Thunder Bay

How climate activists in Thunder Bay, Ont., are using postcards to express hope, fear for future

Messages of hope, fear and calls for action were spelled out in coloured pencil and ink at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week as the university wraps up its year of climate action. The Postcards for Climate Action workshop was led by local artist Betty Carpick.

'Lake Superior needs us,' 1 postcard reads as others call for a nuclear waste-free northern Ontario

Ledah McKellar, sustainability co-ordinator at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., and Lindsay Galway, a member of the climate action co-ordinating committee, left to right, are among those involved in the school's year of climate action. Eager participants gathered recently for a special Postcards for Climate Action workshop, and wrote messages to friends and family, as well as politicians. (Olivia Levesque/CBC)

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Messages of hope, fear and calls for action were spelled out in coloured pencil and ink at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., this week as the school wraps up its year of climate action (YOCA).

At a special Postcards for Climate Action workshop, small groups of eager participants sat around tables, writing messages to friends and family, as well as politicians.

Local artist Betty Carpick, who led the workshop hosted by the Lake Superior Living Labs Network (LSLLN), said making small changes go a long way in achieving climate goals.

"I think people have a really deep concern for the planet and sometimes they feel immobilized by their own personal ability to make change. But I feel that we could all make change in small ways, and that's really available to us," she said as she handed out supplies to workshop attendees.

Organizers and participants at the Postcards for Climate Action workshop finish their messages before sending them off. Some people were planning to send their postcards to politicians, while other chose to send theirs to friends and family. (Olivia Levesque/CBC)

Lindsay Galway is a Canada research chair in social-ecological health and a lead for the LSLLN. 

"This is one of our few in-person events actually, so it's nice to get to this point of the year, the academic year, and have this sort of really creative, fun ... hopeful event."

The launch of the year of Lakehead's climate action in 2021 envisioned contributions through events, art, workshops, panel discussions, all while embedding climate learning and concrete climate actions at the school.

A virtual symposium will be held at the beginning of May to assess the impact of the year, which also set out to build on the 2020 commitment from the university to divest of its endowment of fossil fuel stocks.

Mackenzie Barnett, a Phd student at Lakehead and a member of Fossil Free Lakehead, holds up one of her postcards at the workshop. (Olivia Levesque/CBC )

"We're really asking, 'What next? What do we need to do as an institution when it comes to climate action next?' So it's a nice way to prime for that event as well," said Galway, who's also with the university's year of climate action co-ordinating committee.

Focus on next steps in climate action

The postcard workshop participants included Mackenzie Barnett, a PhD student who said her involvement in the Fossil Free Lakehead network and her motivation to find new paths to climate action drew her to the event.

"So now we're really thinking about what does climate justice mean to us now and where are our goals on campus," she said. 

"A really important piece about being here today for me is about the relationship building. So we're not just sort of like with the same group of people maybe or doing a specific demonstration, but we're here playing and talking, and just spending some time together," she added.

'Lake Superior needs us,' one postcard reads, while others call for a nuclear waste-free northern Ontario. (Olivia Levesque/CBC)

Barnett said that while climate action can be rooted in "anti" demonstrations, community building is an important aspect of it being effective.

"We want to build strong relationships. We want to build relationships around art, and finding creativity in ways that aren't harmful to the environment and to other species."

Finding creative ways to approach climate action has been a passion of Carpick's for years. She said using postcards as medium in the workshop is just another way to experiment with the art of activism.

Thunder Bay artist Betty Carpick designed stamps for the postcards using inks from plants gathered on Lake Superior's shoreline, including unique hues from tansy, goldenrod and harebell species. (Olivia Levesque/CBC)

"I really like that it starts at a personal level. It travels the trajectory through the postal system where many other people will see it … So I like the process and the pathway. I think that's really exciting, and it's kind of unknown and unmeasurable," Carpick said.

Carpick supplied natural inks, stencils, cardstock and postage, guiding people through their creative processes as they worked.

"I think the need for people to congregate and to share never goes away, and I think that's really important to keep us human and to be part of small communities of change."

Carpick designed the stamps on the postcards at a previous collaborative workshop with the Climate Action Field School.

The stamp for the postcards was developed in partnership with the Lake Superior Living Labs Network, Lakehead University, University of Minnesota Duluth, Michigan Technological University, Algoma University, and community partners and scholars across the Lake Superior Watershed. (Submitted by Betty Carpick)

The Lake Superior stamp found in the corners of each postcard represents hope, she said.

"It kind of reminds me of all the different times of day when we see water. When we see it when the sun rises and the sun sets, it is really related to this palette," she said.

"It's kind of a little bright spot in a long winter. And also, I think we have to have beacons of hope when we think of climate change and climate activism, and inspiring hope and others."