TORONTO—There are a lot of things that make Manitoulin Island stand out as a unique and diverse community, but when a natural oral history project documentary team cast about the Island for something that really highlights Manitoulin, they didn’t have to look very far past Manitowaning and the jewel that is the Debajehmujig Storytellers.
The Tale of a Town documentary producers had approached TVO with a concept to bring some of the stories they had been recording about Ontario communities onto the small screen and what developed was a 10-part short video series that visited big cities and small towns across Ontario to uncover what makes each of those places unique. The documentaries “step inside iconic community landmarks and meet the people who breathe life into local culture.”
From Corsini’s in Hamilton to the historic Regent Theatre in Picton, TVO viewers were offered the opportunity to discover the stories that make those main streets and communities special. The documentaries blend “playful animation with real voices and archival images to tell local tales.”
Main Street Ontario filmmaker Charles Kechabaw related how the project’s mobile recording studio travelled across Ontario documenting those stories. After interviewing Manitoulin Publishing’s Rick McCutcheon in 2012, Mr. Kechabaw and his team struck gold when Mr. McCutcheon described Debajehmujig and its own creation story as a potential subject. The rest is, well, oral history.
The series was well-situated on the TVO schedule, opening up for The Agenda. “It was a great lead-in for us,” said Mr. Kechabaw.
As to the subject matter, Mr. Kechabaw was effusive in his description of the Debaj crew. “Ron (Berti), Joe (Osawabine), Bruce (Noakwegijig) were wonderful people to speak with,” he said. “We were so lucky to be able to put together this story and highlight this organization.”
The documentary project was more than just a job for the production team whose passion for their work was clearly evident as the conversation unfolded. “We want to inspire people to head back to downtown and remember why main street matters, how supporting small business can make a big difference in a community and what local pride really means to Canadians,” said Mr. Kechabaw.
He explained the motivation that drives that passion. “The Tale of a Town is a vehicle for public engagement and audience development, connecting people with their past through our innovative approach to the gathering and retelling of stories that has received critical acclaim for its high artistic merit and social relevance.”
“Across Canada, countless main streets, along with the stories they hold, are in the midst of disappearance as old gives way to new, local gives way to global, diversity gives way to uniformity and life gives way to death,” he said. “It is our hope that The Tale of a Town will save these ‘almost lost stories’ that reveal our past and inspire a bright future for our main streets in Canada.”
The Tale of a Town—Canada is created and produced by FIXT POINT, a not-for-profit theatre and media company based in Toronto with a mandate to “inspire audiences to imagine change.”
FIXT POINT in turn is led by the husband and wife duo of Mr. Ketchabaw (managing director) and Lisa Marie DiLiberto (artistic director).
The video segment featuring Debaj can be viewed at tvo.org/video/programs/main-street-ontario/main-street-ontario-manitoulin-island.
But Mr. Ketchabaw suggests that folks go even further. “People should go and engage with Debajehmujig,” he said. “Go to their Creation Centre and check out what they are doing there.”
As for The Tale of the Town project and its investigation of the stories behind Ontario’s vast and diverse communities, the project continues on.
“Our storygathering work will continue into 2017 and beyond with The Living Archive, a future-facing project that builds upon The Tale of a Town while expanding its scope,” said Mr. Ketchabaw. “The Living Archive is a multi-platform project designed specifically to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary that will travel Highway 11, Canada’s longest road, actively engaging with thousands of Canadians and celebrating our diversity. As we define what “community” means to us in 2017 and articulate our visions for the future for our communities, this participatory initiative will strive to give voice to how, together, we can create a more inclusive Canada in the future.”