Becoming Aware

In 1948, Frédéric Back arrived in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. He had been intrigued by Canada for several years. The books he read as a boy, the paintings by Clarence Gagnon, the soldiers who liberated Europe and his correspondence with Ghylaine, a Québécoise, have made him want to go and see this country. And post-war Europe needs manual labourers more than it does artists. So he leaves the crowds and tidy landscapes of France for a country he imagines as wide-open spaces populated by wild animals and covered with ancient forests. On the train from North Sydney to Montreal, however, his marvelling at the landscapes going by is tinged with disappointment. Nature is there, apparently limitless, but all along the inordinately magnificent St. Lawrence River, farming has cleared every valley slope of trees right down to the water. Higher up, he sees nothing but clear-cuts and new growth. Here too, in North America, Frédéric Back realizes, humans have spread everywhere, their unquenchable thirst for modernity changing the landscape at ever greater speed.