Faculty of Engineering
What do the Canadian Oil Industry, the CBC Poetry Prize and the Hamilton Film Festival have in Common?
Ross Belot graduated from McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering in 1981 with a degree in Chemical Engineering and Management. He worked for the Canadian oil industry for more than 30 years before changing the course of his career to focus fully on his creative passions. Ross is now a retired senior manager with one of Canada’s largest energy companies and uses the knowledge gained there to write on energy and climate change policy, and is now a poet, photographer, and filmmaker here in his hometown of Hamilton.
Ross Belot’s family moved to the Hamilton area in 1970, so Ross grew up here. He went to Parkside high school in Dundas, worked summer jobs at the TH&B railroad, and then came to McMaster to study engineering. In 1980, he got a summer job at Imperial Oil and began full-time in 1981 after graduating.
Ross always had a thirst for learning — that has not changed a bit over the years!
Before he retired from the Canadian oil industry, Ross had already been working hard on creative writing. His poetry collection, Swimming In The Dark, was published by Black Moss Press in 2008 after being developed within the Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio. He has published in journals and anthologies across North America including a poem selected in 2013 for Best Canadian Poetry in English.
Twenty years ago, Ross had a friend taking a program offered at Mac, a certificate in creative writing. He remembers thinking in grade school he really enjoyed creative writing, so he took a short story course at Mac and was hooked. Over the next few years, he took seven different courses, some of which he had to take half days off work to get to! Ross loved it. It was very different from the work he did every day and was meeting so many people that were different from those at work. The next course he took was called Transforming Life into Literature. The instructor came in one day, threw a whole pile of books on the desk, and wanted each student to choose two books at random and write about how the authors transformed their lives into literature. Ross happened to pick up two poetry books — and at that moment stopped writing short fiction and nonfiction and started trying to become a poet.
Ross then started travelling to Banff for writing workshops at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Before retirement, he went eight times, three for photography courses and five times for writing workshops. Eventually, he made it back out to Banff for something called the Wired Writing Studio, a two-week residency working in-person with a mentor, then four months online with them. Out of that came Ross Belot’s first book. Finding his growth in writing a bit stalled, Ross adds learning about photographing and filmmaking to his repertoire. At Hart House in Toronto, he finds himself signing up for a continuing education film school — he buys the camera on Saturday and by Tuesday he’s registered for film school. Ross takes all their courses on technical camera, lighting, sound, and editing. And then he takes a course on documentary making, where he gets pointed in the direction of a workshop called the Director’s Journey, where you learn how to tell a story in film. The documentary Ross creates is a 12- minute short, Growing Up Grateful, that got accepted at UT Film Festival, the Hamilton Film Festival, and the Toronto Independent Film Festival.
What a great way to start retirement — with an art form that combines poetry, photography, and filmmaking.
The next part of his journey leads him to three years at Saint Mary’s College of California for the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.
His book Moving to Climate Change Hours looks at the challenges humanity has created for ourselves through climate change, and was just named to the CBC list of Best Canadian Poetry of 2020. The book includes the poem that was shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, The Edge of Everything that he wrote while attending St. Mary’s College. As a result of attending Brenda Hillman’s eco-poetics course at St. Mary’s, Ross was inspired to question and challenge, leading to his acceptance by the Canadian new media site ipolitics.ca to write opinion pieces on energy and climate change policy. His poetry collection Moving to Climate Change Hours was supposed to come out this past spring but was delayed because of COVID-19.
Through the pandemic, Ross has received a National Arts Centre grant for a livestream reading and a Digital Originals Canada Council grant for his idea to make videos out of his poems from Moving to Climate Change Hours. His video poem “Marriage” from Moving to Climate Change Hours was screened as part of the shorts program with the 2020 Hamilton Film Festival.
Some poetry Ross writes recollects memories from McMaster days. “The first memory that came to mind was me and my friends in the downstairs John on a Friday afternoon with live music. The social aspect of McMaster — I’m still in touch with my best friend through University. It isn’t just socializing, you’re also socializing with people who are going through the same hard thing and accomplishing something. There’s a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie with everybody you’re working with — doing something difficult where you achieve something gives you an incredible feeling. This is the same incredible sense of satisfaction I get from my films, along with the ability to celebrate it together. That was the best part of McMaster for me.”
This is an excerpt from Ross Belot’s poem Landscapes of the Small Hours from his Mac days:
Rose and Thistle,
we quaff in them all
like April snow
coarse granular damp disappearing
For current students, Ross shares a bit of advice, “I think it’s really important to try and feed and nourish those other parts of yourself. It’s very easy to become totally career-focused, job-focused, and family-focused too. It’s all necessary. It’s easy to lose parts of yourself that are important and that need to be nourished.”
Ross Belot’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.