Today Canada turns 148 years old. To mark the occasion we’ve got a very special guest blog post from Cultural Entrepreneur, Award-winning Broadcaster and Progressive Patriot Jowi Taylor.
Jowi’s audacious Six String Nation project distills stories of diverse cultures, communities, characters and events from every province and territory of Canada into a single guitar called Voyageur – an object that is at once touchstone, talking-stick and living instrument.
We spent so many Canada Days waiting around at soundchecks and setting up our photo backdrop on uneven ground in tents that I suppose I shouldn’t miss it but I do. Instead, this year, we’re taking it easy at a friend’s cottage in the 1000 Islands near Gananoque. And the forecast for central and eastern Ontario calls for rain. Better to be inside a cozy cottage than battling sodden ground at the fairgrounds for sure!
Perhaps because it’s a quieter way to mark the day, it’s also perhaps a little bit easier to be a little bit more reflective about what Canada Day means in 2015 and what this past year has meant for Six String Nation.
On the plus side, a couple of major events this past year come to mind that it’s worth remembering today:
First, after many years of trying to get something to reflect the Japanese-Canadian community AND trying to get something to reflect Canada’s baseball heritage in the project, both were delivered in one small but spectacular little bundle last summer. The stars finally aligned with the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto who permitted us to take a little bit of fabric from the back side of the right sleeve of a circa 1940 jersey from the famed Vancouver Asahi baseball team that is part of their collection. In spite of being barred from the mainstream leagues, their ingenious and giant-killing style of play made the Asahi the hot ticket in Vancouver through the 1930s until Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in the Second World War lead to the internment of Canadian citizens of Japanese heritage and brought an end to the Asahi era. That’s an important story to tell in this country and I’m grateful for the support of the JCCC and textile artist Kate Jackson, who removed the small strip from the jersey, mounted it on Voyageur’s guitar strap, and returned the jersey in tip top shape with the inclusion of a small fabric plaque acknowledging the contribution to the project. We revealed this new contribution to the world last August during Canada Baseball Day at the Rogers Centre in Toronto with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays put together a great Six String Nation display for the JumboTron and we took to the field for the pre-game show announcement where erstwhile Blue Jay Munenori Kawasaki came out and hammed it up with Voyageur. Also in attendance was Babe Ruth’s granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti so we got some great photos with her and the guitar too.
Then, in the fall, I headed off to Lethbridge to execute a series of events that were almost a year in the planning with the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta. They came up with a really unique way to fund the trip by giving community grants to the participating school districts. Over the course of ten days I delivered the presentation to fourteen different schools in the region including two on-reserve schools in the Kainah and Piikani First Nations. At the same time I got to travel around an incredibly beautiful part of the country and return the guitar to the sites of two of its contributing materials: the old community dance hall at Hand Hills Lake and the cabin of pioneering black rancher John Ware, now located down the road from its original location in Brooks at Dinosaur Provincial Park, which you just have to see to believe. On my way home I stopped in Calgary to meet Cheryl Foggo who’d written a fascinating play that raises some important questions about how the legend of John Ware has grown, hung out with some friends and bumped into actor and singer Tom Jackson, who was my original contact for the piece we have from his home town on the One Arrow First Nation in Saskatchewan.
But this was also the year of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report, which stands as a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go in Canada to redress the injustices done to Canada’s people not only as part of our formative history but on an ongoing basis. I’m proud of the involvement of so many First Nations communities in the creation of the Six String Nation project and I’m glad that I’ve been able to share the guitar with so many First Nations artists along the way but I feel like – in the same way the presentation seems to have a profound impact on many diverse audiences that I encounter – I need to double my efforts to let the project have that impact in more First Nations communities across the country.
As we mark our 9th Canada Day, I’m already thinking about the next couple of years ahead. Next year at this time will mark the 10th anniversary of Voyageur’s debut and I’m hoping to do something special all year long – some kind of project that will lay the groundwork for the following year, which will mark Canada’s Sesquicentennial celebration. I’ve been involved in a number of events since 2010 that were intended to spur discussion and preparation for how Canadians will reimagine themselves into the future – just as we did so spectacularly for our Centennial back in 1967. But it’s a slow process and, while there has been some movement, most organizations are just starting to wrap their heads around the idea of what 2017 might mean. And I really want Six String Nation to be part of both those deliberations and those celebrations.
In the meantime, I often say that the Six String Nation project was intended as a love letter to an almost unknowably large and diverse country. On this day, that love letter is also a birthday card.
Happy birthday Canada.
Bon fête Canada!