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Images and social issues

Former Alberta politician takes on an artistic passion project focused on Indigenous themes and the environment.

Jon Havelock was a Calgary school board trustee, a city councillor, an MLA and an Alberta cabinet minister under former premier Ralph Klein. 

Retired from politics since 2001, the University of Cambridge graduate says he looks back at his school board trustee job as “the most enjoyable because I was dealing with kids.”  

His two cabinet posts as justice minister, then economic development and tourism minister, were probably the most challenging, he said in an interview.  

“I made it challenging for myself because, quite frankly, I would say things that were a little controversial,” admitted Havelock. 

Now, Havelock is engaged in perhaps the biggest project of his life, producing a massive digital art display on themes of national unity, the environment and Indigenous reconciliation.  

The project, titled The Forest – Common Ground, involves taking photographs of tree trunks across the country and spending long hours digitally altering them to the point where they resemble paintings. The best will be assembled in a forest-like display, interspersed with environmental and reconciliation messages, tentatively planned for the Edmonton Convention Centre in the fall of 2025. 

Havelock, who owns a small digital photography business in Edmonton, never imagined how the size of the project would grow. Working on it for three years, he collected photos during waves of the pandemic, and has enlisted over 450 photographers who've contributed 78,000 pictures to add to his own 30,000.

“From a time and commitment perspective, an organizational perspective, a creative perspective, this far exceeds anything” he’s ever done, Havelock said of whittling down the photo selections for display, all while he writes a book about the adventure. “But I’m retired now, it’s a great way to spend my time and meet a lot of fantastic people.” 

Photographers come from all backgrounds and parts of the country

A part of the exhibit called, “Spirit Wall,” features First Nation and Inuit images and brings attention to the plight of residential school survivors, murdered and missing Indigenous women and victims of the Sixties Scoop, when thousands of Indigenous children were seized and placed in foster homes. 

Havelock says working on the project has heightened his education, not only about Canada’s geography, but about the issue of residential schools.

“The years I was in government, I knew nothing about this issue,” he said. “For me, I am almost embarrassed, having been the minister of justice. No one ever raised this with me.” 

Havelock says his project has expanded way beyond an original desire to travel the country and photograph images from every province. When a friend suggested taking Havelock's photo of a poplar tree off the wall and displaying it as a freestanding exhibit, it started the idea of creating a 'forest' of images, with social themes added later on.

And visiting Nunavut, where pictures of rocks and ground cover were taken due to the lack of trees, also enhanced Havelock's view of the importance the environment will play in future. 

“The environment is a critical part of this, because all net revenues will go to support environmental causes in Canada,” he said. 

Of course, the notion of revenues is still a long way off, with financing and sponsorships still being worked out.  

Whatever the case, no one can dispute Havelock’s personal investment in the project. He estimates he’s travelled just over 50,000 kilometres, 24,983 of them by air, 24,315 by car and 727 walking. 

“It’s been fantastic,” said Havelock. “The response has been very, very positive.” 

His wife Neris perhaps summed it up best when describing the senior's motivation for the project in a recent Facebook post. 

“My husband Jon Havelock does things with extreme passion!” she said.  

Check out a sample of the future exhibit at