Scenes of the North

Photographer Pat Kane documents the people and places of the Northwest Territories.

enRoute How did you get into photography and how did you know you wanted it to be your career?

Pat Kane I grew up in an artistic family. My mom was a painter and I used to watch her paint scenes from photos she had taken growing up on her reserve in Quebec. I always saw myself has a journalist and that was the direction I was heading, but writing wasn’t doing it for me. I still loved storytelling and was inspired by documentary–style photography. After I graduated university, I went to Humber College for journalism and photography. I picked up the camera and I fell in love with the medium of photography for storytelling.

ER What story do you want your photos to tell?

PK I want to document the daily lives of people in the north. Most photographers who come to the north photograph the landscape and wildlife or take photos of the northern lights, which are beautiful and those pictures deserve to be out there, but I want to capture the people of the north and their connection to the land and to each other. It’s important to collaborate with indigenous groups here to help tell and amplify their stories. A lot of people don’t know much about the Northwest Territories because it doesn’t have a strong identity like the Yukon or Nunavut. I want to bring that culture to the forefront and create a dialogue to show people that the Northwest Territories has a very strong and beautiful identity.

ER Your work explores indigenous issues and the empowerment of indigenous people. Why are you passionate about these causes?

PK In the last couple years, I’ve been working with a lot of conservation groups with first nations to show life in the more remote parts of the Northwest Territories. People are very passionate about protecting the land and being stewards of the environment. The elders and the community of leaders say it is not just about protecting our land, but it is also about enriching and sustaining our culture and traditions. I see people who are so proud and so to happy be on the land. People don’t really talk about that when they come north.

ER What has most surprised you about the life in the North and what do you love about living there?

PK It’s a very strong community. I feel very fortunate to be part of this young city where people are doing cool things. I also love meeting people and working on their stories, but also the diversity in the north and Yellowknife.

ER If your best friend is visiting you in Yellowknife, what you tell them to go and see or do in the city?

PK There’s kind of an itinerary that people get when they come to Yellowknife. You have to go two–stepping at the Gold Range Bistro, which is a bar that’s been around forever. And definitely a float plane ride.

ER When is the best time of year to visit Yellowknife or Northwest Territories and why?

PK One of the best times to visit is in the middle of the summer because we have 20 hours of sunlight on the June 21st solstice. People are out until one in the morning and the light is beautiful. The other great time to come is in March. It’s still full–on winter here, but there are a lot of festivals. Yellowknife comes alive again after the dark, cold winter. People are out on Yellowknife Bay and people dance and play hockey and ski in the snow. And the northern lights are beautiful at the time of the year too.

ER What is the one thing that you always travel with besides your camera?

PK If I’m going on holiday, it’s my wife! We travel together all the time. She inspires me to travel. Before we met I had never been to Europe or Mexico. I had only traveled around Canada, which I love and it's beautiful, and I recommend that more people do that, but she’s gotten me to go to really interesting places.

ER What are some of your favourite Instagram accounts?

PK Peter Mather (@matherpeter) is a Yukon photographer who he does a lot of conservation work and has great wildlife shots. Amanda Annand (@amaradah) is a documentary–style photographer in Yellowknife, who was named one the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward top emerging photographers last year. And @weronikamurray lives in Inuvik and does a lot of amazing documentary, photo journalism and portrait work.

June 21, 2019
Children swimming in Great Slave Lake, NWT.
Despite what people think, the North isn’t all ice and snow. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 30 degrees Celsius and we get up to 20 hours of sunlight. Here, families and children cool off in the water of Great Slave Lake at Whitebeach Point, Northwest Territories – a small, remote piece of land that is culturally important to the Tlicho Ndek’aowo and their people.
The night sky is shades of green, blue and purple thanks to the aurora borealis.
The aurora borealis appears above the quirky and colourful houseboats on Yellowknife Bay. For the past year, I’ve been working on a project about the people who live in the shacks and shanties in and around the city. Many homes were built by prospectors in the 1940s and are still used today. The first houseboats appeared in the 1980s.
The sky over a lake is pink and purple from a sunset.
When people ask why we live in the North, we speak of the kindness of the people who have called it home for generations, about the opportunities for reinvention, and about the light and colours we see when the rest of the continent is dark.