FEBRUARY 08, 2016
On a snowy night in mid-January, the auditorium at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC) filled with Yellowknife residents clad in mukluks and goose-down parkas. The 80-odd people were gathered for Why We Walk: A PechaKucha Night devoted to exploring some of the many motivations behind the human proclivity for putting one foot in front of the other.
The Yellowknife PechaKucha Night was inspired by Walk to Tuk, a winter walking challenge hosted by the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA). During the months of January and February, registered teams of NWT residents work together to conceptually walk the distance of the Deh Cho (Mackenzie River), 1,658 km from Fort Providence at the outlet of Great Slave Lake to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean.
As those in attendance hunted for a seat (much to the organizers’ delight, more chairs had to be added!) and got caught up with neighbours, they were treated to songs from Jonathan Churcher’s recently released album, Rock Walker Blues. Shortly after 7pm, the MC for the night, the affable Minister of Education, Culture, and Employment, Alfred Moses, took the stage to introduce the eclectic group of presenters.
There were nine presentations exploring walking from a variety of different angles. Tour guide Rosie Strong introduced the audience to the Old Town Soundwalk, an audio tour app that shares the stories, music, and colourful history of Yellowknife’s oldest neighbourhoods. In a presentation titled “The Art of Walking,” chiropractor Michael Bokor explored what is happening in our feet, legs, and knees when we go out for a ramble. Inveterate adventurers Leanne Robinson and Dwayne Wohlgemuth explored the risks and rewards of two month-long walks they have undertaken in the NWT, the first along the Arctic Coast and the second through the Mackenzie Mountains.
Traditional artist Gerri Sharpe took the audience behind the scenes of the Yellowknife stop of Walking with Our Sisters, a commemorative art installation that honours the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Historian and NWTRPA staff member Jess Dunkin brought to life the six-day walking competitions that drew large crowds to places like Madison Square Garden in New York City in the late nineteenth century. Colinda Blondin, a youth officer from Behchokǫ̀, and Allice Legat, a Yellowknife author and anthropologist, explored how walking ties people to place from Scotland to Denendeh in a presentation titled, “Know Where You’re From, Know Where You Live.”
Photographer Jennifer Broadbridge spoke about the joys and challenges of living without a car since 2009. Elaine Stewart, Karen Wilford, Lorne Gushue, and Peter Chynoweth of Yellowknife United Church introduced audience members to labyrinth walking, a form of prayer/meditation that originated in pre-Christian times. The evening ended with biologist-turned-author Jamie Bastedo reading an excerpt from his novel Tracking Triple Seven that follows a collared bear as she travels across the barrenlands with her cubs.
For all of the evening’s variety (as one audience member noted, there really was something for everyone), there were also common themes. Perhaps the most recurrent was that of connection. Walking, the different presenters made clear, connects us to our bodies; to the places we walk, both urban and wild; to others, from family and friends to neighbours and strangers; and to the Creator. Following on this, walking is: a way to tend to our physical and mental wellbeing; a vehicle for strengthening relationships and building community; an ethical choice; a way to know the past and present of the places where we are from or where we find ourselves; and a spiritual practice.
It was not just the presenters who told stories about walking, the audience was also asked to share their motivations for walking on a large wooden display board. Here are a few of their responses:
I walk to get where I need to go.
I walk to make life decisions.
I walk to get to high places.
I walk so my dog won’t poop indoors.
I walk for the environment.
You can read more walking motivations and contribute your own on Twitter using the hashtag #whywewalk.
Thank you to the presenters for your thoughtful, engaging, and entertaining contributions to the evening’s conversation about walking and to the audience members for your interest, enthusiasm, and graciousness.
If you were unable to attend the PechaKucha, you can watch the presentations here. A big thank you to Rajiv Rawat at the Museum for his technical expertise.
This post is also available on the NWT Recreation and Parks Association website.