CREATION #4: Moving Stories

Natalie LeBlanc

Vancouver, BC Canada

Driving Across Canada in Pursuit of Knowledge

                                                               & Coming Full Circle

After my first year of University, I was clearly confused. I studied Design thinking that it was an extension to my fine arts background, believing that it was the route that I needed to take in order to secure a job after I graduated. However, the commercialization and the mass-produced industrial context that design oriented towards made me disdain the profession (at that point in my life) and I refused to sacrifice my ideals as an artist for its cause. I decided to take a year off. I needed to re-think my future. I needed time and I needed space.

What came next was to become one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had: I decided to drive across Canada. I packed up my belongings and moved to Vancouver at the age of 20, without ever having been there before and without ever having left the comforts of my parents' home before. I was scared and excited, happy and sad all at the same time. Although Canada was 'my' country, I was immersing myself into the unknown. What lay beyond Ontario was an assemblage of images that I had only ever seen on calendars, or on postcards, or in paintings (mostly by the group of seven).

On the road, I concentrated on the present, I detached myself from the everyday that I knew in Montreal, I didn't look back and I didn't allow myself to have any expectations as to what lay ahead. My words don't do it justice, words cannot explain how small I felt, how large and rugged the landscape was in comparison to what I had read in books, heard from other people, or had seen in pictures and on TV. I felt a part of its beauty, not separate from it.

I had planned the trip to get to the core of myself. To give myself a chance to think about who I was, what was important to me, and what path I wanted to follow in life, both personally and professionally. As a consequence, I realized that I wanted to teach: that, I wanted to feel as though I was making a difference on a daily basis as opposed to simply making a pay-cheque. And so, upon my return to Montreal, I completed a BFA in art education. Now, almost twenty years later, having just completed my PhD in art education and living once again in Vancouver,  I realize that the experience of driving across Canada taught me that my country is an enormous place and that in order to understand its collective memory, history, and contemporary context — is an enormous task. What does it mean to know Canada? In order to understand what it means to be Canadian, do we have to see it (all of it)? Do we have to feel it (all of it)? Do we have to live it (in every part of it)?

I'm uncertain as to answer any of these questions. What I am certain of is that driving across Canada gave me an enormous sense of freedom. It reminded me of who I am, what I am a part of, and most of all, it allowed me to comprehend the notion of space. I learned more in one week (6 days in fact) than I had in 1 year at university. After arriving in Vancouver, living there for a year, and then returning home at the age of 21, I can undeniably say that I returned to life with a stronger sense of self.