Photographer Dennis Fast has been charged by a polar bear, stared down by grizzlies, and come face-to-face with a whole variety of other animals while trying to snap their photographs. But it was his interaction with a curious Arctic fox near Churchill, Manitoba in 2013 that garnered some recent attention.
Canada Post selected Fast’s Arctic fox photo to be part of a series of five new stamps, each one featuring a northern animal that changes its colour to white in the winter for camouflage.
The photo was taken at Seal River Lodge on Hudson Bay, approximately a 40-minute flight north of Churchill, where Fast was working as a polar bear guide. “The foxes would be there in great abundance some years,” he says. “Their abundance depends on the lemming population. That year, we would see 30 easily a day.”
Fast’s favourite photography subject is the polar bear, and foxes tend to follow polar bears out onto the frozen parts of Hudson Bay, picking at their hunting scraps. This makes the Arctic fox an easy target for Fast’s camera.
Fast recalls one comical Arctic fox checking out his tour group. “I had about a dozen people lined up, and I saw this Arctic fox approaching from quite some distance. It trotted right up to us until it was about three metres away. And then just like a military inspection, it walked along and looked at everybody in the face and then went around to the back and did the same.”
It was a different fox, however, that was captured in Fast’s photo. “You kneel down and [the foxes are] immediately intrigued,” he says. “That’s what happened with this fox. I knelt down and the fox came trotting up, and I just waited patiently until he was staring at me.”
It was a surprise to Fast when his photo was selected by Canada Post. A friend of his who has produced a number of coffee table books and submits Fast’s photos to calendars, entered the photo on his behalf. Fast found out his photograph had been selected in 2019, but was told he had to keep it a secret until the stamp was released. Over the ensuing years, Fast forgot about the release, until his friend sent him a mock-up of the stamp last week, telling him it was coming out Tuesday. “Boy, was I surprised.”
Fast says he thinks the reason Canada Post chose his Arctic fox and the other northern animals is to highlight the fact that the northern environment is changing. “I have been up there some years when the Arctic hares and Arctic foxes were pure white but there was still no snow because they were changing on an old schedule and winter was arriving late,” he says. “It makes it much harder for prey to hide.”
On Tuesday morning, Fast received a package with the stamps in the mail. He says he’s very proud to have been selected. “I do wish all of my photos had been selected for the stamps,” he laughs. “But I know several of the other people who were selected, too. So, good for them.”