On land where Métis families once grew their vegetables, the footsteps of high school students now track a path across a manicured lawn.
Until the early 1950s, the site where Aden Bowman Collegiate is located was home to a Métis community of some three dozen families. That legacy was recently recognized through a unique partnership between the school and Saskatoon Transit, along with the support of the community through Métis Elder, Senator Nora Cummings.
A bus shelter located at the school was transformed into a piece of art that recognizes the history of the land and the people who once called it home. Designed by students in consultation with Cummings, the unique, metal-cut walls of the shelter represent and share the story.
The students were asked to create original, timeless and commemorative art that celebrated Métis heritage, history and values and the memories of Elder Cummings. They created the art using inspiration from an engagement session with Cummings, keeping in mind functionality and design of the shelter.
"Nora Cummings told us how this place used to be a community garden and how the road allowance Métis lived here," explained teacher Tamara Rusnak. "That inspired the students to create drawings of the plants — such as crocuses, bluebells, saskatoon berries — that grew in the area and which made up most of the design."
The memories Cummings shared with students and their teacher are of family life, the importance of community working together and the effort to maintain cultural identity
"This is where we would plow all the garden and it would be planted by all of our families. Everybody took the initiative of looking after that garden," she said. "We would help weed the gardens but while doing that my kokum was always there, or one of the old people were there, and as we were doing that they would be talking to us and telling us stories of long ago so we would understand who we were as a people, a culture, and an identity.
"There is a lot of history here. You are so fortunate, you young people, as you stand here today that you are on sacred land."
For students, discovering the history of the school's location and of the Métis people who once called it home was an important learning experience. Being able to translate that knowledge into art and share it through a public art project made it more significant.
"It was something that I never expected to happen within my life here at Aden Bowman. I never expected that I would be able to create something that would stay here even after I graduate," said student Brianna Painchaud, who felt a personal connection to the project because of her Métis background
"It was a great experience to learn the history behind Aden Bowman. It was interesting to learn from Elder Nora Cummings' stories about how this environment, this soil, was still a learning environment but between a bunch of families and communities who learned from each other and passed on their stories to one another."
The project is part of the City of Saskatoon and Saskatoon Transit's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action No. 79, which calls upon the government, Aboriginal organizations and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. That includes integrating Indigenous history, heritage values and memory practices into Canada's history.
“This beautiful bus shelter is just one example of what we hope will be many collaborations with the youth in our community,” said Jim McDonald, director of Saskatoon Transit. “This project serves not only as a bus shelter in a location where there otherwise wouldn’t have been one, but also celebrates the rich cultural history of the area.”
The shelter bears the Aden Bowman colours of gold and green and includes a brief description of the project and its goals so users can learn about the project and the site's history. It is one of several similar projects Saskatoon Transit plans to undertake throughout the city during the coming year.
Anya Pekurovski, one of the students involved in the project, hopes others appreciate the art and the history it embodies as much as she does.
"I love being part of community projects and especially being involved in this sort of learning experience," she said. "I didn't know our school used to be a Métis garden and that was a really cool learning experience for me. I hope more people will have the opportunity to learn about that and our city's history. Métis and aboriginal history is really important to learn."