"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Great Village Welcomes the World at the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Arts Festival

From 19 to 21 August 2011, Great Village, N.S., was a bee hive of activity. Hundreds of people flocked to the village to be part of the EB100 Arts Festival. People from the community and along the Fundy Shore, from all over Nova Scotia, from many parts of Canada and throughout the United States, and from the far corners of the world – from Australia to Brazil to Ireland – converged in the village for a big birthday party. Everyone gathered for one reason: to celebrate the life, art and 100th birthday of Elizabeth Bishop. A truly festive atmosphere, helped by the great weather, reigned supreme for three days.

Traffic jams in Great Village during the festival. Photograph by Grant Dickie of Great Village Antiques.

To try to account for all the bustle and fun would take many posts. John has begun to put up some video that he shot during those days – over time, more of it will appear, giving a glimpse of some of what happened. I have wanted to write something ever since the festival ended, but as soon as it was over, I went immediately into planning for the next EB100 events (one of which is already underway: the ViewPoint Gallery “One Art” exhibition, information about which has already been posted). We are planning a big EB100 finale, which will take place from 30 September to 2 October, which is fast approaching! Information about it will be posted very soon.

I do want to reflect a little, though, on those three days in August, when the world arrived at the doorstep of Great Village, gathered because of a curiosity about, keen interest in or utter devotion to Elizabeth Bishop. I want to thank the EBSNS and the Fundy Shore communities for embracing the festival so wholeheartedly. The main organizers of the event, Joy Laking and Laurie Gunn, brought together a phenomenal group of volunteers. They all deserve a standing ovation for their hard work and their lively, warm hospitality. I want to thank all the artists (authors, musicians, actors, painters, film-makers) who participated in a myriad of ways. Their creative energy and their amazing artistry were tremendous tributes to and honourings of Bishop. I want to thank the over 70 English as a second language summer school students from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, N.S., who came out to help build cardboard boats and float them in Logan Spencer’s pond. What a parade they made through the village carrying their boats and flags. I want to thank the Great Village Farmers Market for adding that truly “home-made” touch to Saturday.

Building the cardboard boats on the lawn of St. James United Church. Photo by Grant Dickie of Great Village Antiques

Without a doubt, the most popular activity (which is saying a great deal because every event or activity was fully attended) was the horse and wagon rides, up and down Scrabble Hill Road. Gordon Lewis, who represented “Pa” (Bishop’s maternal grandfather William Bulmer, think of the poem “Manners”), and Beth Terry who portrayed Elizabeth Bishop and provided a lively, lovely reminiscence of the village during the rides, deserve our heartfelt gratitude. There was also a delightful “Little Miss Elizabeth Bishop” at home in her grandparents’ house, portrayed by April Sharpe, with her mother Patti as “Gammie,” Bishop’s maternal grandmother. A costumed Dick Akerman offered historic walking tours, giving all who walked with him a deep understanding of the fascinating past of the village. Everyone entered into the spirit of that long ago time, but most of all they warmly welcomed the hundreds of people who rode the wagon, visited the house or wandered the village.

The workshops, author readings, village tours and concerts; the community lunch, supper, tea and receptions; the old-time church service; the wagon, boats, costumes, books, banners, baskets; the paintings and films were the trigger for all sorts of wonderful connections between and among people – everyone who came had one thing in common: Elizabeth Bishop – and she brought about connection with people from near and far. Bishop the world traveler who had an abiding tie with her family, her village and Nova Scotia was the catalyst for all manner of new connections, which will continue for years to come. Great Village was the site of this energized activity for three wonderful days in August 2011.

P.S. It is also important to thank our funders for their support. It was heartening to have funding from three levels of government: Canadian Heritage; the Province of Nova Scotia through Communities, Culture and Heritage, as well as Economic and Rural Development and Tourism; and the Municipality of Colchester, as well as the Colchester Regional Development Agency. Local businesses donated: Masstown Market, Oxford Frozen Foods, Wilson’s Fuel, Lowland Gardens. The Robert Pope Foundation, the Charles and Mary MacLennan Foundation, the Fundy Foundation. Individuals: Joy Laking, Suzie LeBlanc, Randall Sargent, Dick Lemon. If I have forgotten anyone, it is unintnentional. Our gratitude for all support is immense.

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