Saturday, September 07, 2013

More Central Park-ing

Central Park, an urban park bounded by Ellice and Cumberland Avenues and Edmonton and Carlton Streets in downtown Winnipeg, was founded in 1893.

The city’s Public Parks Board originally called Central Park (and the three other parks established at the same time) "ornamented squares or breathing spaces.”

The land, which was mostly gumbo in summer, was purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company for $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in debentures. (An elaborate form of credit now replaced by the expression, “the cheque is in the mail.”)

According to the Historical Buildings Committee, “thousands of loads of manure and soil were brought in and, while settling subsequently occurred, this new base created extremely lush lawns and gardens.”

Though at various points there was also a bandshell and tennis courts, one of the main features of the park is/was the Waddell Fountain, which I mentally refer to as ‘the resentment fountain.’

The fountain was named after Emily Margaret Waddell, a childless temperance worker who lived two blocks away from the Park. She died in 1909 but a rather unique stipulation in her will wasn’t triggered until 1911, when her husband Thomas wanted to re-marry.

He was shocked to discover that upon his remarriage, her will required him to donate $10,000 to the city for a fountain.

This being Winnipeg, he didn’t…exactly…have the money, his funds being tied up in a real estate deal. But, eventually, he came up with the cash-o and the fountain was completed in 1914.

By the 1980s, the neighbourhood surrounding the park had changed. Instead of the stately-pleasure-domes of the upper-middle-class, the park was slowly surrounded by large apartment complexes and fell into what city planners like to call disrepair.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t still heavily used by residents, just that the fountain was sort of broken. And there would often be people struggling with addictions sitting quietly on the benches, watching the children play.

In 2010, a variety of funders, public and private and community-based, raised five million dollars for a fancy reno that includes the city’s largest splash pad and wader pool, an AstroTurf soccer field and a two-story slide/toboggan run fronting on Ellice. Oh, and the resentment fountain works again.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of a mini heatwave, musician Natanielle Felicitas and artist Greg Chomichuk and I were assigned to go make collaborative art at Central Park.

Each of us approached the hundred and twenty-year-old park differently. Natanielle wandered around recording the sounds of the park and thinking musically. Greg hauled three plywood panels and a bag of markers to the park and plunked himself down on the grass.

I alternated wandering around, looking at the trees and talking to people with stretches of sitting, scribbling in my notebook. When I needed help in my thinking about the trees, arborist Christopher Barkman agreed to come walk with me. When I needed help with my thinking about the neighbourhood and the city that surrounds it, I did some research.

After a week, we turned our materials in to Gwen Collins, Ardith Boxall and Andraea Sartison, who crafted the piece you are about to see with help from Tanja Woloshen.

Each of us approached this work with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Each of us approached collaboration with a slightly different idea of what it meant and what it could mean.

But I think I can safely say safely say, without having to put a lien on your imaginations, that you’ll enjoy your time in Central Park, both the literal and the figurative versions.

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This is my intro for the collaborative artwork on Central Park presented this Sunday at 2 pm as part of the One Trunk Festival.

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