Mountain Writing, Film, and Digital Media in Canada


Editor's note: Joanna Croston, Programming Director for the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival, provides a snapshot of the state of mountain literature, film and digital media in English Canada. It is clear from Croston’s account that Canadian writers, publishers and film-makers engage in the work of mountain representation for multiple, and often contradictory, reasons: nationalism and national identity; support for and celebration of sport, recreation and travel; support for industry and development; worries about ecological sustainability; love of the life outdoors; concern for Canada’s mountain cultures, including its many Indigenous mountain peoples. It is also clear that greater dialogue between these interests and concerns will become increasingly necessary in the future. 

— Stephen Slemon, University of Alberta

This article first appeared in the ACC's 2018 State of the Mountains Report. We'll continue to publish articles exploring the current state of Canada's alpine and mountain culture on our blog throughout the year. Find them all here.

Mountain Writing

The emergence of small, mountain focused publishing houses and magazines in recent years is promising. Heritage House Publishing Group’s Rocky Mountain Books imprint remains the country’s most prominent publisher of mountain themed non-fiction annually while Canmore, Alberta based, Imaginary Mountain Surveyors publishes one mountain fiction title annually or bi-annually.  

Bernadette McDonald receives the Jon Whyte Award for Mountain Literature at the 2017 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival ©Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Bernadette McDonald receives the Jon Whyte Award for Mountain Literature at the 2017 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival ©Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Bernadette McDonald, arguably Canada’s most celebrated author of mountain literature continues to make waves internationally whenever her pen touches paper. Her most recently book, Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka, won no less than three international mountain literature awards in the course of three weeks in autumn 2017 including the Boardman Tasker prize and the coveted Jon Whyte Award at the 2017 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Alberta author Gisèle Villeneuve took home the mountain fiction award at this year’s festival for her book Rising Abruptly: Stories

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Beautifully crafted and designed periodicals like Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine, Coast Culture Magazine, Mountain Life and the Canadian Rockies Annual continue to gain momentum in the market with quality writing and visual work. Newly published Quebec-based Beside magazine focuses on storytelling that reconnects outdoor enthusiasts with nature in an environmentally conscious way. 

The Alpine Club of Canada’s Canadian Alpine Journal celebrated its 100th year in 2017 and is the dominant source of annual reporting for avid mountaineers of first ascents both at home in Canada and abroad. Top Canadian climbers such as Marc-Andre Leclerc, Vikki Weldon and Joshua Lavigne contributed articles to the 2017 edition and currently The Alpine Club of Canada’s mountain culture committee has digitized the journals to make them more accessible to a broader public.

In the more mainstream media realm, mountain literature authors in Canada seems to be pressing into a broader readers’ group with a diversity of national publications taking on mountain themed content. For example, The Walrus recently devoted a full cover and feature article to Canadian mountain athlete Will Gadd with Katherine Laidlaw’s article “This Will End Well” convincingly showing the demand for mountain-based content in a broad national readership. Similarly the Calgary Herald’s Swerve Magazine also featured world renowned Canadian ice climber Raphael Slawinski in a piece entitled “Independent Study” by Lyndsie Bourgon about balancing his professional life as a physics professor with his climbing ambitions.  

Mountain Film and Digital Media

Canadian film production companies like Sherpas Cinema and Switchback Entertainment continue to lead the charge in the ski film industry. Sherpas Cinema’s short film Imagination: Tom Wallisch became an instant internet sensation with more than 2 million views at the time of writing not to mention has since picked up several awards from international film festivals from around the globe. Switchback Entertainment’s Kilian was made in conjunction with outdoor industry giant Salomon. Both Canadian production companies have seen the immense viewership return in creating short films for online consumption as is also evidenced by the MEC supported episodic series Seeking Nirvana.

Foreign ski production companies like Red Bull Media House and Matchstick Productions are continuing to choose to film segments in Canada’s mountains on an annual basis because of relatively consistent winter conditions and big terrain feature appeal.  

Historical climbing films such Hobnails and Hemp Rope and Expedition Yukon: 50 Years Later were productions that celebrated anniversary milestones in the climbing world. Evidence of ethnic and gender diversity in mountain culture content remains challenging but films like Journeys to Adäka, Bison Return and Eyes of Society , who have had widespread broadcast or theatrical release, suggest an industry desire to rectify the situation and give life to Indigenous stories for an outdoor audience.

Environmentalism in film in Canada remains a strong and consistent theme annually. The recently released Living with Wildlife and Hunting Giants films focus on solutions based storytelling to showcase the plight of both animals and landscapes in the mountainous regions of Canada.

British Columbia based and climbing site continue to lead the outdoor web from a referential standpoint by providing up to date information about mountain conditions and trip reports. Crowfoot Media’s website provides broader based digital mountain culture content, everything from gear and book reviews to archival reportage and online photo exhibitions. Gripped magazine’s website is an often used online reference for climbing news from around the world.