No full moon was required to get everyone excited Wednesday for the celebration of a new exhibit on wolves opening tomorrow at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Instead of cheering, many attendees broke into a chorus 0f howls, just like a wolf, along with the usual applause, after Ottawa-based award-winning Canadian wildlife photographer Michelle Valberg took to the podium to speak about her series of images prominently featured in Wolves: Shape-shifters in a Changing World.
The gathering attracted a large pack of more than 200 guests. The crowd met in the Hatch Salon for speeches, a glass of wine and some canapés, which folks no doubt “wolfed” down before heading over to the nearby exhibit gallery. Guests also heard from the Canadian Museum of Nature’s new president and CEO, Danika Goosney, as well as scientists Kamal Khidas and Danielle Fraser, all of whom have PhDs.
Valberg told her audience how she was “beyond excited” to have her work return to the Canadian Museum of Nature. It’s been 12 years since her Arctic Kaleidoscope exhibit opened there and a decade since her photographic book of the same name was launched at the museum. She and her husband, Scott MacLennan, also celebrated their wedding, more than 22 years ago, in the same event space.
Attendees included Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Michael Crockatt, Claude Brulé, president and CEO of Algonquin College, where Valberg did her studies in photography, and Christina Tessier, president and CEO of Ingenium, which oversees the three national museums of science and innovation based in Ottawa. Also present were Ottawa Riverkeeper Laura Reinsborough and Meg Beckel, who, after 11 years, retired last June as CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Valberg’s family was there, with the exception of son Ben, 18, who’s in his first year at Western University. Many of Valberg’s close friends came, including Jeff Turner. He’s the chair of Project North, a charity Valberg founded to improve the lives of children living in Canada’s north.
The museum’s new board chair, Karen Dodds, was among the attendees. She’s retired from the public service but used to be an assistant deputy minister at Environment and Climate Change Canada, as well as at Health Canada.
It was interesting to hear about the great lengths taken by Valberg to capture her rare and stunning shots, both on the BC coast and in Yellowstone National Park south of the border.
“I have spent countless hours waiting and anticipating an encounter with these creatures,” said Valberg of the “fleeting” experiences that required her to spend 16 hours a day in a photography blind to conceal herself. She worked from sunrise to sunset, endured cold and wet weather, and walked great distances over slippery rocks while hauling heavy equipment. She sat for long periods in uncomfortable positions — all with hopes of photographing a wolf.
“I can personally tell you they are elusive creatures, having just come back from Yellowstone, where I did not see or hear a wolf.”
Valberg described her shoots as challenging, exhilarating, fascinating and surreal. She was left “mesmerized” by her encounters with the wolves, describing their howls as “a ghost-like symphony filling the air with a haunting melody”.
The exhibit, which remains at the museum until March 2024, explores the evolution and adaptations of wolves using scientific research, real specimens, cultural stories, video and images.
The museum came up with a clever way to discourage visitors from touching the preserved wolf specimen on display. If you get too close to it, your movement will trigger quiet growling sounds. The creative idea was suggested by Goosney, who brings to her new role an impressive science-based academic background, complemented by more than two decades of research and policy administration.
Visitors are also invited to post photos of their own “domesticated wolf” through the museum’s social media campaign, #Wolftowoof. Tagged images of dogs can be shared online or in the exhibition.
WallSizzle/Miller McConnell Signs, owned by Craig McConnell, printed the 11 large-format vivid photos on ChromaLuxe metal.
“I’m thrilled to let you know Craig and I are donating these images to the Museum of Nature,” said Valberg, who’s a director on the board of the Canadian Museum of Nature Foundation, a member of the Order of Canada, a Canadian Geographic photographer-in-residence, and Nikon Ambassador.
Attendees heard how wolves have been amazingly adaptable creatures over the years. “But, wolves are at risk today,” said Danielle Fraser. “A once much-more widespread species is being threatened by human landscape modification and active eradication.”
Fraser referred to wolves as being “key players” in the terrestrial ecosystem. “They are organisms without which we’d be undoing about a million years of evolutionary history.
“But, with proper respect and conservation measures, we can live alongside wolves. It’s my personal hope that the new exhibit you see today will leave folks with feelings of love for one of the world’s most beautiful and important creatures, and perhaps a desire to take action in their protection as well.”