On July 1, 2015, Dianne Whelan left St. John’s, Newfoundland on a pilgrimage across Canada on the Trans-Canada Trail.
On Sept. 29 of this year, she crossed over into Wellington County.
Over a year into her journey, Whelan is not even half way, but that does not bother her. Nor does the fact that she is still at least two years from her goal of Victoria, BC.
Whelan is a filmmaker and author who decided to set off on a journey to make her next film, 500 Days in the Wild, after her marriage fell apart and her dog of 18 years died.
“I was going through a lot of life changes I suppose … that opened up the window for me to be able to say I think I’m going to leave for three years,” she said in an interview with the Advertiser.
The Trans-Canada Trail
The Trans-Canada Trail, or the Great Trail, is a 24,000km path across Canada. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland to the Pacific Ocean at Victoria, BC.
The trail even connects to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, but it is not finished yet; there is still around 3,000km of gaps.
While Whelan says the gaps have caused issues, she said it would add to the film.
“It’s what’s going to make it a really funny and compelling film,” she said.
“A good story is a sympathetic hero on an epic quest against insurmountable odds, so let’s just say when the trail’s not finished, I sometimes find myself lost in the woods.”
A film in the making
Whelan partnered with Ann Verrall, a Halifax-based media artist, and Nick Hector, a Toronto-based film editor, to create an adventure film that connects traditional ecological knowledge and modern science and technology.
Whelan explained by using stories of people, communities, and the land, she searches for deeper meaning.
“This journey across the great trail … it’s a metaphor for all things that make us different; this is something that connects us all,” she said.
The 51-year-old is no stranger to adventure.
Whelan has produced two films, including 40 Days at Base Camp, a story about climbing season at Mount Everest, and This Land, about a sovereignty patrol with the Canadian military and the Inuit.
Having grown up in Garden Bay, BC, she explained nature has always been a big part of her life. Whelan’s background of journalism and photojournalism made documentary filmmaking a natural extension for her, she said.
Whelan started her 24,000km journey on the Trans-Canada Trail with a plan, but she has learned quickly to be flexible. So far, she has walked, biked, skied, snowshoed and canoed along the trail.
“I’m not trying to conquer nature, I’m trying to work with her,” she said.
During her 375km canoe trip around Bras d’Or in Nova Scotia, Whelan found herself in deep water. An offshore wind had pushed her canoe into the open water between Eskasoni and Big Pond, and the waters were getting rough. Whelan explained people have lost their life on this lake.
“I thought I was alone, I thought I was going to die,” she said. Whelan had no idea that a film class in Whycocomagh was watching her journey and recognized she was in trouble. The teacher was able to connect with locals to try to help out Whelan, who ended up making it across unharmed.
Connection to land and people
Over her journey, Whelan said connecting to people has been the greatest experience, which she did not expect.
“When I left I was quite okay with the idea of some solitude for some time because for me nature has always been a place where I can go and kind of clear my head, even heal a little bit.”
In Newfoundland, she lost her tent – three times. But the saga brought her a better understanding of the compassions of people, when many people offered aid.
“I think I’m softer,” she said of how the trail has changed her. “You can get kind of cynical and get kind of hard … and I feel that’s all been stripped off. A lot of it has, anyway.”
Whelan’s film, 500 Days in the Wild, and subsequent book are expected to be released after the completion of the trail. To follow along visit 500daysinthewild.com.
“The only thing that is certain is that this is the trail and this is where I’m going.”