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First Downie Wenjack Legacy Room in Canada to be launched in Picton

Darkspark was invited to PEC’s Sophiasburgh Central School – the first non-Indigenous school to complete a Four Directions program. Students wrote songs as reflections of their learning and recorded them in a remote studio set up in their school. – Photo courtesy Darkspark

The work of a Grade 7/8 class at Sophiasburgh Central School has inspired the creation of the nation’s first permanent Downie-Wenjack Legacy Room.

Last month, the students participated in a transformative arts-education project to write and record songs in response to Canada’s colonial history. Students took part in The Four Directions Project, led by local not-for-profit Darkspark, an arts education organization that uses songwriting, recording and pop culture as engagement tools in schools across Canada. The Four Directions Project was conceptualized in collaboration with a Grade 8 class from the Quinte Mohawk School in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Participating youth discover how colonial prejudices and stereotypes are created and maintained – and may be broken. These lessons are designed to encourage youth to believe their voices can create change in their communities and world.

It appears their work may have done just that by inspiring the creation of the first permanent Downie Wenjack Legacy Room. The launch is set for Tuesday, June 13 at 7 p.m., upstairs at Books & Company, Picton.

In the spirit of the call for action from The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, the Legacy Room initiative aims to create physical places where acts of, and discussion about, reconciliation can thrive.

Professional musicians and Darkspark founders Melissa Larkin and D’Ari Lisle approached David Sweet and Isabelle Patton, of Picton’s Books & Company, to host a public presentation of the students’ work. That meeting resulted in the decision to take the support of this work one step further: to create a Downie Wenjack Legacy Room in Books & Company’s Miss Lily’s Café.

“For a community to be healthy and to thrive, its people need to feel at ease to communicate openly with one another,” said Sweet. “People of differing cultures and backgrounds learn about each other through their stories. The Legacy Room will provide a place within the community where Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people may meet to share stories, art, and music. We hope sharing brings reconciliation. Reconciliation is needed to bring healing, and we are proud to be able to work with the Downie Wenjack Fund to take steps towards this goal.”

The Legacy Room initiative, is the brainchild of Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Morley Googoo, who represents Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Mi’kmaq leader’s plan is to encourage companies, particularly those in the hospitality sector, to designate special rooms where Indigenous issues can be discussed and reconciliation can become a reality.

The Legacy Room Initiative is supported by The Downie Wenjack Fund. The fund was created by Gord and Mike Downie as well as the family of Chanie Wenjack – a young boy killed by the residential school system – and is focused on creating new relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

“Seeing this work come full circle is a testament to this community,” said D’Ari Lisle, Darkspark co-founder/producer. “Darkspark teaches students about how popular music has and can have social impact and generate social change – something that Gord Downie has proven again and again. The student’s heartfelt songs dig into the dark, yet let the light shine through. The fact that our students’ work has contributed to making a difference in the community with the creation of a Downie Wenjack Legacy Room here is a truly beautiful thing. Thanks to our community and Books & Company for catching the vision and making this happen.”

The community presentation of this work was made possible with support from The County Foundation and the Canada 150 fund.

Participants from Sophiasburgh Public School. Photo courtesy Darkspark

Filed Under: Arts & CultureFeatured ArticlesHastings & Prince Edward District School Board

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  1. What important work. A first step in healing. Congrats to David and Books and Company

  2. Matthew Sheahan says:

    This is awesome! Congratulations Sophiasburgh and kudos to David Sweet and Books and Company for the public space for the Legacy Room. Reconciliation is a key and primary issue for all people in this country. Well done!!!

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