As the summer student Research Assistant for Heritage Saskatchewan, I had the wonderful opportunity to help prepare and promote Heritage Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Heritage Awards. Over the course of my employment, I faced tasks that were new to me, such as reaching out to potential applicants for the awards and helping in planning a potential virtual ceremony. While it was sometimes challenging to balance my work with other commitments and the return to in-person classes in the University of Saskatchewan’s fall semester, my experience was very positive overall, allowing me to work with an amazing team in a field full of wonderful and interesting projects. Not only was I able to grow my skills in working with others and communicating, but I had the chance to be introduced to projects working to preserve and promote all walks of heritage in Saskatchewan, teaching me more about history and giving me more appreciation for those working hard to keep history alive in our province.
If I were to describe all of our winning projects in a single word, it would be “perseverance.” This word is especially relevant for this year’s awards, as they are being awarded as Covid-19 continues to weigh upon life in Saskatchewan. All of our winners and applicants were, in one way or another, impacted by the pandemic yet they still chose to forge on and continue in their work. As many of these projects are done simply out of passion and care for their communities, to carry on in difficult times is an extremely admirable choice. Even projects completed prior to the onset of the pandemic are projects that persevered, as the acts of promoting, supporting, and preserving are all ongoing, with even an awards submission for a long-completed project indicating perseverance. Every one of our applicants and winners and anyone who supports heritage work, persevered to help make the pandemic a little bit easier for others.
Of course, a single word is far from enough to properly describe our winners. As I had the honour of researching and reaching out to many of these groups, I’d like to share my thoughts on our 9 winners, along with congratulations.
In the category of Physical Heritage Conservation, we had 3 winning projects: the restorations at Melfort Queen’s Bench Court House by Moore Architecture Consulting Group Ltd., the revitalization of Wanuskewin Heritage Park, and the Yorkton Historic Flour Mill. Reading over the documents for these three projects gave me insight into both the huge scope and extreme meticulousness of physical conservation projects. The restorations at Melfort Queen’s Bench Court House involved the preservation of even the smallest original components, whereas the Yorkton Flour Mill and Wanuskewin Heritage Park both saw committees raising substantial amounts of money to improve large-scale areas. It quickly became clear that Physical Heritage Conservation is work that requires dedication on every level, and it is comforting to know that this work is receiving that necessary care and support. It would be horrible to see historic buildings and heritage-focused sites be neglected by both funders and owners, so it was great to learn about these well-done and highly successful projects. Congratulations to these winners, I’ll be excited to hear about future use of these places!
We had another 3 winners in the category of Public Outreach: Waskesiu Heritage Museum’s Heritage Moments, Yorkton Historic Flour Mill’s Outreach, and Adrian Paton’s book, An Honest, Genial and Kindly People. I myself have some experience doing similar work for a museum, so I know how rewarding these projects can be. Compiling and producing media for public observation can be intimidating and difficult, but it’s also gratifying to entertain and inform others about the past. The past 2 years were an especially important time for this work, as many could not leave home freely to engage with heritage. I was also pleased that Adrian Paton, who passed away in January of this year, was able to receive an award for their work on their book. Just like the other winners, Paton worked through the pandemic to ensure that his project could be completed, once again going to show the importance of perseverance to heritage projects. I encourage everyone to let these outreach projects reach them!
In the category of Community Development, we had 2 winners: the Muskeg Lake Food Forest, and The Great Southwest Shakespeare Festival. As I was doing research on potential applicants for the awards this summer, I realized that I was having a lot of difficulties finding Community Development candidates. This only makes sense, seeing how hard it was for groups to organize community events in a year where public gatherings were largely restricted and avoided. In light of that fact, the achievement of these two groups is even more impressive, as they were able to persevere through the additional difficulties of Covid-19 in order to continue supporting their communities. I hope to hear more success from both of these projects in the future, as bringing communities together is a truly wonderful thing, especially with the goals of sustainability and culture that the projects also strive to achieve. Congratulations to both groups!
Finally, we had one winner in the Intangible Cultural Heritage category: Garrick Schmidt, an educator providing land-based learning to First Nations schools. It is especially important to recognize the efforts of work of this nature as it is just as it says in the category: intangible, and therefore difficult to find a centralized effort for. I hope that future years will see even more applicants in this area as even though we sometimes take this category of heritage for granted, it is still exceedingly interesting to learn about, in addition to being vital to society. This year’s winner, Garrick Schmidt, shows how important this work is, as the land-based, traditional knowledge that he shares includes cultural teachings that may have been disrupted or lost through the Canadian Residential School system and the 60’s Scoop. The images attached in Garrick’s submission show that his teachings are giving both joy and education to his students, illustrating the rewarding nature of his work. Congratulations to Garrick!
As there is not one singular stream of news on heritage projects in Saskatchewan, it was somewhat tricky at times for me to find groups to reach out to, but in the end I’m very happy with the applications we received and the groups we were able to award. The team at Heritage Saskatchewan was extremely helpful to me throughout every step of the process, keeping in touch with me remotely and suggesting projects that I may not have ever come across on my own. This aspect of the experience in particular cemented the importance of community, as without the personal connections of others I would have potentially missed out on contacting some of the eventual winners. Heritage work often goes unnoticed or unmentioned as it is not readily promoted online like a concert or festival might be, so it is important to connect with one’s own community to find out what work is being done. Heritage is everywhere around us, no matter where we live, so it’s vital that we engage with it and support those who do the excellent work of keeping it alive for others. Thanks again to Ingrid Cazakoff, Marieke de Roos, Kristin Catherwood, Katherine Gilks, Olivia Shumski, and David Siebert for all the help they gave me over the summer! My best wishes to Heritage Saskatchewan in its future endeavours.
In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate how valuable this experience has been. In the modern world, communication is more important than ever before. Learning how to find and reach out to people in the digital jungle of the internet is a must-have skill, and I was able to hone this plenty during the summer. My early-term work in preparing a Zoom-based awards show (in case Covid restrictions necessitated it) showed me just how much work goes into creating smooth communication over the internet. Different levels of ability and availability had to be considered, and it was necessary to contact experienced organizers to gain specific insight into how to accomplish those goals. Moving forward, my time spent contacting potential awardees allowed me to put my communication skills to the test, bringing my modern toolset to the service of others so that they might have a chance to be recognized and awarded for their hard work. In effect, using the present to allow others to bring the past to light – the sort of thing that heritage organizations strive to do. I’ll be sure to carry the skills I’ve acquired with me as I move forward, and I’ll remain thankful for the opportunity I had to see how so many heritage groups persevered throughout such a difficult year. Thanks for reading!