Corbella: 30 years of On the Road with Mike Drew has been an amazing trip

As if on cue, to celebrate his 30th anniversary, On the Road was named a finalist in the International News Media Association’s Global Media Awards in the Best Use of Video category

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For the past 30 years, Mike Drew has been providing Calgary Sun readers and more recently Herald online readers with what I call our “Ahhhh” feature.

Officially, it’s called On the Road with Mike Drew and for his many fans who savour his poetic prose and feast their eyes on his breath-taking photography, it’s our weekly opportunity to stay put whilst getting transported to the nooks, crannies and corners of our province that most of us will never see.

It’s actually been 30 years and one month since On the Road began. The feature was the idea of former Sun city editor Sean McCann, who has long since retired.

Mike, 68, had been submitting gorgeous wilderness shots from his off-day road trips for publication and McCann asked him if he wanted to have a weekly column in the Sunday Sun. “That was sometime around the middle of February 1991,” recalls Mike, who has an uncanny ability to remember dates, the names of every bird, plant, animal, grass, cloud and many other things.

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Calgary Sun/Herald photo editor Al Charest says, “beyond Mike’s obvious artistic eye and his talent as a photojournalist covering news and sports, I don’t think he’s ever missed one week of submitting that column.”

Mike acknowledges the veracity of that. Even when he took vacation time and travelled to Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, Siberia and many other places in between, Mike made sure he filed his column in advance so the rest of us could have our ahhhh moments. That means Mike has had 1,560 On the Road columns published consecutively, making him the longest-running and most consistent Calgary Sun columnist.

Pastel rainbow created by the setting sun east of Irricana on Monday, May 25, 2020.
Pastel rainbow created by the setting sun east of Irricana on Monday, May 25, 2020. Photo by Mike Drew /Postmedia

As if on cue, to celebrate his 30th anniversary, On the Road was named on March 10 a finalist in the International News Media Association’s Global Media Awards in the Best Use of Video category.

Mike says he’s “stunned” at the news, mostly because he never enters his work for any awards. The Herald’s deputy editor, Monica Zurowski, did it on his behalf, and his exquisite videos — full of babbling creeks, singing birds or hooting owls, along with his calm voice — add another layer of beauty to his weekly writings and photos.

Many readers will remember when Mike’s column was called On the Road with Mike and Ansey — his beloved dog named after nature photographer Ansel Adams.

When at the age of 16, Ansey — a cross between a wheaten terrier, bearded collie and golden retriever — passed away on July 23, 1996, Sun readers grieved along with Mike, flooding the letters to the editor with condolences.

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Mike chokes up as he speaks of “the mad dog.”

“Ansey is always with me. We’re almost the same person,” he says, his blue eyes glistening. “Ansey wore a kerchief, so I have Ansey’s original kerchief still on my rearview mirror in every vehicle I’ve ever owned. It’s falling to pieces, but he’s always with me.”

Ansey and the mighty Isuzu in 1995.
Ansey and the mighty Isuzu in 1995. Photo by Mike Drew/Postmedia

After just a few months of having Gus, Mike’s next four-legged friend was run over by a man driving a truck in an off-leash park. Even though “dogs are my favourite people,” Mike says he has not found himself another pup because if it lives for 16 years, like Ansey, “that means I would be facing heartbreak at 85 and I don’t want that.”

For us longtime readers, we also remember all of Mike’s vehicles, from the “mighty Isuzu,” to his RAV 4 and now to his favourite vehicle — his 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. In his Dec. 1 column and video, readers can watch the odometer click over to 800,000 kilometres.

“My truck is almost a part of me,” explains Mike. “It’s not very clean, it’s poorly maintained, it probably has its own ecosystem — there are, I’m sure, lots of undiscovered species living in the car mats — but it has been the best vehicle I’ve ever had by far. It’s been almost flawless.”

Northern lights glow near Dogpound.
Northern lights glow near Dogpound. Photo by Mike Drew/Postmedia

Award-winning Calgary photojournalist Leah Hennel says when she first met Mike at the Calgary Sun when she was in high school on a work-experience placement, she found him intimidating.

“He’s a big guy with long hair and tattoos. He seemed gruff and he scared me at first. Little did I know he’d be so instrumental in my career path — and my life. Simply, he’s my photography mentor and now, all these years later, he’s basically a family member,” says Hennel, who worked for the Sun and the Herald for 24 years and has won two National Newspaper Awards for her work and many other awards as well.

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“Mike’s the most passionate person I know about photography,” adds Hennel.

“He never stops taking photos. He’s constantly learning. This is a guy who mastered a new language (Spanish) at the age of 50. But what I like about Mike is he has no ego and he’s willing to help out any photographer — and he has.

“In our 27 years of friendship, there’s been some arguments about who’s right. He usually is,” she says with a laugh.

“I love his work. He captures Alberta like no one else. If you can think of a place in the province, he’s been there. And the photos he takes are stunning. And his weekly writing — and video work — is amazing. His work should be in books and galleries. His work should be in museums,” she says.

The moon rises behind a herd of elk in the foothills south of Calgary on Dec. 29, 2020.
The moon rises behind a herd of elk in the foothills south of Calgary on Dec. 29, 2020. Photo by Mike Drew/Postmedia

“Mike Drew,” says Martin Hudson, managing editor of the Calgary Sun, “is an Alberta treasure. Having worked with Mike through all 30 years of On The Road, I can honestly say seeing his new pics every Wednesday or Thursday is the highlight of any week.

“Long may he patrol the backroads of southern Alberta.”

I’ll say “ahhhhh” to that.

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist — and longtime friend and admirer of Mike Drew.

lcorbella@postmedia.com

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