Exactly what was that picture-covered RV seen driving around the Comox Valley this month?
It was a legacy in the making.
Forty-six-year-old Tim Van Horn visited Vancouver Island in June for the second time in the past seven years, adding more touches to his Canadian Mosaic Project, which will be unveiled during Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, in 2017.
Van Horn said that while the project has been a work in progress for seven years, the motivation is a result of his upbringing.
“I grew up with a sense of duty – I’m a military kid. My parents all served, my grandparents, my brother… so I grew up feeling I needed to do something equivalent to what my parents did, regarding service. So I came up with the idea to travel across Canada and unite this country for our 150th birthday.”
He wasn’t expecting the project to take as long as it has.
One year became seven
He left his home in Red Deer, Alta. in 2008 for what he planned to be a “one year creative tour of duty.”
Little did he know what he was in store for, when he began the project.
“I got out there and started meeting all these people and listening to their stories. That’s when the entire project really started taking shape for me,” he said.
“We need something that brings us all together, celebrates who we are. There has never been anything done like this before; a massive portrait of the Canadian people. It will be the largest portrait ever created in Canadian history – we’ve never had a massive documentation of the Canadian people, or if we have, it hasn’t been in recent times.
“There is so much (diversity) in this country that we really don’t know what we look like. It’s such a massive area and people from Vancouver don’t necessarily ever get to St. John’s, Newfoundland.”
The work involved standing on street corners in cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the country, interviewing people and hearing their stories. For Van Horn, it was a fascinating experience, and not a duty for the timid.
“I feel a real strong desire to unite the country, so it wasn’t at all intimidating for me to approach strangers, put my hand out and say ‘I need your help with this project I am doing.’ It was a bit of a barometer of how accepting people are in this country, from Montreal, to Quebec City, to the West Coast. And I am happy to say that 90 per cent of the time, people say yes, that they will be a part of this.
“People do challenge me on why I am doing this, but I am not a part of any company or anything. I am just a citizen doing his part for the country.”
2017 travelling roadshow
In 2017, the project will roll out across the land, in the form of a 40-foot multi-media bus.
The entire exterior of the bus will be covered in photos of Canadians – 54,000 photos, giver or take a few.
“The bus itself is a travelling exhibition, and hundreds of thousands of people will see it as it journeys across the land. It will be something tangible for Canada to see.”
If you had your photo taken on one of Van Horn’s visits to the Valley, remember what you wore that day. There will be no clues as to where your photo will appear on the exhibit.
“You will have to look for your picture on this bus and that will allow you to discover a whole bunch of other people along the way,” he said. “It’s about opening your imagination, and opening up your sense of belonging within the greater community. So while you are looking for yourself, you are going to discover the greater community, through all these individual stories.
“Woven into all these portraits are text: quotes, philosophy, maybe just one word, like ‘courage’ or ‘individuality’. What I have learned is what the people want, what the people need, is inspiration.”
Van Horn said his love of photography goes back to his very early years.
“I picked up a Canadian Geographic magazine where I was the tender age of five years old and I decided right then and there that I wanted to be a cameraman so I could travel, experience people’s cultures, and go on these endless adventures. I never lost track of that. I’ve been fortunate enough to find my calling at a young age, and stick with it and not lose track.”
Van Horn said he did not seek out any corporate sponsorship for the project. This is about the people, and as such, any funding not coming from his own life savings, is coming from the people.
He is accepting donations on his website – canadianmosiac.ca
Anyone interested can “sponsor a kilometre” for $20.
He has applied, unsuccessfully, for grants.
“I tried nine times, with Alberta Foundation for the Arts, for grants, and I have been denied nine times, so I don’t even try that route anymore,” he said. “I am funding it on my own, because I feel very strongly that a project like this should not have a logo on it. I am keeping this thing corporate-free.
“This is not about money. The universe has said ‘we need you to go do this. Do it, and we will take care of you.’”
Van Horn has been across Canada five times during the creation of the project and estimates he has covered 150,000 kilometres. He expects to be completed shooting content for the bus, and the accompanying book, within the next 11 months. The final year will be spent in production.
The completed project will be on the road from May 2017 to June of 2018. It will start in Red Deer, head up to Whitehorse, then cover B.C. in July of 2017.