The National Parks Project

An extraordinary glimpse into Canada's "true soul"

saskatchewan's prince albert national park / photo by edwin lau

Thirty-nine musicians. Thirteen filmmakers. And 13 national parks.

Put ’em together and what do you get? Aside from a new CD and 13 short films, how about the most creative nod to Parks Canada’s 100th birthday witnessed yet.

But what are the participants of this unique adventure thinking now that the National Parks Project (2011 Gemini Award winner for Best Arts Documentary Series) is behind them?

What memories remain from their mission – where small groups scattered country-wide to capture Canada’s wildest places not with paintbrushes like the Group of Seven, but with film and music?

We chased down Joel McConvey – one of three producers on the project – and East Coast musician Matt Mays in search of their thoughts, after the fact, on this ambitious undertaking.

T & C: Joel, how are you feeling about The National Parks Project now that the dust has settled?

Joel: To be honest, immediately after the project finished, I was disoriented. You spend so much time in these amazing natural spaces and when you come back to the city, you’re almost confused. You’re thinking “What am I doing here? Why are we moving so fast?” Now, what I feel is a great sense of gratitude and a crude wisdom. I’ve learned a whole lot about what Canada means and how it has been shaped by its natural environment.

T & C: Matt, you spent your time making music with Sam Roberts and Kathleen Edwards in Wapusk National Park near Churchill, Manitoba. What stands out most from the experience?

Matt: With something like this, there is never one moment. There’s an abundance of moments. The making of the music was super memorable. The visuals were breath-taking and everything transcended from that. I was friends with Kathleen and Sam before but this took our friendship to a whole new level. We all fed off each other’s excitement. I mean, we’re not talking about hanging out with each other in a dressing room at a shitty little bar somewhere, right?

T & C: Can you tell us Joel, what were your goals with the NPP to begin with? Did they pan out for you?

Joel: We wanted to create something that would explore the link between landscape and expression, a link that has a long history in Canada from the Group of Seven onwards. The Group of Seven were definitely a touchstone for us. You know, sending artists into the wilderness to see how they would respond. We gave our filmmakers and musicians complete creative freedom. In the end, I think we increased the profile of national parks among younger people who live in cities and are more engaged in technology. What we’ve done, hopefully, is given people a window into the notion of wilderness and how wilderness has shaped who we are as a nation.

T & C: Come on Matt, there must have been a few distinctly memorable moments?

Matt: O.K. We had to fly into our polar bear-proofed compound by helicopter. It was like a zoo, only reversed. We were the animals in the cage and polar bears and wolves came to look through the fence at us. We spent a lot of time in that compound and if we wanted to go even six feet outside, we had to be accompanied by two park rangers who were packing some serious heat. One night, we were lying on our backs outside under the stars but still within the compound’s electric fencing. We were drinking scotch. And we were watching the most incredible display of northern lights seen in a decade.

T & C: Can you tell us, Joel, about the challenges of pulling such an ambitious project together?

Joel: Certainly, logistics are an issue when you’re flying 13 people into northern Manitoba and you have to chopper them into a fenced-in enclosure designed to keep out polar bears. Just getting people to the parks was a challenge. Then, with musicians, scheduling is tricky too. We had to lock people down for a week and say “We’re going to pull you out of your regular routine entirely and cut you off from communications and put you in situations unfamiliar and daunting.” We had to convince them it would be worth their while.

T & C: Matt – what did your involvement in the NPP mean to you as a Canadian musician?

Matt: As a musician, I really fed off the experience. When I think of and write music, I think of landscapes. Being in Wapusk was like being on a different planet. A different, vast world of sunrises and northern lights. It’s a trip to imagine places like this. But to be there for real, to make music in a place where I feel my music exists already, was really wacky. As a Canadian? I’ve been in most Canadian cities many times. But I’d never been to Churchill. It really defines the soul of the rest of the country. We all know it exists, that true Canadian northern soul. Subconsciously, we celebrate it as Canadians. But to be there was something else.

T & C: Last thoughts, Matt, on your part in the National Parks Project?

Matt: I knew going into this project that I was in for something special. If a good trip is a combination of getting to see beautiful things, meet beautiful people and have beautiful experiences – then the check marks on a list like this would be huge!

Wapusk National Park, MB / photo by Geoff Morrison

***Want a DVD of the National Parks Project? Here’s your chance. Comment below and convince us which national park we need to visit next and why. Deadline for comments is October 5.

***CONTEST UPDATE:

Congrats to Philippe for putting the Yukon’s Vuntut National Park and Baffin Island’s Auyuittuq National Park on our hit list. Nice work, Philippe…DVD of the National Parks Project in the mail shortly. Thanks to everyone for your great comments. Hope to see you all on our pages again!

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  1. Philippe H commented:

    I would really like to see you guys visit one of the more remote parks in our country, the ones at the extremes of our nation. I vote for Vuntut national park or Auyuittuq national park.

    Reply

      • Philippe H commented:

        Unfortunately, they are very much beyond my reach. I’m from southern Ontario, in the densely populated area of the golden horseshoe. I’ve seen my share of Ontario and the east coast, however I dream of visiting much more. The past year I’ve been researching many parks in hopes of finding a few that are both close by and spectacular enough to want to visit it. Surely enough I’ve found way too many to visit, probably not even in a lifetime.

        But a few parks got stuck in my head, among them Vuntut and Auyuittuq. I’ve never seen such beauty in my life, and it stuns me that such places exist in Canada. From the seemingly endless shallow lakes of Vuntut to the tall and nearly lifeless mountains of Auyuittuq, I’m amazed that we have so much variety in our country. If I can’t visit them any time soon, I’d sure as hell love to see more coverage on these remote places!

        Reply

  2. Laura Fudge commented:

    Definitely go see Terra Nova National Park! I had the honour and pleasure of spending three summers there as an Interpreter for Parks Canada and it changed my life. The physical beauty is one thing, but the people in Terra Nova are as unique as the ecosystem itself. The interpretation has won numerous awards for their engaging programs and this is, no doubt, why the Park’s repeat visitor numbers are so high. Go check it out!

    Reply

    • toque & canoe commented:

      Did we hear you on national radio commenting on Cross Country Check-up recently? During a show about what national parks mean to us? Your comment sounds familiar! If it was you, you’re a great ambassador for Terra Nova and you sure make us all want to get out there!

      Reply

  3. Dale Cole commented:

    Well, my suggestion would be Greenwich which is part of the PEI National Park system. Greenwich is located on the north shore and has beauiful sand dunes. This park is off the beaten path, so there are never crowds many people like in Cavendish for example. These parabolic dunes are amazing!

    As far as the eye can see, there are the abovementioned sand dunes. In fact the dunes extend into the forest. With the wind, water, and sand it is a little piece of heaven on earth. I believe Greenwich is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Should you visit Greenwich, you will be impressed with the natural beauty.

    Reply

  4. Alyson Clow commented:

    I’ve noticed Greenwhich was mentioned so I’ll go with my second choice (but still just as spectacular) of the Fundy National Park in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick.

    This video link of it being considered for a place in Earth’s new 7 wonders of nature shows just how amazing this place is.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT_p84OTLZc&feature=related

    You can go camping as well way into the woods where nothing of comfort is provided except what you bring on your back on your hike up. Bring or rent a canoe or kayak and paddle on an ocean coast that houses the highest tides in the world and then walk on the same ocean coast’s floor 6 hours later! A truly beautiful spot that’s a must see for all Canadians.

    Reply

  5. Mary Lever-Morrison commented:

    In celebration of Parks Canada’s centennial, it’s only fitting that T & C should visit Canada’s first and oldest national park, the place where Canada’s national parks system was born, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Canada’s most iconic and finest park, Banff National Park! We know T&C has been to Banff this year but there’s really no end to the majesty and adventure on offer in Banff so one visit in celebration of our parks important milestone is simply not enough!! 🙂

    Reply

  6. Tricia Woikin commented:

    Just wondering how Canada’s oldest National Park, Banff National Park, is not on (the National Parks Project) list. Banff is on of the most breathtaking National Parks in Canada as well as the oldest. When creating a project based around National Parks, how can one miss this one?

    Reply

    • J.R. McConvey commented:

      Hi Tricia,

      To answer your question, when creating the NPP, we consulted with Parks Canada on which parks to visit, and when. Since part of the goal was to expose people to some of Canada’s lesser-visited National Parks, they suggested we visit Waterton Lakes in Alberta instead of the more well-known Rocky Mountain parks like Banff or Jasper. And you’re right — Banff is beautiful — but Waterton is just as stunning! It’s also part of the world’s first International Peace Park with Glacier across the border in Montana, which we thought was worth celebrating.

      Reply

  7. Wayne commented:

    Who are the musicians featured on Wapusk by Kathleen Edwards on the NPP soundtrack. Apparently there’s a version of the song featuring Wisconsin’s Bon Iver that’s out there now and I’m left confused as a result. Does the version available on the NPP soundtrack feature Sam Roberts and Matt Mays or are they simply co-writers of the song? Has Edwards re-recorded the song with Bon Iver or is the soundtrack recording one and the same?

    Reply

    • Joel McConvey commented:

      Hi Wayne,

      Good question! The version of “Wapusk” on the NPP album was recorded in Wapusk National Park in northern Manitoba, by Kathleen Edwards, Sam Roberts and Matt Mays. Kathleen wrote the tune and lyrics, and Matt and Sam added some lovely backing instrumentation and vocals.

      Kathleen then went on to re-record the track with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who is producing her new record (and, incidentally, with whom she’s now in a relationship). It’s the first track they recorded together, and it’s quite different from the original! But we here at NPP headquarters like both versions. I believe the newer version was released as a B-side to the first single from her new record, which is scheduled to drop in January 2012. You can also find it online.

      And of course, you can stream the original at nationalparksproject.ca!

      Hope that clears things up. Thanks for listening.

      Reply

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