"Actually, I blame CBC," artist Carol Loeb says with a laugh on how her ambitious cross-country-road-trip meets art-project began.
"I heard on the radio, 'What are you doing for Canada 150?'" says Loeb of Montreal, and that sparked an idea.
She and her husband were driving in Charlevoix, Que. Their summer holiday plans to be outdoors had been rained out, and they found themselves going on drives to take in the wet scenery through the windows.
"A a joke I said, 'What are we doing? We're sitting in the car in the rain!'" she says. But her next thought was, "We could stop every 150 [kilometres] and do a painting."
"Then I wondered how many stops there would be across Canada."
When she got home, she mapped along the Trans-Canada Highway — plus a loop into Prince Edward Island, "because you've got to include all ten provinces" — a stop at every 150 kilometres from beginning to end: a total of 51 stops.
She called her best friend Allison Grapes in Saskatoon, who is also an artist, to tell her about the idea. "She was kind of going oh that's really nice," she says. "And I went, 'Well, want to do it with me?' And then all I heard is this squeal, 'yes!' And that was it. The idea was born."
The idea: at every 150 kilometres along the Trans-Canada, Loeb and Grapes would stop the car, take notes and photos of what they each saw at that spot and once back in their studios, they would each create a single painting of that scene. They call it Trans-Canada x Two.
Both Loeb and Grapes are full-time school teachers, and they live in different cities, so to manage the logistics of travelling every kilometre of the Trans-Canada, they've tackled the task in segments.
They flew to Nova Scotia to do a length of stops from there; from Loeb's home in Montreal they travelled the five stops in either direction; they had to travel to Newfoundland at separate times for the most eastern parts of the trek; and this past summer, when the forest fires erupted in B.C., they were on their way to completion in the west and had to stop and return home.
The B.C. forest fires have been such a big part of Canada's story in 2017 that their impact on Loeb and Grapes's project was, in a way, an important piece of their aim: to capture Canada as it is at 150.
"We've now gone from St. John's all the way to Banff, Alta., so there are seven stops left," Loeb says. She and Grapes will do the last stretch of B.C. at separate times — and soon, as they need to each finish their respective 51 paintings in time for an exhibit that will open for Canada Day, 2018. Loeb says she's just over halfway, with 26 paintings complete.
"We're old enough to remember, barely, the '67 the centennial and the special events that went on. We still remember them. So this project is our celebration of who we are as a people," she says. "I'm impressed with not just how big [Canada] is, but how fortunate we are to live in this place. It's pretty incredible."
"I don't know if everybody has to do something bigger than themselves... this is ours."