Storytelling Festival: Word in the Basin

Roy Johnson with Arline Davis and Anne Edwards at the Village Baker, participating in a discussion on Lumberton history following Syl Gauvreau's storytelling event.
Roy Johnson with Arline Davis and Anne Edwards

Have you ever wondered why some people who talk to themselves look so happy? We have a's because they're whispering great stories under their breath as they putter along. Life's trials and tribulations get spun into something more manageable and compelling. In story form, things aren't quite as perplexing!

Directors and staff at the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History believe that stories make a difference. In fact, we're convinced they do! Stories move us through modern barriers of time, space, cultural bias, and social stigma. They allow us to reflect on events from an emotional viewpoint. This helps us better understand the storyteller's message and its broader application to our own lives and communities.

The Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History is working with the City of Cranbrook and other partners to develop a storytelling festival that shares knowledge of local and regional history. We are calling this festival Word in the Basin: A Festival of Narration. The festival is thus defined by topic - regional history and mythic story - and geography - the Canadian lands that drain into the Columbia and Kootenay River systems. As a community-based non-profit organization, we see this festival as a way of uniting people on issues of place and heritage.

A crowd smitten with the story spun by Angus Davis at the Kootenay Roasting Company.
Kootenay Roasting Company

On October 12, 2005 the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History hosted a storytelling workshop in partnership with the City of Cranbrook. The purpose was to meet with storytellers and discuss a path for public celebration of historic and mythic stories. The diversity of workshop attendees was truly remarkable - people from Cranbrook, Kimberley, Fernie and Moyie all came to share their interest in storytelling. They also shared their stories, making for an enjoyable evening.

Workshop host Angus Davis talked about developing stories from personal experience. He suggested when a storyteller relates to his or her material on a personal level, the audience will often do the same. Herman Alpine spoke of the power stories have in bridging the isolation within communities. Facilitating intercultural dialogue and creating awareness of community diversity through time are two important goals for our organization. They will help focus our efforts as Word in the Basin develops.

Storytelling enthusiast Joe Pierre welcoming his audience at Katrina's Books. Joe began the telling of the Ktunaxa creation story with a Ktunaxa greeting of good day, Ki?suk kyukyit. Sharing and preserving indigenous languages is an important part of building community strength through story.
Syl Gauvreau in front of a stack of goodies at the Village Baker. Syl acquainted himself with the material for his story on Lumberton by interviewing Lumberton residents and interested citizens.
Syl Gauvreau

Following the workshop of October 12, the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History worked with four experienced storytellers to test the concept of a festival of narration within business premises of the downtown Cranbrook area. This locale was chosen specifically because we believe that local history is best promoted through local partnerships. In addition, we couldn't have picked a more appropriate landscape. Some of our partner merchants own businesses on lots that were owned by the first citizens of Cranbrook!

Within a period of two weeks at the start of November, five merchants hosted a total of five unique storytelling events. The stories transported the audience from Kaslo (in the West Kootenay region of B.C.) right through to Roosville, bordering the 49th parallel. One storyteller spoke in the crusty tongue of his father; another storyteller shared the creation story of the Ktunaxa Nation, using Ktunaxa place names to punctuate the local landscape. The lineages of famous characters like Fred Roo were revealed, and the influence of B.C. Spruce Mills on the Lumberton area was shared.

Our initial run of Word in the Basin: A Festival of Narration was a great success. From this experience, we are working to develop a comprehensive plan for an annual festival.

We expect the festival to grow in the downtown area of Cranbrook and other communities within the Columbia Basin. There are few limits on the history that we wish to share. Authentic stories that give depth to our cultural landscape abound. Connecting race, religion, nature, and culture is a necessary part of learning from our past. We are committed to continuing the exploration of this process.

Melba Hanson, speaking about her mother's experience of the 1918 flu in the Cranbrook area. Important information is often embedded in the stories that our ancestors tell. From left to right: Joe Pierre, Syl Gauvreau, Gerald Joliffe, Denise Regina, Melba Hanson, Mel Ratch and Lori Woensdregt, a few of the attendees at the workshop.
Storytelling Workshop
Joanne Bellanger, owner of Lotus Books, and Mountain Mumma (a.k.a. Heather deJong), local storyteller.
There is a nice parallel to be drawn between books and stories - both excite our imaginations, at the same time forcing us to consider the truths of each.
Joanne Bellanger and Mountain Mumma