Photo: Wayne Sawchuk
Curiosity has rewarded my husband, George, and me many times during our life together. One shining example occurred during a 2006 visit to Hudson’s Hope in northern British Columbia, when George went flying with a friend in his Piper Cub, curious as always to see the landmass beneath his feet from another perspective. They flew over the town of Hudson’s Hope, the Bennett Dam and the mighty Peace River, taking photos as they went. At one point, the pilot told George to take a good look below, where he noted what looked to be large circles carved into the ground.
“UFO site?” George asked quizzically.
“No, but after our flight, I’ll show you an article in the local newspaper on this particular project,” the pilot answered as he dipped in for a better look.
The article explained that in 1999 a British Columbian artist named Deryk Houston made a journey to Baghdad to see firsthand the suffering that war and sanctions had inflicted on the people of Iraq, women and children in particular. He witnessed rampant destruction and the deprivation of medicine, food and water that resulted in the death of an estimated half a million children under five years of age.
The trip changed Deryk’s life forever, setting him on a course to become an artist who uses the earth as his canvas and peace as his inspiration.
Upon his return to Peace River Country, he, along with his son, Sam, and volunteer Phil Kirtzinger, who operated the heavy machinery, constructed a series of concentric circles made of sand, gravel and hay, roughly 1,000 feet in diameter. Symbolic renderings of a mother and her child were created at the centre of the work. Deryk’s hope was that the site would become a permanent sanctuary of peace, a place to visit for people searching for spiritual renewal, new hope or just a few precious moments of inner peace.
In 2003, the National Film Board of Canada produced a short documentary titled From Baghdad to Peace Country by Sherry LePage, which traces the artist’s footsteps during his time in Iraq and afterwards. The movie highlights Deryk’s unique way of objecting to war, using the very earth around him to create art in a bid to nurture global peace.
With most of us here in Canada being safe and sound in our own environments, and relatively ignorant of what’s going on behind the scenes in far-away, war-torn countries, how often do we stop to think about the loss of a child or a mother’s struggle to find the necessities of life in the midst of chaos a world away? We only come face to face with the facts when they are brought to our attention in a meaningful way. Such was the effect that Deryk’s work had on both my husband and me. While few of us have the talent and determination to create such a monumental tribute to peace, we can draw inspiration from people like Deryk and do our part, in our own way, to help the cause. After all, we are all soldiers of peace. March on!
Next, find out how one residential school survivor is exploring his dark past through colourful paintings.