CELEBRATE 5-Year Anniversary of HARP The People’s Press

On November 28, 2023, HARP The People’s Press (HEALING ARTS RECONCILING PEOPLE) celebrated its 5th anniversary at The Peoples’ Place Library in Antigonish, with the launch of its 25th publication—Grace Notes on Nursing by John Graham-Pole—and the unveiling of its new website, customized by This is Marketing:  www.tryhealingarts.ca   An exemplary healing arts cooperative birthed in the heartland of the Antigonish Movement.

Dorothy Lander and John Graham-Pole wanted to breathe the social justice underpinnings of the Antigonish Movement into our healing arts press.  HARP The People’s Press echoes the People’s Schools and the People’s Library closely associated with Fr. Jimmy Tompkins, the People’s Radio associated with the Extension Department’s University of the Air, St. Francis Xavier University.    In 2018, we launched our first publication The People’s Photo Album: A Pictorial Genealogy of the Antigonish Movement to mark the 90th anniversary of the StFX Extension Department.

Dorothy: My current creative energy has gone towards creating botanical collages using people’s hands as my canvas. Hand and touch are central to essentially every healing art form and you can find a couple examples on the round table. Can I ask for a show of hands of those of you who were with us almost five years ago when we launched The People’s Photo Album in the Legion – when we all sang together Go Make a Difference in the World?  The world was in the room – Mi’kmaw, Celts (Irish and Scottish), Peoples of African descent, English, Acadian, Dutch, Chinese, Malaysian, German, Greek, Lebanese, India, Syria and our wonderful L’Arche dance troupe and CACL catering staff. This was a social inclusion dream gathering that I had never before witnessed in my almost 50 years in this community.  The World Health Organization identifies social inclusion as a primary determinant of health.  In 2018, the W-H-O had not identified art as a determinant of health but now they have an Art and Health Lead, Christopher Bailey.  Christopher Bailey wrote a testimonial for John’s book Illness and the Art of Creative Expression.

HARP MOVES OFF THE PRINTED PAGE INTO COMMUNITY

We are going to share some HARP success stories with you, not in terms of the market economy and the usual bottom line measure but instead the gift economy, where HARP is a shining star. The thrust of the gift economy is that gifts are always on the move, always giving forward. A gift comes with this obligation to reciprocate.  What better way to celebrate HARP than to tell how HARP publications have become gifts that move off the printed page and into the community, into the world.    HARP’s mantra—a healthy community knows its history— comes into play in several of our publications.

Let’s begin with the Mount Cameron story. Mount Cameron farm was managed by the StFX Extension Department in the 1950s.  Fr. John Angus Rankin was not only a master fiddler and a Sociology Prof, he also managed the Mount Cameron Farm for the Extension Department with a lot of help from the Sisters of St. Martha. This was an early example of cooperative housing and cooperative farming, which lives on in today’s Extension Department under Pauline MacIntosh’s leadership in the Build Better Community Housing movement and in Antigonish Affordable Housing under Colleen Cameron’s leadership. Who has a family connection to those early days of Mount Cameron?  Who lives now on the grounds of Mount Cameron?  

I noticed that Willie Westenenk put up his hand.  Willie is in The People’s Photo Album along with his nieces Minnie and MaryAnn who have joined us today. Five years ago we sang happy birthday to Willie on his 90th birthday.  Let’s all sing Happy Birthday to him for his 95th tomorrow. Mary, Tootsje – can you lead us in the Dutch version?

Willie, here is my birthday gift of your botanical hand, which I have entitled Willie Westenenk, Groundskeeper and Peacekeeper. Willie, you’re a keeper! Willie was the keeper of the grounds of StFX for over 40 years. But until The People’s Photo Album, I didn’t know you as a Keeper of the Peace. Including peacekeeping stints in Indonesia and New Guinea in the early 1950s just before emigrating to Nova Scotia.  Even making your hand was a cooperative effort, Willie.  I wanted poppy seed heads to represent your peace efforts – Susie Murphy of Big Barn Little Farm supplied them. And your niece Mary van den Heuvel delivered the photos of the King Crimson Maple that you planted on campus at the time of your retirement. 

Jeff Parker was my Photoshop tutor for creating the red border and then mounting the canvas print, which was delivered on very short notice. I promised Mary I would not keep you too long on the eve of your big day so that’s it. Happy Happy Birthday Willie.

Many of our examples of HARP moving off the printed page into community happened at book launches like this.  Sister Margaret MacDonell, Congregation of Notre Dame, hosted the launch of The People’s Photo Album at the CND Health Centre in Sydney.  Sister Margaret and her brother Fr. Malcolm MacDonell appear in the Album because of their association with Alex Laidlaw, Director of Extension 1944-1956.  In keeping with the HARP mantra, “A healthy community knows its history,” we learned from Sister Margaret about the many contributions of the Sisters of Notre Dame to the Antigonish Movement.  Sister Margaret MacDonell died this past September in her 76th year of religious life.

We launched The People’s Photo Album in Ottawa and that event was brimming with healing and reconciling moments. Senator Daniel Christmas of Membertou, the first Mi’kmaw to be appointed to the Canadian Senate—but not the last!—opened the celebration as a Nation-to-Nation acknowledgement that the Antigonish Movement took root in the soil and waters of Mi’kmaki.  Elder John R. Prosper of Paktnkek Mi’kmaw Nation made the arrangements for Elder Ron Julien, who was then living in Ottawa, to attend.  Ron Julien, quite visually impaired, was able to make his way in daylight and arrived an hour before the event. 

The healing moment that will stay with me forever is when Senator Christmas walked in and spotted Elder Ron Julien – their delight in this unexpected reunion warmed up the whole room.  We all learned another piece of history: in the early 1980s the Senator worked as a young staffer for Elder Ron, who was President of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians. Elder Ron Julien died in December 2021.  You will notice that we encourage picture-taking at HARP events – here Eleen Alma, recently appointed as Director of Coady International Institute, is taking photos. 

That story in the Nation’s Capital moved back onto the printed page in Mi’kmaw Fiddler Joe Marble Plays to St. Anne by Elder John R. Prosper and me, the only joint memoir we know of with Truth and Reconciliation themes written by an Indigenous Elder and a Settler. We dedicated our book to Elder Ron Julien. Please join me at the mike John R.  Mi’kmaw Fiddler helped to draw attention to St. Anne’s Church and the urgent need for extensive repairs to this heritage building (built 1867, the same year as Confederation).  At the time of the launch in the Antigonish Heritage Museum over a year ago, the church looked very much like it is on the front cover – the steeple and the cross on a serious lean.  This year on St. Anne’s Day, July 26th, mass was held inside the church for the first time in several years.  A transformation!  John R., can you give us an update on this transformation.

Let’s begin with the Mount Cameron story. Mount Cameron farm was managed by the StFX Extension Department in the 1950s.  Fr. John Angus Rankin was not only a master fiddler and a Sociology Prof, he also managed the Mount Cameron Farm for the Extension Department with a lot of help from the Sisters of St. Martha. This was an early example of cooperative housing and cooperative farming, which lives on in today’s Extension Department under Pauline MacIntosh’s leadership in the Build Better Community Housing movement and in Antigonish Affordable Housing under Colleen Cameron’s leadership. Who has a family connection to those early days of Mount Cameron?  Who lives now on the grounds of Mount Cameron?  

For my next off-the-page report, I will take you to an Indigenous author and artist on the other coast.  Patricia June Vickers is a member of the eagle clan from the northwest B.C. village of Gitxaala. She wrote Singing to the Darkness, which she calls a visual inquiry that takes up the transgenerational trauma related to the atrocities committed by clergy and others in Canada’s residential schools.  Right now, her art exhibition at Regent College on UBC campus entitled Healing Journey, offers a way forward inspired not by the church as an institution but by the teachings of Jesus.  To Patricia, “colonization is a curse. And a curse is a spiritual act. A curse cannot be reversed (in traditional Indigenous spirituality). It can only be transformed.” Art can perform the hard work of transformation.

In the Arms of Inup tells the healing journey of Jeremias Tecu as a refugee from the Guatemalan genocide to a new life in Fredericton, New Brunswick with the support of the Maritime-Guatemalan Breaking the Silence group.  Jeremias and author and mental health counsellor Eve Mills Allen have established the Inup Collective, a healing centre to offer support and trauma counselling to newcomers and refugees.  It sounds quite a lot like SAFE – Syria Antigonish Families Embrace.

Celeste Snowber, author of The Marrow of Longing, is the daughter of a mom who survived the Armenian genocide. Celeste is a poet and a dancer. She dances the poems in her collection off the page. Here Celeste is dancing the “longing” in her poem that inspired the title of her book:

Longing resides in my marrow
A land inside my chest
Asks to be familiar
A place I know belongs
To my longing. 

In 2021, Celeste engaged in dialogue on transgenerational trauma with another poet Angela Bowden in Atlantic Books Today.

My botanical storybook – Hmmm – M the Humdinger – also moved off the page into the schools. The botanical collages along the window are illustrations for the story.  Lynn Casey as principal of Fanning Education Centre and Canso Academy picked up Hmmm at The Curious Cat and next thing I hear, students are making their own botanical collages of Humming in Nature and Connecting in Nature.  And then Hmmm became part of their successful application for a grant through Canada’s Playful Schools Network, which leverages learning through play to improve engagement and well-being for traditionally marginalized students in grades 4 to 8.

HARP boast two memoir-like books on 19th century pioneer botanist, conservationist, and author Catharine Parr Traill, my own ReReading Catharine Parr Traill and Laura Elliott’s The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill ; Laura lives in Catharine’s final home in Lakefield, Ontario, which is shown in Koren Smoke’s artwork on the back cover.  Both our books have been moving off the page. The story of The Ghost cover is featured in the latest issue of Atlantic Books Today.  Settler-Indigenous cooperation forms the backstory to both of these books.  

Anishinaabe artist Koren Smoke of Alderville First Nation at Rice Lake, Ontario created the illustrations for ReReading Catharine Parr Traill and the back cover image for The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill. Maurice Switzer, also a citizen of Alderville First Nation, wrote the Foreword to my book, and herein, an example of how the market economy and the gift economy co-exist: In 2022, Maurice Switzer was appointed Chair of the Nipissing University Indigenous Council on Education in North Bay. And who was the University President at the time? Dr. Kevin Walmsley, who many of you will know from his time as Academic VP at StFX.  The next thing we know, we have an order for ReReading for the library at Nipissing University.  

The four women contributing to the two CPT books have a cooperative venture on the go—that would be Laura and me, the authors, Koren Smoke, cover artist and illustrator, and Cathy Lin, the cover digital designer.  Representing different cultures, generations, and art practices, we prepared a YouTube dialogue on the theme of Seeing the Unseen, Hearing the Unspoken, highlighting the 19th-century resonances between English art critic John Ruskin and pioneer botanist Catharine Parr Traill. We have created a public social media resource on the healing arts in the context of colonization.

How about John Graham-Pole who has been writing up a storm on the HARP label over the past five years. I’m biased, but I think his memoir in praise of nurses—Grace Notes on Nursing—is his best yet, and judging from the testimonials from doctors and nurses, a lot of others do too.  How have his books moved off the page? The NS School Book Bureau has ordered up copies of his novels, and the Carrefour Atlantic Emporium on the Halifax waterfront ordered several copies of Grace Notes (https://www.carrefouratlanticemporium.com/). All of John’s books are offered as gifts to donors to the Center for Arts and Medicine and the College of Medicine at the University of Florida, where he worked for 30 years. 

As of November 2023, HARP moved off the page and into the digital realm with five of our books:  John’s Young Adult Fiction trilogy plus ReReading Catharine Parr Traill and In the Arms of Inup have been converted to accessible e-books, which means audio of the text and descriptions of the illustrations. The latter two books can be borrowed from Atlantic Reads Digital Library.

The People’s Photo Album with its 800+ photos holds the record for moving off the page.

Take the photo history of the Martin Street Housing Cooperative as an example. In the 1960s, the Extension Department helped to organize cooperative housing for the Black families who were evacuated from their homes on West Street across from the main campus of StFX, supposedly to make room for the new TransCanada Highway. CBC journalist Rose Murphy took up the story, which aired as a documentary on Atlantic Voices.  Tara Reddick asked that my botanical collage of her hand include the apple trees that still grow where Mary and Jim Phee lived on West Street.  

Meinhard Pfanner invited John and me to talk about HARP at the Sherbrooke Culture Club in March of this year.  I had structured my talk around this Kitchen Meeting sketch and pages 108-109 of the Album, showing the 1950s kitchen table of the family of Clyde and Nora Nunn and the handwritten letter from Bruce Nunn – cursive writing!!  That very time the extended community of the Antigonish Movement and public radio were shaken at the staggering loss of Jim Nunn and Clyde Nunn from the group of eight children around that kitchen table.  Our presentation and the reading of Bruce’s letter became an In Memoriam for Jim and Clyde.  I will read Bruce’s letter again for you.

Grace Notes on Nursing was going off the page even before it was in print, in part because so many nurses offered testimonials and also spread the word with their colleagues and in their workplaces.

I began to notice Grace Notes within the Antigonish Movement.  The Sisters of St. Martha stand out as grace notes, essential for harmonizing with the main melody.  And as Sister Margaret MacDonell affirmed, so were the Sisters of Notre Dame.  And so many other unsung heroes like the nurses represented in The People’s Photo Album. Some of these grace notes include Colleen Cameron several times (p.32, p. 56, pp. 94-95, p. 162); the Sisters of St. Martha umpteen times including as caregivers with the Canso Welfare Department 1942; Kendra MacEachern, p. 91; four of the daughters of Leo Coady and Mary Jesse, pp. 120-121; Verna MacDonald, p. 149; Jen MacDougall, p. 159; Maria van Vonderen, pp. 174-175; Sheila Sears, p. 177; John’s sister Mary p. 179; Rosemary Overzet, p. 185 and very likely others that I have missed.

We have adapted Go Make A Difference in the World as HARP’s theme song.  And we have a father-son duo to lead us in song.  Thank you, Paul and Garret van de Weil. 

Now I invite you all to pull out your devices and key in the address for HARP’s new website ta-da: www.tryhealingarts.ca

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