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Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art, Part I

After many years in the making, an outstanding art show about nature conservation expressed through the beauty of art opened in Banff on Saturday, June 16. I was lucky to be involved in different stages of the making for the past 6 years and over the coming months, I want to share with you stories about some of the beautiful landscapes featured at the exhibit. The exhibit is hosted by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta, and will run until November 15. I’ll be posting a new story each month about six of the different regions highlighted in the exhibit, beginning today which is the third anniversary of the Nahanni National Park expansion, one of the regions highlighted in the exhibition.

CPAWS collaborated for decades with the Dehcho First Nations to realise a dream: protecting the entire South Nahanni Watershed. Thousands of Canadians participated in this vision and together we made a difference. Three years ago, in June 2009, the Nahanni National Park Reserve was expanded. It is now one of the largest national parks in the world.

In 2010, I joined a group of people to celebrate the expansion and we travelled down the Nahanni River from Virginia Falls to Nahanni Butte over a period of eight days, and then flew by helicopter to camp on the Ram Plateau. This region is now protected by the expansion and very few people have ever been here. On our return, one Dehcho elder we were talking to could remember his dad’s stories about walking on a spine of the Plateau, but could not remember anyone else who went there in his lifetime. Yep, this is remote wilderness at its best!

Artist Dwayne Harty brought along his paint box, and did many “plein air” paintings along the way. One afternoon, we all went up to a place called the Gates of the Nahanni, where Dwayne set up his easel and started to sketch. Two hours later, the plein air was done and it was time to go back down for dinner. With a faint trail, many rocks and jumps and a wet oil painting on canvas to keep from being smudged, Dwayne and I handed the fresh painting to each other over the obstacles all the way down. You can see him doing this sketch on his website home page.

The Nahanni is an exceptional place, but the headwaters, representing about 15% of the watershed, remain unprotected. CPAWS is working in collaboration with the Sahtu Dene and Métis of Tulita and Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories to finalise this important conservation project. Nááts´ihch´oh National Park (pronounced Nah-tseen-cho) at the headwaters of the Nahanni will be one of the final steps in protecting the entire South Nahanni Watershed, as it will join the South Nahanni River Headwaters with the Nahanni National Park Reserve. The result will be two connected national parks working together to protect the globally renowned Boreal wilderness of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem and a key area in the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. We will need your help as the government has not finalised its decision – stay tuned for updates.

I hope you can come to the Rockies to see this wonderful art show! If not, you can visit the online exhibition on the website of our conservation partners in the Rockies, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

Photo credit: Harvey Locke
Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art presents paintings and sculptures from the permanent collections of the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. In addition, as a special commissioned part of the show, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative sent acclaimed artist Dwayne Harty into the field to discover anew the landscape and wildlife along the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. For three summers, Harty traveled and painted in some of the most remote regions of the area, capturing scenes that few painters, if any, have sketched firsthand.