Dawson Creek Art Gallery

A Fork in the Narrow Road: Education and the Oil and Gas Industry in Dawson Creek

By Haley Bassett, December 11th 2020

For this week’s article, I spoke with renowned Canadian filmmaker Charles Wilkinson about his latest project, investigating the relationship between post-secondary education and the oil and gas industry in the Dawson Creek area. Wilkinson’s previous work has received top recognition from the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Yorkton Film Festival.

His quadrilogy of environmental filmsPeace Out, Oil Sands Karaoke, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World and Vancouver: No Fixed Addressare lauded for their even-handed and respectful approach to both sides of the issues. Oil Sands Karaoke, which chronicles the perspectives and motivations of oil sands workers in Fort McMurray, Alberta, premiered to standing ovations locally.

Wilkinson’s upcoming project will not be the first time the filmmaker has turned his camera to the Peace Region; his film Peace Out followed the construction and ramifications of the Site C Dam. Over the years, Wilkinson and his partner, Tina Schliessler, who are based in North Vancouver, have developed a deep appreciation for the Peace Region. Charles speaks glowingly about its natural abundance, “The Peace River is such a beautiful, beautiful river,” adding, “We have really strong feelings for the Northeast, since we spent so much time out there.” 

Making the choice between work and study is never easy, however, this monumental life decision takes on much greater weight for people in the remote North. For Northerners, pursuing higher education can mean permanently leaving your home, friends and family, as there are very few opportunities for people with degrees in the arts or sciences in their communities. While these implications are intimidating on their own, the lure of high-paying, short-term jobs in the oil and gas industry at home makes that choice all the more difficult. As a result, a considerable number of local young people enter into the oil and gas industry even though they may have natural talents and interests in other fields.

Wilkinson’s latest project will focus on young, independent people from the Dawson Creek area who are now considering whether to leave home for education, or find work in the oil and gas industry. He is hoping to feature locals in his film who have interesting stories and are on the verge of making that choice. He has chosen Dawson Creek as his subject as it is undergoing a rapid industrial transformation from an agricultural community to a resource-extraction-based economy. Wilkinson is interested in observing how this swift industrial change affects the life choices of young people in the area. On this he says, “The transition from farming community to industrial zone is fascinating, and it’s being done without really any publicity in the South.”

Charles is working to bring awareness to this matter, and acknowledges that all investigations surrounding oil and gas can be incredibly divisive, which causes the debate to remain on a superficial level. He hopes that his film will broaden the conversation about this complex issue so it can become more varied and open. He wants to make clear that his films are not anti-industry, and stresses that this project will be about the people who are living through this challenge.

Whether one supports industry or the environment, the reality of a changing economic landscape has touched the lives of every young person in the Northeast. Charles will be in Dawson Creek in January 2021 to start preliminary work on the project. If this subject interests you, or you have personal experience with it, please contact Charles Wilkinson at charleswilkinson@telus.net. You can watch his latest film Haida Modern on the Knowledge Network at www.knowledge.ca.

Do you have an artistic endeavour you would like to promote? Is there a topic you would like me to discuss? I would love to hear from you! Please email me at programs@dcartgallery.ca.

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