When the Canadian Voyageur Brigade Society reached out to paddling clubs across the country to organize canoe brigades as a way of celebrating Canada’s approaching 150th birthday, the Gibsons Paddling Club readily took up that invitation. They created an unique 130-kilometre journey that began in Egmont on June 13, 2017 and ended in West Vancouver on June 18, going from shíshálh to Skwxwú7mesh territories. Russ Greaves, a board member of the club and a veteran television director and producer, was there paddling and documenting the journey. Many Hands: A Cultural Canoe Journey will be screening to the public on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Raven’s Cry Theatre. “The guiding principal of the film is using the cultural vehicle of the canoe to show how First Nations culture is helping bring us closer,” says Reaves. “Working with and understanding each other as we find our way through reconciliation.” This is why the Coast’s leg was deemed a cultural journey, and why references to Canada 150 included a plus sign: 150+. “It was a way of acknowledging that Canada’s history is a lot older than 150 years,” explains Greaves.
Eighty paddlers participated using eight voyageur and one Nootka style canoe, the Skookum Kalitan. About a dozen paddlers were from the Coast. The rest came from other parts of the province and some came from as far away as Alberta to take part in a journey that, while focused on paddling, was also “About meeting up with First Nations, having talks about residential schools and being involved in some of the ceremonies,” says Greaves. One of those ceremonies was hosted by the shíshálh Nation at their longhouse. “The evening at the longhouse was really spectacular,” says Greaves. “To see the young people dancing, hear the drumming and having a beautiful dinner was an uplifting experience,” he says, noting that there had been some challenging conditions on the water with fog, rain and high winds. “It was a wild ride at times.”
During that wild ride, Greaves was filming it all with the help of Coast TV and Shaw TV who provided him with personnel and equipment. “Filming was based on the schedule—what was happening every day and building shoots around that,” explains Greaves. The film not only tells the story of the canoe journey, but of the history of the Coast with beautiful video footage, supplemented with stunning still photography, documenting the rich diversity of wildlife found on the Coast. Interviews with local historians, native and non-native, provide invaluable history, context and insight into this place we call home, creating a lasting historical and cultural legacy for the Coast. The film will be used in schools, museums and conferences as a learning and discussion tool, and Greaves hopes to enter the film into various film festivals to reach a wider audience.
Greaves estimates he has volunteered 200 hours on the film, 60 of them in editing. “I’ve been retired for four years so maybe I was secretly looking for a project,” laughs Greaves who worked at Shaw for 39 years, first as a camera operator, then editor, producer, and programmer. “It feels good to have [the film] finished,” he says. “My goal was to get something that people feel comfortable with. It’ll be great to see it in a theatre and having everyone react to it.”
Many Hands: A Cultural Canoe Journey screens Sunday, Feb. 4 at 2pm at Raven’s Cry Theatre. Admission by donation. All welcome.