Anti-oil activist Wiebo Ludwig died yesterday of cancer on his compound Trickle Creek in northern Alberta, where he lived almost entirely off the grid with his large family.
He was a hugely polarizing figure as he fought the big oil interests encroaching on his land over the last two decades. Some called him a terrorist after nails appeared on the roads company trucks were using and a series of bombings targetted well sites. In 2000 he was convicted of bombing a Suncor well site near his home. When a 16 year-old joy-riding on his property was shot and killed - police never laid charges - public sympathies turned against him.
But many saw Ludwig as a desperate man fighting for the integrity of the land and his personal environmental - and Christian - mission.
David York's documentary Wiebo's War (NOW's Hot Docs cover story in 2011), which used films taken by the Wiebo clan as family members confronted oil and government reps revealed a man driven by his faith and his passion for the planet. One thing the movie makes clear is that he was not the crazed and dangerous man his enemies made him out to be.
In an extensive and revealing interview I did with him before Wiebo's War screened in Toronto last year, he was so open I couldn't get him off the phone.
He was, to be sure, media savvy. He didn't answer questions he didn't want to. It took me 10 minutes to extract an answer to my question as to why he'd begun filming his interactions with oil companies and the RCMP. I asked him the question four different ways and four times he rambled along about his rising frustration at getting no action from government against oil companies whose activities were creating illness in his family.
But he spoke honestly about why he decided to move his family to northern Alberta - a terrifying storm at sea acted as a kind of revelation - and how he'd managed to get his household almost completely off the grid, so much so that environmentalists were visiting his land to see how it was done.
He could quote scripture like nobody else. When I asked him, "Do you ever feel doubt?", he quoted Jeremiah and Isaiah, explaining that he could have all the doubt in the world but he was completely sure in God's confidence in him.
Indeed, one of the conflicts he'd had with the filmmaker David York centred on York not being Christian enough to tell Ludwig's story. There are sections of the film when Ludwig does press his Christian mission and even during our interview he couldn't help but proselytize.
And he was brazen about it. I was signing off on our conversation and he just wouldn't let me go.
"Are you married?" he asked. When I told him I was a lesbian in a long-term relationship with an adult daughter, he said, "Really, did you think that would make me hang up?"
And I said, "Well, obviously, you're not," and he continued on a train of thought that about lesbianism being a product of troubled society and all kinds of pain.
"Does that insult you," he asked
"A little bit" I answered sarcastically.
"Well, I always say what I believe."
He was truly convinced convinced that God had given him a mission.
Take a listen to a few clips from the interview.
On his misspent youth
On whether his children will ever marry if they never leave the compound
On exposing his children to outside values
On being off the grid
On feeling doubt
Wiebo asking, are you a married woman?