The road to Thunder Bay

I sign up to take the wheel on the drive from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay. It’s a different feel, driving across the prairie instead of watching from the windows of a train or bus. The time passes quickly and before too long we’re at our halfway point: Anicinabe Park in Kenora where we’re met by folks from Community Arts Hub, a local arts organization. They’ve brought food for our lunch together. Standing in a circle on the grass looking over the water, Anishinaabe elder Cathy Lindsay welcomes us to the territory. Then we hear a story from one traveler who just joined us in Winnipeg, Victoria Freeman. Victoria is the author of a book that’s been recommended to me, but I haven’t yet read: Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America. She tells us a story about the piece of land we are standing on—how starting in the first part of the 20th century, it was a campground used by First Nations parents to remain close to their children in the nearby residential schools and maintain their connections with them. These parents actually presented the school with a set of expectations/rules that the school would have to abide by before they allowed their children to attend. For the first decade or so the school abided by the rules they had agreed to. Then changes in staff over the years began to erode the promise. Victoria knows this story because her grandfather, a Presbyterian Minister, played a role in the early days of the story.

We have lunch and chat in groups and then reconvene for an exercise that Ruth developed as a prompt for text generation: We are given two slips of paper to fill out. One reads: I know… and the other reads: I wonder… The completed slips are collected and redistributed. When read aloud it is a collective prose poem. We say our goodbyes and return to the convoy east. I drive for a couple more hours and then Rich Driedger spots me and we talk as he drives. When I first saw him in the Winnipeg Train Station in a hat and dark glasses and big red beard playing his clarinet he seemed a bit of a cipher. Following hours of conversation I see what an amazingly interesting fellow he is and our dialogue travels all over the map even as we drive straight forward. I don’t want to miss mentioning Rich’s partner Kate Romain whose talent as a musician and love of pure giddy fun is inspiring.

We meet the other half of the group. They had taken a different route, though Sioux Lookout, and met a group in Thunder Bay for some workshops with teens. We stay the night in a motel and then enjoy a full day of arts activities including storytelling at a tea party with playwright, artist, teacher and tea maker Eleanor Albanese and her colleagues. Late in the afternoon we board a chartered bus to White River. There is more freedom on a chartered bus than there is on a greyhound to wander the aisles and talk and share stories. I wind up in the front with Kate and Victoria and several others singing songs together from Kate’s copy of Rise Up Singing as we watch the hills and lakes of Ontario roll by. 

Follow From the Heart

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter