Kristin Catherwood, Director of Living Heritage
My job title was recently changed from Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer to Director of Living Heritage. The tenets and principles laid out in the UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage still underlays much of my work for Heritage Saskatchewan, but this change in my job title is reflective of our efforts to broaden the understanding of heritage in this province.
My work continues to be based mostly in community, and I spend much of my time on the road throughout Saskatchewan. I give presentations, lead workshops, coordinate living heritage projects, consult with communities interested in developing aspects of their living heritage, and really, do whatever I can to help a particular community or organization in its efforts to recognize, celebrate, document, interpret, transmit, and develop the potential of living heritage. But as much as I have to share with communities, I have much more to learn from them.
I am always, always learning something new about this province and its people. In this post, I want to briefly share two recent experiences that demonstrate how living heritage, well, lives in Saskatchewan communities.
At the end of September I made a trip to Yorkton where the Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society had invited me to speak at their annual fundraising dinner. I also led a workshop with the society members to help them brainstorm ways to incorporate living heritage (and intangible cultural heritage) into their efforts to preserve the 1900 brick flour mill. After my engagement there, I took a trip to Esterhazy to see what the community has already done to preserve and interpret its wooden flour mill.
I met with Ralph May who took me on a tour of the facility. As interesting to me as the historic operation of the mill was its journey to becoming a provincial and national historic site, and its present identity as an interpretive site for the process of flour milling. This building and all of its working parts, as well as the stories contained within its walls, and the hard work of the community volunteers, have turned it into a place of living heritage. Though the mill is no longer serving its original purpose, its present incarnation as an interpretive site means that the building lives on, as do its stories. The story of how the mill was saved and continues to be maintained is also part of its living heritage. May I also just say (no pun intended!) that Ralph May was one of the best tour guides I've ever met, anywhere? The Esterhazy Flour Mill is a preeminent example of what a community can do with its heritage. I was inspired by what the Friends of the Flour Mill have done, and I plan to pass on lessons I learned to other communities hoping to achieve similar feats with their heritage.
Following my work in September which focused on the agricultural heritage of the southern part of the province, in early October I visited Cumberland House - Saskatchewan's oldest settlement. Established in 1774 by Samuel Hearne of the Hudson's Bay Company, Cumberland House is also known by its Swampy Cree name, Kāministigominahigoskahk - Pine Island. It is indeed an island in the Saskatchewan River delta - the largest river delta in North America. Though its fur trade history has been emphasized, the story of Pine Island goes back much further than 1774. Before the fur trade made it a central location in the waterways network of western Canada, the Swampy Cree people had flourished in the region for centuries and millennia. In the ensuing centuries since the fur trade was established, the region and its residents continue to deal with its colonial effects. The construction of the E.B. Campbell dam in the 1960s and the ensuing dramatic changes to the waterways have had a significant impact on the region. A bridge connected the community to Highway 123 in the 1990s, but it is still a remote community. Now, a passionate group of individuals who make up the Kwēgich Wāskāhiganihk Society are working towards establishing an eco-museum to interpret and celebrate the rich living heritage of Cumberland House. During my two days on Pine Island, I was treated to warm hospitality and a thorough tour of the region. I was moved by the resilience of the local people, their pride in their heritage, and their passion for building a strong and vibrant future for Cumberland House. Thank you to Cyril Goulet for taking the time to give me a tour of the island. Cyril's tour was, like Ralph in Esterhazy, one of the best I've ever been on, anywhere. His local knowledge and care for his home community enriched the entire experience. I also want to thank all the committee members who treated me so well during my time on Pine Island: Laura Chaboyer, Bertha McKay Elser, Rhonda Desjarlais, Ali Crane, Elaine Crate, Denise McKenzie, Veronica Favel. We at Heritage Saskatchewan will continue working with the members of the Kwēgich Wāskāhiganihk Society to interpret, document, celebrate and safeguard their community's living heritage. I look forward to learning more from them as the process unfolds.