With financial security in place for a year, I decided not to waste time and get down to doing complete paintings of wildlife and wanted to be somewhere with a lot of North American wildlife. I began researching and it did not take long to narrow my focus to the Kootenay Valley in the southeast corner of British Columbia, It had been dubbed ‘the little Africa of North America’ because of the large populations of deer, elk and their predators.
I had never been there, but I knew that was where I was going to live. To make it happen meant moving away from my son, something that pained me, but I had to move out of the city to do my art and this was my opportunity. In that first year, I made many trips of the 11 hour drive to Vancouver and then home again. I bought a used ’68 Dodge Dart for the princely sum of $700. It may not have been the ideal vehicle for negotiating back country roads, but it would have to do. Besides, it was built like a tank; I’ll share some of our adventures in the Dart in later blogs.
In the summer of 1980, Maureen and I headed east over highway 3 and five mountain passes to Kimberley. We were excited to be starting a life together and to live in the country. Both of us had been city people all our lives and we had a lot to learn. We ended up just outside the town of Kimberley and answered an ad for a house rental. This turned out to be an amazing stroke of luck as the owners became friends and introduced us to their friend Chris Sadlier, a back country ranger and photographer. We hit it off right away and Chris and I shared many adventures including a memorable trip to the Yukon where we hiked, climbed and took wildlife photos for two weeks. Sadly, Chris was killed in a freak accident when a tree crashed through the roof of a wilderness cabin where he was doing work related to a new provincial park. Chris is still deeply missed by all who knew him. His memory and service to the parks he loved has been honoured with a mountain bearing his name, Mount Sadlier.
Maureen had a small inheritance from her father and with that money we were able to buy a half acre lot next door to Chris and his family in the tiny community of Wasa. It was a huge change from the densely crowded west end of Vancouver. Through Chris, we met the group of people who still are our dearest friends even though we now live far apart. The sense of community in Wasa and Kimberley was wonderful. People were very welcoming and we were soon taken on hikes, invited to parties and made to feel at home. After purchasing a used mobile home to live in complete with paper thin walls, stained carpets and mice, I built a small studio next to it and got down to serious painting. With the support of my wife, my mother and my benefactor, Bob Wood, I now had the time, the space and the location where I could really apply myself to painting. I began to paint a series of complete watercolours of animals in their native habitat.