The Coming Spring
Completed June 2018
Victoria Park, Saskatoon
stainless steel, H 35' W 24'x24' geothermal heating cooling, wind movement, sound
These images show the Coming Spring, completed June 20, 2018 for the Saskatoon Tribal Council in Saskatoon. Honouring the victims of the residential school system and in hopes of reconciliation as part of Canada 150 this work is intended to welcome all people of all races, religions, nationalities and gender identification to live together in Saskatoon in peace and harmony. The spires are actually a universal form common to virtually all nations and religions.
Here the longest spire suggests First Nations long history and the shorter one that of the Metis Nation. Together they express the fundamental connection of these two communities.
From high above on the sculpture the sound of the wind-chimes is intended to remind us of the tragedy of the lost children of all Treaty Six communities yet in the same instant we are reminded of the hope and richness that children’s voices bring to our lives.
The Coming Spring
In January of 2017 the Saskatoon Tribal Council and the City of Saskatoon requested expressions of interest from qualified Canadian artists to honour Canada’s 150th anniversary with a commemorative artwork that acknowledges reconciliation in Saskatoon. Saskatoon has evolved as a city with rich traditions, histories, languages and artistic expressions of communities such as First Nations and Métis, Ukrainians, Germans, Russian, British as well as Francophone and English speaking Canadians. Contributing to this richness are new immigrants from countries all over the world who have chosen Saskatoon as their home. The competition called "Where our Paths Cross" was intended to explore Indigenous, settler and newcomer relations in Saskatoon. In April 2017, following presentations by the three finalists, a jury representing the City of Saskatoon, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Central Urban Metis Federation Inc., Office of the Treaty Commission and other community groups, leaders and institutions in Saskatchewan, selected a project called The Coming Spring by sculptor Gordon Reeve. Following is the text of Reeve’s presentation and an accompanying series of montage images of the sculpture in situ. Press Release April 2017.
I want to offer my greetings to the Treaty Elders and to all of the people of Treaty Six Territory. I have the greatest respect for your ancestors, history, traditions and way of life and thank you for being the past present and future caretakers of this land. Thanks to the Members of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, Central Urban Metis Federation and City of Saskatoon for this opportunity to be here today to honour Canada’s 150th Anniversary and to share my vision for a commemorative artwork that acknowledges reconciliation in Saskatoon. My sculpture is intended to create a place where all communities will come together to share their traditions, histories, languages and artistic expressions. Please look at my proposed sculpture as a great framework honouring ancestral lands first but also a framework where every person may step inside individually or with groups of friends and feel that this magnificent and ancient land welcomes them. This sculpture will not depend on words or plaques to explain its purpose or give it meaning. It will come to life when people encounter it, or meet beneath its arch to share stories, to sing and dance and perhaps in the simple act of a handshake between friends celebrate the crossing of their life-paths. At that moment they will look ahead and see a grassy plain below, a distant living river and above a sky, as few people in the world see it - vast, clear and blue.
To all of the children and families who suffered for seven generations under the Residential School System and to all of the survivors, some of whom are here today, I want you to know you are forever in my heart. I am prepared with deep humility and respect to help carry some of the burden of memory and work toward reconciliation. I support all articles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action - and honour the spirit and intent of article 79. I offer my friendship in a way described by Justice Murray Sinclair when speaking about Reconciliation.
"Reconciliation turns on this concept: I want to be your friend and I want you to be mine and if we are friends then I'll have your back when you need it and you'll have mine."
I chose a certain site in Victoria Park because it seemed to encompass what I understand to be fundamental to Indigenous culture – the presence of flowing water, fertile earth and an open sky. The original assigned site within the trees was actually quite beautiful on its own BUT I felt to use it would destroy a natural balance amongst those seven trees. Elsewhere on the Park site I felt whatever I proposed would interfere with the free flowing of many cultural activities. I remember being near the skate park and looking north and seeing a hill topped by trees. The city was behind and at a nice distance.
I had been at Wanuskewin, a World heritage site just outside Saskatoon (an ancient valley, inhabited for at least 7000 years) the day before visiting the Victoria Park site. As I climbed to the top of the hill in Victoria Park and looked down toward the river I had a strong sense that this place held an echo of Wanuskewin, rare in a deeply troubled urban area. I have prepared all of my images therefore with this site in mind but I understand that this specific site may not be allowed. If that’s the case, should my work be chosen, I would leave it up to the committee to determine the appropriate site. I would ask you however to look at the hill site I have chosen as a place to think about the sun, the river and the land and remember the sacred words First Nations pledge in every treaty “ that all treaties last as long as the grass grows, the sun shines and the rivers flow.” Surely this site is a visual expression of that pledge between cultures.
Description of the Sculpture
I propose a work of burnished stainless steel. It will reflect the sun and even the moon. It does not rust and resists vandalism. It will be 35’ high at its highest point, 27’ to the top of the arch and 20’ wide at inside ground level. It will sit on four 12” diameter concrete piles and be open to the sky and the landscape. The sun’s movement will cast strong linear shadows of lines crossing on the grass below. The jingles and fringe will be made of either anodized stainless steel or aluminum depending on the sound quality each affords. The lower part of the main structure will be geo-thermally heated and cooled so that people touching it will find natural comfort in winter and summer from Mother Earth.
The longer pole, pointing north, represents First Nations long history and the shorter pole pointing south, represents Metis history. Both are anchored in the earth. Their paths cross, high above us as their cultures did in the distant past. On the First Nations pole there are 29 sets of healing jingles, representing the children taken from each of the twenty-nine communities in Treaty Six territory. The multi-coloured, metal sash fringes on the Metis pole signify generations of people who suffered injustice and denial of Metis history and culture. Made of wind-chime metal the jingles and fringes will give voice to the wind, their healing jingle-sound reminding us all forever of the voices of children taken by the residential system and the tragedy of families broken by institutional and societal racism. The combined voice of sash fringe and jingles will also remind us of the fundamental role of women and mothers in every culture for they connect us to earth and start our journey to sky. May we always hear their voices.
I always let the site speak to me. When I started thinking of this place, before ever being in Saskatoon, I saw a vast green sea stretching from one end of this continent to the other. I believed I would somehow find the image for my sculpture in familiar places or common objects on the site, perhaps things that would have been known here from earliest times. I had seen images of medicine circles and I think that was the start for me. I wanted people to think about the grandness of the prairie sky so I made my circle very large and tipped it on edge so that people could see it from great distances simply framing the ever-changing sky. Remembering the sacredness of trees I leaned the great circle against two long poles that supported the circle where they crossed. My drawing already looked beautiful to me maybe because it seemed to have a purpose or a rightness about it. In my mind I could see many First Nations people dancing and near it. I started looking online to see if my image might relate to something that did actually exist and was shocked to discover it looked something like a beaver pelt stretcher - except both supports should be on one side. Of course it was not my intent to make a pelt stretcher yet it is interesting to think that these tools were an early and common connection between First Nations, European traders and Metis people. Surely Victoria Park must have been a trapping site for even now I see there are lots of beavers living along the riverbank. The sky, the open land, the river and the ever-changing light of the seasons have inspired and guided the making of every one of my works. This sculpture, that I call the Coming Spring, has forms, the circle and the spire, familiar to all of the world’s cultures.
The unbroken ancestral connection, the belonging, of First Nations and Metis people to Earth’s greatest grassland, is unique in history. I believe that Canada’s One Hundred and Fifty years of becoming a fine place to live comes at the turning point in the history of people whose ancestors have lived ten thousand years in this place. For all Canadians this moment of Reconciliation and Welcome is like coming out of a long hard winter and seeing the first patches of grass, A Promise of The Coming Spring.
I can think of no better welcome for new Canadians than to be offered a communal place to share their stories in an open place where nature, beauty, history and all people are valued. With all that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has explained to the world surely it is a miracle of the human spirit that Saskatoon’s Indigenous People are willing, in this action, to welcome all newcomers to Canada and to this territory, in the spirit of Peace and Reconciliation – into The Coming Spring
How it might be used
I did not want to make something that needs signs or explanations. I wanted to create a place that would start by honouring Indigenous Wisdom to share stories, song and dance for it is these things that create community. Most cultures have a celebratory circle dance during which people, using the most widely understood of gestures, the clasping of hands, will spontaneously join in a Circle Dance of Welcome. The sculpture will be thirty-five feet high and twenty feet wide; enough that a dozen people may walk through it side by side while many others dance around it. The highly reflective burnished steel is like the moon in that it reflects sunlight and even at night is easily seen in the ambient light.
Justice Sinclair has also said that all Canadians must be part of this journey of reconciliation, whether they are connected to its history or not.
"I really don't care if you feel responsible for the past. The real question is do you feel a sense of responsibility for the future because that's what this is all about."
My answer to him is yes.
Completion for sculpture The Coming Spring June 2018
Varying natural light conditions on stainless steel
People interacting with the sculpture Wisdom at A Place of Many Grasses
GORDON M. REEVE