by Hannah Rose Dobski
In May of 2016, my aunt, Ann Verrall (co-producer/co- director for 500 Days in the Wild) attended the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. It was during this festival that I first met Dianne Whelan, who I immediately felt a deep connection with, and her world was so interesting that I wanted nothing but to help her with her incredible vision.
As a young woman, I watched members of my family, immediate and otherwise, both soar and crawl their way through the art world. Knowing how difficult the life of an artist could be, I tragically ignored my own deep-rooted artistic urges for many years. I was afraid of the burdensome nature of it all and instead considered that there could be an easier way to live, but I never found one.
When I met Dianne, I had just undergone enormous life changing transitions. I went from working as a chef in Montreal, struggling with multiple personal issues, to coming back to Toronto and finding a new, strong, sober outlook on life and most of all, myself. I finally realized that I couldn’t get in my own way anymore, I had to create art. Ignoring my artistic impulses which came so naturally to me, was not only affecting me mentally but, physically as well. Meeting Dianne couldn’t have come at a better time. She had come to stay with my family in Toronto for a few days, and I took that opportunity to show Dianne, an established artist, and a stranger to me at the time, some of the photography work I had just started doing. At the time most of my work consisted of self portraits, but looking back, I think of that series of photos as a self awakening. Dianne was nothing if not encouraging of my photography. She then opened up to me about her journey: hiking, biking, paddling, and snowshoeing the longest trail in the world! She talked of meeting communities of people that are majorly connected to the land, and how she was to be illustrating the story through the medium of film. Considering that, I too, had a similar desire to connect with people through art, this project heavily resonated with me. I have lived my entire life in a major city which, at times, feels overwhelmingly isolating. So, of course I jumped up at the idea that I could be exploring natural Canadian land which we should all feel in tune with! Being able to use art and creativity to reach different communities excited me in a way I didn’t even know was possible, I knew I had to in some way or another get myself involved with such an epic journey.
Soon after our first meeting, Dianne invited me out to London Ontario where she was to accept a canoe as donation from the company Nova Craft, to help Dianne with the remaining 6500km of bodies of water she still had to cross. She handed me a beautiful, Canon 5D DSLR, and told me to capture the entire experience. Being gifted such an opportunity and experience meant everything in the world to me, and helped to boost my self confidence which led to my further pursuit of photography production.
Now, months later, I’ve experienced so many more amazing life changes: a new full time job that allows me to take photos and work with social media, a husband that supports and fully understands an artistic lifestyle, and the journey still continues! Ann and Dianne invited me to Regina, Saskatchewan to curate the 500 Days in the Wild Youtube channel as an intern. At the aid of Dianne and Ann, I spent my time posting and editing video footage, I was allowed to choose the music to accompany the video shorts and curate other social media postings!
The one video, which I found particularly moving and significant, was the Michipicoten Water Ceremony. Laying witness to this video allowed me to hear the beautiful words of the women involved, discussions of standing together in solidarity, and the power that comes from that form of ritual. Their singing of this ancient grandmother song which has been sung for generations, contains a power that is remarkable beyond words. The beating of the drum moved my heart and the singing voices stayed with me, and for a moment I was transported the shores of Lake Superior, standing there with this community. This is how magic blends into art, and art becomes magic.
Another reason the grandmother song impacted me so deeply, is because I am privileged to have my own grandmother, Catherine Verrall, who worked with First Nation’s communities for most of her life. The woman who made sure to teach my sister and I to respect the earth. She used to take us to Six Nations land, almost once a month when I was a child. Exposing us to the art, culture and history of the First Nations people, making us rooted in standing with.
All these amazing, strong, women mentoring me, standing with me, giving me strength and courage to push forward, be creative, be an artist. Thank you Rebel Sisters.