Cory Trépanier, Mount Thor

Mount Thor | Cory Trépanier
9 feet x 5 feet, oil on linen. 
East of Pangnirtung, Auyuittuq National Park, Baffin Island, Nunavut

There is a saying that serves as part challenge and part inspiration: “If they don’t laugh at your dream, it’s not big enough.” If this is true, landscape-painter Cory Trépanier must spend a lot of time defending himself. His vision is so enormous that he had to renovate his barn to accommodate it.

Having painted the Georgian Bay and Lake Superior areas, Trépanier set his sights farther afield. First it was the Western Arctic. Then, in 2009, it was 12 high Arctic locations, mainly on Ellesmere and Baffin islands – places so remote and distant that few people have ever visited them. Trépanier says, “I can’t deny the thrill of knowing that I may be the first person ever to paint this view. It feeds my inner passion for exploration and marries it to the canvas.”

The resulting documentary, Into the Arctic II, which premiered in his hometown of Bolton, Ontario, last October, captures his adventure in a 90-minute-long program that was also aired on the CBC on December 12. 

As the executive producer, director, narrator and writer, Trépanier has created a riveting film that is part survivor man, part travelogue and part History channel, all the while portraying his stunning oil paintings. Getting to Mount Thor, Sam Ford Fjord, Wilberforce Falls, Coronation Glacier and other Canadian sites that might one day become iconic, required Trépanier to use Inuit guides, boats and hiking boots. 

Sundown At Wilberforce, Cory Trépanier.  45in x 19in., oil on linen Wilberforce Falls, west of Bathurst Inlet on the Hood River, Nunavut
Sundown At Wilberforce | Cory Trépanier.  45in x 19in., oil on linen. 
Wilberforce Falls, west of Bathurst Inlet on the Hood River, Nunavut

In one scene, he and his brother Carl lugged 45-kilogram packs stuffed with food, camping gear, his paints, canvases and easel, as well as camera equipment and electric fencing to keep polar and grizzly bears at bay. 

To paint icebergs and glaciers, his guide took him perilously close to these extraordinary formations calved off from house-sized chunks of ice that could have swamped their small motor launch. Trépanier perches on the edge of a canyon­ and ties his easel to nearby trees as he battles gusty winds and legions of mosquitoes to capture Wilberforce Falls on the Hood River from his lofty vantage point. And the filming of his encounter with a trio of Arctic wolves is worthy of National Geographic. Into the Arctic II will make you proud to be Canadian as it depicts parts of the country that most of us have never heard of, much less seen.

Born in Windsor, Ontario, Trépanier spent his formative years living near North Bay. “My brother and I would get in a dingy, go down the river and return after dark,” he explains. By the time his family settled in Caledon, Ontario, his spirit of adventure and love for nature were ingrained. 

Trépanier is an avid canoeist and clearly doesn’t let physical exertion come between him and the subject of his paintings. To a lesser extent, it doesn’t come between his family and nature either. His wife and two daughters joined him on his ventures in the Western Arctic, but the threat of polar bears, crossing glacial rivers and the remoteness of his 2009 travels meant that he left his family behind for this three-month-long expedition. Instead, he was accompanied by four different people, one at a time. Their job was to film the adventure, carry gear, keep Trépanier company and help ward off unwelcome predators.

Breaking Off | Cory Trépanier. 16in. x 8.5in., oil on linen.
Coronation Fiord, Baffin Island, Nunavut

Trépanier’s goal is to create 50 paintings from these remote locations. They will complement a growing body of work that has been shown at galleries across the province, including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario. In the documentary, he explains what drives him to undertake these “artventures.” 

“Through them, I hope others are inspired by these distant lands and that they further an appetite to care for them more. But the challenge is far from over. Often when painting this grand landscape in the field, my canvasses were just too small.” As a result, Trépanier has begun painting canvases so mammoth that he had to renovate his old bank barn to accommodate them. His depiction of Wilberforce Falls is 2.3 by 1.7 metres (a painting that the Canadian government considered giving to Kate and Will as a wedding gift); Mount Thor is 2.7 by 1.7 metres; and the centrepiece of the collection is a 4.6- by 1.7-metre depiction of Coronation Fjord. Each of these works took him months to complete.

Now 43, Trépanier hopes that one of his Arctic paintings may one day hang on Parliament Hill, thereby encouraging our government to preserve our rich northern landscape. “Am I capturing the spirit of the land and in some way preserving it?” Trépanier wonders. “That’s for others to decide. All I know is that I’m giving it my all.” 

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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