by Paul Fletcher
What started out as a thought early in 2012, became a sojourn into pipeline resistance when my fellow photographer, Daniel Sikorskyi, and I hopped on our motorcycles this past summer to travel a circular journey through BC and Alberta, exploring the land in the way of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline (NGP).
My project was to photograph people holding signs so that their voices could be seen. Daniel was going to focus on capturing the story of our journey and the amazing landscapes around us. We also were curious to find out what it really meant to be an enemy of Canada through the eyes of fellow Canadians.
Our first few days were spent rubber-necking the amazing landscapes of southern British Columbia as well as getting our bodies accustomed to long days in the saddle.
In Golden we did our first “voices” shoot with Darcy Dolan, a public works employee with the city of Golden. Her words, “If other countries want our oil, let them figure how to get it and they pay for it. Not Canada,” were a fine start for our project.
Next stop Calgary, the Stetson clad city at the heart of the oil money game. There we met with Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands, a book that inspired both of us to get more involved in the oil energy issue. His words,“Is greed a vision?” fit well with our Alberta experience where many are employed within the oil industry and have the toys to show it.
Calgary to Edmonton took us through the back valleys and prairies, where signs of oil activity blended with the crop landscapes. Our route also took us through a fierce thunderstorm that offered us the option of being blown off the road or fried on the spot by lightning. After two hours and many quarters in a Three Hills Laundromat, we ventured out again, ducking into saloons and hotel bars when the rain started. Not surprisingly, opinions rarely drifted from supporting the pipeline.
In Edmonton we met Casey O’Bryne, a proponent of sustainable growth in the oil industry through “green” industrial parks. His words reflect his business, “We need another market for upgraded oil. Upgrade here!” Outside of Edmonton we talked to locals in the local Morinville Hotel. Kevin Hittinger said, “Let the oil flow, start laying pipe.” His good friend, Ray White, was more pessimistic, saying, “It’s going whether we like it or not, Harper will make it happen.” Outside, Joe, sitting on his ultra customized Harley, talked about being employed in the oil industry. His words reflected his income, “Ride the Pipe. Let it flow. We depend on the oil industry for our livelihood.”
We cruised through Bruderheim, the start of the NGP, and found one resident on the street who said he had heard of the pipeline but had no idea where it was starting. In Redwater we chatted with a waitress, originally from BC, who refused to be filmed due to the nature of her customers. The beer fridge behind her said it all, with stickers stating strong opinions about environmentalists and their causes.
In Whitecourt, Kathleen from Rig Radio interviewed us. A short time later we were sitting across from Mayor Trevor Thain, an ardent supporter of Northern Gateway. His final words were,“The Northern Gateway Pipeline will be (if constructed) an economic benefit to all of Canada, not just Alberta and BC.”
Stopping for gas in Fox Creek, we were challenged by Russ Neil, a BC expatriate, happily employed as a heavy-duty mechanic. His words, “I’m Pro,” reflected his burly, short opinion of pipeline resistance. In Grande Prairie, long-time resident, Dr Liam McGowan used his sign to say, “Slow Down! Do it Right,” reflecting a common opinion that oil development should not be a headlong rush into resource exploitation.
Bonanza, in northwest Alberta, is the land of pipeline terrorism and sour gas poisonings, and the place where faucets can catch fire. Ralph Oe, a local farmer, writes, “Why are we giving away our resources?” His wife Susan is more blunt writing, “Why is the ‘system’ sacrificing Safety of people and the Environment for short term economic Gain?”
Back in BC, we motor down to Tumbler Ridge and end up having a chance meeting with Mayor Darwin Wren as he nursed a beer in the local legion. He had strong views about the importance of economic diversity but was hesitant to offer an opinion on the NGP passing south of town. Standing later at the base of one of the many newly minted wind turbines, we were overwhelmed by their size and their potential to move us away from our oil-driven economy.
Arriving in Prince George, we met up with our video team members who were exploring a similar project tentatively called “Voices from the Pipe.” Together we met many more against the pipeline, including artist Nigel Fox who wrote, “No one in BC wants this proposed pipeline.”
Heading west the voices against NGP grew stronger. In Fort St James, local Tl’azt’en Nation band members Kirby Johnnie and Ron Winger wrote respectively, “Enbridge pipeline is Not welcome here in BC. Go Home!” and “Not against oil industry! Against lack of capacity in oil industry.”
In Vanderhoof, we met some long distance motorcyclists from Hamilton who said, “Keep it Clean.”
In Burns Lake, barista Katie Nugent wrote, “Protect our environment. No Enbridge,” and visitors from Prince Rupert said, “Keep the water Clean. Protect our environment. We choose Life Over Dollars.” In Houston, wedding guest Tera Brooks wrote, “I am not a radical. I care about the community I live in and you should too. Stand up and fight. No to Enbridge!”
Stopping to photograph the large No Enbridge banner hanging from a bridge over the Bulkley River’s Moricetown Canyon, we chat by the roadside with Bob Morris, a former Moricetown resident who clearly voices his opposition, “We’re not going to benefit from the Enbridge pipeline going through. We want to avoid a disaster.”
Next we drop in on Roy Henry Vickers, a world famous artist living near Kispiox. His words are echoed in a t-shirt design of his making, “Oolican oil, not Alberta’s dirty oil.” His son Wakas shares the family sentiment saying, “No Enbridge, we need our salmon.” Ya Ya, an artist living in Kispiox, has short words for Enbridge saying, “Enbridge Keep Out.”
Arriving at the end of the pipeline in Kitimat, we photograph Barb Robson, a local business owner who penned, “I do not agree with the pipeline.” A few doors down from Barb’s business is the Enbridge project office, where Lucy stands watch over models and propaganda. Our conversation is short with little hope of reaching a common ground. Driving around the bay we arrive in Kitimaat Village, where we photograph Rosanne Haas from Haida Gwaii. Her words expressed the thoughts of many when she wrote, “Save our wilderness. No Pipeline.”
Our last mainland shoot was with Angela Gonu, a First Nations artist and server in the famous Dolly’s Fish and Chip shop in Prince Rupert. She shared the opinion of many of her people when she wrote, “Oil spillage means no fish. No fish will affect my livelihood.”
Taking the ferry back to Vancouver Island from Prince Rupert, we sailed down some of the waters that could see super tankers one day. Many of the people who we spoke to had no knowledge of the project and were aghast to think that sensible heads would ever consider putting such an important place at risk for the sake of dollars that will one day line corporate pockets.
For the larger story visit www.ridethepipe.ca or on Facebook at Ride the Pipe
Paul Fletcher is a professional photographer and photography teacher and published a book on Somenos Marsh in 1998. Daniel Sykorskyi is an award winning photographer/chiaroscurist.