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  Matt Jackson has spent time with a polar bear hunter in the Far North, been robbed in Dawson City and narrowly escaped being trampled by a buffalo in Alberta, but that didn't discourage him from continuing on the journey of a lifetime.

The 28-year-old freelance photographer and journalist from Calgary, Alberta, was in Corner Brook this week as part of a cross-country hitchhiking trip that will end in St. John's. Prompted to take on the project after a shorter trip while still in university, Jackson hopes to eventually publish a book about his experiences.



"The major focus right from the start was to do a comprehensive book (about) hitching across the country, and I guess I will be the thread that ties everything together," Jackson said. "It is a personal thing because it is the country through my eyes, but I hope to also show that it is a celebration of people across the country from a grassroots level."

Initially planned to take just one summer, the project seems to have taken on a life of its own, though Jackson doesn't regret that it has instead spanned four summers. "I got to meet very interesting people and then had no inclination to move faster, because when you move too quickly I think you miss out on a lot," he said.

With Newfoundland the last leg of his trip, Jackson - who has already collected numerous photographs and stories - has been able to find something unique in every province. "Canada is more exotic than you think. We don't have to go to Europe for history and culture - we have it right here," he said. "We have the tools to be different but unified, and all we need is to take the time to get to know one another. Right here in Newfoundland I find that people are much better at hanging on to their historical and cultural roots."

Portraying such an ethnically diverse country is sure to be a formidable task, but Jackson appears up to the challenge. He plans to use the many interesting conversations and experiences along the way to impress on Canadians a better understanding of the country they live in. "I like to tell people I have met fishermen, farmers and former prime ministers, so I think I can give an accurate account of what Canada is all about."

By the time he finishes in early October, Jackson will have travelled nearly 30,000 kilometres and shot more than 25,000 photographs. Upon returning home, he will concentrate on securing a deal with his book, and has his hopes on National Geographic magazine, which also has a book division.

"I am hoping the book will be completed by this time next year, and while that may be overly optimistic, at the latest I hope by the spring of 2002," he said. "At the moment National Geographic is considering the book, and if that falls through I will work to self-publish."

The experience appears to have been slowly renewing Jackson's own sense of pride at being a Canadian. "When you see the country like I have over the past four summers, then it makes you want to go home and plant a Canadian flag in the middle of your yard," he said. "I guess what I would like to offer people with the book is to not only make Canada better known to Canadians, but inspire them to see more of their own country, because we have something special here."

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