Tuesday, October 3, 2023

'Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg' Artist Talk

My artist talk at the Winnipeg Art Gallery from January 13, 2023 about my series of prints 'Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg' is now available online. You can access it here:

You can access Storied Land: (Re)Mapping Winnipeg digitally here. I realize there is a lot of (very interesting!) text on the text pages that not everyone might be able or want to read standing in the gallery. For your convenience, you can access a digital document of the artist's book through the above link.

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Urban Reserve - Naawi-Oodena

Print 7: The Urban Reserve - Naawi-Oodena                              (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

Naawi-Oodena an example of reconciliation in action

In the final print, the background is a map of Winnipeg's River Heights and Tuxedo neighbouhoods with a white blank space of the new urban reserve, Naawi-Oodena. Figures of Indigenous people fill the centre, the blank space of the image, while in previous prints the figures were pushed to the margins. The blank space outlining the land of the former Kapyong barracks site, symbolizes a kind of blank slate for a new beginning. Figures of settler families and politicians gather along the side of the new reserve, tentatively touching and overlapping with the Indigenous figures to indicate new social and cultural connections. The Winnipeg houses are printed upside down, symbolizing a change in the colonial systems in society. To me, Naawi-Oodena represents a new space through which the relationships and perceptions between settlers and Indigenous communities are beginning to change.

I start the narrative with the closing of the Kapyong military barracks at the corner of Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard. Winnipeg Free Press reporter Alexandra Paul writes on June 20, 2004: “The future of the soon-to-be vacated Kapyong Barracks ... is still undecided, with possible uses including housing, green space, and expanding Kenaston Boulevard. As well, the Brokenhead and Long Plain First Nations say they should get the 65-hectare site because land is owed them under treaty agreements.”

An article by Deborah Froese in the Canadian Mennonite (March 25, 2015) further explains, that “Three years later, the federal Treasury Board attempted to sell the site to the Canada Lands Company, a Crown corporation, for dispersal. But before that sale could be completed, a group of first nations communities challenged it in court on the basis of treaty agreements with the federal government.

[Steve] Heinrichs (former Mennonite Church Canada's director of indigenous relations..) further explains in the article that “In 1871, the government promised more land to Treaty One signatories than it delivered. In order to meet that deficit, the federal government is legally required to offer any Crown lands labelled as surplus – such as Kapyong Barracks – to Treaty One communities.”

This led to years of negotiations and legal battles, as well as skepticism from the surrounding neighbourhoods, the latter of which was addressed in a series of panel discussions hosted by CMU between 2014-2015.

In 2019 a Kapyong settlement is finally reached.

Tessa Vanderhart writes in the Winnipeg Free Press on August 31, 2019“Treaty 1 First Nations sign 'truly remarkable' deal. After 17 years of negotiations and legal battles, Treaty 1 First Nations signed a “huge” settlement agreement Friday to buy the former Kapyong Barracks from the federal government. 'It's a very, very beautiful day, historically, to be here with you,' said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, speaking on behalf of the seven Treaty 1 members ... The final deal follows an agreement in principle signed in April by Brokenhead Objibway, Sagkeeng, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River Anshiniaabe, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake ... 'I believe that our ancestors are smiling on us today,' said Brokenhead Chief Deborah Smith. 'Today signifies, for me, economic reconciliation.'”

(Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday, March 29, 2018 Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, Reporter) Niigaan Sinclair... associate professor in native studies at the University of Manitoba ... said the development of the Kapyong site represents “a true opportunity for reconciliation in Winnipeg Manitoba and Canada.” At Kapyong, some Indigenous people can finally get back some of the territory they are owed, he said. “This is an opportunity for Indigenous nations to have a real venue to be able to create relationships and partnerships with Winnipeggers and Manitobans,” ... Kapyong's future could mark a more just chapter in Canada's history, [lawyer Loretta] Ross said. “I think any time you have an opportunity for the First Nation community and non-First Nation community to coexist is a form of reconciliation,” she said.

What stood out to me in the last two prints, where I portray beautiful and hopeful outcomes of the reconciliation process, is the arduous, lengthy, and persistent legal fight Indigenous communities have to go through to receive some form of restitution to this day. Perhaps, as a community of allies grows, we can demand a future in which these battles for justice and respect won't have to be so hard fought for. When I look at the change in public perception and attitudes, a greater understanding of colonization processes and systemic racism, the change in language and representation in our local newspaper, I am hopeful that things will continue to change for a better and more inclusive society.

As Paul Samyn, editor in chief at the Winnipeg Free Press writes on April 10, 2021 on the future of the Winnipeg Free Press: “There are many things a good newspaper needs to be. A light that exposes injustice. A magnifying glass that brings into focus what otherwise might be missed. A signpost to help you navigate the way to events that matter to you. The commitment that began with an apology for the times when our coverage has fallen short, had been blind to those marginalized by the colour of their skin – and cases when we have been part of the problem, not the solution – has already led to change within the Free Press newsroom ...”

In Conclusion:

The impacts of colonization continue to pervade everything in our lives today: social structures and systems, our perception of land and property, the content we are taught in schools and read in the media, the way we think about, interact with, and treat others on whose land we now live, and whose experiences are not always represented in the media or taught in schools. This artist's book invites us to question our biases, our perceptions, and our understandings of history, and challenges us to decolonize our thinking.

For digital access to the book please click here. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Aqueduct

Print 6: The Aqueduct                                                                         (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'This is Freedom Road'

The last two prints focus on efforts of reconciliation and restitution. 

This print chronicles the construction of Winnipeg's Aqueduct from explorations of Shoal Lake in 1906 to reparations made to the Indigenous community so deeply affected by this.

The background of this print is a digitally printed map of the trajectory of the Shoal Lake aqueduct from 1918. Centrally located are the houses of Winnipeg, while the Indigenous families of Shoal Lake No. 40 are pushed to the margins as we have seen in previous prints; their houses and homes are upended sideways along the edge of the paper. Behind the city of Winnipeg you can see large figures of politicians and settlers, printed on the backside of the paper, representing the powerful decision makers in the colonization projects.

The text excerpts begin with an article in the Manitoba Morning Free Press, September 3, 1906: “Water Commission Visits Shoal Lake. The members of the water commission visited Shoal Lake, near Kenora, on Saturday to ascertain its suitability as a viable source of supply for the city ... Soundings were made, the shores inspected, samples of water collected and an effort made to gain an idea of the country lying off towards Winnipeg ... This large body of water is practically the highest portion of the country ... There is practically no habitation with the exception of a few indians and an odd mining camp …”

(Again, the disregard for the presence of the Indigenous community is jarringly blatant here).

The Manitoba Free Press reports on April 30, 1919: “On the 5th of April, only a few weeks ago, the waters of Shoal Lake flowed into the mains of the City of Winnipeg. When the citizens and housewives turned on their kitchen taps it was pure, sweet, soft, and sparkling water that splashed into their sinks. For nearly four years, the construction and engineering went steadily and successfully forward ... An aqueduct of more than 96 miles long was constructed. Sums of money exceeding fourteen and a half millions of dollars were expended ... Tunnels were sunk and carried under the beds of rivers. Scores of miles of railway trackage was laid down to haul the material of construction. An army of men was employed ... [W]hen the water was finally delivered to the people of Winnipeg the supply from which they drew, the water district which had been created for them, was one of the largest and most notable on the whole American continent ... And the finished accomplishment, the Greater Winnipeg Water District, constituted one of the greatest pieces of constructive engineering in the history of Canada. Here is a water supply worthy indeed of a great western city …”

Professor of History at the University of Manitoba, Adele Perry explains in a Free Press article from December 13, 2016: “Shoal Lake 40 has been paying for our water for a century. In 1915, the federal government “transferred” more than 3,000 acres of Shoal Lake 40's reserve land to the Greater Winnipeg Water District for the sum of $1,500. The interests of the settler city were placed above those of indigenous people, even to lands supposedly reserved for them. For Shoal Lake 40, the consequences have been enormous ...”

Will Braun, Senior Writer for the Canadian Mennonite writes on November 19, 2014: Winnipeg Mennonites follow their drinking water to its source. On Oct. 9, 2014, five carloads of concerned Winnipeg citizens – including two Mennonite Church Canada representatives – travelled 160 kilometres eastward to the other end of the aqueduct that has supplied Winnipeg's water since 1919. There, Chief Erwin Redsky and other community members shared their story ... Following the visit, Steve Heinrichs, director of indigenous relations for MC Canada, said, 'Winnipeggers need to know where their water comes from ...[and] make sure the situation is addressed.'”

Winnipeg Free Press Journalist Chinta Puxley writes on November 4, 2015: “Some Winnipeg councillors say the city has a moral responsibility to help build a road for a reserve that has been cut off from the mainland for the last century so the Manitoba capital can have clean water ... Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said the tour [of Shoal Lake 40] was powerful and suggested helping to build an all-weather road for the man-made island would be an important act of reconciliation ... After years of fighting for basic human rights, Chief Erwin Redsky said his people are finally feeling optimistic. 'There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is getting brighter each day,' he said Tuesday. 'It's been 100 years and we're looking forward to a new beginning.'”

On December 18, 2015 Winnipeg Free Press Journalist Bartley Kives writes: The sound of drumming reverberated around the legislature's grand staircase Thursday as all three levels of government agreed to end the century-long isolation of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. The federal, provincial and civic governments formalized their commitment to build an all-weather road to the northwestern Ontario Anishinaabe community ... 'I never thought I'd live to see this' said lifelong Shoal Lake 40 resident Ann Redsky ... Redsky said she's been wary of making the crossing between her island and the mainland since she was thrown from a motorboat and nearly drowned in the late 1990s ... 'Everybody has a story. Every fall and spring is a dangerous time.' [C]hief [Erwin Redsky] praised activists for promoting the need to build an all weather road and thanked Winnipeggers for supporting it ...”

On June 4, 2019, Winnipeg Free Press, Journalist Kelly Geraldine Malone reports: “'This is Freedom Road.' Shoal Lake, Ont. - For the first time in his life, Chief Erwin Redsky won't have to fight for each small stone that lies along the 24-kilometre road that connects his First Nation to the outside world after more than a century of isolation. He looks down the long, wide, gravel land link and predicts it is his community's path to the future. 'This is Freedom Road.'”

For digital access to the book please click here. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - North Kildonan

Print 5: The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - North Kildonan    (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'Rurban Village in North Kildonan'

As mentioned in the previous post, it struck me how similar the living conditions and poverty appear to have been in both communities - Rooster Town and North Kildonan: that is the simple two-room houses, getting water from pumps every day, and muddy streets. I use the image of the same simple house in both prints, with the more affluent neighbourhoods either encroaching or being within an easy distance. The digitally printed background in this print is a sketch map of the early Mennonite village in North Kildonan from 1930.

The Mennonite settlement on the outskirts of Winnipeg started in 1928. These were Mennonites from which came in a later migration wave from Russia as a result of the turbulences following WWI I believe.

Two Mennonite land agents searched for land in the vicinity of Winnipeg and listed the following ad in the Mennonitischen Rundschau 1928:

“Garden Village Near Winnipeg! Four miles from the centre of the city we have reserved a piece of land for Mennonites, which will be given to them in plots of 3 acres ... Each family receives a house and wood for a barn. For every 4 families there is a well with good drinking water ... The land is deep, black soil ... The yield is excellent. It is situated in what is recognized as the best vegetable district in Winnipeg …”

Leo Driedger further elaborates (At the Forks – Mennonites in Winnipeg, 2010): Mennonites arriving in 1928 had to clear the land. Pictures show the area to be bleak and desolate ... Two Mennonite land agents ... [found a 20-acre piece of land] near Winnipeg where Mennonites could operate small farms to supply the city with garden and dairy produce ... Eight chicken barns went up on what is now Edison Avenue ... Mennonites who moved to Edison, were not well-to do. [The DeFehr family] turned the original [chicken barn] into a small woodworking factory, which became the largest plant of its kind in Canada, Palliser furniture.”

Most of my information sources for this piece I found at the Mennonite Heritage Archives, where I also came across these personal anecdotes of early settlers, such as the following excerpt by Irmgard Dyck Regehr: “My parents ... arrived in Canada in February 1930 ... Quite a few of our Mennonite people had already settled in North Kildonan. [Dad] was thankful that he could find work in the vegetable gardens owned by the Dutch people who had settled here earlier ... He often worked up to ten hours a day at a dollar a day, but it was something ... At that time the area of North Kildonan was just being opened up. There were a few streets leading off Henderson Highway. My dad bought a little lot on McKay ... There were stumps in the mud road ... In spring the road was such gumbo ... [My dad] got this little lot ... A little shell, a two-room shell, was put up. Actually that's all it was, a shell. My dad built it ... [W]e were surrounded by much bush ... We were all pioneers at that time and we were all very poor ... [T]hese early years there wasn't any electricity. That came a few years later … My mother said what a great relief it was, too, when the electricity came and they could buy an old kind of washing machine ... So that was a great help, really a progressive thing, you know. That was a good thing.”

Olga Dyck Regehr adds that ... [M]y father built a little house on Edison. Actually, it was a house with a barn attached. They started raising chickens ... [W]e had chickens on one side of our house. We were very poor.”

John H. Unruh writes for the 50th anniversay of the the Mennonite Settlement in North Kildonan, 1978: Fifty years have gone by since the first Mennonite settlers came to North Kildonan ... [W]ith undaunted hope, with diligence, and, last but not least, with a strong trust in God difficulties were overcome, hard times outlived, and advantage was taken of opportunities that happened to come along the way ...”

Also for the 50th anniversary of the Mennonite Settlement in North Kildonan, 1978, came the congratulations by the then Premier of Manitoba, Sterling Lyon: “... I am pleased to have the opportunity ... to extend my greetings and good wishes to the Mennonite people of North Kildonan ... Arriving in Winnipeg without any kind of worldly possessions, they applied hard work and thrift, their widely recognized characteristics, to their market gardens, chicken farms and other ventures. In time these were expanded and became thriving industries ... Their contribution to the Canadian way of life has been, and will continue to be, of great value.”

As we can see, while the Mennonite settlers emerged as a thriving community, the Métis community remained impoverished and was eventually demolished. Through the narratives and the prints, I suggest that racism shaped these different developments. The Mennonite immigrants were able to buy land and were given materials to build their first dwellings. Although poor, they were privileged right from the start. The white settlers also received municipal amenities such as electricity and running water that helped them grow and build their homes and businesses. The Métis residents of Rooster Town did not receive such amenities despite pleas for the city to do so, which exacerbated their precarious living conditions throughout the decades. 

For digital access to the book please click here. 

The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - Rooster Town

  Print 4 & 5: The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs                          (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

In prints four and five (see next post), I portray the Métis settlement of Rooster Town side by side with the early ‘rurban’ Mennonite settlement in North Kildonan. It struck me how similar the living conditions and poverty appear to have been in both communities. However, the narratives surrounding the settlements differ dramatically. While the inhabitants of rooster town are repeatedly stigmatized and blamed for their own poverty, the Mennonite settlers are praised for their achievements despite adversity. I use the image of the same simple house in both prints, with the more affluent neighbourhoods either encroaching or being within an easy distance. 

For those of you who haven't heard of Rooster Town just briefly: it was a Métis settlement often referred to as a shanty town on the southern fringes of Winnipeg from around 1900-1959, when it was demolished to make way for Grant Park mall and school.

Print 4: The Growth of Winnipeg Suburbs - Roostertown

Heard of Rooster Town? ... It's Our 'Lost Suburb'

In this print you can see a digitally printed map of the Rooster Town households in 1951, mostly located between Grant and Hector Avenue.

The Winnipeg Tribune printed an article on December 20, 1951: "... The people who live in [Rooster Town] are Métis ... Destitute, they threw up shacks on Canadian National Railways property ... The population of Rooster Town is small, but it presents one of the stickiest social problems in the Winnipeg area ... Children raised in the filth and squalor of Rooster Town are sent to the spanking new Rockwood School, 10 minutes away cross-country. [P]arents in other areas using Rockwood School are naturally worried about their children's health. “Whatever you do,” they warn, “don't touch the Rooster Town children. You might get a skin disease.”

On the same day (December 20, 1951), the Winnipeg Free Press, wrote: “This is Rooster Town. Water – that's all they want for Christmas. Folks in 'Rooster Town' get along on practically nothing, but they can't do without water. It's a tough problem. The pump that serves the 'community' is about a mile away ... The dilapidated shacks are scattered through the brush and in sharp contrast, just across the Canadian National railways main line, is the bright paint of the newly built-up area south of Corydon avenue. Because it's so hard to lug every drop of water a whole mile, cleanliness and sanitation in the 'town' aren't all they should be ... Result? Impetigo, scabies and other skin diseases, whooping cough, chicken-pox and so on ... They have no plumbing, no sewers and they're crowded into those little shacks and sleeping in some cases four to a bed.”

Eight years later (April 11, 1959), Free Press Staff Writer John Dafoe, writes: “Rooster Town Is Dying ... As the city moved south the Rooster Towners loaded up their scrapwood shacks and moved on, farther into the prairie. And as they moved, their place was taken by some of Winnipeg's most elegant homes. The worthless prairie on which the Rooster Towners squatted became the city's most expensive residential land … No one is sure where Rooster Town got its name. 'It's been called that as long was I can remember,' said [Gerald V. O'Brien, assistant director of the city's welfare department]. 'Maybe it's because a lot of them used to keep chickens. Even now, there are chickens running wild all through the bush. You turn them up everywhere you step.' By summer, Rooster Town will be gone.”

Almost 60 years later, Winnipeg Free Press Journalist Randy Turner re-evaluates this history on January 30, 2016: “... They were invisible then, they are invisible now... 'They were intensely poor,' said Evelyn Joy Peters, professor of urban geography at the University of Winnipeg, who specializes in Métis and First Nations people in city environments. 'They faced enormous prejudice. But they were trying to make a better future for their kids, which they did.' ... Consider the roots of Rooster Town. The original 'settlers' were Métis who first arrived on the outskirts of Winnipeg in the 1880s, Peters said. Many, if not all, had never received the land they'd been promised under the Manitoba Act ... so their goal was to find employment in the growing city, mostly seasonal jobs and hard labour... 

Rooster Town People were never welcome in Winnipeg to begin with, said retired University of Winnipeg history professor David Burley, who described the treatment of residents as 'municipal colonization.'...'Being Métis in the city through of the 19th and 20th centuries meant being subject to racism and even violence ... They ended up marginalizing them both physically and socially. They were pushed to the edge of the city or beyond town limits. And many of the kinds of services that Winnipeg residents of European background had just weren't available for them – sewers, water.' …

[Burley] told the story of a Métis woman, now in her 50s, who attended Rockwood. 'Her mother would scrub her children before sending them to school just so no one could ever possibly accuse them of being dirty. That was something that was a very important part of her childhood: the importance of being clean. Because being clean was the opposite of the stereotype many people had of Métis people.'”

For more information about Rooster Town I can highly recommend the book Rooster Town, by Evelyn Peters, Matthew Stock and Adrian Werner published in 2018. They point out that the majority of residents of Rooster Town were employed and not on welfare, some even paid property taxes on the land they lived.

In recent years, reappraisals of history have led to the public art commission of the Rooster Town Kettle by Métis artist Ian August and the renaming of an area park as Rooster Town park to commemorate the local history.

For digital access to the book please click here. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg

Print 3: The Canadian Pacific Railway Yards in Winnipeg      (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

'Reconciliation requires a bigger dream'

The third print in the series represents the Canadian Pacific Railway and yards, constructed in 1882, whose network of tracks still divides and shapes the city to this day, not just in a geographic, but also in a social and economic way. Running through the centre of the print is a digital satellite image of the current day CP Railway yards. The location of the rail yards has been controversial for decades.

The first excerpt I chose to introduce the story is from the Manitoba Free Press, July 22, 1881, which introduces a new bylaw which “forthwith grants to the Canadian Pacific Company a bonus of $200,000 on condition of said company establishing and building their workshops and cattle yards for the lines in the Province of Manitoba in the city of Winnipeg and running their main line through the city of Winnipeg, and centering their workshops, stock yards and main line at the city of Winnipeg forever ...”

Edith Paterson elaborates in the Free Press on December 21,1974: “Manitoba historians have recorded little about the battle Winnipeggers put up to get the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway to cross the Red River here instead of at Selkirk, Man. But it was a struggle that lasted from 1874 when it was announced that the line would miss Winnipeg completely, right up to 1881 when the city fathers concluded an arrangement with the syndicate building the railway ... Finally, after many meetings, the syndicate outlined its terms. It demanded, among other requirements, a bonus of $200,000, also that its property would be exempt from municipal taxes forever. In return it would establish workshops and cattle-yards here... the CPR didn't need Winnipeg but Winnipeg needed the CPR ... And that was how Winnipeg won the railway and was saved from being a ghost town.”

Leo Driedger, Mennonite Sociologist, (At the Forks – Mennonites in Winnipeg, 2010) describes how the rail yards shaped the geography and social demographics of the city. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), the first national railway, came into Winnipeg in 1882, separating the northern part of the city from the central and southern parts ... City developers encouraged the character of the North End as a working class and immigrant area by building cheap houses on small lots north of the tracks ... Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Ukrainians, Poles and Germans [and among them also early urban Mennonite migrants], settled there. While the North End has always been separated from the city's southern, more Anglo-Saxon parts, the railroad assured its spatial and social segregation as hundreds of freight trains choked the tracks, blocking traffic to the North End …”

On September 172016, Free Press Journalist Randy Turner dares to dream about a changed city: “Imagine a Winnipeg without rail lines. It's circa 2035, and the Weston yards that have occupied the steel-lined landscape for more than a century have vanished and reemerged as a new neighbourhood, complete with boutique shops and residential apartments. There is a sprawling park under the shadow of the Arlington Street Bridge ... The original Canadian Pacific Railway line, which since 1882 has served as the great cultural divide between north and south Winnipeg, is no more.”

In the online portal Policy Options, Diane Roussin and Taylor Wilson emphasize the importance of the inclusion of Indigenous voices in decision making: Reimagining urban centres is not new for Indigenous people... As we've grown and adapted to the ever-changing landscapes of our traditional territories, we constantly imagine what these spaces would look like if we had a say in urban planning... We need to include different voices. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada alike are facing complex social challenges, and now we need to deal with them in new ways. Tapping into different kinds of wisdom is essential. Indigenous knowledge, experience, perspective and wisdom are by and large untapped as a source for deriving social challenge solutions.”

For digital access to the book please click here.