On July 1, 2015, Dianne Whelan left Newfoundland to set out on a journey to walk, bike, snowshoe and paddle across Canada’s 24,000-kilometre Great Trail.
A year and a half later, the 51-year-old award-winning Canadian filmmaker and photographer is still working on finishing her journey (she aims to complete it in 2019, when she reaches Victoria)—all while documenting her experiences for her planned independent adventure film and non-fiction book, 500 Days in the Wild.
The Great Trail consists of 432 individual trails, paddling routes, railway lines and historical fur-trade routes. To coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday, all of these routes will be connected, making it the world’s longest trail.
Whelan found out in her 30s that her family heritage includes Mi’kmaq ancestry, so she describes her journey as a form of personal reconciliation—both with the land and with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
“I’ve enjoyed all the privileges of being white, including education, opportunities and a healthy environment,” she says. “So I feel like I have a responsibility to stand up and not be quiet about the injustice and unfairness that the First Nations people in this country have gone through.”
She begins each day by burning sage and saying prayers for the murdered Aboriginal women of Canada and makes a point of speaking with Indigenous grandmothers along the way.
“They had a way of seeing the world,” she says of the First Nations elders. “Those original ideas that the earth was sacred, the water was sacred, the air was sacred… When I look at the ecological issues facing the world today, I can’t help but think ‘They were right.’ Maybe everything we need to know we have forgotten. This journey is about collecting that wisdom.”
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