“It’s a windless day,” I noted in dismay to Chas Fritz, Ecotrust Canada’s Project Manager and GIS technician.

We were standing in downtown Vancouver, at the edge of the empty parking lot that hugs the northwest corner of False Creek. In my hand, was a limp 9 ft wide Delta kite attached to a 1000 foot long kite reel. What wasn’t attached to the kite was a compact digital camera I was hoping to loft into the air to capture aerial images of the banks of False Creek. It was late January and I was leading a DIY aerial photography and mapping workshop in collaboration with Ecotrust. We were interested in comparing the footage we hoped to capture with existing maps and imagery of False Creek to examine how industry and human activity have changed the shoreline over the last several hundred years.

This method of mapmaking was developed by Public Lab, a non-profit I am affiliated with as an organizer. It’s part of the toolkit I am using to document the lives and environment of the communities along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which I have been doing since October 2014 on a Fulbright-National Geographic grant focused on digital storytelling. In addition to personal documentation, I am organizing and leading community workshops along the way, showing people how they can gain the skills to make their own maps of the places they live. The project’s premise is, could mapping be a way to engage communities in seeing their environment from a different perspective? Could oral histories and storytelling be combined with maps in a creative way, stretching the limits of digital narratives?

My research and these questions led me to Ecotrust’s doorstep. I had the great fortune to connect with Chas, who introduced me to the mapping, data collection and traditional knowledge projects that Ecotrust has produced, Living Atlas being one of them.

I learned that the work, information and data that Ecotrust gathers to help First Nations negotiate and navigate resource management decisions within forestry, fishing and energy projects were similar to the kinds of information I am also interested in gathering as well, but for a more creative, multimedia outlet.

I am in the final months of my grant and still on the road. What all the interviews, photographs, audio recordings and video I’ve gathered will become remains to be seen. Read my blog post on National Geographic about the False Creek mapping to find out what happened.



Ann Chen is an artist and researcher from New York. She is a Fulbright-National Geographic fellow in Canada and is interested in the creative use of mapping, data, community-driven science and storytelling. She visited the Vancouver office in January 2015 and co-organized a community mapping workshop of False Creek at the end of her stay.