Artscape Wychwood Barns celebrates Great Lakes with new exhibit

A new documentary photo series called “North of Long Tail” is celebrating Canadians’ personal stories and connection to Lake Erie, while calling for action to protect the Great Lakes from environmental destruction. Artscape Wychwood Barns will be showcasing the free exhibit until July 4, and it’s also free to view online at environmentaldefence.ca.

The photo series is a collaboration between documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer, whose work focuses on issues such as migration, diversity and belonging along with Environmental Defence, one of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy organizations. Telling the stories of 20 people who live on the north (Canadian) side of the lake and have a strong personal connection to the body of water, the exhibit seeks to highlight the meaning Lake Erie holds for so many (about 2.7 million Canadians, to be exact) while raising awareness about the need to protect it.

With the threat of toxic algae blooms and climate change effects such as flooding looming over the lake and all the Great Lakes including Lake Ontario, the creators of the photo exhibit hope to motivate Canadians to take action and prevent further destruction. Costing the country’s economy about $272 million annually, algae blooms can clog water pipes, ruin ecosystems and kill fish, making them one of the biggest concerns for the lake and its inhabitants.

Lake Erie represents a lifeline for the people who live close to it, providing multiple benefits from spiritual reprieve to economic boon. One thing all the subjects featured in the series have in common—they all share a deep and personal bond with the lake and its surroundings.

Great Lakes photo exhibit
Trevor with Patricia, the founder of the quarry theatre on Pelee Island

The stories depicted in the exhibit include those of the founder of Pelee Island’s quarry theatre and farmer’s market, Patricia, who sought refuge on Pelee Island after suffering a nervous breakdown in the ’90s. Since purchasing property on the island in 1997, she and her partner Trevor have united the community through artist residencies, a Saturday morning farmer’s market and the quarry theatre, where they hold performances of all kinds from Inuit throat singing to grand chorale.

The exhibit also tells the story of Mohamad, who finally found peace and beauty in Leamington, Ont. after fleeing Syria to live in Turkey, where he worked in a factory at the age of 11. Eighteen other diverse yet equally touching stories are showcased in the exhibit, all sharing the underlying message that Lake Erie is an intrinsic and essential part of life for so many.

The overarching call-to-action of the photo series encourages viewers to engage with Environmental Defence, and send a letter to Hon. John Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Hon. Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, urging them to help save the Great Lakes. Check out the exhibit at 76 Wychwood Ave.

Article exclusive to TRNTO