Dianne Whelan: Adventurer, Storyteller

Her journey takes us on a great adventure, but her message takes us into a better future.

Dianne Whelan is making her solo pilgrimage along The Great Trail, the world’s longest recreational trail, stretching 24,000 km across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans. She has snowshoed dense forests, hiked, biked, skied, and paddled the world’s largest lake during her journey. This incredible undertaking started on Canada Day, July 1st, 2015 from mile 0 in St. John’s, Newfoundland and will end in Victoria, British Columbia.

A Journey of Rediscovery

Her five-year trek is being documented in the feature film 500 Days in the Wild which tells the stories of the land, people she encounters, and communities along the way. Part documentary, part adventure, the film portrays her journey from dropping out of society to reconnect with the wilds of nature and lost traditions.

The film takes us to places that revisit the past, so we might learn how to lead into the future. “I started wondering if maybe everything we needed to know, we had forgotten,” says Whelan in an interview with Hope Chronicles. “So my idea was to embark on the longest trail in the world, and search for some of that lost wisdom.”

She feels at home on the trail and carries all her gear with her and keeps enough food with her until her next supply stop. But this is not her first adventure connecting us to nature’s realms…

Wild at Heart

Whelan is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker, photographer, author, and public speaker but above all, is a storyteller and artist. Before going to law school she took a detour toward adventure where she remains to this day. She says, “For 30 years I have enjoyed telling stories in photographs, book, spoken word, and in films. And more recently, on social media and interactive web projects.” Photographs she’s taken on her adventures have been exhibited in numerous art galleries.

Her first major project took place in the High Arctic where she filmed the awarding-winning documentary This Land, in which she raised a flag on the most northern tip of Canada during a 2,000 km expedition with Inuit rangers and military personnel. The project also expanded into an interactive project with the National Film Board of Canada, photo submissions to the Canadian Press, film footage with broadcasting networks, writing an article for Outpost magazine, and authoring the book This Vanishing Land: A Woman’s Journey to the Canadian Arctic.

The next big adventure took her to Nepal and Mount Everest Base Camp at 18,000 ft above sea level where she filmed her experience in the award-winning feature documentary 40 Days at Base Camp and authored the book Base Camp: 40 Days on Everest. The film premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival and opened the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2011.

500 Days will have a companion series, the Beacon Project which airs in Canada in 2019. A collaborative effort, episodes feature Whelan’s encounters with the wise ones, the Beacons, and sharing their indigenous perspective of the past, present, and future, of lessons learned and the journey ahead. As with her other adventures, a non-fiction book is being planned for this latest endeavor.

Along The Great Trail

At first, Whelan planned to complete The Great Trail walk in 500 days. But traversing unfinished portions of the trail took longer than anticipated and with inclement weather conditions hampering her progress, the deadline was abandoned in favor of a safer journey. Three days into her walk she actually burned her schedule.

She says, “I know there are dangers, nature is an indifferent mother, and her lessons can be hard. I have felt the bite of an arctic wind and the thin air of Everest. But the only clarity I have ever had has been in her silence.” It is in the solitude of nature that she finds introspection and spiritual strength to sustain her in her journey.

Walking The Great Trail connects one to the very fabric of the land and its inhabitants. Completed in 2017 in celebration of the country’s 150th anniversary, the trail embodies the vastness of Canada’s varied landscapes and the diversity of its many cultures. Whelan’s walk is not only a journey of rediscovery and reconnection with the land and its people, but also with her own heritage. She is of both European and Mi’kmaq descent, a living convergence of old and new cultures.

Life Lessons

She has spent time with Mi’kmaq communities and learned there is no word for sorry in their language and instead use the words making things right. This is the focus of her walk, that learning from Canada’s past and cultural traditions will point to a more hopeful future by reconciling today’s advances with ancient wisdom. She is documenting the full power of this message through film, her book, and other mediums to shift our mindset into creating a better world for those who come after us.

Whelan does not take corporate sponsorships and instead relies on donations through her website to fund her project. She’s met with overwhelming support and encouragement along the trail. Keep up with Whelan as she completes her incredible journey by viewing her live updates at 500daysinthewild.com and be sure to watch her video clips and see her amazing photographs.