Winnipeg

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

                                                                                    Louis Riel

Stepping off the train after a long day of traveling we make our way into the concourse and are greeted by…a two-person Klezmer band Kate & Rich! Kate Romain (on accordion) and Rich Driedger (on clarinet) fill the whole area with joyous music. Kate and Rich will be joining us on the train from here on out. First Terry and Savannah from Vancouver Moving Theatre jump into the circle and dance together, then Ruth Howard and her son Eli from Jumblies join in. As we mingle, waiting for the luggage to arrive, we start to meet the newcomers to the train. Once we’re collected, we make our way into the main, domed rotunda of the station where we are welcomed with words and drumming and song.

Some people load into cabs to make their way to the hotel and some of us take the opportunity to walk in the cool evening air. The instructions are clear enough: two blocks up then turn and keep going until you see it. In my imagination I hear Peter Pan’s instructions to Wendy on how to get to Neverland: First star on the left, then straight on till morning.

We’ve got the morning off so I get to work! Our hotel, it turns out, is right across the street from the central “Millennium” branch of the Winnipeg Public Library. I head there first thing and find the 3rd floor office for the head of acquisitions. I have no appointment and he has no idea who I am when he cautiously comes around the corner into the reception area. We sit, I show him the book and within five minutes he’s sold. He wants to review it online before committing, but he’s pretty confident that the library will want a stack of them. He suggests I go talk to the buyer at McNally Robinson, the largest independent bookstore in central Canada, which is located in Winnipeg. I take the bus there and sure enough, they take five copies. The next day another independent bookstore in town takes three copies. I have been selling about one or two copies a day since I left Victoria and it is a wonderful confirmation of the timeliness of the book.

Winnipeg is Columpa’s home and she offers to walk with any of us who are interested to go visit the grave of Louis Riel. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I only had the vaguest idea who Riel was when I got to Canada and in my ten years here, I haven’t taken the time to learn. My loss. What an extraordinary man—a visionary who fought for justice for all oppressed people, not just the Métis, a soldier, and an orator with a poet’s sensibility. Standing at his grave, Columpa demonstrates that she is not only a first class actor, producer and playwright, she is a gifted teacher as well. She makes the history of this man and his passion come alive for us. Aaron Leon, who has been traveling with us since we were at his home in Splats’in territory, videotapes Columpa as she talks. When Jumblies makes the video available, I’ll let you know when and where to find it.

That evening we attend a panel discussion intended to share the work of local artists. Saturday morning we meet at the workshop space of Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba where some of our folks from the train share stories about the work they do with the local practitioners. In the afternoon there are hands-on workshops in the space and activities down on the street, including an interactive art-making installation using postcards curated by Winnipeg artist Lindsay Bond, who will be joining us on the train from here on. Parked across the street is the Tale of a Town Storymobile, a traveling project that tours Canada to gather and share stories about towns and the people in them. I have loads of admiration for Lisa-Marie DiLiberto, a smart, funny and fun community artist based in Toronto. Lisa and her husband Charles Ketchabaw are the creators and, literally, the driving forces behind the storymobile. The afternoon wraps with film screenings of a documentary about Winnipeg’s people, another about Vancouver Moving Theatre’s shadow theatre production on addiction and recovery, and third about the renowned community artist Lily Yeh. In the evening we enjoy a feast and a performance by the inimitable Columpa Bobb. Cathy Stubington and Keith McNair reprise the bird song. Sunday we convene at The Forks, Winnipeg’s popular gathering spot of public green spaces, shops, and cultural venues at the confluence of the Red River and Assiniboine River. As we gather on the grass of the park, a local drumming group called Buffalo Gals offers songs. Then Cathy Stubington brings out the long wide strips of fabric with images of fruits and vegetables that were made by people in her community. It’s all hands on deck with our folks and local artists plus families who have wandered up to see what’s happening. Like an army of people about to fold bedsheets, the volunteers hold the corners of these parallel ribbons of fabric. Cathy orchestrates the dance: other sheet holders standing perpendicular to the first team alternately run across the ribbons or duck under them. Our crowd weaves a single sheet of interlaced ribbons about 30 feet square. Then the real fun begins when we flip the woven piece into the air and the children run underneath shouting the names of their favourite vegetables and fruits. After a closing ceremony, we drift away and get some time to gather our thoughts and pack our bags in anticipation of an early departure by car tomorrow morning. I’ll be among those driving in convoy east to Thunder Bay; others will be on the train overnight.

Follow From the Heart

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