Michael Yellowlees and his Alaskan Husky dog Luna gained a reputation in 2021 for walking across Canada from west coast to east coast. It was an exhausting, contemplative trip in which Yellowlees, from Scotland, brought attention to the effects of climate change in his home country.
The twosome has returned to Vancouver Island to retrace their steps, this time with a different message—and a car. They arrived in Tofino last week, where their walking trip began. A supporter and friend from Sydney, Cape Breton, loaned Yellowlees a Mini Cooper convertible, which he drove through the United States to return to Vancouver Island.
He arrived back on the west coast “a very different man,” he said. “The last time I had the whole weight of (my trip) in front of me.” He and Luna walked 8,000 kilometres from Tofino to Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador, taking nine months. Along the way they received support from numerous people, whether it was those who donated to the Trees of Life charity back in Scotland, or people who offered the pair food, accommodation and encouragement.
They also gained a following, especially when they entered Ontario and moved closer to the Maritimes, which has historically seen an influx of Scottish immigrants.
Luna is always a draw whenever they go out, says Yellowlees, with her ice blue eyes and stoic doggie demeanour attracting attention.
Yellowlees said the second trip is a contrast physically and mentally. “It’s slightly different because I’m working harder with my brain.”
His pace will also be different, something that is evident in an interview that takes place roadside in Port Alberni, with four lanes of traffic whizzing by. “The most beautiful thing about walking is the pace of it,” he said. “Your days are so slowed down. That’s the big issue with our society is everything is moving at such a rapid pace…we’re not taking the time to pause and slow down and actually see what’s going on in front of us.”
He will be interviewing people involved in conservancy and climate change action this time, and raising awareness about climate change in Canada as well as Scotland. He is eager to retrace their steps, to see how the landscape has changed after an epic year of weather last year, and to take notes for a future project.
He admits that he came from Dunkeld and Birnam in Scotland to Canada—his mother’s birthplace—with a preconceived notion of the Canadian wilderness. “I had an image of Canada before I came as a totally abundant wilderness; there’s wolves and bears every turn. But finding out that’s not the case, that it’s actually incredibly damaged; that it’s on the same path that Scotland had been in regards to its deforestation and biodiversity loss.
“This is a real issue here that needs to be addressed. This is on our doorstep…crops are failing, people are losing their homes to flooding. It’s right in front of us, tangibly affecting our lives.” He has chosen this year to raise funds for the Nature Conservancy of Canada during his trip.
Music has been a big part of Yellowlees’ journey, and he hopes it features even more with this second trip. He is working on an album of songs, is setting up speaking and musical stops and hopes to collaborate with musicians from across the country on his album.
He said he has a three-month window before he has to be back in Halifax. He intends to spend the winter working on his album before returning to Scotland sometime in 2023.