Reflections: History and Art as Mirrors (1)

ARTCi is wrapping up their successful, engaging and creative residency at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site. As the winter moves in, it is a good time to reflect on the impact that art has on history and vice versa.

Below are a few reflections from the artistic team featuring some of the stories that will stick with us as we bring this amazing project to a close. We hope we have helped inspire a vision for the future as well as to have captured the voices of the past.

Lori Sherritt-Fleming notes, “From a creative writing and drama perspective, this project went deep. Some beautiful poetry emerged and is featured on the blog from the Found Poetry workshops. We consistently heard comments such as, “I had no idea…I learned something new…that is so interesting…I have a connection to…” The poetry reflects the historical, cultural and geographical conditions that our ancestors found themselves living in.

We brought in quite a number of volunteers of all ages; the youngest being twelve and the oldest in his 80’s. Our goal was to uncover some of the lesser-known stories of Britannia. Many of our volunteer actors were female and this posed an interesting quandary. There are few archival and documented stories about women. This project unearthed a uniquely female perspective and voice. We created characters based on historical documents and situations and came up with: An Indigenous Woman, waiting for her husband to return from a fishing expedition, cannery workers both before and after the “Hell’s Gate Landslide” and the “Ice Cream Lady” and her helper whose shop was used as a makeshift school room and who opened her doors so that Japanese children could learn some lessons while enjoying her famous dessert.

The actors, on all occasions, including the Historic Halloween Tour, enlivened the site. ARTCi’s period costumes and heartfelt monologues and scenes depicted life in a different era for visitors by creating an authentic experience. Mike the Mechanic was a hit in the Machine Shop as he detailed how each machine worked as well as pointed out the safety standards of the day. The public was engaged and informed. Live actors certainly lifted the energy and impact of Britannia.”

Shelley MacDonald contributes, “I facilitated the first actor/community engagement workshop at the Shipyards and then had the opportunity in the afternoon to share some of the original writing created by participants on a panel in the afternoon. I was so impressed with the willingness from all of the participants to jump in, be brave and explore and create beautiful monologues that reflected the history of the Shipyards. I loved the intergenerational feel to the group and how everyone shared their own personal stories and connections to Britannia Shipyards.

I also had the opportunity to bring in the Indigenous perspective and my own personal history as a Mi'k Maq to the character I created. It was important to me that the participants knew the history of the Indigenous people that lived and worked in the Shipyards right down to the regalia that they wore and what it meant. The headband I wore was created for me by Squamish Nation artist Candice Halls-Howcroft, the Semku was created by Elder Nk'xetko. I wore the headband for clarity and to speak with an open heart. The Semku had a medicine wheel design on it that reflected the many cultures that lived and worked at the Shipyards. Semku, or blanket, means "wrapped in love."

As a storyteller and story collector, I found the community building through story and artefact inspiration an exciting part of the innovative way we were able to engage with the public. People may have just been out walking their dog, however when we engaged with them and invited them to come on our tours, many did. I loved the spontaneity and flexibility of the guided tours we did.

We made a strong impact by engaging with the public around Indigenous perspectives; many people would stick around after the events and ask me questions about Indigenous culture, regalia, values, and beliefs. It was delightful to share stories with them and to discover the many ways our ways connected with their cultural values.

Stay tuned to hear more from our video and visual artists and the staff at Britannia Shipyards National Heritage Site!

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