Jeff Turner Talks about New CBC Series Wild Canada

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By: Tessa Perkins

First published in the Canadian Film Review.

Is Canada still wild? And what does that even mean? Filmmaker Jeff Turner, along with his two children and wife and partner in film, Sue, spent two years traveling to the far reaches of our country to film these wild places and explore the influence that humans have had on even the most remote landscapes.

 

“We are a largely urban society now,” said Turner, “in Vancouver we are surrounded by incredible natural beauty, but people are wrapped up in their lives, and it’s not easy to see what’s out there.” He hopes that Wild Canada will allow people to see the amazing natural beauty that we have all over the country. Having spent over twenty-five years traveling the globe and filming shows like Planet Earth and Frozen Planet for the BBC, Turner said he was inspired to create a similar show about his own country. “No one had ever applied that approach to Canada,” he said, “there’s a lot here; a lot to offer.”

During the filming, Turner learned about the history and human influence of many parts of the country, and even though he knew much of the information already, some things surprised him. “I knew the story of human influence, but not the depth and details of what was going on,” he said. One thing that really surprised him was the huge influence humans have had on the north. He discovered the story of the tundra, which used to be grassland where mammoths roamed. “That’s a huge area to affect change,” he said, “it’s a global world we live in.”

In many ways, the landscapes of our country have always been shaped by human actions, but in recent years our actions are having a much larger effect and drastically changing things at an alarming rate. This can be seen most acutely in the melting ice sheets of the arctic as the polar bears struggle to swim great distances between then in the summer months. This is only getting worse as the world warms and the ice disappears.

Before filming this series, Turner had spent a lot of time in the north and west of Canada, but he hadn’t spent much time in the east. He was able to travel to Newfoundland for the first time and learn about the way the aboriginal people there used fire to shape their forests before the Europeans arrived. Turner said they had a lot of support all across the country when filming the show from the locals and also from Parks Canada.

We tend to be better these days and make better choices, explained Turner, such as not shooting grizzly bears on the prairies. “We tend to be better at not arbitrarily killing predators,” he said. The grizzlies are now slowly returning to the prairies where they used to be a normal sight. There must be a way that humans can live in the natural world without our influence causing such damaging effects. “We have to figure out a way to make this work,” said Turner, “we are evolving slowly; hopefully we can do it in time to preserve what we have.”

The recent exhibition, Rewilding Vancouver, at the Museum of Vancouver in collaboration with guest curator J. B. McKinnon ties in nicely to the theme of wild spaces. McKinnon, who is also the author of 100-Mile Diet wrote the book app for Wild Canada. Turner said he is very familiar with McKinnon’s rewilding work and they are pursuing a new series on this topic. The Wild Canada book app features more video, lots of pictures, and more detailed content about the history and influences on the landscapes.

The question of whether or not Canada can still be considered wild is a tricky one. “It depends on what you define ‘wild’ to be,” said Turner. “It’s an interesting concept – some people think of it as being free from the influence of humans, but every place is influenced or has been influenced by people in the past.” There is no clear definition of “wild” and Turner said it can often be arbitrary.

There are two things that Turner hopes viewers take away from watching the series: “I want them to celebrate the incredible natural beauty and be surprised by some of the wildlife and landscapes that we can take for granted.” Turner also wants them to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the role humans play. “We are part of the natural world and we have to be conscious of our impact,” he said, “We need to think of ourselves as part of these systems and respect and honour them.”

Wild Canada will air on CBC Thursdays at 8pm from March 13th – April 3rd. 

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