Imagine that you have decided to take advantage of a great job opportunity in a northern community. Or maybe COVID has hit your family hard and you have decided to return home for support. Suddenly you find yourself hundreds of kilometres away from the closest Tim Hortons, concert hall, favourite restaurant, family and friends. You assume that the internet will be spotty so you attend your first ZOOM meeting with ‘video off”.
Imagine that you are a professionally trained musician or artist finding yourself in a northern community with limited resources. You need a music studio, recording equipment, a string for your violin, a certain hue of glass bead and there is none to be found. Yesterday you seemed to have had everything at your fingertips, with every opportunity within your grasp and now everything seems elusive and substandard,
Imagine that you are a business owner or founder who would like to connect with ‘the north’. Who do you call? The Band Office? Town Hall? The Nursing Station? School Division?
Now here’s another scenario. Imagine that you have arrived in a northern community with limited resources as an artist, with no Tim Hortons or concert hall but you find a choir that you can join that will allow you to perform in Carnegie Hall, NY, an artist studio that will provide inexpensive studio space, an e-commerce artisan shop with podcast and videography equipment at your disposal and blue skies to create whatever you want. Now also imagine that you can purchase a house for under $50,000, walk to work through a forest and around a lake. Imagine that in your new life you could take a short walk during lunch hour to the beaches of Hudbay to watch the beluga whales relaxing offshore. Imagine that you can wander at will through the boreal forest foraging for wild cranberries and blueberries on the way to your next meeting or grab your kayak for a late night paddle at the end of the day since the sun sets at midnight.
Both scenarios are based on reality. The north is filled with difficult challenges and surprising opportunities. An ad hoc task force group called imagiNorthern began meeting in 2021 to talk about it all. We were curious to learn about each other’s desires, assets and challenges. The conversation started between Flin Flon and The Pas and quickly grew to include Thompson and Churchill with support from Creative Manitoba and the Manitoba Arts Network.
Our discussion confirmed what we suspected – that we have many commonalities and yet we are each distinct. There is the common perception that The North is ‘the north’, which is essentially anything above the diagonal starting from the 52nd parallel at the top of Lake Winnipeg reaching upwards towards to east to Hudson Bay. The North encompasses over 50 percent of the province yet it is undefined.
Without looking at the map of Manitoba, how well do you know the province? Do you know exactly where Flin Flon or The Pas is? How about Churchill or Thompson? Norway House is steeped in Manitoba’s fur trade history celebrated annually during York Boat Days. Do you know how to get there? What about Brochet, home of the renowned musician, author and playwright,Tomson Highway? Not sure? You’re not alone.
In 2020, the Flin Flon Arts Council (the little engine that could) decided to support northern artists and artisans during the pandemic by creating a physical and online store that hopefully would put a bit of money in artist’s pockets during a very challenging time. With seed money from Community Futures Greenstone and the Flin Flon Credit Union, a small shop was opened on Flin FLon’s Main Street as a three month pilot project. The store grew quickly and soon became known as the Uptown Emporium. www.uptownemporium54.com This presented another surprising opportunity. Perhaps more could be done to promote the arts by setting up an online marketplace as a social enterprise and economic development support for the north. Beginning with 11 vendors in Dec 2020, in one year the store has grown to include 100 vendors.
As our binoculars scanned the northern horizon we wondered what resources were available in northern communities for these new entrepreneurs. After a few conversations, it appeared that resources for artists and artisans in northern Manitoba were and are limited. Through support from the Northern Association of Community Councils, the Flin Flon Arts Council was encouraged to search for northern champions to learn about the assets, challenges and goals of our northern communities. With funding from the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce Mineral Development Fund, we hired Strategic Moves to develop a survey to collect data on northern artists and makers. The young imagiNorthern committee spread the survey throughout their communities and slowly an image of the north is starting to come into focus.
In March 2023, sponsored by University College of the North with support from Community Futures Greenstone, CEDF and Look North, a first Northern Art Conference will be hosted in Flin Flon, greeting Northern Champions, stakeholders and partners on a collective discovery on ‘the north’. This first gathering is not only the coalescence of the imagiNorthern vision but a peek into a northern imagi-Nation.
It’s important to know the facts and to take the time to understand ‘the north’. Yes it is difficult to travel north. Flights are $1300 return to FLin FLon or an eight hour drive north but there is so much to see and do once you get here. The Churchill Creative Collective, The Pas Arts Council, The Snow Lake Arts Council, Mall of the Arts and The Flin Flon Arts Council will make sure that you have a wonderful time.
And yes, you can join the Flin Flon Community Choir to sing a Ola Gjeilo, a World Premier work that our choir will be presenting in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.