Stony Plain pt. 2

Sandi Tkachuk and Chantelle Held Usually, when I'm writing in this space it's because I've been doing an event. When I do events with Voyageur the response I get from audiences is visceral and nourishing like nothing else. You may also have noticed that there are sometimes large gaps between posts and what I'm not writing about during those times is the difficulty of trying to make a living doing this work and the demons of doubt and depression that creep in to fill those voids in activity. So connecting with audiences and sharing this story has a profound effect on me and my outlook on not only my own life but the sense that I have of the possibilities of a richly shared, deeply diverse picture of the Canadian story. It is a hard slog to get government or business or the wide variety of associations and organizations that are ostensibly built to think about these things to consider Six String Nation. But at events, the value of the project and the connections it makes are clearer than the clearest of days. And nowhere was that more true than yesterday here in Stony Plain.

In the large urban centres of Canada (or anywhere else for that matter) it's not hard to imagine that culture is this phenomenon that just happens within the marketplace. There is so much to see and do and so many people engaged in the creation and consumption of culture of one kind or another. But even then I'm reminded of the woman at the house concert in Toronto who said she assumed I traveled to schools to do my presentation without charging fees - out of the "goodness of my heart". And yet there we were among 50 others crammed into a Parkdale living room having bought tickets to be part of an intimate concert with Corin Raymond who had raised money through a Kickstarter campaign to record his latest album of songs. Somehow the economics of the situation for creators in this country still managed to elude this person.

In smaller communities in Canada, the limitations of the power of the marketplace to support culture is more obvious - amidst a sea of "smart centres" and chain restaurants, how many people does a local restaurant serving local cuisine have to attract on a daily basis just to survive? As Cultural Development Officer for the Town of Stony Plain, Chantelle Held's job is not only to think about this stuff herself, but to get others in the community to think about it as well and together to try to build a cultural framework woven into the economic and social fabric in a community that's pretty comfortable with where it's at and may not see the need to mind such matters.

But yesterday's presentation here really brought the whole effort into very sharp focus. Chantelle (pictured, right, with friend and Town of Stony Plain colleague Sandi Tkachuk) got up to say a few words at the end of the presentation and the emotion I always seem to experience when telling the story was amplified several fold. She articulated beautifully how the example of the Six String Nation project embodies the kind of mission she feels in linking the people and histories of this community to each other by a variety of cultural means - not just for entertainment but to build a foundation for the community that can sustain it into the future. Well, of course, her emotion rippled back at me but we weren't done yet. All kinds of people came up to chat afterwards and express similar feelings about how the presentation touched them, including Stony Plain Museum director David Fielhaber, other municipal employees and members of the general public. But perhaps no one told a more compelling story of her own connection to the project than Dianne Brown.

Dianne grew up in the heart of Alberta's oil patch in its early days and now lives outside of town here. This is the first time she's seen the Six String Nation presentation so close to home but certainly not the first time she experienced it. As a director of the Servus Credit Union and of the North Central Co-op Board she saw the presentation at Co-op events in Saskatoon and Charlottetown. But her first time seeing it was in Prince George BC where the presence of the Mayor of Massett, Haida Gwaii, leant a special resonance to the presentation because of his connection to the Golden Spruce that is Voyageur's top and that lit the fire for Dianne to explore her own family roots on Haida Gwaii. While she'd visited Normandy France to explore parts of her family history there several times, it was being at that presentation that aroused a deeper curiosity in her about the more obscure side of her family tree. And that opened up whole new adventures for her, including an extended visit to Haida Gwaii within the last few years.

These conversations about history and identity, community and culture are fundamental to the Six String Nation project. And while I'm always grateful to hear the stories people want to share after a presentation, I felt particularly blessed last night as Dianne and the Command family and I shared dinner at at nearby steakhouse and got deep into the conversation from multiple perspectives. Thank you all for being part of that ongoing project of inventing ourselves as individuals, as communities and as Canadians.

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