Yukon artist journeys back to the land, back to another life

When Halin de Repentigny's first daughter was born, the young family made a bold choice. "We did a crazy thing. Something that people don't do anymore, that people probably won't do ever again.

When Halin de Repentigny’s first daughter was born, the young family made a bold choice.

“We did a crazy thing. Something that people don’t do anymore, that people probably won’t do ever again.”

He took his partner Julia and their daughter Madeline Marie into the Hart River area of the Peel watershed to start a trapline and live off of the land.

“Madeline, she was in the Hart River when she was only six months old,” said de Repentigny.

“We didn’t even have a cabin yet. We went in October, we set a wall tent and I started building a cabin. It was like a movie. It really was like a movie.”

They stayed seven years.

Today, de Repentigny no longer lives off the land in the way he did before. But he has immersed himself back into that period of his life through painting.

De Repentigny is a life-long artist. He sold the first oil painting he ever made at age 10. It was a replica of a scene from a Greek village that he found in an encyclopedia.

The owner of a Greek restaurant bought it for $75, a fortune in 1969 to a kid from a poor Quebecois family.

When he lived in the Peel watershed, he painted and sketched there, too.

Recently, de Repentigny started to go through some of his material from that time.

“I dug out dozens and dozens of sketches from the ‘80s and ‘90s and covered the walls with them, and got back in the moment, and the mood that it was,” he said.

“I thought, let’s do something about the Peel watershed. Everybody’s driving their truck, ‘Protect the Peel’ behind them, and nobody that came from Toronto, from somewhere back east, nobody knows the hell the Peel looks like. My own vision. I didn’t take pictures of the Peel as a canoeist, I went there living, raising my kid.”

For de Repentigny, it’s about returning to that feeling, of being on the land and working to support a young family.

“I closed my eyes and I went back to the emotion.”

He went back to his old self, his old life, but with fresh eyes.

“I went back to the old me, but as a better painter, older and more experienced.”

De Repentigny’s latest works, about 30 pieces painted from sketches and memory, are on display at the North End Gallery through the end of November.

De Repentigny has always been the sort of person who follows his passion.

At 19 he had 10 acres, a cabin and a small trapline on the Gaspe coast.

“Back east, you didn’t really have a big trapline. You didn’t really make a living of it, it was just like a hobby,” he said.

His neighbour had a brother in Watson Lake. So de Repentigny headed west and north in search of adventure and greener pastures.

He ended up in Dawson, or rather, on the land around Dawson. He met a Tr’ondek Hwech’in girl, and he stayed.

“I feel like I’ve been here a hundred years now.”

Still, living on a trapline a 10-day snowshoe from town feels like another life, said de Repentigny.

“I think about it today, how crazy I was, I thought I was Superman. I thought nothing could happen to us. I think when you’re like this, you have some kind of a guardian angel, who’s telling you, ‘You can’t really let this guy get hurt. He’s so stupid.’ As you get older and start learning, and understand more of life, I think your guardian angel goes away.”

About 10 years ago de Repentigny broke his legs “to bits,” he said.

It was time for a change. He left for Patagonia, the opposite end of this continent, and fell in love with it.

Now de Repentigny spends his winters in Argentina (although it’s summer there) and summers in Dawson.

Revisiting that time in the Peel watershed is like coming back to a former life, he said.

Before pulling out the old sketches, it had been years since he had painted snow.

Recreating those scenes and memories from the Peel could keep him busy for another few years, he said.

“I’ve got so much of it left.”

Halin de Repentigny’s show, Tributaries, can bee seen at the North End Gallery in Whitehorse until the end of the month.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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