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Finding Farley Media Coverage

Finding Farley - crossing Canada by canoe by Robert Remington

Canmore family set for six-month canoe odyssey to visit famous author

Published: Monday, April 30, 2007

It's 8:30 a.m. and Zev Heuer is running around the house doing things that boys in the terrible twos usually do -- putting a laundry basket over his head, making a tent in his bed, playing with a stuffed toy horse, walking around with a mask, like Zorro -- all in the space of about four minutes.

If his parents think they have their hands full now, wait until next week, when they expect him to sit still in a canoe for six months. Good luck.

But an amazing thing happens when young Zev, 21/2, takes his seat in the bow of the family's canoe. It's like he's the captain of the ship, calm and in control -- aware of, and fascinated by, his surroundings.

"Make no mistake, he's going to be the biggest challenge on the trip," says Zev's dad, Karsten Heuer. "But, you know, on a trip like this, every place you see is a new place, so I think it's going to be fun and interesting for him. The trip will teach and discipline him more than we ever could."

Heuer and wife Leanne Allison, both 38, leave May 8 on a six-month canoe trip with their dog Willow and Zev for Cape Breton Island to visit author Farley Mowat for a film and book project called Finding Farley.

Like Mowat, Heuer is a biologist and author -- a sort of modern-day "mini-Mowat" who has written about long periods in the wilderness, including five months he and Allison spent tracking the Porcupine caribou in the Arctic in 2003.

When Mowat read a draft of Heuer's book, Being Caribou, the author invited the couple to visit him at his summer farm in Cape Breton.

Rather than fly or drive, the family decided to canoe from Canmore, 100 kilometres west of Calgary, to Hudson Bay, visiting many of the settings Mowat wrote about in books such as Never Cry Wolf, Lost in the Barrens and People of the Deer. At Hudson Bay, they hope to catch a supply barge or boat to take them to northern Labrador, the setting of Mowat's stories for The Serpent's Coil, Grey Seas Under, Sea of Slaughter and A Whale for the Killing.

From Newfoundland and Labrador they will continue their water journey to Cape Breton. After landing on the island near the end of October, they'll walk the final 10 kilometres to Mowat's farm.

The National Film Board is partly sponsoring the trip for a film project called Finding Farley, with Allison as director and photographer. The former glacier-hiking guide previously shot and co-directed the NFB film version of Being Caribou, which won a 2006 Gemini Award for best environmental film at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival and best environmental and conservation film at the 2005 Japan International Wildlife Film Festival.

Heuer plans a Finding Farley book based on the family's experiences over the next six months.

A seasonal warden for Parks Canada in Banff and Jasper, Heuer never intended to become what he calls an "expedition storyteller." It just sort of happened.

In 1998 and 1999, he and Allison hiked, skied and canoed 3,400 kilometres over 18 months from Yellowstone Park to the Yukon to draw attention to the Yellowstone-to-Yukon (Y2Y) conservation initiative, which seeks to preserve north-south wildlife migration routes between the two regions.

"I never dreamed of doing a book. I thought I would do a few lectures and some media interviews, but I was contacted by a publisher," Heuer said. After the publication of Walking the Big Wild in 2000, Heuer became something of a minor celebrity in conservation circles.

He and Allison, who had gone to kindergarten together in Calgary, "re-met" by chance prior to the Y2Y hike and, after the book, married in 2002.

What followed was the rather unusual honeymoon of tracking the Porcupine caribou herd of northern Yukon and Alaska, which migrate 900 kilometres between their winter range and their calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the impact of oil drilling on the herd is debated.

After completing a last draft of Being Caribou, Heuer decided to send a copy to Mowat.

"I'd never met him or anything, but I decided to send it to him with a note saying that we fell into storytelling in much the same way, as biologists writing about an issue or cause."

Mowat wrote back in a typewritten note, calling Being Caribou "one of the best, most evocative and hard-hitting accounts of man's inhumanity toward life."

Then, one day, the activist-biologist called Heuer out of the blue.

"At first I thought it was a joke," said Heuer, recalling how a friend phoned him after the publication of Walking the Big Wild pretending to be a writer for Car and Driver Magazine.

When Mowat invited Heuer to visit, the couple hatched the idea for Finding Farley. It's not a completely planned project -- the couple actually have no idea how they are going to finish the last half of their trip.

The first portion of their route will take them from Canmore along the Bow River to where it joins the South Saskatchewan River east of Medicine Hat. There, the river turns north to flow through Saskatoon to Prince Albert. They will then make their way over water routes to Reindeer Lake and on to Arviat, an Inuit village on the west shore of Hudson Bay.

From Arviat, they hope to hitch a ride on a ship or barge through the Hudson Strait and Labrador Sea. Most commercial ships, however, have a policy of no passengers. If they do make it to Labrador, they hope to hire a sailboat to take them along the coast of Newfoundland, canoeing a portion of the way, and then on to Cape Breton.

"The one thing all these trips have taught us is patience, perseverance and, above all, faith, especially faith in the compassion of others to help," Heuer says. "We saw patience and perseverance in Being Caribou, of plugging along with the knowledge that you are heading to a destination, and that you will get there sometime."

© Calgary Herald