A photo of attendees of the Ness Creek Music Festival  participating in a guided forest walk, listening to someone speak.

Festival site inspires teachings about the land

By: Jackie Ledingham December, 2023

Due to the Ness Creek Music Festival’s Boreal Forest location, and the ecological mindset of its founders, a large part of the festival experience has always been about what you can learn from the land.

Since the Festival started in 1991, organizers have made sure that those who attend can not only listen to music and have opportunities to participate in artistic activities, but have experiences that connect them to the land.

The idea for the Festival came also from those that understood that connection to the land. A number of tree planters in the area came together after the local ecological fair inspired the idea for a music festival. “We put together an A-Team, which included Cathy Sproule, and we formed the Ness Creek Cultural and Recreational Society,” says Olson.

The Ness Creek land was already in Olson’s family. When his father retired from farming, his tree planting company purchased the land that ended up being the perfect place for a festival.

The evolution of the Ness Creek Music Festival was an organic process where everyone who attended, performed and organized the event provided input into what types of activities should take place.

Indigenous input and participation has always informed their programming, as well as, respect for land-based learnings. In honour of that relationship, the Festival now starts with an opening ceremony led by Elder Randy Morin from the Big River First Nation, and a daily sweat led by Raymond Masuskapoe from Sandy Lake. Other offerings over the years included medicine walks where people can learn about the medicines the forest provides and participate in activities such as birch bark basket-making and beadwork.

Olson often leads the forest walk at the Festival. Along the walk people learn about the creek and its importance in the ecosystem, what plants can be harvested to eat and how they can be used in different ways, how the forest can provide shelter, as well as, how the wood helps to heat some (10,000 sq ft) of the buildings at the site through their boiler system and can be self-sustaining when used properly. In 2022, an artist installation provided stethoscopes along the route where people could listen to the heartbeat of the trees.

Olson says the Ness Creek land is a much needed connection for people especially after the pandemic, and encourages people to come out to the Festival or to experience the land through the trails and forest garden. “You will find a connection to something that is real and challenges you.”

The Ness Creek Festival receives annual funding from SaskFestivals administered by SK Arts, thanks to funding from Sask Lotteries.