Peter Sibbald

Elegy for a Stolen Land
Location: Toronto
Nationality: Canadian
Biography:                                             I am a Canadian non-fiction photographer, writer, documentary filmmaker, artist and educator... MORE
Public Story
Elegy for a Stolen Land
Copyright Peter Sibbald 2023
Updated Apr 2016
Topics Agriculture, Black and White, Documentary, Environment, Environmental, Fine Art, Food, Forest, Landscape, Photography
Elegy for a Stolen Land

"Retracing routes through my home place across decades, one's mind and memory play tricks. Time and space warp as forests, fields and creeks " which seemingly were there only last week " give way to suburbs, malls, and highways. In an apparent afternoon, 11,000 years' accumulation of topsoil is scraped and bagged for sale at supermarkets, while the secrets it has long concealed are boxed, catalogued and deposited in remote basements, merely pocketed, or disappeared through wood chippers. GPS coordinates are the best way I can keep track of the places I've been; yet they convey falsity, both of solace and in their implication of accuracy. For place is a thing of the senses − the foot and the eye − and landmarks on the heart. Returning to a coordinate, the place is gone. And while chasing light and shadow " whose conjunctions sometimes feel like rips in a metaphysical plane hovering near the wind " drums beat, campfire smoke rises, and the growl of a prehistoric bulldozer drowns out the husky ringing of drying corn."

I wrote that at a time when I was reflecting on an intense period of work arising from my sense of personal history, not long after I'd escaped the city to raise a seventh generation of my family in the home place. The sheer rapaciousness of human activity in southern Ontario's countryside " the naked erasures of both heritage and our capacity for a secure, local food supply " compelled me to investigate. For forced by food shortages to emigrate, six generations ago my Scottish ancestors settled in Southern Ontario, 140,000 square kilometres of stolen land that for millennia " and until not long before " had been homeland to successive waves of indigenous peoples. That land would become part of what is officially called the "Greater Golden Horseshoe," source of 20 per cent of Canada's wealth, including, until recently, over one-third of our country's class 1 farmland.

Meanwhile when driving down through the mid-western United States, I begin to fully comprehend the ubiquity of the cookie-cutter pattern of short-term thinking imposed by its interlopers on this continent " Turtle Island, as it is known to its indigenous peoples " and the extent of those erasures. With growing clarity, sharpened by the evidence of climate interruption colliding with incessant human need, greed and desperation, I curse our collective madness, the squandering of our plunder, and I lament the meagre inheritance of future generations.

"Peter Sibbald            
Jackson's Point, 2016   
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Elegy for a Stolen Land by Peter Sibbald
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