This Canada 150 video – our second last! – was actually one of the first to be filmed, all the way back in January, 2016 in Spiritwood, about 2 hours north of Saskatoon. It’s a little different from the rest of the videos in that it was filmed as part of a Discovering Local Folklore intangible cultural heritage workshop. As you'll see in the video, we had plenty of folks with us that day to learn all about living heritage and intangible cultural heritage. To demonstrate ICH in action, I had previously requested a demonstration of some sort of local tradition or custom, and was looking forward to learning how to make the sweet treat of toffee on snow. I well remember the journey to Spiritwood, driving on dark, snowy, unfamiliar roads through the forest, and finally arriving to my gorgeous bed and breakfast with much relief.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, though cold, as I made my way to the Pioneer Centre in Spiritwood. I had asked my community host, Geraldine Lavoie, how to get there. “It’s down by where the old hospital used to be,” she told me. This was my first visit to Spiritwood, so I really had no idea where the old hospital used to be. This amusing anecdote has served me well the past year, as I use it all the time to demonstrate ICH, or living heritage, in action. Though the old hospital is long gone, its existence lives on in memory, and in contemporary concepts of space. What is physically gone remains conceptually present, enough so that it can be used to give direction – but only if the person being directed understands the language of this particular place – its memory of landscape.
So much of who we are grows from the places where we grew up and the places we end up. It’s virtually impossible to separate our selves from our places, whether we are typically aware of that or not. And sometimes we carry bits of places with us through time and space, a way to "keep" a part of something that had meaning for us as individuals and/or as communities. In this particular video, we see how francophone settlers in the prairies adapted a particular tradition to their new home.
Lorraine Lavoie takes us through the process of making toffee on snow, or tire sur la neige. Lorraine explains in the video that in her parents’ home province of Quebec, this was made with maple syrup. But in their new western home, maple syrup wasn’t something you could easily buy. So they improvised, concocting a syrup made of sugar, butter and cream (fresh from their own cows, in those days). It’s not as simple as dumping the ingredients in a pot, however, as Lorraine demonstrates in the video. You have to know when it’s ready, and what to look for. We hear Lorraine remark several times how you can "tell" that it's ready. "Tells" are often referred to in the context of a game of poker - something to look for on an opponent's face, perhaps. But when it comes to ICH, there are lots of "tells" - the things to look for in the creation of something. These are usually learned by observing and by experience, and sometimes by being told from the person showing you how to do something. A "tell" in a tradition is an important marker of intangible cultural heritage.
Lorraine’s daughter-in-law, Geraldine, stands by and we see her questioning Lorraine about some of these "tells." Though Geraldine herself grew up in a Ukrainian-Canadian tradition, of which she holds to strongly, she married into a French-Canadian family, and is determined to carry on traditions from both of these family connections. As Christmas approaches, I am sure that the Lavoies in Spiritwood are getting ready to create some of their special family traditions once more.