To Anelyse Weiler, crops rotting in the fields and alleged violations of migrant workers’ rights are just two sides of the same coin.
That relationship is essential to modern food production in Canada, explained the professor of sociology at the University of Victoria, and one that puts farmers and their foreign employees in difficult positions — but for different reasons.
“The food system has positioned producers, including farmers and farm workers, in a pinch point,” said Weiler.
“It’s one of the expected outcomes of a globalized, capitalist food system. That’s one of the directions that we could predict from the system that we’ve adopted to feed ourselves, and it’s one we take for granted.”
“Corporations should be forced to figure out what to do with their food waste,” said Paul Taylor, the executive director of FoodShare Toronto and anti-poverty activist.
“They should not be dumping it on charity. The volunteer hours that have been diverted to sort through corporate waste is appalling.”
Nor does this excess food help the majority of hungry Canadians.
“Only about one in four of people who are food insecure in this country actually access food banks,” said Taylor, citing a study co-written by FoodShare Toronto and a research team at the University of Toronto.
Going to the food bank is an “act of desperation,” the report noted. Families using them are “likely behind on bill payments, rent, and other basic necessities…showing it takes substantial improvements to a household’s financial circumstances to shift them out of food insecurity.”
Yuko Suda is a farmer. A farmer who can’t afford a farm.
Instead, she rents her land, an increasingly common practice for new farmers across B.C. — one she worries won’t be sustainable. It’s an issue facing most young farmers in the province, and it threatens both their livelihoods and Canadians’ long-term access to food.
“There just isn’t accessible land for young farmers,” explained Suda who co-owns Brave Child Farm, a specialty Asian vegetable farm in Surrey.
It’s something she’s experienced firsthand.
Farmland in the Vancouver area costs between $150,000 to $350,000 per acre. That’s more than Suda and her partner — who both have off-farm jobs as well — can afford.
Most summer mornings, Jessica Taylor awakens before dawn and puts coffee to boil, the rich steam an alarm clock for her predominantly male crewmates.
The Sointula-based, sixth-generation fish harvester’s subtle opening to another day fishing is vital for the crew’s mental well-being and successful catch, yet beyond the boat, it will often go unnoticed in official fisheries data. So will Taylor’s role as a female fisher.
That’s a global trend, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, and one they valued to be at least $7.4 billion ($5.6 billion US) a year globally. The study is the first to estimate the dollar value women contribute to fisheries.
“There’s so much background work that nobody knows about,” Taylor said.
Three years ago, in late spring, Adam Shoalts started walking eastward from an isolated truck stop in northern Yukon, alone. After a few days’ hiking, he launched a canoe and kept going until reaching Baker Lake, Nunavut’s sole inland community, four months and 4,000 kilometres later. On the way, the adventurer from Ontario travelled over mountains, along (and often up) wild rivers, and across icy lakes. He waded through cold, rushing waters where a misstep could spell disaster. On occasion, “screaming gales” pinned him on shore, forcing him to wait out precious days before the first snows would start falling in September. He was in a race against winter.
A rusting steel walkway roofed with faded plexiglass led to the ferry docked in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Sirens wailed from the container port half a mile away, cutting through the moist air, as an acrid odor rose from the pier’s tar-coated pilings. I stepped out of the chilly late-September night and climbed a labyrinthine staircase to the boat’s passenger lounge, where a dozen people, covered with blankets and sleeping bags, settled in for the six-hour trip. The ventilation system whistled loudly, muffling the ship’s engines, as the M/V Malaspina — a 450-person ferry operated by the state of Alaska — set sail for Ketchikan, Alaska, possibly for the last time. After 56 years, the state had announced it would shut down the route.
Review of: Canoe and Canvas: Life at the Encampments of the American Canoe Association, 1880-1920
Jessica Dunkin, University of Toronto Press, 2019
For me, canoeing first meant something more than wilderness when I saw a man do a handstand on the water. I was twelve, visiting the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, with my family, and I sat spellbound in front of a short film produced by the provincial government in the 1930s. It featured Reg Blomfield, a legendary early twentieth-century paddler, showing off all the tricks he could do in his skinny racing canoe — including handstands.
Thirteen years later, I remember the clip clearly because the culture it showed was at once familiar and mysterious. As a kid, I associated paddling with windy lakes on the Canadian Shield and remote rivers in the North — the kind of imagery that frequently pops up on my Instagram feed today. Canoes had always meant wilderness to me, not showing off in cottage country. Surely, Blomfield’s stunts wouldn’t be much use in remote places. It turns out the cultural difference between wilderness and cottage country might be smaller than I thought.
Jessica Dunkin’s Canoes and Canvas, a portrait of American and Canadian sport canoeing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, helps brings those two worlds together. The illuminating book details Blomfield’s era, while exposing underlying inequities that continue to shape recreational canoe culture.
A rainbow of raincoats flashing between the spruce was a hint that something was amiss. It was a rainy late afternoon on the Yukon’s Canol Road and I was the tail guide on a 10-day cycle tour through the Yukon backcountry. By this point in the day, my clients should have all reached our camp, 10 kilometers down the road, and be warming up with biscuits and a cup of tea.
This was my third time guiding a cycle tour in the territory. On previous trips, I’d been cooped up in the support truck while one of my co-guides rode behind the group with a satellite phone and a first aid kit to help straggling clients. Now, that was my job. I rode at the back while my co-guide, Fabrice, drove ahead in the truck to set up camp before the cyclists arrived. As the most experienced guide on the trip, I was ultimately responsible for the group’s safety.
It had been a quiet week. We’d been mostly alone, having seen fewer than 10 other travellers. There was a Swiss couple living in a tiny cabin nestled in the mountains between Ross River and Johnson’s Crossing. We met two families from Ross River heading out to their camps. There was a roaming Alaskan who lived in the leaky bed of his Ford Ranger and talked ceaselessly about his rifle. And two Vancouverites on their dream road trip in a rickety van that smelled like weed.
‘Maybe, there’s another group of cyclists on this remote road,’ I thought, projecting optimism. I was wrong.
Cresting the hill, I saw our support truck—a Ford Econoline 4×4 from the late 70s—hanging between the road’s gravel embankment and two black spruce. Below it, the hillside dropped 30 feet into a dark, grey lake. Mist trickled through the smashed windshield. A German all-terrain camper was tied to our truck’s hitch.
‘No 9-1-1 Service Beyond this Point. Call Local Community Nursing Station if Help Needed.’
It was midnight on a June evening in 2012, the sun was up, and I was fresh off a transcontinental flight from my Nova Scotia home, just in time to report to my new job with a Yukon-based wilderness outfitting company the next morning. One of my new co-workers had met me at the terminal, led me to a growling dirt-dusted pickup and we were headed to headquarters, 70 kms beyond Whitehorse.
The roadside sign jumped out of the boreal forest edging Yukon’s Highway 2, its painted letters peeling from years exposed to sunlight and highway salt. “No 9-1-1,” I thought. “This really is wilderness…”
By the end of August, after a summer criss-crossing the territory, I had begun the rethink my assumptions. The term wilderness was more complicated then I’d expected. It claimed there are spaces free of a relationship to humanity, but in that sense the Yukon—often used as a synonym for empty spaces and no people—was not wilderness. Indigenous people from fourteen First Nations have inhabited this vast region for millennia, weaving its topography, its seasons, its flora and fauna, into thriving cultures and societies.
But for that teenage me and many others, Yukon represented a dream of wilderness – one at the heart of Canada’s own identity.
This mythology is explored in The Nature of Canada, a collection of essays by Canada’s top environmental historians edited by Graham Wynn and Colin Coates.