When Errington artist Dan Gray joined a group of some of Canada’s most celebrated artists in June 2012 to participate in a project supporting efforts to protest the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline he had no idea how profoundly his life would be affected by the journey.
Not only is Gray featured in a film produced by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation his artwork is included of a coffee-table book and his original paintings have been part of a traveling art show that is raising funds and support for a cause the local artist is deeply passionate about.
Gray was among 50 artists who took their paints, canvases and carving tools to portray Canada’s fragile raincoast in an effort to raise awareness of the need to protect the coastal wilderness which is at risk if tankers are permitted to ship tar sands oil through the narrow and dangerous channels of the north and central B.C. coast.
On Sunday the documentary, Reflections: Art for an Oil-Free Coast will be screened in Parksville and Gray said it is an opportunity for people in these parts to get a better understanding of the fragile diversity that is being threatened.
Brian Falconer who captained the sail boat the Achiever that Gray spent five nights on off the rugged northern B.C. coast is the key note speaker at Sunday’s event and Gray said the director of marine operations for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation is a powerful speaker.
“He knows the facts. He knows the sizes of the tankers and the marine environment that they plan to run in. He has studied the marine mammals and bird life and knows the direct consequences of marine traffic in a place where whales feed and where birds go to breed.”
Gray said after spending time in the remote coastal locations and experiencing its dramatic beauty and fragile diversity he is even more inspired to do whatever it takes to protect it.
“It was an eye opener to see what the land looked like. I had no idea of the beauty and the fragility of our coast and when you experience it first hand it can’t help but touch you.
“You can’t help but want to keep it free of pollution. To destroy or to damage a place that still has a lot of mysteries and a lot of things to offer would be a big mistake during our lives while we are taking care of the planet,” he emphasized.
Gray admitted he is not sure the government is taking the growing opposition to the pipeline project seriously enough and as long as the threat remains, he will continue to do whatever it takes to stop it because he has been invigorated by the cause.
“I am afraid it will come to some tougher times ahead to stop the pipeline. I have real confidence that the First Nations people who are directly affected will be at the forefront if there is a confrontation and perhaps that will be my place to,” he indicated.
Aside from being inspired by the beauty of the area, Gray was also deeply influenced by one of the artists he had the pleasure of meeting and becoming fast friends with on his trip.
Ian Reid an aboriginal Heiltsuk singer, dancer and carver got permission for the group to visit an unnamed, Heiltsuk tribe-owned island where he lead them to a sacred place and sang them a song.
Gray said the week that they were together he and Reid bonded and he feels honoured to have shared such a profound experience with him.
“When I came back from the trip I came back with a brother and an ancestor and that is a big change in my life,” Gray expressed.
When Gray attends the film screening Sunday he will be wearing a symbol of their journey together.
After the trip Reid sent Gray a Grizzly bear claw that he now proudly wears around his neck.
The claw had been in Reid’s family for many generations and Gray said to have it passed down to him is incredible.
“I am honoured to wear it to the openings and the screenings and I am just honoured to have it and to have met Ian.”
Communities to Protect Our Coast and the Knox United Church Social Justice Committee welcome the public to attend the event on January 13 at 2 p.m.
It will feature two films by west coast artists and surfers that highlight the raw beauty of the BC coast and some of the incredible works of art created by artists for an oil-free coast.