Exploring the beauty of Athabasca through a new lens
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Forests, lakes, big skies and small-town friendliness remind photographer of home
BONNYVILLE, AB - Canmore-based Inuit photographer Angus Cockney recently went on assignment for ZenSeekers #TakeItToTheLake expedition, exploring the beauty and culture of the vast Athabasca region. His photos evoke solitude and wide-open spaces, and convey a real sense that the people who live here love and enjoy their backyard .
There are so many reasons: fishing, hiking, biking, paddling, arts and culture, or just ambling along the shores of the storied Athabasca River. Cockney was struck by how much the area reminded him of his home where he grew up in the Northwest Territories.
Just as beautiful as the lakes around the Athabasca Region, so is the expansive rural scenery that will stop you in your tracks. That's the effect it had on Cockney.
He'd worked in oil and gas in the region for many years, but didn't really get a chance to soak up the beauty of the area then. "The big difference now is the need to step back and relax and take in the sights that northern Alberta has to offer. It’s awesome for me to look through a different lens, taking in the big sky country, forest and lakes, and even the wildlife."
Here's something you might not expect to find in the Town of Athabasca - a pottery club. But it was a delightful find, says Cockney. He discovered this busy hub attracts people willing to get their hands dirty while learning how to create beautiful things. The club has been around for more than 50 years, and uses locally extracted clay.
Ever heard of the Magnificient River Rats Festival? If you haven't, you don't know what you're missing.
The two-day music festival has been held on the banks of the Athabasca River, June 30-July 1 every year since 1997 (excepting 2020, due to COVID-19). Ida Edwards, festival president, has been involved for the past seven years. Cockney instantly picked up on Edwards' passion for music (she plays the piano) and local arts and culture scene when he met her at the Nancy Appleby Theatre.
Edwards is cautiously optimistic the festival will be able to extend a warm invitation for 2021, its 25th anniversary year, but was unable to confirm. (Check the festival listing for updates.)
"We're looking forward to normalcy," she says. "It's always exciting to hear new music. Try something new and come hear artists you haven't heard before. You'll be pleasantly surprised."
The festival is known for being family friendly. It features a variety of musical genres from emerging and established musicians. In 2019, the festival headliners were rockers Helix and Juno Award-winning Aboriginal artist Susan Aglukark.
Of course, the highlight of the weekend is the music and lots of dancing under big skies. The whole town gets in on the festival vibe, with pancake breakfasts, historic walking tours and good old-fashioned goofy fun like a giant Jenga face-painting and a small-town parade (they're always the best, aren't they?).
A little vintage shop invites you to poke around for hours and find the most unexpected things you didn't know you needed. Bear in Mind is just such a place in the Town of Athabasca.
"They’ve got all kinds of unique products," says Cockney. "You get a real sense of how people lived." The store is housed in a 1912 heritage building, all exposed brick and white-washed shelves.
Bear in Mind also features the work of local artists, preserves and specialty items. It's a must stop when you're in the Town of Athabasca.
At the heart of Athabasca is the mighty Athabasca River, which would have plenty of stories to tell if it could talk. A peaceful interpretive trail hike is an opportunity to see a wide variety of birds. The historic river was an important waterway for fur traders, starting in the late 1700s.
Spending time on the shore of the Athabasca was another special moment for Cockney. It flows all the way north to Great Slave Lake and into the massive Mackenzie River and into the Arctic, near where he grew up in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.
Cockney says having the chance to explore the Athabasca Region felt nostalgic. It gave him a chance to revisit a place where he'd worked, but never really had the chance to enjoy. "I didn’t know any of this existed… I said to myself I need to slow down here and take in some of these activities."
WHEN YOU GO
For more on how to #TakeItToTheLake this summer, either search the tag on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or read more here.
Be sure to let us know what you find and share your adventures with the hashtag #TakeItToTheLake as you might be featured on ZenSeekers and our partners' social media channels.