“A neighbourhood is stitched together with stories.” – Brenda Dunn
Robotic dragons. Holographs in underground tunnels. Pumped up fireworks for Canada Day. Over the past months, downtown Ottawa has been alive with huge spectacles marking the 150 anniversary of Confederation.
But quietly, on the rural fringes of the city, a humble human project has been taking shape that honors Ottawa’s legacy bearers – its oldest, often overlooked citizens.
Re[place] Re[collect] is a project to archive in text and photos the memories and stories of seniors in Ottawa’s rural neighbourhoods. It is led by Brenda Dunn, a local community-engaged artist and local photographer Shawn MacDonell. Since May 2017, they’ve been travelling all over rural neighbourhoods including Manotick, Stittsville, Old Osgoode and more. Joining in bingo games, euchre tournaments, coffee at a local hangouts… building trust, establishing rapport, and recording stories of bravery, resilience and pride in their community.
“Ottawa tends to be a place that people come to by choice rather than chance – even the generation of people (80+) that I spoke to for this project. WWII was a defining part of their experience. Some were war brides, some returned after the war to start over again. They endured great hardship and arduous journeys. But they don’t see it as courageous – just something that ‘had to be done.’”
According to Dunn, these surprising stories of survival and resilience were relayed to her in a matter-of-fact way over conversation, organically over coffee.
“When you’re in a formal interview setting, the most authentic stories don’t really come out. So we started participating in their gatherings and being part of their activities. When stories naturally came up, we were able to record conversations and listen back later. I spent a lot of time transcribing from those get togethers and pulling the stories that came up.”
Dunn worked closely with community liaisons from the various municipal agencies that offer services to seniors in rural areas, including Rural Ottawa South Support Services (ROSSS) and the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre (EORS). Staff, like Carolyn Puderer of ROSSS, were instrumental in making introductions and connecting Dunn to seniors with incredible stories to tell.
Re[place] Re[collect] is one of the community-engaged Neighbourhood Arts 150 projects carried out by 12 artists and arts groups across the city. The projects are funded by the AOE Arts Council, the Canada 150 Fund and the Ontario 150 Fund. Through the project 150 copies of Re[place] Re[collect] have been published; 50 hardcover copies for the senior residents who participated and 100 softcover copies to be given to those who attend the book launch.
“I’m incredibly proud of this project and it was a huge privilege to get to spend time with these people and learn their stories. It was really important to me to transcribe them as accurately as I could – to get them right. Putting this book together meant being included in some incredible communities. I’m delighted to see it come to life.”
[Re]Place Re[Collect] will launch on October 22 from 3-6pm at the Orleans Legion Branch 632 (800 Taylor Creek Drive, Orleans). Tickets are available online and attendance at the launch is the only way to get one of the 100 copies of the book.