Tim Van Horn’s RV “Big Maple” stands out from the other vehicles outside the Tim Hortons on Lakelse Ave.
It is basically a huge national symbol on wheels, wrapped bumper to bumper in 20,000 photos of Canadians forming a huge Canadian flag with a motorcycle attached to the back plastered in portraits as well.
Van Horn is scruffy and has a jumpy energy that seems natural for a road warrior who has crisscrossed Canada eight times to document the human fabric of the landscape. He is in Terrace on his most recent foray to make that number even bigger.
The goal for his Canadian Mosaic Project is to have snapped 54,000 portraits by 2017, which will represent 0.150 percent of the population, a number that coincides with that year being the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
During that year, Van Horn plans to depart from his hometown of Red Deer, Alberta, on a national tour in a larger bus decked out in the entire collection.
“It’s something the country can follow for that birthday year,” he says. “It’s tangible, it’s not on the Internet. It’s not in Ottawa. It’s coming to Terrace. I go back to the communities in which the portraits are taken.”
In B.C. alone he’s documented individuals from 80 communities and in this area, approximately 200 people.
His vision is to celebrate the growing diversity of opinions and origins making up modern-day Canada, labeling his project a “visual anthropological study.”
He doesn’t record information about his subjects, but instead leaves it up to the viewer to create their own story – to find their own identity within the mosaic’s whole.
“You write a whole story for that person, and it gives placement for you within that story,” said Van Horn.
On the RV door is a sign inviting passersby to knock if they want their photos taken. One Quebecois lady knocks and quickly begins to recount historical instances of discrimination against French language speakers in English-speaking parts of the country, telling Van Horn she hopes he is aware of this. And does he speak French?
Van Horn must quickly disarm her. Yes, yes, he smiles. It’s exactly what he aims to accomplish – bring east and west, north and south – together into his unified portrait of the country, dissolving all barriers and stereotypes. Though he missed his French lessons, he loves French Canada.
After taking the woman’s picture against the exterior wall of Big Maple and seeing her on her way, he says that he is constantly engaging with people, some who have a bone to pick with nationalism.
“Those are lessons in people’s temperament,” he said. “There’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to be done in our country, not just with the First Nations.”
“I’m not rah rah Canada. I’m not a nationalist, I’m a humanist,” he adds.
He’s had plenty of time to discuss politics on the road. Harper’s “karma is running out” he said. “If he’s re-elected, that’s okay, I will just drive my Canada Bus down to the U.S. for the next four years.”
Van Horn’s website, www.canadianmosaic.ca, solicits sponsorship by the kilometre and he’s been living hand to mouth while on the road without any government grant support.
“Any day I am out on the sidewalk and someone says I love what you are doing and gives me 20 bucks, I say thank you and go straight to the gas station right after the day of shooting. I make just enough to pay for my gas.”
His sponsorship quest has put him in what he says are slightly awkward scenarios where he has had to do the odd bit of product placement in return for support from businesses.
But he insists that the project is about the people, not profits.
“It’s something I have been working towards my whole life in one way or another,” Van Horn said.
“You need an outgoing personality to do this, you have to see people as equals. In turn, it’s given me a licence to stop and engage with everybody in every scenario.”
“I grew up in a military family, so I traveled around as a kid in the Canadian Air Force. My parents served, my grandparents served, so I felt like I needed to do something equivalent as serving in the military, so this is my creative tour of duty to do something good for the country.”