A stone structure that was first built in 1972 meant to bring a church and a community closer together is now being rebuilt in an effort to help rebuild that same community.
Originally a collaboration between Chief James Mason and Reverend Earl Stotesbury of Saugeen First Nation‘s Wesley United Church, the Saugeen amphitheatre is one of the largest dry stone projects in North America. It is a local landmark in the community about 200 km northwest of Toronto, along the Bruce Peninsula.
Created as a place for First Nations and non-First Nations people to gather it is made of just under one million tons of limestone from a local quarry, and can seat 1,500 people. Over the years it has been a site for weddings, concerts, shows and yearly fireworks displays.
But it has seen some deterioration since being finished in 1982, as has the community. Jennifer Kewageshig, Saugeen First Nation’s employment and training officer and the program manager of the amphitheatre grounds crew said, “The men were falling into alcoholism addictions and they weren’t being the men they were supposed to be within our culture to care for their children and to walk that good path.”
That’s how in 2012, the chief and council tasked Kewageshig with creating an employment program for the men in the community. The amphitheatre repairs presented an opportunity to create a training and employment program, so she approached civil engineer Richard Nancarrow who took a look at the structure and realized the job was beyond his skill set so he found Dean McClellan — a dry stone master craftsman who conveniently lives only an hour away from the reserve.
That first attempt ran into trouble after a few years, workers were failing to show up reliably; “We didn’t realize what we were up against,” Kewageshig said, referring to the grip of addictions in the community. So a few years after the stoppage they tried again, with a new tactic.
Instead of working for the band, the men work for McClellan’s company. Instead of just working for this one job, they can work toward certification. Instead of just building a structure, they are building themselves a better future. Richard Jacobs, a single father with three children, said “The job I’d say brought me back up and gave me confidence in myself.”
Your Good News Story of the Day, which can be found here, is about a community rebuilding more than a stone structure. Kewageshig said “Our people know that it was built as part of reconciliation.” And hopefully as part of that understanding a new future can be made. Though the amphitheatre structure is expected to be finished this spring, the full project should take another three years as they want to add a visitors centre to optimize tourism.
Story and Image from CBC.