“My dad was in the military, so early in the early 70s he was transferred from Inuvik to Masset on Haida Gwaii. We lived there for four years and it was probably the most amazing chapter in my life. The landscape at that time - I don't know what it's like now - I remember walking down the beach as a kid and flipping over a rock and there would be a crab, or a baby eel, or a starfish under this one rock. You’d look in the water and it would be teeming with different fish, and eels, and everything pulsing with life. We spent four years there ... I found that I've never recovered from leaving that coast. We moved to Alberta after four years on Haida Gwaii and I don't think I ever fully feel at home unless I'm out on the West Coast. It's just ingrained in me. I think it was because of the time of my life - 6 to 10 years old - that it really had a pronounced effect on me. I just identify with this landscape. I feel that there are periods in your life when you get imprinted with the landscape that you’re living in and it just never leaves you.
For me, moving to Alberta was like moving to the desert - the forest was arid, the ground was sandy. Going from living surrounded by moss that was twelve inches thick, wildlife everywhere, berries exploding on the bushes - it was like night and day. The coast is life-giving in a way that’s hard to put words to. The air is saturated with goodness and energy.
Now, I get my coastal experiences in moderate doses. I have to pull myself out of here every time I'm on the coast for a stretch of time. I keep extending my trip by a week, or two weeks, because I just don’t want to leave this place, ever.
It's the openness of this place, the freeness, the rusticness, the colour of the rock, how the trees are sculpted...it's a magical place. Living on the West Coast is like living in a beautiful resort, for lack of a better term. The open water is so good for your soul - it really cleanses it. There's a wildness to the landscape, because it just doesn’t end. You’ll never see all of the West Coast - you’d have to leave now and be gone for fifteen years to see it all.
I think that's part of our our national identity, that we have this as part of us. There is such openness that creates your character. For us to grow up in nature as kids (we grew up in the middle of nowhere; now kids are growing up in shopping malls), that openness, that vastness, just sitting in that unconquered land is really...it's a dying thing now, but it really shapes how you expect your country to be.
The Canadian Mosaic Project is the largest portrait ever created in Canadian history. We have never had a mass of documentation of the Canadian people in the history of photography. When people do the Canada trip or write the Canada book, it's always the landscape. But who are the people? The face of our country has gone through radical changes in the last fifteen years, so this is a contemporary look at our Canadian identity, at our collective humanity. Who are we for real? Not a corporate or a commerce-based project, but from the heart.
You can't you can't talk about the fabric of this country without talking about British Columbia - it certainly has one of the strongest characters out of all of the provinces. I think people gravitate to the West Coast owing to the energy of the West Coast, so all those like-minded people are collecting in this region. I think people realize that the air here and this landscape are charged, and that attracts them to this place. And so you find the wild and the innovative here on the West Coast.
I leave this project open for each person’s interpretation. I feel that I have to remain neutral, that my role is simply as the storyteller. I'm the guy who brings you the story about the two guys who just met again after seventeen years apart, or the people who emigrated from Bangladesh and have now built their first company, and so on. That’s my role: I’m the story collector. And then I share them in a fashion that speaks to our citizenship, our diversity, our national pride and helping our neighbours and community.”
For more information on photographer Tim Van Horn’s Canadian Mosaic Project, visit www.canadianmosaic.ca. Or, if you see him parked down by the water, say hello and add your portrait, and your story, to his project