Agriculture, Environment, Land, Food, Planning, Sustainability Archives - Peter Sibbald's Blog About Photography and Filmmaking

Dr. George Burrows 1928 – 2015


When Dr. George hired me 8 years ago to do some photographic work for his family, I could not resist the opportunity to celebrate and honour his contribution to our community with this, my then first foray into multimedia storytelling. For like so many of my time and place I loved this man, whose twinkling eyes above his cotton surgical mask were very likely the first human features that our own newly born eyes fixed upon, even before those of our mothers. Many of us owed him our lives.

If the 1950s and 60s were a no-nonsense and paternalistic era, Dr. George nonetheless had a few gentle tricks up his sleeve to coax a young child to offer up a finger for a pin prick or an arm to set a cast. And despite the pain, we forgave him because we knew that it was in the spirit of good will and caring that he extended to so many in Georgina. Indeed, I was an unhealthy child and so I remember his occasional visits to our house, sparing my mother and me—as he doubtless did with countless others in the community—the difficulty and discomfort of an often long wait in his busy clinic. And still, decades later, many of us in Georgina would know that it was Dr. George’s regular house calls that permitted our elders not only to remain with dignity and care much longer in their homes, but not infrequently, to do so in their own beds, right up to the end.

At least one time, prior to the public ambulance service, Dr. George risked his life in a desperate attempt to save the lives of 3 young children in a fatal vehicle accident by skimming across the treacherous newly forming Lake Simcoe ice in his car to the nearby Chippewa reserve at Georgina Island at Christmastime. I know this because one of the souls lost that night was my childhood bed friend, Kelly Johnston. Doubtless it was not the only risk or heartbreak in his nearly 60 year career. Lake Simcoe would take the life of his protege, Dr. Big Canoe some decades later. Dr. George was the epitome of a country doctor and a gentleman, and he gave us his all apparently doing his final house call only a couple of weeks ago.

Despite our grief in his passing it was consoling to hear that his own incredible family were able to bring him home to surround and support him in his final hours.

To Joyce, Heather, Frank, Jennifer and Tania, and your families, my thoughts are with you.

Dr. George, you have been greatly appreciated and you shall be deeply missed.

—Peter Sibbald
May 24, 2015

P.S. Many thanks to Rita Celli of CBC Ontario Today, for the interview used in this project.


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Clash: Conflict and Its Consequences—a film by Johnny Alam

Photography, Memory & War from Johnny Alam on Vimeo.

This is a very thoughtful film on the nature of photography in conflict zones containing several of my photographs from the Oka Crisis of 1990, as well as the work of some of Canada’s greatest photographers and photojournalists of the past century. It is built around an interview with Andrea Kunard, Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Canada.

You can see some of Carleton University Ph.D. student Johnny Alam’s other work here and on his website.


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Of Redemption: Remembering Francis Penashue

Penashue Camp, Lake Minnipi, 1996. Francis Penashue lolls on the floor of his tent playing with his grandchildren while his wife Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue prepares a meal of fresh duck and bannock on their home-made wood stove. The Penashues spend several months a year in the bush reclaiming their traditional Innu culture and passing it on to their children and grand-children.

It must have been about this time of the year, 24 years ago, when I met Francis Penashue, although I don’t actually remember our first encounter. I lived briefly with his family—in fact Francis’s father Matthew and partner and their grandson baby George Nuna—in the Mealy Mountains in the interior of Labrador, a place the Innu call Nitassinan, “Our Homeland”. I was intending to stay for only a few days, but became weather-bound for an additional week. It was 10 days that I can only regard as a privilege and that would tie me emotionally to that place and those people, affording me a perspective on the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, and change my life.

Actually I don’t remember Francis in that 1989 camp per se but, I can still have nightmares about the Francis of that era, for he terrified me. Perhaps Francis was not in the camp at that time because he could not escape the poison that held him in its grip in the village. In those days, and for years before and some after, alcohol was his demon and he raged against it and the circumstances that drew him back to it again and again. No one was too young or too strong to escape his wrath, least of all his little kids or his wife, Tshaukuesh, and certainly no young white man with a camera and a big city attitude. I must have embodied everything he hated. For Francis was part of that lost generation of children wrenched from their families and beaten into submission in the residential schools, though in Francis’s case it was not technically a residential school, but the now notorious Mount Cashel orphanage on the island of Newfoundland. “Kill the Indian in the child” was Canada’s official policy in those years.

In the years that followed our first meeting, Francis beat back those demons into some form of recovery. I would stay again with his family in bush camps, but those times, he would be there, the dedicated father, adoring grandfather, sharing with family the traditional knowledge of how to live off the land, knowledge that he had acquired in his earliest years from his elders in the bush camps he was born and raised in. Francis’s sons became hunters and many of their children still know how to live off of and in harmony with the land. For that, Francis must have started to recover pride. Francis and Tshaukuesh’s tent became the heart of those bush encampments. By this time, the little children were no longer afraid of Francis, and there was a constant coming and going of little feet through the tent flap, both to savour Tshaukuesh’s partridge stew and to fill the balsam bow infused air with giggles.

In those latter years I knew him, we didn’t talk much, and he never spoke of the cruelty my kind must have inflicted on his child self, nor what of that he passed on to others. And after having my language forced upon him, why would he have wanted to use it to share such pain with me? Thereafter, Francis chose to speak mostly Innuemun as far as I know. That he rose above such deserved hate of my kind to condescend to sharing not only my company but the presence of my camera was huge for me personally. And so, like his children and grandchildren I learned by watching.

That was 1996, and I think Francis then was still struggling with remorse. I would like to think that—as later pictures and stories would indicate—Francis found some redemption in the role that he earned as elder and, along with Tshaukuesh, leaders of their people. It was a valiant thing he did—no mean feat of sobriety and wholeness in a social milieu then still highly compromised by multigenerational alcoholism. Many of his generation could not win that battle and succumbed to accidents, poisoning, suicide… indeed are succumbing still as are many their children and grandchildren. But Francis was evidence that the government, a succession of my governments—those groups of democratically elected Canadians who cynical legislation, with the blunt force of violence and with the careless failure to protect the people in its charge from mercury, carcinogens and other toxins into their food, water and air…  Canadian governments that are still trying to deprive the First Peoples of their rights, autonomy and  land—that they could not, cannot, “kill the Indian in the child”.

Earlier this morning CBC Radio journalist and producer Marie Wadden, who has written books about Francis Penashue’s journey, wrote of his final one, that it was Lou Gehrig’s disease that put an end to his life. Release from the tyranny of that disease is, I  guess, some sort of blessing. Last evening Francis was removed from the hospital and brought out to spend his final minutes laying in the fragrance of spruce bows of a white canvas tent, cozy with wood fire—home—surrounded by a circle of 200 loving family and friends. To me, that is evidence enough of his redemption, and that redemption is possible, proof to all of us of the importance of sticking to our moral compasses, of keeping trying. One can only hope to have the strength and bravery to do such work, and when our times come, to be so lucky.

To Tshaukuesh, Peter, Max, Bart, Jack, Gervais, Robert, Freddie, Angela and Kanani, and your children and grandchildren, I am so sorry for your loss.



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Adventures in iPhoneography – A Series: Flirtations, An Intro

I’m going to be teaming up with “misadventure” travel writer Kirsten Koza next July to co-host a workshop in Kirgizstan for travel writers and photographers. Due to one of her hilarious misadventures, Kirsten (an accomplished travel photographer in her own right) came to find herself in need of a new camera. When our recent kitchen-table conversation wandered perilously near the brink of that mud-pit that photographers are apt fall into, gear talk, I was reluctant to go there and exclaimed that ‘even if people travelled only with their iPhones, we could have an incredible adventure and they could make great photographs…’ the insinuation being that Kirsten—who’d been texting moments before—was already holding her next camera in her hand. After all, it is not so much about the tool as the yey and how one uses what tool one has at hand to tell the story, and the content itself… or so it is said.

To my suggestion, lets say Kirsten’s guffaw was tad dismissive. Nevertheless it got me thinking more about my own ancient 4-year-old iPhone 3Gs with its dinky 3.2 Mega-Pixel pinhole sized sensor. Frankly I’ve ignored it, and surrounded as I usually am by an arsenal of pro-gear, I’d come to regard mine as a piece of crap really. Generating highly compressed jpgs 2047 x 1536 pixels, it wasn’t totally useless of course, just mostly useless for anything other than acting as a visual note taking device.

Or was it?

A few days later I began to explore what I could do with just that device. It would be a challenge: could I make it into a useful tool?


Starting out on her own in the evening.

Looking Ahead
One of the first times when I consciously made a iPhoneograph rather than a quick visual note… just a straight shot, nothing done to it but cropped square, just like my old Kodak Instamatic, and my Hasselblad


After some more unsuccessful mucking about, the first thing I went looking for on the interweb were the experiences of other pros. I found many corporate reviewers and amateur photography bloggers, but very little from the keyboards of my peers. (Not to say they’re not there but I haven’t found them.) Most of what I found was gear talk, for in afterglow of the dawning of this new image medium a whole new industry of apps and gizmos has spring up to augment the humble iPhone camera and its competitors.

This got me thinking about this rambling old blog of mine. I am a photographer; it is time again to write about photography… at least a little more often. So in a coming series of blog posts I’ll be sharing trials, tribulations and triumphs from summary gleanings to technical minutia.

Along the way we’ll look at the role of camera-phones in the lives of professional photographers, revisit the Instagram debate (perhaps you didn’t even know there was one… hopefully I can advance it a little), view a bunch of neat examples of others that I’ve begun discovering, maybe play with a bunch of apps, take a quick look at the history, culture, ethics and industry of iPhoneography (or its generic term “Mobile Photography”), try to build an efficient workflow and see where all this leads. After all, I’m still not very far along this journey.

I will try to keep my posts brief  and pithy (hopefully this will be by-far my longest one) to leave people time to indulge in their own adventures, should they choose to undertake them. I’m anxious to get on with it myself and will not experiment with many of the possibilities if they do not seem likely to be useful. I don’t expect this to be a long series. It will not be a review of the 5, 10, 30, 100 best apps for the iPhone. It will however be iPhone-centric as that is the device I already own. I’ll try to curate the essentials both of what I’ve discovered and what I’ve experienced.

Feedback from abject argument to affirmation is most welcome. Perhaps you’ll give me better questions to ask, quandaries to mull, or mysteries to investigate.

Next post: “Finding the Love”Whoa Peter…Don’t jump to conclusions… first things first… Next post: The Ground Rules


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CBC in Crisis? Well certainly under clear and present threat… AND in Need of a Deserving Shout Out

I am no expert on public broadcasting, but like many Canadian citizens  disgruntled with the gradual erosion of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s offerings over the past decade or more  (with its increasing repetitiveness in programming and scaled-back budgets for foreign bureaus and investigative journalism), as a regular CBC listener certainly for me this has felt like a “crisis” for some time. But notwithstanding that arguably hyperbolic designation, LeadNow,  Friends of Public Broadcasting and have been scrambling to bring an important PUBLIC NOTICE to Canadians this past week or so which cannot be disputed: that the CBC is under clear and present threat of imminent takeover by the PMO through a hidden clause in one of the Harper government’s latest (if before he was elected scorned) omnibus bills, Bill C-60, their most recent omnibus budget bill.

This is a critical issue. Consider many of the—hmmm, how shall I put this—less than Canadian manoeuvres of the Harper government continuing to be catalogued on blogs such as Tracking Harper as this man systematically dismantles our ‘just society’ and makes Canada the laughing stock of people of good conscience across the globe:  on a quick, random check, most of those stories were at least reported, if not broken or indeed further investigated by Canada’s public broadcaster. How many of those important stories would Canadians have any inkling of had the CBC already been under the direct control of the government? Or to put the shoe on the other foot: what would we know of the Liberal government sponsorship scandal or the corruption surrounding Montreal politics and on and on?

Regardless of which party one votes for—for indeed every political party in every province and territory has been put under CBC’s microscope at some point— if it is not the first and foremost job of journalism, and in particular public broadcast journalism, to hold power to account, what relevance if any could the CBC hold once this bill is fully implemented?

OR aaahhhhh… is that Harper’s secret strategy: not so much an agenda to take over control over who is hired and what is said by each and every host and news anchor  of the CBC which might overwhelm even his allegedly superior micro-management capabilities, but to fast-track the apparent irrelevance of the CBC in its core role so that even this country’s business, academic and culture communities turn away in disgust? Harper has made no secret of his disdain for the public broadcaster since before he was elected, not to mention at least the latter two of those constituencies. (And with bloopers like CASL, Bill C-28, his recent bludgeon bill—which on its surface presented the wholesome and honourable aspiration of eliminating SPAM and egregious telemarketers—even thoughtful members of Canada’s  business and legal communities must be wondering about a government that would write legislation that (in)advertantly also outlaws future outreach to new clients/customers, including by businesses yet to be created, and possibly even curtails any new B2B e-communications. ) But I digress.

Today’s post is prompted by rather excellent radio of CBC’s The Current this morning in which journalist and guest host Anthony Germain managed in a mere 90 minutes or less to provide interesting and balanced coverage about:

  • the story of former Harper cabinet minister and former Innu Nation President Peter Penashue (and my friend) and his potential (or not) re-election in Monday’s by-election
  • the issues of safe water supply, environment and the power of the people versus over-bearing government in China, and the implications of water shortages for world peace…
  • in this sad old world of ours, the meaning and mission of Art and film


The mere association of these stories in one show can only provoke the kinds of interconnectedness of ideas that this small offering of a blog strives to do on many of the same subjects.

Congratulations Anthony Germain, Anna Maria Tremonti and team. Also a shout-out to CBC Q‘s Jian Ghomeshi’s for 2013/05/10 CBC pride-filled prologue today about CBC content (which further spurred this blogpost) and his rant last Friday  2013/05/03 underscoring my peeve about the recent dismissal of we “citizens” (who consider that the intrinsic privilege of our nationality bears far more responsibility than merely voting or paying taxes) as “taxpayers” or “voters”.



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Voices from the Fire: Goosed!

Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Victoria Island encampment of hunger-striking Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. A Canada goose from the Ottawa River makes itself at home amidst the Chief’s supporters.


After nearly a month of Chief Spence and her co-hunger-strikers going without solid food, to a skeptical person at least it might appear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent agreement to meet with Canada’s First Nations Chiefs on Friday January 11, 2013 —though he hasn’t admitted to it—may have come about due to pressure from the Chief, the growing international Idle No More movement and major voices of social justice  such as Amnesty International, not to mention Gaia herself represented by this goose.

Hardly the skeptic, I’m certain that the PM finally figured out how to meet the Chief’s demands as a result of the helpful directions provided to him in my recent blog post.

Screen shot from working title Voices from the Fire, now in production.

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Driving Directions for The PM to visit Chief Theresa Spence

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

A number of non-Native folk have contacted me looking for directions to Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike encampment on Victoria Island, and so it occurs to me that perhaps the reason you may have not been over to visit Chief Spence is because you couldn’t find your way.

After all it has been over 3 weeks since she began her strike and she must be getting rather hungry by now to at least have some news from you.

As we enter what may yet prove to be the coldest January in a number of years, I also wanted to remind you to please dress warmly. There’s no sense resuming Parliament with a cold after you return to work from your Christmas recess on January 28, three weeks after the kids have gone back to school . You might even want to replace that 100X beaver felt cowboy hat with a beaver fur one. I realize those cowboy hats are warm, but they’re missing those cosy fur ear flaps that are so much more practical in this weather. Besides you’d probably look even more dashing in fur than felt. I’ll bet you could borrow one from one of your mounties; they’re issued with great fur hats, or at least they used to be, before the federal budget cuts.

Also it’s pretty cold for the Chief’s supporters over on the island, and so it might be a thoughtful gesture to bring along some food, firewood, warm clothing or extra blankets as they would be well appreciated by the fire-keepers who are keeping round-the-clock watch over Chief Spence and her sacred fire. And if you really want to be politic, you might bring along a little tobacco for an offering.

Oh yes and fresh water… I imagine the drinking water from the taps at 24 Sussex is much cleaner than anything any ordinary Canadian will have access to going forward once international and domestic corporate interests have their way with those thousands of navigable lakes and rivers removed from protection last month by the provisions of your omnibus bill, C-45.  Perhaps Canadians could run a water pipeline from the facility providing clean water to 24 Sussex into the general drinking water supply. In the long run that could save  tax payers oodles of health care dollars by sparing us al from being forced to consume the imminently contaminated local water… well at least until you abolish universal healthcare. After that I guess it won’t matter as it will be up to the sickened and dying Canadian population to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to get on an level playing field with the Chinese who, by then, will own many of our former resources and Native reserve lands.


But I digress. I know you must be chomping at the bit for those directions so you can go see Chief Spence right away, so here they are:

Please give these directions to your driver, once your are settled comfortably in the back of your limo.

1. Start out going southwest on Sussex Dr / Promenade Sussex toward Alexander St / Rue Alexander.

2. Sussex Dr / Promenade Sussex becomes MacKenzie Ave / Avenue MacKenzie.

3. Turn right onto Rideau St / Rue Rideau / HWY-17B / RR-34. Continue to follow RR-34 W.

RR-34 W is 0.4 kilometers past Murray St Le Chateau Rideau Centre is on the right If you are on Promenade Colonel by and reach Daly Ave you’ve gone about 0.1 kilometers too far

4. Stay straight to go onto Wellington St / Promenade de l’Outaouais, past the Prime Minister’s Office.

5. Turn right onto Booth St / Rue Booth.

Booth St is just past Lett St If you are on Promenade de l’Outaouais and reach Broad St you’ve gone about 0.1 kilometers too far

6. Turn right onto Middle St / Rue Middle.

Middle St is 0.2 kilometers past Place Vimy If you are on Pont des Chaudières and reach Rue Eddy you’ve gone about 0.3 kilometers too far into Quebec. Fortunately Quebec is still not a foreign country yet, though if the PM keeps attacking the arts and artists, he may just alienate that province enough to separate in which case, driver, in the future you might want to remind the PM to bring his passport on his excursions.


Proceed to the Chief’s encampment at the East end of that road. 

Total Travel Estimate: 5.15 kilometres – about 10 minutes

Alternately the PM could use his new military-grade GPS that Charlie the Chinchilla gave to him for Christmas:

Middle St, Ottawa, ON K1R  45.421620, -75.711155 (Address is approximate)


P.S. If you’re still not sure how navigability and environmental protection of Canada’s waterways are related, perhaps it is because you were too busy limiting debate surrounding bill C-45 to have time to read the open letter that EcoJustice sent you in November. You can still access the legal backgrounder they prepared for you here and if you’re resolved to leave your Blackberry unplugged over the Christmas recess, your personal secretary can download and print a nicely formatted hard copy from here. Heck, you might even be able to get a good start on it in the limo on the way over.

 Oh… and Mr. Prime Minister,  please don’t forget that beaver fur hat.

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At the Idle No More Spiritual Epicentre with Chief Theresa Spence

Yesterday afternoon I spent a few precious moments with Chief Spence within her hunger strike encampment, the spiritual centre of the Idle No More movement on Victoria Island near the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. (Much footage to edit.) Despite her evident weakening, she remains strong in spirit, a selfless human being still full of great humour 12 days into her hunger strike.

Chief Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation has pledged to starve herself, to death if necessary, in an effort to get Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to come and meet with her to discuss the plight of her community which first entered the national news a little over a year ago when the state of emergency that was declared in October 2011 was flagged by NDP MP Charlie Angus. In the wake of Federal /Provincial government bickering and inaction the still ongoing crisi sparked emergency airlifts by Canadian Red Cross. Now, surrounded by a small army of dedicated supporters, Chief Spence shelters from the oncoming Canadian winter in a canvas teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River just minutes from the granite Parliament Buildings and the Prime Minister’s Office, waiting.

In both form and function, her teepee reminds me of  the mountain, Devils Tower, in the Stephen Spielberg’s 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mysteriously drawing people in from around the continent who sense that something mysterious and uncommon is afoot.  My drive was 6 hours. Others are flying in. It would be a roughly 12 minute motorcade ride in an armor-plated limo from the Prime Minister’s residence.

Speaking of geography, according to this Google map by, Idle No More—spread through the power of social media—has already spawned over 110 events throughout North America and Europe  since it began a few weeks ago:, which, given how fast this is developing, I have not had time to verify.


The use of social media provides such an interesting study in contrasts. On one hand one can see that the current count of Youtube Video uploads pegged to keyword “Idle No More” is approximately 10,400, mostly in the past week or so. A video of an Idle No More flashmob at West Edmonton Mall more than halfway across Canada has over 50,00 views. Meanwhile,  it would appear that Prime Minister Harper is still tuned to a different channel, developing his Flickr stream  and getting his pet Chinchilla Charlie ready for Christmas, which at this time of writing has 4,063 views: Charlie the Chinchilla gets into the spirit of Christmas at 24 Sussex


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