Arts·Canada Day

The 9 most inspiring places in Canada, according to artists

Artists such as Coeur de pirate, Director X, and Buffy Sainte-Marie share the stories of the places that have inspired favourite works and entire creative careers.

Stories from The Strumbellas, Kate Beaton, Coeur de pirate, Buffy Sainte-Marie and more

Inspired? Scenes like this photo of Lake Louise are awe-inspiring, sure, but what places in Canada have given you the urge to just make something? (fusionpanda/Flickr)

People call Canada's postcard landscapes inspiring all the time, but have you ever truly visited a place and felt the urge to just make something?

With Canada Day approaching, CBC Arts had that thought in mind when we reached out to some of our favourite artists — filmmakers and musicians and dancers and innovative creative minds of all kinds. What parts of the country had truly inspired them, if ever? Had some place played a part in the origin story of a breakthrough work — or their decision to become an artist in the first place?

By sharing their answers — and a few personal snapshots — contributors including Kate Beaton, "Hotline Bling" mastermind Director X and the National Ballet's Guillaume Côté have helped build us a map of the country's most beautiful places. Sure, pristine wilderness abounds in their answers — and given the number of shout-outs to Northern Ontario, you'd think we polled the Group of Seven. Still, there's a different kind of beauty at work than a view of the great outdoors.

These nine places have influenced breakthrough works — and in some cases, entire creative careers. That thought is truly inspiring.

So… what's the most inspiring place in Canada?

Cape Breton, N.S.

Undated aerial photo taken near the Barra Strait in Iona, N.S. (Canadian Press)

Writes Kate Beaton, author, cartoonist and creator of Hark a Vagrant: "Cape Breton is beautiful but it is not easy. It has given me a great sense of identity and pride but it has also given me the drive you need to succeed, in art or in any profession. There are few easy roads here economically, but there is a great will to push yourself forward. It is also a rare place that prides itself on producing artists, and if I am less common than a musician might be, I still feel the amazing support of my neighbours at every step."

Chemong Lake, Ont.

Songs like "Spirit?" They started right here. Simon Ward of The Strumbellas shared this childhood photo taken at Chemong Lake, Ont. (Courtesy of Simon Ward)

Where do you go on your family vacations? For Simon Ward, lead singer of indie-folk band The Strumbellas, memories of childhood holidays have had a lasting effect. He writes: "Growing up I spent all of my summers at a little cottage on Chemong Lake. I LOVED growing up on a lake. Watching the waves, sitting around the fire, that warm feeling of wrapping yourself in a towel on the dock after a swim."

"In my lyrics I very often use nature words to describe events in my life that I'm singing about or as ways to help paint a picture of how I'm feeling, and I think that's because of my memories of that cottage on the lake."

Yes Yes Y'all 

Yes Yes Y'all in action. (Yannick Anton)

Filmmaker, music-video director and former CBC Arts Exhibitionist in Residence Sammy Rawal reminds us that the country's most inspirational places aren't exclusively the realm of Parks Canada. Sometimes, they're as intimate and ephemeral as a downtown club night. He writes: "For me, the place that has meant the most to me as an artist is the queer POC hip-hop/dancehall party called Yes Yes Y'all that my friends and I started 7 and a half years ago." 

"YYY has influenced me and my work in a number of ways. Firstly, it's provided a space in which this community has flourished. Through YYY, I've met so many like-minded artistic people doing incredible things...being around that energy is so inspiring. Dance/movement, music and fashion are huge elements in my personal work; being immersed in a scene where these things bring people together on a monthly basis has given me a real pulse on what's relevant."

Tofino, B.C.

Looking out at the Pacific Ocean from Tofino, B.C. (Canadian Press)

For Roses, her 2015 album, Coeur de pirate's Béatrice Martin sings of tumultuous seas — and emotions — on songs like "Oceans Brawl." As she's said in the past, the record was partly inspired by time spent on the west coast of Vancouver Island. "Tofino was a really enlightening trip," she writes CBC Arts, days before appearing at the Canada Day in the Capital celebrations in Ottawa. "I realized a lot of things as a person and songwriter when faced with so much unknown. I've always been influenced by the ocean. It is a destructive yet peaceful element. I relate to the movement of the water with emotions. I guess everyone does…"

Lac Caché, Ont.

Just outside of Verner, Ont. you'll find Vincent Morisset's favourite place in Canada, Lac Cache. (Courtesy of Vincent Morisset)

"As a kid, I spent a couple of weeks every summer at my grandmother's cottage at Lac Caché," writes Vincent Morisset, the Montreal director and digital artist behind Arcade Fire's "Just a Reflektor." 

"Bird-watching in the woods, playing in the sandpit and catching bugs and crayfishes in the lake made me aware at a young age of the hidden beauty surrounding us. My latest project, Way to Go, is about that connection with nature."

(Morisset told CBC Arts more about that particular project when he was an Exhibitionist in Residence this winter.)

Lac-St-Jean, Que.

Guillaume Côté shared this snapshot of Lac-St-Jean with CBC Arts. "This is the view of the lake that I captured when I was there with my daughter Emma when she was eight months old." (Courtesy of Guillaume Côté )

Guillaume Côté, the National Ballet of Canada's Principal Dancer, flashed back to his childhood in Metabetchouan-Lac-a-la-croix, Que. when we asked him to name the most inspiring place in Canada. The community is on Lac-St-Jean, and as Côté writes: "I grew up walking its shores endlessly as a child and teenager, and now as an adult, it's a place for me to come and think, a resource [for] my creativity and where I can brainstorm on what's ahead. The purity and calm that exists there has had a deep impact on me."

Fraser and Broadway Sts., Vancouver

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun in his studio. Talwst's first studio was in the same neighbourhood as the Vancouver painter's, and when they met, Yuxweluptun took him on as an apprentice. (Ken Mayer)

Vancouver artist Curtis "Talwst" Santiago, whose ring-box sculptures were featured on Exhibitionists back in November, finds no place as inspiring as his first "small painting studio." 

"I moved into a small one bedroom off of Fraser and Broadway in my early 20s," he writes. "I had decided to stop touring with music and become a visual artist. With the loss of touring income I had to make my kitchen double as a tiny studio where I created my first ring box. It was shortly after moving into that space that by chance I stumbled upon Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun's studio which was also in the neighbourhood. He took me on as his apprentice that day and gave me the encouragement that I could make it as an artist."

Killbear Provincial Park, Ont.

You'll find Director X's most inspiring place in Canada, Killbear Provincial Park, in Georgian Bay, Ont. (Flickr/Ontario Parks)

He's the guy behind the most meme-able music video of the last year. (That video would be "Hotline Bling," by the way.) And just like Drake, Director X is a Toronto native. "I camped in Killbear all my life," he writes CBC Arts. I walk through the forest at night with no flashlight. I know where everything is by memory. It shaped my connection to nature and the stars. On the rare, clear night you can see the Northern Lights. It is a part of who I am and everything I do."

The most inspirational place in Canada is…wherever you are.

"Oh, I know so many secret, sweet places in Canada," Buffy Sainte-Marie says teasingly when CBC Arts asks her to reveal a spot that's inspired a favourite moment from her legendary career. 

"I'm lucky. I'm not one of those entertainers who lives in a penthouse and is so famous she can't go anywhere. I go out in the boonies. I go out to places. … And when I think of Canada, I think of a place my dad would always talk about. But it's not one place — it's a concept."

"He said, 'When you pray, you take your sweet grass and you go to a clean spot.' So for me, Canada is a clean spot on the planet. And if I'm in Alberta, if I'm in Ontario, wherever I am, I'm always looking for a clean spot — and I can always find it."

What place in Canada inspires you to create? Tell us! Find CBC Arts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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