The park down the block from my office is called Bakerview. I was sitting under a tree and researching the namesake when I realised it’s named Bakerview because you can see Mount Baker. At least I’m assuming you could in 1933 when they named the park. There are too many houses in the way now.

Mount Baker is across the border in Washington, but it’s a constant in the skyline. In the suburbs south of Vancouver, if you see a snub-nosed, white-capped mountain in the distance, it’s probably Baker. It’s so dominant in our landscape that many businesses, on both sides of the border, put Baker in their names and the silhouette in their logos. It’s on the Washington state license plate. But before this week, I had no idea who Baker was.

The places Canada has made into parks are filled with our stories—every mountain, every valley has a name and a history for Indigenous peoples.

Robert Jago writes about Canada’s parks as “colonial crime scenes”. It’s easy for those of us who are colonisers to protest condos and malls and casinos built on unceded Indigenous land. Those developments are very obviously evil. We can’t be as bad as them, right? Because the parks mean more to us. We believe they matter because they preserve Canada’s wilderness. We believe we’re saving Canada. Instead, we–and Parks Canada, which is offering free admission this year as a reminder that you normally have to pay for access to the land–are erasing Indigenous stories and names.

We are living on stolen land.

Mount Baker has an Indigenous name I had never heard before I looked it up: Koma Kulshan. It has as many names as there are Indigenous languages in the area. Baker, on the other hand, was the name of a lieutenant on George Vancouver’s ship. He gets his name on the most prominent mountain in the skyline because he “saw it on April 30, 1792.” He was standing on a ship and pointed at a mountain, and now his name is on the park where I spend a lot of my summer afternoons.

Emily Carr (I know, sorry, but she’s my project for the year) has many sketches and paintings marked with the initials “Q.C.I.” Those three letters stand for Queen Charlotte Islands, the northern archipelago off the coast of BC that we now call Haida Gwaii. Carr visited and painted the islands in the 1920s and 30s, but when I was in school in the 1990s, we still called them the Queen Charlotte Islands. The official name change happened only 7 years ago.

Nunavut, our third Canadian territory, didn’t exist when I was drawing maps and learning Canadian geography. That happened in 1999.

Down the hill from where I live now, beside the commercial waterfront of White Rock Beach, there used to be a park. In 1996, the Semiahmoo First Nation took the land back from the city of Surrey.

Reconciliation will not be as simple as renaming Canada’s parks. But this is something I can do right now. July 1st marks 150 years of Confederation and hundreds more years of European settlement in Canada. It’s the start of summer and the next 150 years of Canada. If we’re going to survive as a country, we have to change. I’ll be spending more time outside among the trees and paying more attention to the names that don’t belong.

I’ve claimed this land as my own too long. I need to learn more about the people who were here first. I want to hear their word for mountain.

While I may have finished reading all of the Emily Carr books, I have not finished my Emily Carr project. I plan to put together the quotes, my writing, some drawings and photographs, and turn it into something. I’m just not sure what that something is, whether it’s a webpage or if it’s a book.

For now, I’ve picked up A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada again, which is the journals and letters written by Anne Langton, a British woman who came to Ontario in 1837. That’s 34 years before Emily Carr was born in British Columbia. I went to Wikipedia to figure out what was happening on the west coast of Canada at that time. It wasn’t even part of Canada then. Yet the first piece of history on that page is this:

The first British settlement in the area was Fort Victoria, established in 1843, which gave rise to the city of Victoria, at first the capital of the separate Colony of Vancouver Island.

In fact, you have to scroll and scroll to even find the first mention of the Indigenous people who were here first:

First Nations, the original inhabitants of the land, have a history of at least 10,000 years in the area.

As we get closer to July 1st and the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, I’m thinking a lot about Canada. To be honest, I’m often thinking a lot about Canada. Our identity is so tied up in what we are not. We are not British. We are not American.

It may feel like a hard question for me to answer as a white person today, but I cannot know what it was like to be an Indigenous person then. To know this place is your home, to know who you are, and then everything changes when a group of white people arrive.

The better Wikipedia page to read is the full History of British Columbia. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the library, now that I know what I need to read next.

In those days a man did not fritter away so much time and strength in running to and fro.

Emily Carr, in a lecture to the teaching students at the Normal School in Victoria. That was in 1935, not 2017. There have always been “those days.”

Emily Carr was born in 1871, the same year British Columbia became a province and joined Canada. She was in her 30s before she started travelling to First Nations villages, before she started her project to paint and document all their totem poles. She was in her 40s when she gave up painting after her project failed to gain any real attention from the art world. Instead, she became a landlady, the dog breeder, a potter, a rug maker, anything she could do to make money.

She was 56 years old when the director of the National Gallery in Ottawa requested her paintings for an exhibit that included the Group of Seven. Emily Carr was 56 when artists she respected told her that her work was good. She was 56 when she started painting again, going deeper into the forest.

When Emily Carr was 66, she had a heart attack and had to stop travelling and painting. She started writing instead. Her first book was published when she was 70, and it won the Governor General’s award. Emily never quite believed that she was good enough. She didn’t have a lot of people in her life who told her that. She was the youngest, and her sisters didn’t seem to understand her. Emily Carr did her own thing anyway.

It’s so easy to believe that it’s too late. But life is so damn long, and you can be a lot of things in that time.

The last Emily Carr book at my library is Unsettling Encounters by Gerta Moray. It’s 400 pages long. It’s a hardcover, 22.6 x 30.9 cm, and 1.8 Kg (according to Amazon). It basically lives on my bedside table, and I read a chapter a night. This is the second time I’ve borrowed it, and I’m gonna have to renew it again to finish reading it.

In the same time, I’ve read a half dozen books on my iPad.

I love books. I love paper. But I also love choice.

Because I was going to be downtown to meet some friends, I went a little early so I could visit Emily Carr at the Vancouver Art Gallery. That’s the benefit of being a member–sometimes I go to the gallery to see just one floor, even one painting. They’re in a transition period right now, so 2/4 floors was all there was to see on Saturday.

The VAG holds the largest collection of Carr’s work. The fourth floor is usually hers. Until December, it’s an exhibit of her forest paintings, my favourite paintings. I haven’t seen Scorned/Beloved on a wall in years. That tree trunk up above is an early painting, as Emily was putting aside her totem pole project to explore the BC wilderness. That tree trunk below is a photograph by Karin Bubaš, a Vancouver artist in the second floor exhibit, Pictures from Here.

I only did a quick walk through the second floor (I’ll be back), but Bubaš’s photos struck me as I had just come out of Emily’s forest. It’s the same forest. They’re the same trees. Bubaš placed women in all of her photographs, faces obscured, like my own reflection in that selfie above.

We’re all making the same art, but in different ways.

I’m getting to the end of my list of Emily Carr books to read. Today I finished reading the catalogue from the 2006 retrospective. Most of what I’ve read so far has been biography or Emily’s own words, whether true or not. I think it was right to read the criticism second because I’m finding answers to the questions that came up while I read the primary sources. Next I tackle Gerta Moray’s massive PhD thesis on Emily Carr and her cultural appropriation. It’s more timely than ever as Canada barrels towards the celebration of 150 years of confederation, as we wonder if anything has changed.

What I am looking for I must work out for myself. It is between God and me. Laziness made me desire to look at the pictures of the others, to try and pick up short-cut recipes that others have used…instead of going straight to the thing itself.

The more I read about her, and the more I look at her pictures, the more I love how Emily Carr painted the land and the sky, not the totem poles. She found herself very late in life. My favourite paintings are from the 1930s when she was in her 60s. It makes me feel good about the future, that it’s never too late for great things to happen, and I need more of that hope in my life.

I saw at my feet small black cat rubbing ecstatically round my shoes.

“Did you bring her all the way uncrated?”

“I did not bring her at all; does she not belong here?”

“Not a cat in the village.”

Wherever she belonged, the cat claimed me. It was as if she had expected me all her life and was beyond glad to find me. She followed my every step. We combed the district later trying to find her owner. No one had seen the creature before. At the end of my two months’ visit in the Cariboo I gave her to a kind man in the store, very eager to have her. Man and cat watched the stage lumber away. The man stooped to pick up his cat, she was gone–no one ever saw her again.

Emily Carr, GROWING PAINS (244-5).

She didn’t just love animals–dogs, parrots, rats, monkeys. Emily also had a black cat familiar.

I took an accidental vacation from everything over spring break. Even though I took three Emily Carr books with me to my parents’s house, I didn’t read any of them. Granted, one of those books is a hardback catalogue sized beast called Unsettling Encounters by Gerta Moray. It’s the critique of Carr’s cultural appropriation I’ve been wanting to read, but it’s definitely a couch book. I’m almost wishing for an epub.

As I continue importing old blog posts over here, I’ve been finding a lot of songs on YouTube to replace dead links. Out of curiosity, I searched Emily Carr, wanting to see the Heritage Minute, but also whatever else popped up. This 15 minute NFB film, directed by Graham McInnes, is what I found. Directed in 1946, the year after Carr died, it shares many of her attitudes. It presents the aboriginal people of BC as a “dying” culture.

And then there’s this, the closing paragraph:

The canvases of Emily Carr are themselves an inspiration. They show that if an artist feels overwhelmingly the urge to paint, it matters little that he works alone, for from the images of his land, he can create paintings that will always arouse deep emotions in the hearts of his fellow men.

Like, are you fucking kidding me? It matters a lot that SHE works alone, because women didn’t do that in Emily Carr’s lifetime. It matters a lot that HER paintings aroused feelings in the hearts of HER fellow WOMEN. When we’re talking about Emily Carr, who did everything she could to remain independent, it matters a lot that you give her that credit. She’s the most famous artist from BC, and she is a woman. Don’t take that away from us.

Because of spring break and most of my students going on vacation, I’ve had Tuesday and Wednesday off these two weeks. My parents are on vacation, too, so I’m house- and cat-sitting.  Last week was also my first free week after finishing the yoga teacher program (more on that soon!) so I used that as an excuse to stay at home, eat out of my mom’s fridge, and be lazy, making up a six-month free time debt.

This week, though, I was determined to get out on my days off and do something. Today, it rained again, but that was OK because my grandma called for help getting their house ready  for when they move in May. They’ve spent more than 40 years in that house. It’s always impossible to leave my grandma’s house empty-handed, but now that she’s sorting through 40 years worth of crap, it’s even harder. I came home with two boxes and one big shopping bag.

Tomorrow, though, is all for me. Regardless of the weather, I’m going downtown, I’m going to the Vancouver Art Gallery, and I’m going to visit the Emily Carrs.