By Dan Rankin
Across the 10 Canadian provinces, there are more than 30 National Parks ranging in size from 14 km2 to over 10,000 km2 set aside to preserve some of the nation’s more spectacular natural wonders. They date back to the 1880s and their landscapes are as varied as the provinces themselves, something St. Marys artist Mark Czajkowski knows well. Since 2017 represents not only the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation but also the 130th anniversary of Canada’s National Parks system, Czajkowski has made an ambitious plan to travel to 31 of Canada’s National Parks next year and paint a landscape in every one. These works will populate his Gallery Stratford solo exhibition “Canada: Our Home & Native Land,” scheduled to run at the studio from April to July in 2017. Some other planned festivities, tying in with Gallery Stratford’s 50th anniversary, will include community outreach events such as storytelling campfires led by Czajkowski.
As a fundraiser for this one-of-a-kind Canadian adventure, Czajkowski is holding an art sale and auction tomorrow evening (Nov. 28) at Factory 163, located at 163 King Street in Stratford. Preview of the items – including about 50 paintings, some as large as four of feet in size – begins at 6:00 pm, with the auction set to begin at 8:00 pm. It will be a licensed event, with refreshments available for purchase.
Born in Stratford but now living in St. Marys with his wife Wendy, Czajkowski has been exhibiting his art since the late 80s, when a trip to British Columbia for Expo ’86 ignited a life-long passion.
“I got in with the art community there and just explored and sold a lot of paintings,” he said. “I dabbled in everything, every kind of painting, but I like landscapes. I’m a landscape painter.”
Czajkowski also has a love of the outdoors – a characteristic that can’t hurt for a landscape painter. “We’ve been to a lot of parks over the years, mostly provincial parks, but also a bunch of National Parks,” he said. “We’ll be hitting some spots we’ve never been to before.”
One of the National Parks he’s most excited to bring to life using his oil paints is back in British Columbia – Gwaii Haanas, located on the Haida Gwaii on B.C.’s Pacific coast. That’s where famous Canadian artist and associate of the “Group of Seven” Emily Carr made some of her most famous works. “I’ve been there before, but it would be great to paint that,” he said. “Then, to end up in Newfoundland at Gros Morne – it’s a beautiful place. I’ve been there before too. It’s over the top.”
Wendy and Mark, who plan to make the trip with their two dogs, received a pass from Parks Canada to every National Park for 2016. “That’s a big savings,” he said. “And kudos to the government for that.”
So, when the Czajkowskis arrive at the parks, they can focus on finding Mark the most awe-inspiring view for his paintings. “I’m going to ask whoever is in charge what is the best vista,” he said. “They’re the people that know. If you have to get there by canoe or a hike, we’ll do it to get there. It’ll all be fresh and new.”
Wendy said she thinks next year they may travel for a month out west, and then choose another month to head east, though it will depend on the time and money they can commit to the trip. “It all depends on funding,” she said. “We’re looking for companies – and we’re offering incentives to companies. We’re able to offer them promotional materials through Gallery Stratford.”
But just speaking to Cjazkowski, it’s clear to see that the reason he’s undertaking this project is to draw attention to Canada’s National Parks System and the wonders they contain. “The parks system in this country is the best in the world bar-none, so, why not celebrate it and try to show people what it’s all about?” he asked. “These places aren’t that hard to get to, I mean, anyone can learn how to paddle a canoe. It’s pretty simple. Most of the trips we’ll be taking, within a couple of hours you can be in a site where there’s no one around you and you’re in peace. Most of the parks are like that.”
“It’s a wonderful country and it should be celebrated.”
For more information on Czajkowski, or to check out some his past paintings and sculptures, visit HikePaddlePaint.com.