Although there were distinct differences between the two projects, there was equally ample evidence of how the grand plan to celebrate Canada’s 150-year anniversary next year has proven to be an ideal catalyst for schools as they strive to make stronger connections with their respective communities.
Among the seven schools in Saskatchewan who participated in the nationwide mural project, there was an undeniable pride in evidence both during the creative phase, as was the case during a visit to Delisle Elementary School, and subsequently when students and community members at North Park Wilson School in Saskatoon gathered to view their finished product.
This is all part of an ambitious, to say nothing of highly imaginative, undertaking that during a two-year span will ultimately result in the creation of a mural involving all provinces and territories. The mural is expected to include more than 80,000 paintings and 150 of the aforementioned individual murals that when united will form one gigantic mosaic, even though the murals will remain in their respective communities as a historical legacy.
Jolayne Rempel, the principal and Grade 6 teacher at Delisle Elementary, outlined how once their application had been accepted and grants were in place, the committee worked their way through an assortment of original ideas before coming up with what was then a closely guarded secret prior to the mural unveiling, with the idea of representing part of Delisle’s unique history as part of Saskatchewan and Canada.
At North Park Wilson School, meanwhile, principal Sharon Camp, the staff and a group of highly committed community members opted to utilize this opportunity as a poignant example of what it means to be located on Treaty 6 land and how we are all treaty people. Camp said it was the school and community’s way to show their strong support for the Calls to Action that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report.
In both cases the respective principals, who are personal friends, emphasized the importance of having community input in the project–and then inviting members of the community to contribute their own tile to what would ultimately become the finished mural.
“We saw this as a tremendous learning opportunity and a chance to really connect to the community and you could see how it really started to resonate after the Orange Shirt Day [in recognition of the residential schools saga]. It’s all part of how we talked about each of us showing a commitment to change if we’re going to really make a difference,” Champ said.
“This is a powerful example of how we can take that one step forward to learn and grow as a community and we’re all very committed to this.”
As was evidenced during the event in Delisle, there were seniors, students who were now at the nearby high school, and school board members among those contributing their own tiles.
“We have focused on this representing the past of our community but also the future, and there’s been a really serious commitment by everyone and that’s one of the keys to making a community vibrant and diverse such as ours is. So there’s a lot of credit to be shared,” Rempel suggested.
The chance to tell their respective stories through art was a great fit for both schools. Rempel pointed out that although it’s not the first time the students at the school have participated in a project similar to this mural, previous community involvement has not been to the same extent and degree. The mural will be proudly displayed in a school hallway.
“What’s been one of the really great parts of this is that everyone has had a voice and so it confirms that whole notion that everyone matters through their own tile and so it’s been so exciting to see the reaction as we went along. It’s been just a great learning experience,” Rempel said.
According to Champ, the project was a natural fit for North Park Wilson School, which is known as a centre of excellence for arts education.
“I’m just so proud of the deep thinking that went into this project and it really shows what you can accomplish through art and the message that you can bring. Together it’s all part of a beautiful picture and so I’m really excited and proud. It’s been a powerful experience.”
Champ said that while it’s exhilarating to honour the past, she’s even more hopeful of the future through projects such as this that foster communication among all people in the community.
She alluded to a conversation she had with Chris Scribe, who is the director of the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan and also a parent of one of the students at the school.
“He said what an important role something such as this can have in terms of students learning about the past and how he said change will come across the dinner table and how kids can change their parents’ views. That’s what makes me think we can all be part of a brighter future.”