CANADA 150

2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. Commemorative events like Canada 150 invite us to consider how our heritage has shaped the present, to learn lessons from the past, and to discuss what we would like our future to be. In recognition of Canada 150, Heritage Saskatchewan invites you to explore the diverse living heritage of our province through a video series, launched July 1st. Every two weeks until the end of the year, a new video will be released that examines some facet of Saskatchewan’s rich living heritage. These videos are not a definitive collection of Saskatchewan’s heritage in 2017, but rather a sample of the diverse practices, beliefs, and experiences of Saskatchewan people. Visit this page often for updates, and subscribe to our YouTube channel!
 

“I Knew This Was Exactly What I Wanted To Do”

You would never know from meeting Ed Drachenberg that his early life was so tumultuous. Born in Poland during World War Two, Ed’s father had been killed before he was born by advancing Russian soldiers. His mother in a prisoner of war camp, Ed and his grandmother got out of Poland on the last train before they closed the Iron Curtain in 1949. They lived in Germany for three years before emigrating to Canada to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm near Watrous. In 1960, his mother and stepfather finally made it to Canada, and Ed moved to Regina with them, where he attended high school and found his calling – in his words, he “was smitten” by the machining trade.

After the harrowing circumstances of his early life, Ed has built a fulfilling and meaningful life, a large part of that being his continuing love for machine work. My interview with Ed resulted from a recommendation by Jennifer Fitzpatrick at the Humboldt Museum and Art Gallery. I was heading to Humboldt for a workshop and asked if she knew of any interesting stories in the community. Part of what made this Canada 150 series possible was planning interviews in places I was already visiting for my community engagement work. She suggested Ed Drachenberg, and I gave him a call. He told me that he was a retired machinist, but that he loved the trade so much he had set up a machine shop in his basement where he continued to work on projects. 

Ed was involved in some groundbreaking projects throughout his career, including working on the very first cell phone. However, what I found most intriguing about Ed’s story from a Living Heritage perspective was how he was drawn to the trade at a young age, and how he has continued in it even after retirement. His story shows how the things we are interested in children sometimes lead us to our passions as adults, and if we can translate that into a career, we’re bound to live much more fulfilling and meaningful lives. In this way, it is our own Living Heritage that informs the choices we make and the paths we pursue. 

During his early career, Ed worked on farm machinery, including at a company known at the time as Brandt Electric, which has now become the corporation Brandt Industries, well known throughout the province and beyond. In this way, Ed was part of the innovations in agricultural technology development that has been done in Saskatchewan and by Saskatchewan people throughout the past century, and continuing to this day. The need for innovation was often borne out of the unique challenges of farming in Saskatchewan. Humboldt, where Ed calls home, is a well-known centre for agriculture and equipment manufacture, part of the so-called “Iron Triangle,” named for the concentration of manufacturers in the area.

In the interview, Ed talked about the Industrial Revolution and how almost everything we equate with modern society came about due to the technological developments of that period - most of which had their beginnings in machine shops. The everyday technologies we take for granted have a long heritage, and it was machinists like Ed who were at the forefront of their development.  Ed talked about how when he started out in the trade, he had to learn things by hand. This brings up an important theme which can be found across a variety of trades, arts, crafts, and even basic, everyday tasks:  important skills and knowledge are being lost to globalization and modernization. 

Ed related stories of how nurturing young folks interested in machine work led to a couple of kids finding their path in life. This highlights the importance of creating opportunities for youth to connect with older people, to discover interests they may not yet know they have. There’s a whole world of skills out there, and the school system can’t expose kids to all the many options. Ed’s interview ends with his reflections on the lessons he learned from the master he apprenticed with, a German machinist, whom he still thinks of often.

If you’re interested in learning more about the machine trade, check out the Saskatoon Model Engineering Society http://saskatoonmodelengineers.webs.com/

 

 

"I Don't Feel Like I'm Half Anything"

I first met Russell Fayant during Heritage Week in February, 2016 at the event Finding Home in Story: Métis Concepts of Home and Kinship at the Regina Public Library. Hosted by Trevor Herriot, author of Towards a Prairie Atonement, the event also featured Joe Welsh, a grandson of “the last buffalo hunter” Norbert Welsh, and Russell Fayant. Russell spoke eloquently and passionately about Métis cultural heritage as reflected in the art of Sherry Farrell Racette. His good humour and ability to articulate the history and contemporary issues of Métis people in western Canada impressed me immediately, and I elbowed my way through the crowd of adoring fans after the talk to introduce myself. I knew right away that Russell was the perfect person to talk about Métis cultural heritage in this video series. Russell can speak both as an academic and as a proud Métis person with strong family roots and a deep understanding of his people’s cultural heritage. We met first at his workplace, the Gabriel Dumont Institute at the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) at the University of Regina, and then he took me to his family’s road allowance homestead in the Qu’Appelle Valley. It was a hot, beautiful May day, and I felt deeply honoured that Russell brought me to this important place and shared with me his personal connection to that particular piece of land – emblemnatic of the deep ties many Métis people feel to the land, land which has often been taken away from or denied them throughout Canadian history.

After our conversation that day, I was certain that Russell’s video needed to be the one to launch this Canada 150 video series. We at Heritage Saskatchewan recognize that Canada 150 celebrations mark an important date in the history of Canada, but we also acknowledge that it is a divisive event, and we welcome the opportunity to provide a platform for differing perspectives. Russell’s challenge for indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians alike is to recognize that the history of Canada has been marked by inequalities and brutality, but he also urges us to realize the important contributions indigenous people have made to Canada, both before and since Confederation. In this way, Russell shows clearly how living heritage has shaped contemporary society.

UPDATE:

Russell’s interview was so good it was very difficult to edit it down to the length I wanted to keep to for these videos. I want to make sure that the full context of his statements is available, so in addition to the Canada 150 video series above, I invite you to also take the time to watch the full, unedited interview with Russell. Enjoy here.

 

 

 

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