The most beautiful picture of Canada

Canadian Mosaic

Tim Van Horn is building an image of Canada, one Canadian at a time. Since October 2008, he has been photographing Canadians from coast to coast to make a massive mosaic to display in Ottawa in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for our July issue and was inspired by the immensity of this one-man project to represent all of Canada in a single image.

“I feel strongly that we need this, in this day and age, when we’re becoming a bit more fragmented,” says Tim. “This is my personal pilgrimage to unite the country. I feel this is my calling. I feel this is my duty. I see a need to bring the country together to celebrate who we are and to have something for that 150th birthday that is real.”

From the outset, Tim has been determined to represent Canada in a way that was authentic. So he hit the road, stopping in all kinds of towns he’d never heard of before, and asked every single person who walked by him and his camera to be a part of the picture. It was important to him to ask everyone, because Canadians are so often represented in the media by a select few that don’t necessarily portray the true diversity of our nation. “What I’m trying to do is record each of these communities so that everybody feels included in this.” Importantly, he’s not associated with any kind of corporate sponsor; his mission is to give a people’s view of the nation. “I want people to see it and say, ‘This is where I fit in. I see myself in this thing.’”

But what really interested me was Tim’s journey. Over the past few years, Tim has travelled to every province and territory, visiting hundreds of communities (“If there’s a sign for it, I’m stopping”), and he’s already taken the photographs of about 32,000 Canadians. He has stopped his van on many a street corner to ask one favour of thousands of Canadians: Can I take your photo? The reaction, he says, has been phenomenal.

“It’s 2014 and Canada is still an open and welcoming and friendly country. And the mosaic has given me a license to stop and engage with everybody.” Tim has even been known to stop and knock on doors when there’s no one on the streets. “I put myself in situations to test the public…and I’m always pleasantly surprised.” He has photographed—and socialized with—everyone from senior citizens in a home to skateboarders in a park. “Everyone seems to welcome this photographer into their lives for two minutes,” he says.

After the big 150th birthday, Tim will be taking the completed mosaic on a bus for a year-long tour of the country. “It’s a piece of art on wheels,” says Tim. “And it gives the country something to follow for that year.”

If you want to know when Tim is coming to your town to take photos, check out his website canadianmosaic.ca.

Find out more ways to celebrate Canada Day.