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Lawrence Hill: “I’ve lost a lot of blood”

Commonwealth Prize-winning author Lawrence Hill was recently at The Banff Centre as part of our Leading Ideas Speaker Series, reflecting on the idea of blood as a historical and contemporary marker of identity and belonging. It was a theme he explored as part of the CBC Massey Lectures series this year.

Hill spoke to our radio producer, Sarah Feldbloom. It might be said that a writer and a mountaineer face similar challenges when attempting to ascend to great summits. Inspired by the local landscape, we like to ask our guests a series of questions as equally relevant to artists and innovators here at The Banff Centre as they are to those who climb — or contemplate — the mountains that surround us.

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Typhoon Haiyan and the science of disaster

Florin Diacu and book

Professor Florin Diacu at The Banff Centre and (right) his latest book. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

When I met Florin Diacu, I almost felt like I was in the presence of a great power. This, after all, is the man who predicts megadisasters. He’s one of the world’s top analysts specializing in the ‘science’ of forecasting  the next major catastrophe – tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, rapid climate change, hurricanes, collisions with asteroids or comets, stock-market crashes, and pandemics. He’s here at the Banff International Research Station, and doing a public talk on using math to predict the next catastrophe.

So I asked him about the recent natural disaster in the Philippines: was the extent of the power of Typhoon Haiyan fully predicted by scientists?

We knew very well the path of the hurricane and the authorities evacuated some 800,000 people but it wasn’t enough. It was such a strong hurricane –we call it hurricane here, in Asia they call it typhoon and in Australia they call it cyclone, but it’s all the same thing. With any hurricane we can predict about three days in advance a very good approximation of its path, but what we’re not so good at yet is predicting the strength of the hurricane. About two days before this one hit, we knew it was going to be particularly strong. The problem was logistics, not that science couldn’t predict it. They tried their best ….but time was short.

Watch Diacu’s BIRS talk here.

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The Banff Centre’s war artists

For Remembrance Day, the Archives is remembering some of the Banff Centre community who have played the unique role of official War Artist.


A.Y. Jackson with art students on a field trip to Canmore, 1946. Photo: Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives.

Canada’s War Artist program started in 1917, as a way to document the war from the Canadian point of view, beyond the limitations of film, photography, and print. One of the most significant events of the war, the 1915 battle of Ypres, when Canadian soldiers’ first encountered poison gas,  had not been filmed or photographed. But a British artist was able to re-create it in a painting. The Canadian War Records office recognized that visual artists could document and communicate beyond what a camera could express, and further decided they wanted to commission Canadian artists.

A.Y. Jackson was Canada’s first official War Artist, and the experience solidified his commitment to a distinctly Canadian artistic vision, expressed through Canadian landscape art (later as part of the Group of Seven). The philosophy led him to teach landscape painting to young art students at The Banff Centre throughout the 1940’s.

SF8George Pepper had taught at The Banff Centre before he signed up as a War Artist attached to the Canadian Army in 1943.   Although he had been influenced by the Group of Seven in his early career, Pepper didn’t focus on landscapes during the war, but documented the modern machinery, daily life, drama and death of the conflict. He returned to the Banff Centre to teach immediately after being demobilized, and returned regularly to teach advanced courses in Banff until his death in 1962.

War Artists during the two world wars were motivated primarily by patriotism, but Allan Harding MacKay applied for an appointment to Somalia in 1993 for a different reason: to consciously explore the role of an artist in documenting military operations. After his week embedded with the troops, he spent extensive time at The Banff Centre processing his raw video into the Somalia Yellow series, a collection of videos and prints expressing his highly personal and poetic response to the military intervention, amid the natural and social realities of Somalia.

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Jens Lindemann: Finding Lougheed’s voice in music

Jens Lindemann doesn’t suffer from nerves. The established trumpet player has performed in every major concert venue in the world from the Philharmonics of New York, Los Angeles, London, and Berlin to Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and even on the Great Wall of China.

Jens Lindeman

Jens Lindemann performing ‘Legacy’ at the launch of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative.

But debuting the musical tribute he composed to his old family friend Peter Lougheed, at the launch of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative at the University of Alberta last month, Lindemann had butterflies in his stomach.

“I can’t remember the last time I got nervous, it just doesn’t happen anymore, but when I started playing the piece and heard (excerpts of) Peter’s voice, I got these chills of pure nervousness.”

Lindemann, who’s said that the trumpet is capable of being played “with the virtuosity of a violin, the tenderness of the human voice and the stylistic flexibility of the piano”, composed the signature piece, Legacy, in just six weeks. Being a close family friend of the Lougheeds, Lindemann was inspired by alpine scenery and his personal knowledge of Lougheed’s interests.

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Indigenous learnings honour two chiefs

The youngest council member for Ochapowace Nation, Albert George, turns his attention to the front of the room, fully engaged in celebrating the achievement of Chief Ross Allary. The first of seven Ochapowace council members to accept the Certificate of Indigenous Leadership, Governance, and Management Excellence at The Banff Centre, Chief Allary steps to the front wearing full ceremonial headdress. He accepts the congratulations of the room and says a few words of thanks to his fellow council members, his community back home, and the many Indigenous people he’s met in the six programs he has completed.

Albert George of the Ochapowace First Nation.

Albert George of the Ochapowace First Nation.

The Ochapowace Nation made a decision to embark together on the six-program Certificate path to honour the vision set out by the late Ochapowace Chief Denton George, Albert’s father, whose 20 years in leadership had stood for fulfillment of treaty, and his Nation’s inherent right to self-governance. Chief Denton George died at age 58 in 2009. “He was the one who had kept us united in our community,” said band council member Geraldine Bear. “With his passing, we knew it was time to focus on our constitution and our laws, and reorganizing our nation.”

Geraldine has found that Chief Denton George’s lessons and vision were more deeply ingrained than she had even thought possible. “As younger councillors, we’d heard the words (about inherent right and self-governance), but never really knew how do we get there, what does that mean for us. Yet when faculty talked about it in the programs, we knew it, it was already there, it was ingrained in us ever since we were young people.”

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Crossmedia meets the mountains

The Crossmedia Banff event is an opportunity for cross-pollination  between the most innovative companies and creators in motion, mobile, marketing, publishing and games. The strength of this event is the broad learning and sharing that is created between globally influential groups and individuals. And it’s my belief that the beauty of an event like this taking place in Banff is that the mountains themselves actually become one of those influencers.

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The Crossmedia audience immersed in local scenery and insightful presentations by industry leaders like Erik Martin of Reddit (right). Photos by Meghan Krauss.

I observed multiple presenters and audience members express their thoughts on the inspiration they were feeling in their surroundings here. And it got me thinking - could the mountainous setting really influence bigger-picture thinking about how we interact with our communities and technologies online? Can the natural environment be an influential player in the growing online conversation, bringing a sense of grounding, a natural human connection to some of these very big ideas?

The mountains are an integral and instrumental part of The Banff Centre experience and it is motivating to think that their voice might actually have a subtle influence on the direction we humans take with our new technologies, perhaps moving us closer towards more natural sustainable systems and behaviours.

During the course of Crossmedia, there were many references to the sense of awe felt being in the mountainous surroundings; how it puts the purpose of our work into perspective and reminds us of how small we are. But I thought Erik Martin, General Manager of Reddit expressed it best when he looked out the window and admitted:

“These mountains make me wonder if all this social media stuff is completely insignificant.”

He later went on to share, half-jokingly, that as an internet-based entertainment company Reddit’s main source of competition is “work, study and the outdoors.”

Again, I wondered, is this the direction we hope to go with our communications technologies? Moving away from time spent in the outdoors, in particular? Looking upwards at the mountains as we do each day at the Centre, who could argue that they don’t have an affect on us by putting things into perspective?

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