better job. How do you stop mirgrating birds from landing in the large tilling ponds at night? Can we do away with the ponds or find an alternative less toxic methods? Outside one oil refinery a guard stopped me from taking pictures and told me to erase the images or else. I complied because all I had photographed was a crane even though I took the photos from the road and was on public property when I did so. I returned next day and took more photos from the highway. Understandably, people in Fort McMurray are sensitive and concerned about bad publicity and ultimately their jobs. I don't seek to photograph scenes like this, but I feel that it's my responsibility to do so if it can help make a difference.

Oil sands near Fort McMurray by Robert Berdan ©

Oil sands next to the highway north of Fort McMurray. I will return to see what this area looks like in 10 years and hope it will be reclaimed and returned to boreal forest as promised by the oil companies. However, it's clear cut logging of ancient rainforests on the West Coast that disturbs me most.

At the present, Enbridge plans to build an oil pipeline to Kitmat on the west coast so oil can be loaded into huge oil tankers. It's inevitable that there will be an oil spill and it will cause massive destruction to this senstivie ecosystem and affect the lives of many first nations people living on the coast. I am not against using oil from the oil sands in Ft. McMurray, I would just like it done in a maner that minimizes the impact to first nations, all Canadians and the environment.

Aurora borealis, Yellowinife, NWT by Robert Berdan ©

Aurora borealis, Pontoon lake, near Yellowknife, NWT

The Aurora borealis many not be uniquely Canadian, but Canada is one of the best places in the world in which to view and photograph the Aurora. Nothing else that I have ever photographed has moved me more than watching the aurora. At times the light show is so brilliant I can see my shadow and I feel a cosmic high.

Oxtongue River, Ontario by Robert Berdan ©

Autumn along the Oxtongue river near Algonquin Park in Ontario.

While living in Houston the one thing I really missed was the changing seasons. I longed to see the colours of autumn and believe it or not - winter! I don't mind snow, shoveling, or driving in the snow, so long as I have winter tires. As a nature photographer the changing seasons provides variety and new photographic challenges.

Winter fly fishing on the Athabasca river by Robert Berdan ©

Fly fishing on the Athabasca river in Jasper, National Park in January. Frank Wood - fisherman.

Photographer in winter at Lake Louise, AB by Robert Berdan ©

Photographer at Lake Louise in January - pure winter beauty.

Sunrise, Lake Louise in summer - a few minutes earlier the mountain was hidden in fog.

Lake Louise in winter

Brebeuf lighthouse, Georgian Bay, Ontario by Robert Berdan ©

Sunset on Brebeuf Lighthouse, Georgian Bay, Ontario.

During my teenage years I grew up in the country near Midland, Ontario. My home was about 100 meters from the lake edge surrounded by deciduous forest. It was here that my interest in nature photography really began.

Lake louise boat hourse and canoes in fog by Robert Berdan ©

Lake Louise boat house and canoes photographed before sunrise.

Sunrise, Vermillion lake in January near Banff, AB by Robert Berdan ©

Sunrise, Vermilion lake in January

A few years ago I led a group of photographers out to the Vermilion lakes near Banff for a winter photography workshop. This particular morning we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises I had ever seen. I ran from photographer to photographer helping them set up and take shots and only managed to take a couple of shots myself one of which is shown above. The truth is most of my students ended up with better photos then I did, but my job was to help them take great pictures that morning, and they did.

Barren land caribou, NWT by Robert Berdan ©

Barren-ground Caribou in the Northwest Territories near Peterson's Point Lake Lodge.

One of the most beautiful areas of Canada that I have visited and photographed in the past few years is the barrens north of Yellowknife. In early September each year, in partnership with Peterson's Point Lake Lodge, I lead a photography workshop to photograph the migrating caribou and in the evening, the aurora borealis. The tundra in autumn is "on fire" with brilliant reds, orange and yellows. This vast area which is largely uninhabited has the darkest skies I have ever seen and stars can be seen right down to the horizon. From the floatplane, I could see thousands upon thousands of small lakes extending off into the distance for hundreds of miles. Unfortunately, the arctic is beginning to feel the impact of some of our activities and if we are not careful we could adversely affect this precious environment.

Caribou bay, the barrens, by Robert Berdan ©

Caribou Bay, NWT - Who ever said the Barrens were barren probably didn't visit the area in Autumn.

Cone mountain Kananaskis country, Alberta by Robert Berdan ©

Cone Mountain in Kananaskis, Alberta

Moraine lake at sunrise in Banff National park, this photo is a cliche and wasn't included in my entry, but this scene is one that is widely recognized as being "Canadian" partly because it is on the back of our Canadian $20 bill.

Another classic location is Peyto Lake in Jasper National Park, its' aqua-marine colour water being due to fine glacial particles called "rock flour". This photograph was taken after a brief snowfall in the middle of July.


Another classic location photographed at sunrise is Spirit Island, Jasper National Park, AB. The only way to get to this
location at sunrise is to paddle and camp overnight nearby.

Cowboy (my father) Tonquin Valley, AB. We rode horseback into this scenic valley and stayed in a comfortable cabin.

I am only beginning to appreciate and photograph "Big sky country" in the Canadian Prairies.

Prairies - Canola fields near Great Sandhills, Saskatchewan, next to highway 21.

Rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island near Toffino from the Air.

Canada Geese fly over the Broken Islands, photographed from Amphitrite point, Ucluelet, West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Eagle in the mist. Great Bear Rainforest, West Coast of British Columbia.

playing hockey on vermilion lakes by Robert Berdan ©

Playing hockey on Vermilion Lake, Banff, National Park

Canadian Bobsled by Robert Berdan ©

Canadian Bobsledders, Calgary Winter Olympics, 1988.

Canada is big, young and a beautiful country. I don't think any single image can truly represent or symbolize what we have, or who we are, but I can honestly say that parts of Canada are a paradise for nature and landscape photographers, or anyone that appreciates the outdoors. If there is a heaven, I think I am going to be disappointed, that is, if I even get invited. :-) RB


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