SHELBURNE, N.S. – Community roots run deep in The Secret Park in Shelburne.
So named by decades of children attending the nearby Little People’s Place daycare centre, The Secret Park has not been officially opened yet, but it is already a place close to the heart of many in the community and even more so now with the installation and unveiling of a carved panel created by renowned Mi’kmaw artist Ed Benham that speaks to the way the landscape once was.
Located on George Street just past the Shelburne Historic Shipyards Complex, tucked in behind a small building is The Secret Park.
“That’s what the children at Little People’s Place have been calling it for over 30 years,” says Susan Elliott, executive director of the childcare facility.
“It’s a nice grassy place with trees,” she says, where the children are often taken to enjoy the outdoors. When the town put a contest on Facebook to name the park, the name Secret Park, Elliott says, “came up again and again because the young people who used to call it that remembered it and staff remembered that what we called it, so they decided to call it that.”
For the past year the town has been working with Acadia First Nation and the Ponhook Trust Fund on a special project for The Secret Park showcasing the artwork of Shelburne resident Benham. The piece, titled Returning Home, was unveiled at a ceremony on Oct. 13. (In Mi'kmaw, Returning Home is known as APAJI ELMIEY.)
The hand-carved landscape panel features a traditional Mi’kmaq encampment in a coastal area.
“It’s supposed to be a fall scene just before camp was broken up and they move further inland, so this is coastal,” says Benham. “They travelled in small groups. They travelled and hunted together, then converged in a more central location before moving inland for the winter months.”
Looking across Shelburne harbour, it’s not too hard to imagine the scene being on the landscape.
For Acadia First Nation member Jeannette Nickerson, who also lives in Shelburne and was instrumental in the development of the project, says the artwork “means community, bringing our Mi‘kmaq people and our community members together.”
“Our people would have come up through here to sell their wares,” she says. “When they (the town) decided on this location, that was so awesome because our people would have walked this land to get up here to sell their wares. It’s a beautiful piece. Its breathtaking.”
Acadia First Nation Chief Deborah Robinson was on hand for the unveiling ceremony and dedication.
“The thing I like most about this day is the fact we get to share with you one of our esteemed Mi’kmaq artists,” said Robinson. “I only hope this piece will be another way of showing Shelburne the connection that we have as Mi’kmaq to the community, to you our brothers and sisters and all who live here.”
Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall says the town was both pleased and privileged to have Benham as part of the community, calling his artwork “magnificent,” thanking both the Ponhook Trust Fund and Acadia First Nation for their contribution to The Secret Park.
An official opening for The Secret Park is planned but not scheduled yet. Signage has been ordered, LED lights have been hung from tree branches and the town plans to add to the furnishings in the park. The property would have been part of the Muir-Cox Shipyard back in the day, and was probably used to stage milled lumber, says town chief administrative officer Darren Shupe.
Just one more connection The Secret Park has with the community.
Ed Benham bio:
Mi’kmaw artist Benham is mostly self-taught. This past August he was invited to exhibit and talk about his work at the Canadian National Exhibition.
His bio for the exhibition reads: “Edwin (Ed) returned to his hometown of Shelburne on Nova Scotia's south shore in 1988. After 10 years of working in Ontario, he, his wife Melanie and daughter Stephanie settled just kilometres from where Ed lived as a child. Shortly after returning to Shelburne Ed met several local duck decoy and mantle duck carvers and was fascinated by their level of skill and attention to fine detail. At the same time, he began to re-explore his indigenous heritage, merging it with his new-found fascination with wood carving, and taking his imagination in new directions.
“Ed, a Mi'kmaw of Acadia First Nation, began woodcarving in 1990. His craft is largely self-taught, mixing traditional and contemporary, to create truly unique pieces. The work itself, for the most part, is done with hand-tools such as knives with interchangeable blades and chisels with profiles ranging in width from 1/8th inch to over an inch, with sanding, shaping and finishing all done by hand. Power tools may be used in rare instances in the roughing out process, but generally this is also done by hand except where not practical.
“Ed has also worked in other mediums to include watercolours and oils as well as line drawings, and while in Ontario spent five years working as a model maker/finish designer for the jewelry industry. To date Ed has works in collections throughout Canada, several states in the U.S., Australia, as well as Greenland and Germany. In addition, Ed is a blues/rock drummer and has also worked as a background performer (extra) in “A” The Scarlet Letter, Virginia’s Run and, most recently, in the made-for-TV miniseries The Book Of Negros, all shot in his hometown of Shelburne.”