An Appeal to Protect Our Last Pristine Waterway

Six artists paddle into the pristine beauty of the Peel River Watershed, in the rugged Yukon and Northwest Territories. Not only does the film, as well as the art inspired by the journey, capture the beauty of the landscape, wildlife and culture of one of Canada’s last intact watersheds, they all serve as a canvas to understand a larger struggle.

This is the background of the fascinating and timely opening night film of the 2017 Water Docs Film Festival, running at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto. Playing at 6:30 pm on March 30, The Peel Project looks at the war being waged between those who want to develop this immense water system and those who want to protect its delicate ecological balance – especially the First Nations who view it as their land’s lifeblood and a support for its teeming wildlife. 

Inspiring Artistic Interpretations

By glass artist/sculptor Aurora Darwin.

By glass artist/sculptor Aurora Darwin.

Through the lens of these six artists: a Métis writer, a queer photographer, a visual artist, a painter, a glass artist/sculptor, and a composer/sound artist – The Peel Project follows their attempts to create artwork in the true wilderness of Canada's high north. 

Battling the elements and the frustration of creating in such conditions, we see the beauty of place and people through the eyes of these six southerners. The artists' journey opens up discussions on nationality, resource extraction and respect for the traditional territory of the First Nations. Set in an awe-inspiring landscape the world is in peril of losing, The Peel Project is a story of art, adventure and Canadian identity.

At the Toronto premiere screening of the movie, you will be able to see samples of the art produced and speak to some of the artists and others involved with making the film in a post-screening discussion. Visit the Ecologos website for details as they are confirmed. 

The Fight to Stop Development


As this documentary by filmmakers Calder Cheverie and Anthony Wallace reveals, there has been a long legal battle over the watershed, launched by a coalition of First Nations and environmental groups against the Yukon Government.

The Peel Project site points out: "The Peel Watershed is the traditional territory of three Yukon First Nations (Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin) and the Tetlit Gwich’in of the neighbouring Northwest Territories. It is a major part of the cultural identity of these nations, and for some, it continues to be crucial to their way of life. ... 

"The Vuntut Gwitchin of Yukon’s most northerly community, Old Crow, identify as a ‘caribou people’ – their primary food source is the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which travels through the Peel each year. Oil and gas development in the caribou’s range could devastate their way of life. Likewise, the Tetlit Gwich’in of Fort McPherson depend on a clean and healthy Peel River to sustain their diet of fish. The community is concerned about how pollution from upstream mining operations would threaten the fish and their future."

Protecting the Natural Diversity

Also at stake is the 68,000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness, without permanent settlements and only a single road on its western edge. The wildlife that lives in delicate balance here include grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines, moose, dall sheep and caribou, as well as smaller wildlife, including beavers, porcupines, river otters and an amazing variety of bird species. Rare plant and fish species are also part of the biodiversity here that may be threatened by unconsidered development.

Final Judgment is Coming

The Peel Watershed in Court, July 7 - 10, 2014 Produced by CPAWS Yukon A Production by Marty O'Brien Still Images of Peel Watershed provided by Jannik Schou

Originally the pro-protection Peel Watershed group agreed to a compromise position, in 2011, as part of a Recommended Plan for the Peel Watershed, recommending that 80% of the watershed be protected from development. However, after the Yukon Government replaced the final plan with one of their own – opening 70% of the watershed to development – the First Nations and environmental groups took the government to court.

After winding its way through the Supreme Court of Yukon, the case is set to be heard on March 22, 2017 (coincidentally World Water Day), by the Supreme Court of Canada. Three days before (March 19), The Peel Project will play in Ottawa. Then the week after, the film will debut at Water Docs in Toronto. We hope to have good news to report on the night of the screening as far as the final decision determining the scope of development allowed in Canada's last pristine watershed.

Click here to sign the Protect the Peel Pledge.