On May 15, Canadian Geographic announced that the Three Rivers project was a finalist in its annual Canadian Environmental Awards.
“We’ve been hoping to get some more award winners from the North because it’s such an important part of our country,” said Paula Prociuk, vice-president of sales of marketing for Canadian Geographic Magazine and managing director for the Canadian Environment Awards, which she created in 2002.
On June 4th, CPAWS representatives will attend a gala event at Montreal’s Science Centre.
There, the project will face off against leatherback turtle lovers out of Halifax and an orchid protectorate in Winnipeg.
The Three Rivers project is a Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society/Yukon Chapter art-based initiative that saw 37 artists and community members travelling down waterways in the Peel Watershed in 2003.
Inspired by those weeks-long journeys, the artists produced books, films, poetry, paintings and multimedia presentations that have toured the country.
“The CPAWS project speaks to the Canadian tradition of celebrating our amazing natural landscape through art,” said Prociuk. “Art is the universal language.”
Whether they walk away with gold or one of two silver medals from the ceremony is irrelevant. CPAWS has already snagged the real prize: publicity.
Canadian Geographic publishes an annual Canadian Environmental Award supplement, which it places in the June edition of Canadian Geographic (237,000 copies), and last week’s issues of Macleans (385,000 copies) and L’actualite (190,000 copies).
As a result, the story of the Peel Watershed has the potential to reach more than 800,000 readers within the next few weeks.
In 2004, the Yellowstone-to-Yukon project (Y2Y) won a silver medal standing through the program, which is a partnership with the government of Canada and various private sponsors.
Ironically, Shell Canada is the founding corporate sponsor of the awards, and will be paying out a total of $54,000 in prize money to the 18 finalists this year.
Shell is also the first company to drill in the Peel Plateau, in 1965.
CPAWS’s goal is to protect the Peel watershed from, in addition to uranium and base-metals extraction, oil and gas interests.
Three Rivers project co-ordinator Juri Peepre has been touring the country telling Canadians that the Mackenzie Valley and Alaska oil pipelines have the potential to affect the Peel Watershed.
Their development will suddenly make the Peel accessible to the market.
“With our hunger for hydrocarbons across the continent, it really is the frontier areas that suffer most,” said Peepre.
“They’re far away and unnoticed, and it’s our job to let Canadians know that these pipelines will have an impact on the North.”
Peepre has been taking a scenic slide show of the watershed on a cross-Canada tour.
It focuses on the Wind, Snake, and Bonnet Plume rivers and includes video clips and an award-winning film by Martin Berkman on the artists’ expeditions.
With the support of MEC and Yukon Wild, sold-out audiences in Montreal, Ottawa, St John’s, Halifax, Toronto, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Yellowknife have been exposed to what Peepre calls “the magical spots” of the Peel Watershed.
“I’ve always had this notion that Canadians have a soft spot for the North and feel very deeply about it,” said Peepre.
With the art project, the project tour and the publicity through the award, Peepre, CPAWS, and Canadian Geographic have exposed more of those Canadians to the Three Rivers area.
They’ve put it on the map, so to speak.
The watershed boasts a complete carnivore guild, which means that all the historic carnivore populations still exist. There’s also an intact herd of 5,000 Bonnet Plume caribou.
But that sort of scientific information isn’t likely to galvanize a Canadian audience.
And so the tour concentrated on the art, on the stories and on the experience.
“The purpose behind the tour really was to show Canadian the beauty of the North, and to show it in different ways: through art, and literature, and music and imagery,” said Peepre. “It wasn’t the usual kind of conservation communication.”
In co-ordination with the tour schedule, the Yukon Wilderness Tourism Association has been running a wildly popular online contest, with a trip down the Wind River as a grand-prize.
“Through the contest that we’re running, we had original projections to have 5,000 people enter the contest and 1,500 request further information on the Yukon,” said marketing director Paula Pawlovich. “So far, we’ve doubled both those figures.”
CPAWS would like for the territorial government and neighbouring First Nations to consider an alternative future for the Peel region that doesn’t involve roads, drilling or habitat destruction — a future that would conserve the natural assets of the Peel.
Wilderness guide Blaine Walden was on-hand at CPAWS offices to hear news of the award.
Walden runs week-long expeditions in the Peel Watershed, and helped guide writers and painters down the rivers in 2003.
The Peel’s eco-tourism potential should trump the energy and mineral deposits, said Walden.
“Tourism should be recognized for the importance it is. Right now mineral prices are high and there’s lots going on, but tourism has had a steady growth rate since the gold rush days,” he said.
“If we can keep more of these places intact, where they’re losing them down south, we stand to position ourselves even better in the future.”
The tour’s homecoming soiree on May 17th will add live music by Kim Barlow and Joe Bishop, raffle prizes, art for sale, and a report on tour highlights, with contributions from Peel watershed neighbours.
Journey to the Yukon’s Three Rivers is being presented Thursday May 17, 7:30 pm at the High Country Inn. Admission is by donation ($5 recommended).