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Avens community art project honours history, people and places

“It honours the history, people and places of this area.”

CANMORE – Public art brings people together.

The Avens community’s new art installation, spurred on by the Town of Canmore’s Building Neighbourhoods Builds Community art project, brought together multiple generations and cultures.

The installation is a place marker for the Avens community made of a three-sided steel laser-cut letter A. Each side is devoted to the past, present and future of the community.

Canmore-based artist Lesley Russell took the lead on the creative side of the project, while collaborating with youth in the community representing the future, current residents of Avens representing the present, and Stoney Nakoda elders representing the past.

“The residents of Avens wanted a permanent piece of art," said Russell. "While throwing around ideas I came up with the idea of designing more of a place marker that could help identify the community and bring different generations together.

“It honours the history, people and places of this area.”

Stoney Nakoda elders including Phillomene Stevens helped to collaborate in the design process. The past side features the Stoney language, which shares different place names from the area and the Avens flower itself, which is important to the Stoney Nakoda people.

“Sharing the Stoney language is about understanding and it is a way for us to be recognized,” said Stevens. “Having our language on it is a way to share and understand each other.

"As knowledge keepers, that’s what we do is bring everyone together so our stories can be heard and carried on to other generations so people can get along. We feel proud of it.”

Once the installation was completed, the elders involved hosted a blessing ceremony.

“In our culture that’s what we do … we always open with a blessing, so things will all work out,” said Stevens.

Russell said it was an honour to work with the elders and learn from them.

“Everyone from all the generations involved were so captivated by the stories the elders shared with us," Russell said. "They have so much knowledge to share and they were so kind and generous with their time.”

The present side features the street names that make up the Avens community. Names include Riverstone, Grotto, Moraine, Lady MacDonald, Canyon and Ridge.

Avens resident Garth Lyon was the brains behind the project and the one who got the wheels in motion by submitting a proposal to the Town for the art project.

“I wanted to have a distinct sign for the community because no one knows where the Avens community is – we always get called Cougar Creek,” said Lyon while laughing. “Eagle Terrace, Spring Creek and Silvertip all have a sign, so I wanted something at the entrance to our community.”

Working with the youth, the future side was laser cut predominantly with multiple avens flowers, with a quote written by them sharing their respect of the past and hopes for their future  – “Respecting the past, acknowledging the present, caring for our future.”

The avens flower is featured on each side and ties the whole piece together, said Russell.

“The flower is medicine. It’s a women’s medicine to bless us and give us strength,” added Stevens.

For Russell, the most rewarding part was seeing the connections made while working on the project. She said the Building Neighbourhoods Builds Community project lived up to its name and fulfilled its goal.

“Seeing people together, seeing teenagers listening to Stoney Nakoda stories that they normally would never hear, seeing how enthusiastic the residents were was so enjoyable. It was a great way to bring everyone together,” she said.

The cost of the installation exceeded the small budget and Lyon organized a bottle drive to help raise funds for the “big A.” Lyon said an account is still open at the Canmore Bottle Depot for those who would like to donate.

“Because we wanted the piece to be permanent, the costs increased quite substantially,” said Lyon.

His neighbour Michael Oolsthorn was able to weld and assemble the installation, which Lyon said greatly reduced costs.

In total, more than 30 people had a hand in working on the piece of art.

Avens – Past, Present, Future is a permanent piece and will be displayed for a year at its current location on the east side of the trail along Cougar Creek.

The installation will become a roaming art piece next year, moving to a different yard of members of the Avens community each year during the area’s annual bloc party.

“The installation can only stay in the location it is in for one year. So we will be looking first to those who had a part helping out to have the installation display on their lawn," Lyon said.

Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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