A Reality Check on the Homecoming of Omar Khadr

Just a little reality check for those who are raising the banner of Child Soldiers on the occasion of Omar Khadr’s return to Canada:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child reads in Article 38.2:

States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.

As much as I dislike the very idea of the prison at Guantanamo Bay; as much as I abhor the very idea of incarcerating a fifteen year old; as much as I may doubt the evidence against Mr. Khadr; as much as I may question the legal proceedings the U.S. used against the detainees in their “War on Terror”; as much as I disagree with virtually every action and position of Canada’s Government of the Day; as much as I feel that Mr. Khadr should have been brought back to Canada long ago; and as much as I value the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child . . .

In the end, on that day when Omar Khadr was captured by those U.S. soldiers, he had passed his fifteenth birthday.  Whatever he was doing in that compound, whether or not he was a soldier, the very clear fact is that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, he was definitely no longer a child soldier.




(Update, October 1, 2012:  I don’t think I made things completely clear in the original post, at least partly because things in the real world are not completely clear.  But, to be a little more clear about my position, I think the definition of Child Soldier in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must be changed so that all children under the age of eighteen are considered Child Soldiers if they take part in armed conflict.  I would also argue that the definition should make clear that adult soldiers who were recruited as children should be considered by States Party as Child Soldiers entitled to protection and rehabilitation under the Convention.  I fondly wish that Mr. Khadr had been brought home to Canada and the care of Canadian youth justice and child welfare agencies immediately after his capture, removing him from the Islamist influences of both his family and other Guantanamo inmates. Sadly, this did not happen.  The fact is that Mr. Khadr, for better or worse, has had to be an adult since he was taken into the Al-Qaeda organization. I think it naive at best and manipulative [and unhelpful to Mr. Khadr] at worst to continue raising the canard of Child Soldier in his case.  As a friend pointed out to me, the US does not subscribe to the Convention anyway.  His family, Al Qaeda, and the US military and government have all considered him an adult as long as they’ve thought about him.  If any benefit to the world can come from Mr. Khadr’s case, it will come from an extension of the definition of Child Soldier in the Convention to include 15, 16 and 17 year olds, but this will not legally benefit Mr. Khadr.)

A Serious Appreciation of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville”

No.  Seriously.  “Margaritaville”. The anthem of Parrotheads and wannabe island-escapists. That “Margaritaville”.

“Margaritaville” is a remarkably elegantly constructed little piece of literature which could serve well as a study piece in the poetry unit of high school English classes.


I am not a Parrothead. I don’t like beaches or the hot tropical sun. I could live my whole life without ever tasting another margarita and be quite happy.  And the smell of shrimp beginning to boil would make me gag.  Virtually everything about the lifestyle depicted in Jimmy Buffet’s most famous song is absolutely unappealing to me.

Now, let’s read the thing:

Google for “Margaritaville lyrics” and follow along with me.

The first verse in which Jimmy nibbles sponge cake, strums his guitar and watches the (damn) tourists as the seabugs start to boil is a very particularly set example of a very common trope in life and perhaps literature, the Unenergetic Curse of the Bloody Tourist.  I remember it in the mid ’70s in Banff when the “Gorbies” descended each summer.  And I’ve heard it directed at me when in Paris.  And, feeling improbably posessive of a wee side-walk restaurant in Penzance, I muttered the same curse under my breath at a group of Germans loudly pantomiming their desire for whipped cream — from one of those spray cans — on their ice cream.

Here’s Jimmy finding his quiet island life disruppted by the oily tourists, but consolation may lie in sponge cake, shrimp and his six string.

And, the chorus celebrating denial of responsibility that everyone sings, but no one hears:

Wasting away again in Margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame
But I know, it’s nobody’s fault.

In the first line of the chorus is the open acknowledgement of the self-discovery to come over the course of the song: his life as it is is a purposeless waste, a wasting away.  A lost shaker of salt? Is that really the problem?  Of course not, no more than the tourists are a problem in his life.  Who are the “some people” who make the claim that a woman’s to blame? Fox News? Wikipedia pretends that Jimmy’s friends have told him this, but there is no evidence that Jimmy has friends apart from his six string and his margaritas. No, the “some people” are actually singular and they are Jimmy’s own lack of responsibility.

Second verse, a little different from the first.

A wonderful little back and forth between a budding realization of the uselessness of his life — his reason — and the sucking desire to continue and try to justify that life.  He doesn’t know the reason he’s living this way with no change, no development except this stupid tattoo.  But — justification — it’s a real beauty, isn’t it? Doesn’t that make the season and the life worthwhile? But, he doesn’t even have a memory of the experience.  The last line shows that there can be no reason to this life, that there is no meaning without memory, and that a mysterious tattoo, no matter how beautiful the Mexican cutie depicted, is not an experience unless it has a story.

Jimmy’s waking up in the second chorus.  All is the same except the last line:

Now I think, Hell, it could be my fault.

Not quite a confession.  Not quite an admission.  Not quite taking responsibility. But the door is open.

The third verse begins with a list of disasters in the island life: a broken sandal, a cut foot.  Such are the great risks taken in this life.  But, no worries: there’s booze in the blender and margaritas are the only thing that allow Jimmy to hang on in this Hell.  But now, after being stymied so easily in a simple activity, walking on the beach, Jimmy is ready to take responsibility at the end of the third chorus:

It’s my own damn fault.

Although there’s not any great indication that Jimmy is going to change his lifestyle, he has over the course of the song made the profound change from blaming the world for his situation to taking responsibility and ownership of who he is.  There is no woman to blame and no longer is Jimmy one of the “some people” who say there is.  Jimmy will only blame himself.

“Margaritaville” strikes almost everyone as a celebration of irresponsible, lazy, drunken wasting away, but, just lightly scratching the surface reveals that it is, in fact, a dense study of alcoholic disillusionment and transformative responsibility.  Even if Jimmy never makes it off the island, in these three verses and choruses, he has made a mini-epic emotional voyage of transformation.

In a pop song.

Do we want High School students to develop an appreciation of poetry?  What better way could there be than to show them how a notoriously annoying ear-worm works as a well-crafted piece of poetry?

A Personal Response to “Misled by Nature” at the Art Gallery of Alberta

I am so very glad the deal between the National Gallery of Canada and the AGA has been renewed.  Some truly inspired and inspiring shows have opened here in Edmonton and the latest, Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque, is another.  Sadly, I’m sure a few visitors to the Third Floor will be scratching and shaking their heads and walking out with thoughts of money wasted by crazy artists.  Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.  But I hope most will take some time to examine the pieces carefully, to look back and forth, from side to side, and to return again and again to consider each piece on its own and in relation to the others in the show.

Now, to the works and my responses …

One can enter the gallery from either end.  I have done both on separate visits and I think the show works best if begun from the West entrance.  Here one is confronted by . . .

Yinka Shonibare’s Mr. and Mrs. Andrews Without their Heads, a spectacular, happy, dark, very baroque re-imagining of Gainsborough’s mid-18th Century painting, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews.  Where Gainsborough’s painting has a dark and brooding sky, Shonibare has a blank wall shining through the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews’ heads. Where Gainsborough’s couple is pasty of hue, the bits of Shonibare’s couple’s skin visible at the neck and hands, is a rich African brown. Where Gainsborough’s figures are dressed rather drably, Shonibare dresses the couple up in vividly coloured and patterned batik fabrics. This batik craft, now usually seen as distinctly African, is actually a Dutch invention, naturalized to Africa during colonial times.

The result of all these contrasts is an ambiguous and unresolved comment on European colonialism both from the view point of both the colonizer and the colonized.

For a moment, walk past Bharti Kher’s triptych (the most conventionally formatted piece in the show) and turn the corner into the dim universe of Sarah Sze’s 360 (Portable Planetarium)360 is not in any ordinary sense either portable or a planetarium.  One is naturally drawn to an opening in the central sphere which is itself defined by bent wood, string, photographs, various found objects and voids.  Two old-fashioned overhead projectors create a twinkling starfield on the walls surrounding you.  You stand at the point where the orb, a representation of Planet Earth as we have made her, is being rent and shattered.

Look more closely:  to your left, a charred mechanic’s dolly, a burnt wad of paper hanging from a blackened rope, a charcoaled hamster cage.  Charred wood.  Photos of forest fires connected by strings to unlit matches in cut-down styrofoam coffee cups.  As your gaze moves to your right around the interior of the globe, the photos turn green and oceanic, moss-covered stones and finally, an unburned was of paper and a pristine hamster cage exactly balance the destruction on the other side.

Is 360 a vision of what we’ve done? of our doom?  Is the burning of the planet frozen in art as it is not in reality?  Is that ladder at the top a hint that we have the tools to turn things 360 degrees?  Why is it so far out of reach? And the mechanic’s dolly is already burned. Is there hope in the fact that far more than half of the orb is still unharmed?

And were we stand observing we span the tear in the Earth’s fabric.  If we could only extend our arms and hold, and pull the sides together.  That at least is within reach.

Bharti Kher’s Nothing Marks the Perimeter, Just a Hollow Sound Echoes, as I mentioned, has the most conventional format in the show:  a triptych which at first glance could be a painted pointillist aerial-view landscape. But that’s not paint making the points.  Those are thousands and thousands of inexpensive commercially mass-produced bindis, the variously sized and shaped dots originally symbolic of meditation and wisdom in orthodox Hinduism which have in modern times become a secular fashion acsessory in parts of India.  These ready-made objects in Kher’s hands again become multi-valent.  Nothing Marks the Perimeter has remarkable depth for what is in fact a two dimensional abstraction with a very limited set of colours.  At times a starscape of black holes and exploding stars set against a very dense region of the galaxy, at times a tiger skin, at times that initial aerial-view, now with a series of tire-tracks cutting across the crystalline soil . . .  The inexpensive secular has, through elaborate repetition, become sacralized again.

For this show Tricia Middleton was commissioned to create Embracing Oblivion and Ruin is the Only Way to Live Now, a truly, if bizzarely baroque wax church/house set in a frozen forest of wax-covered shrubs on a checkerboard floor between dull metalic walls.  The piece is constructed from materials cannibalized/recycled from her previous works and, most particularly, from wax.  Huge amounts of wax.  The atmosphere of the gallery seems palpably combustible with wax fumes.  It’s somewhat heartening that there is a fire sensor on the ceiling directly above this mass of wax coated wood.

Embracing Oblivion is decay and recycling and ruin made manifest.  I don’t expect the piece will leave the Gallery intact, and that is, I think, the essential point.  Embracing Oblivion is a very slow performance piece of which we are only allowed to see the middle.  The beginning, hidden from us but obvious, was the construction of all those wax sheets and the assembly of the parts and the end, also hidden from us but implicit in the ephemerality of the materials, will be the final destruction of the work, likely to be remade into some new piece.

After Bruno Taut (Negative Capability) by Lee Bul, at first glance a slightly tattered chandelier, is a city-ship afloat in a night sky over a quick-silver sea.  In fact, it is a world of cities, arcologies of costume jewellery. What at first seem random drapings, are in fact carefully arranged curving curtains defining volumes.  Walk around the glittering artifact.  A Crystal Galleon, a Ghostly Galleon, a landscape of tiny skyscrapers floating in the sky, a city in flight.  Layer upon layer.  But, decay comes even here to this celestial diamond:  a few strands have come loose and trail in the quick-silver.

The final piece (in the itinerary I’m suggesting) is David Altmejd’s The Holes, a very ambitious piece with remarkable detail.  In a nutshell, we are witness to the decay of the corpses of two Ice Giants or trolls.  I heard the suggestion of a Sasquatch and my initial thought was a Yeti.  The disarticulated bodies lie in a winter landscape, internal organs strewn about, pulled through holes in the body cavities.  I am reminded of a number of partially dismembered animals I’ve come across in winter landscapes, trails made by scavengers radiating from the gradually disappearing corpses.  On each side of the plinth there is a square cavity, a shadow box of sorts.  One contains a single branch.  The other contains a crystal.  Various eggs are also embedded in plinth.  Artist’s hands tumble out of a Giant’s skull while a crystal stair climbs up a right leg to the knee.  At the feet there is a decompositional vortex leading to a black hole.  Branches, crystals, snails, organs swirled and descending into the singularity. The Ice Giants will be, like Wordsworth’s Lucy,

Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.

The works in Misled by Nature are marvellously unified by ideas of decay, rebirth and transformation. We don’t know if the globe will be saved from fire. We see the crystal city-ship beginning to crumble; Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, despite their decapitation – or perhaps because of it – have been transformed into something joyously beautiful; the sacred Hindu symbol is secularized and sacralized again; we are sure the wax cathedral will be smashed and rebuilt; and, while it’s clear the Ice Giant is headed for the all-erasing black hole, Stephen Hawking has showed us (those who have paid attention) that even black holes evaporate, gradually radiating their energy back out to the universe.

All is elaborate, Baroque and strangely beautiful decay and transformation.  Sublime.

Stop by the Gift Shop either before or after viewing the show (or between visits).  The background information in the Catalogue for Misled by Nature by brilliant curators Catherine Crowston, Josée Drouin-Brisebois, and Jonathan Shaughnessy is more than worth the cost of the book.

Misled by Nature continues at the Art Gallery of Alberta until January 6, 2013.  It will later appear at Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (with something slightly different by Tricia Middleton, I suspect) from June 21 to August 18, 2013.

An Open Letter to Certain Protesters in the Islamic World

Dear Defenders of Allah, Mohamed (PBUH) and Islam:

I won’t ask the usual obvious questions like why Allah needs you to defend Him, why His Prophet (PBUH) needs you to take his part, or how Islam can be so fragile as to be endangered by silly things Westerners do.  No, I won’t ask those obvious questions.

But I will ask:

Have you ever actual seen the Internet?  Have you ever actually seen the sheer volume of printed material that comes out of the various publishing concerns in the West?  Do you not realize that every single day every single religion in the world is ridiculed, maligned, insulted, questioned, admired, praised, and championed in thousands of new publications and new web pages?

Why do you behave as though a particular YouTube item or a particular cartoon or a wacky backwoods preacher among a million similar videos, cartoons and preachers is some new, particular insult to your God, his Prophet (PBUH) and/or your religion?

I have a suspicion of what the real answer is, and that suspicion arises out of those murderous riots that erupted a few years ago over those ridiculous cartoons.  Do you realize that those cartoons were published one day and ignored and forgotten by everyone except a single Muslim fellow who packed a selection of them around the Islamic world in his brief case, showing them to everyone he could for months — for months! — until finally some Imams with a bit of a voice started screeching about them.  And then the mob rose up, their buttons well and truly pushed.

This time the anniversary of those attacks of 2001 was coming up so, I suspect, an industrious Imam or two started combing through YouTube looking for something with which to push the buttons of the dutiful mob.  And it worked exactly as planned.  The apparently very internet-not-savy crowds reacted as though their God, His Prophet (PBUH) and Islam itself were under some sort of new, unique attack such as had not been seen since Richard the Lionheart faced off against Saladin the Kurd.
But that’s not what actually was being done to Islam.  What actually was being done was some two-bit hack in Southern California made yet another of millions of cheap, embarrassing bigoted basically verbal attacks on a religion.  Is there not an Arabic version of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”?  Surely Mohamed (PBUH) included a sura about that?

I’ve heard it said that somehow this bit of video trash “hurt religious feelings”.  Are your religious feelings seriously that tender?  How were those feelings hurt?  What sort of power do you give to this little California hood that his malignant opinions carry any weight against your religious feelings or the teachings of your Imam?

Or is that it?  Did your Imam tell you that Allah, His Prophet (PBUH) and Islam were being insulted and your religious feelings were being hurt?

But, what do you feel?  Do you feel that your faith in Allah, His Prophet (PBUH) and your faith in Islam itself is somehow compromised or endangered by an ex-con in California making a piece of schlock?  If that is actually the case, I think you might want to take some time to examine the strength of your own belief.

And, these hurt religious feelings:  now that U.S. flags have been burned, buildings have been destroyed and a number of people have lost their lives to your indignant mob-violence — now that all these uplifting religious actions have been taken, do your religious feelings feel better?  What about the thousands of new videos, tracts, web pages, books, cartoons, opinion pieces that have appeared since September 11?  Are they hurting your religious feelings?  Do you need to defend Allah against those?  Do you need to defend Islam against me?

Don’t ask your Imam:  what do you think?


A guy who thinks you could probably do better things for Allah, His Prophet (PBUH) and Islam (and for yourself, your family, and your nation) than burning down buildings and killing people

Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest”

Watching Felicity Jones as Miranda running through the forest on Prospera’s Island in Julie Taymor’s The Tempest I can’t help but think of Helen Mirren in her first major role in Michael Powell’s 1969 film Age of Consent.  Apart from Mirren’s presence in both films and a few momentary visual similarities and a caressing devotion to images in both, I don’t think there are any great meaningful parallels to be drawn between the two films.  Perhaps one could massage some plot parallels between Age of Consent and The Tempest, but that seems a stretch.  I just couldn’t help feeling an association in my own mind.

A personal bias to be disclosed immediately:  Helen Mirren can do no wrong.  That out of the way, what to make of Taymor’s Tempest?

The obvious place to start would be the change of Prospero to Prospera, which Taymor and Mirren have acheived marvellously seamlessly.  The change works and works well, bringing new emphasis to issues of the play that often are submerged and causing a bit of a paradigm shift by making the central relationship mother/daughter rather than father/daughter.  As well, the parallel between Sycorax, exiled to the Island with her son, Caliban and Prospera exiled with Miranda is made so very obvious by the change, and the questions surrounding Caliban’s early companionship with Miranda, his slavery, the old issue of colonization, the contrast between black and white magic . . . so much is brought to the fore by the change of an “o” to an “a”.

As well as making the adjustments to backstory in Act I, scene 2 necessary to the sex change, Taymor has excised a large number of phrases and lines as well as splitting Act II, scene 2.  I expect these decisions were made to make the project more accessible to modern audiences (and the project more palatable to the studio).  On the whole, the changes and excisions are either seamless or improvements for the new medium.  Certainly the splitting of the long conversation of the court figures into two scenes makes for a more punchy effect.

A quibble I can’t help feeling concerns the masque.  Taymor has constructed a magical effects scene in which Prospera suddenly remembers Caliban’s plot and ends it.  This is all proper, except it is absurdly short, completely without words, and only with a hint of the conjugal meaning of Shakespeare’s masque scene.  It seems so odd that Taymor, the absolute Queen of Masks on stage and screen, should choose to pass over the opportunity the nuptial masque offers.    In the Experts’ Commentary track on the DVD someone mentions that many today feel that the masque is “unplayable”.  In my opinion, The Freewill Company this past summer put the lie to that assumption: the masque is absolutely playable today and it can be accessible and beautiful.  I wish Taymor had put more/some effort into her vision of the masque.

Ben Wishaw is exquisite as Ariel.  Although his major manifestations (the nymph and the harpy, the latter an absolutely rivetting scene) are distinctly female, a male Ariel (as Shakespeare wrote him) produces a fascinating sexual tension with Mirren’s Prospera, a tension often produced in modern productions by making Ariel female.  But the power relationship between a male master and a female slave is much different than that between a female master and a male slave, something which also affects the relationship between Prospera and Caliban (Djimon Hounsou).  The physically powerful Caliban would have no trouble overwhelming Prospera were it not for her magic, but Prospero the man might be more of a challenge.  Prospera’s power is magnified by her being a female master to male servants.

The cast is fairly uniformly tremendous with a few small issues. I find Reeve Carney’s Ferdinand quite dull, and Felicity Jones as Miranda is appealing, but I have trouble seeing her physically as Helen Mirren’s daughter.  The Court characters are perfect.  Tom Conti’s Gonzalo is marvellous, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Conti.  David Strathern is marvellously, and to me, surprisingly noble as Alonso, the King of Naples.  Alan Cumming nails the malleability of Sebastian and Chris Cooper as Antonio does a wonderful job, particularly in some of the backchat bits while Gonzalo and Alonso are speaking.  And he is physically very believable as Mirren’s brother.

The clowns are thankfully absolutely not “Disney.”  Alfred Molina is brilliant as Stephano.  No surprise there.  Despite my unaccountable antipathy to Russel Brand, he does a workmanlike job of Trinculo. The Gabardine Scene is aranged much like every other production, and the scene where the fancy cloths are found is much like the same scene in Mazursky’s remarkable Tempest, but never do the three sink to the disgrace of Disney clowns. Please, please, please, all companies considering Shakespeare, go to school on Taymor’s clowns and shun everything of Disney.  There is so much more in these “minor” characters.

Djimon Hounsou is incomparable as Caliban, so evocative of so very much!  He is so grounded in the soil of the island, so physical and graceful, his voice so rich, both in tone and accent.  Somehow the use of drunkenness to control Caliban is a more real reference to colonialism than it is in most productions I’ve seen.  Seeing Hounsou’s very beautiful African face being plied with liquor by a fat drunken white guy is so depressingly terrifying to me.  Caliban has so much more nobility than any of the European characters, including Prospera.  Hounsou’s cries of “Freedom! at the end of the Gabardine scene, although tragically misplaced, should finally expunge any filmic memory of an unmentionable other blue-faced cinematic cry of “Freedom”.

The costume design and makeup are everything we might expect from Taymor.  The Court characters are dressed in a fascinating combination of Elizabethan cut, black leather, and zippers.  They are a biker gang pretending to be Lords.  Nicely done.  Prospera is all earth and organic, a sort of Gaia figure.  I am not sure, however, that her magic cloak works — it looks like a collection of melted plastic bottles.  Miranda is a virginal Diana, or, more appropriate to the tempest, Virgil’s Camilla, daughter of Metabus the original exiled single-father, running barefoot over the tops of the grain in the fields.  Her short, dishevelled homespun dress is perfect.  And Caliban:  a foot in two worlds, white/Black, nature/civilization.  But, is Nature dominant? Wait for the end.

There is no party as ends Mazursky’s Tempest (a scene later lifted entire by Mamma Mia, by the way).  Although still to come are the release of Ariel, the destruction of Prospera’s staff and books, and the epilogue (as a pop song over the end credits — couldn’t Taymor have found Matthew Broderick to do it Ferris Bueller style?), here is how the film ends for me:

Caliban’s last line is left out.  He leaves Prospera’s cell alone, in charge at last.  No more magic.  No more politics.  Just life. Nature.

A Visit to the Janvier Gallery, Cold Lake First Nations, Alberta

During repeated visits to the recent Alex Janvier exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta, I heard conflicting things about Janvier’s Gallery in Cold Lake. I knew that a number of years ago he had opened his own gallery in downtown Cold Lake, but now there were rumours of a new gallery, of a move, perhaps incomplete, that the new gallery was open, that it wasn’t yet.  .  .  .  Well, I decided that on the last day of August I’d make the drive out to Cold Lake to see for myself.
I’ll settle the rumours at the outset:  The Janvier Gallery has moved; the collection is not completely settled in, but the new gallery is open.  Most important for potential visitors:  at the moment visits are by appointment only.  I made my appointment by email the night before my visit.  Jacqueline Janvier responded remarkably promptly and the appointment was settled on in no time.  Mr. Janvier’s official web-page has current contact information for both email and telephone and I will repeat them at the end of this post.

Now, to the road trip and the visit:

Wrangling an eighteen year old with special needs is a challenge at the best of times.  With an appointment 300 kilometres away over an unfamiliar route and with said eighteen-year-old already fed up with summer road trips and not in the best of health, the morning’s preparations can be, in a word, stressful.  But, we managed to get on the road by noon for the 4 pm appointment and happily learned later that none of the things we had left behind proved indispensable.

Anxiously (well, I was anxious) we worked our way through construction on Fort Road and under the Anthony Henday (speed trap under the overpass — we were right on the limit) and then north and east on Highway 28.  Inevitably we took some whimsical detours: a cruise through Radway, which sadly seems on the verge of ghost town status; a quick drive south from Smoky Lake, the Pumpkin Capital of Alberta, to the peaceful Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site on the left bank of the North Saskatchewan River.  Also innevitably, the words “Bathroom Break” were uttered just after the beginning of the long stretch of “No Service” east of Bonnyville.

Despite all, we were approaching Cold Lake around 3:30 and it was time to pull out Mrs. Janvier’s final road directions which, although they struck me as incomprehensible the night before, even with the help of GoogleMaps, made absolute clear sense on the ground.

The new Janvier Gallery is not in the town of Cold Lake.  It is, rather, in the heart of the northern section of the Cold Lake First Nations, in beautiful aspen forest a stone’s throw from the lake that gives the First Nations and the town their names.  Mr. Janvier has hand lettered a little sign at the end of the residential road leading off English Bay Road.  With the benefit of Mrs. Janvier’s directions, we arrived only a few minutes late and were greeted by three very friendly dogs.  Mrs. Janvier welcomed us at the door with totally unnecessary apologies for the unsettled state of things after the move, bringing us on a tour of the entire building, including areas one would expect to be behind doors sternly marked “Staff Only”.

The New Gallery is a Douglas Cardinal design, warmly curved and coloured in earthy red and yellow ochres on the exterior.  It is beautifully at home in its setting.  Inside the gallery space is bright, and the art fairly glows and leaps off the clean white walls.  Some might quibble that the space is too small considering Mr. Janvier’s vast output over his long career, but I would argue it is the perfect size for a visitor to admire and react to Mr. Janvier’s work’s different sizes, themes and palettes without being overwhelmed.  With Mrs. Janvier’s experienced advice and memory, I was able to appreciate a large number of works on the walls and perhaps an equal number brought out of the vault for me to consider.

In short order I had arrived at a pair of pieces that were the sort of things that balanced my desires and my budget.  Mrs. Janvier went back to the vault and found three more pieces of the fairly unusual sort I had noticed.  In the end, I settled happily on the original two.  My daughter managed to come away with a number of reproductions, cards and a key-chain with a tiny reproduction of Morning Star on it as a generous bonus.



An hour or so into our visit, Mr. Janvier arrived looking well rested after what I’d been told had been a late night of painting.  He had fresh paint still on his hands from the day’s session.  We had a most enjoyable chat that touched on Expo’67, rodeo, Peter Lougheed, the great potential of Alberta, and, now and then, Art.  Mr. Janvier expressed strongly his feeling that Alberta is the place to be for artists (and every other occupation).  With our business and our visit coming to an end, we all walked outside into the incomparable aspen forest, Mr. Janvier chuckled over his dogs a moment and then drove off with a wave to check out the rodeo on the south side of the Reserve.  We waved goodbye to Mrs. Janvier and drove off to find some dinner in town.  I felt like I had just spent a couple of hours with old friends in their very comfortable and beautifully designed home.  The Janvier Gallery is one of the warmest and most peaceful place I’ve ever had the good fortune to visit.

Unfortunately, I was so stressed on arrival and so comfortable during the visit, and floating so high as we left, I never took a single picture of the Gallery, inside or out, despite having two cameras on my person through it all. That fact is my only regret of the trip.

Next time.

A few hours later, night had fallen and we were again in the traffic of the construction of Fort Road with another twenty minutes or so ahead of us to get across town home.  I was struck forcibly by the contrast between the absurd bustle of Edmonton’s streets, in which I felt so at home, and the peace of the woods beside Cold Lake, where I also had felt so comfortable.  I had realized earlier in the day, and commented on it to Mrs. Janvier, that I feel strongly that the Janvier Gallery, now that it is on a quiet residential road beside the Lake on Cold Lake First Nations land, is in exactly the place it should be.

Again, the new Janvier Gallery on Cold Lake First Nations #149 B is open, and it is a quietly unrivalled destination for any lover of Canadian Art.  When I told them that I would be writing about the visit, Mr. and Mrs. Janvier both asked me to emphasize that for the the time being, until things are more settled from the move,  visits are by appointment only.  Please call or email before making the trip.

The Janvier Gallery can be contacted at:

Phone: (780) 639-4545
E-Mail : info@alexjanvier.com