Maple Creek Moves Forward

By: Danica Lorer November, 2014

How a town in southwest Saskatchewan discovered that the preservation of its past can spur cultural growth today.

What began as a desire to preserve a community’s heritage buildings, has led to the preservation of the region’s culture. Maple Creek recently participated in two complementary planning processes: a heritage conservation downtown plan, and a community cultural plan.

Royce Pettyjohn, Main Street program coordinator, Town of Maple Creek, says it made good sense doing the two plans concurrently, and because of this, a process began of breaking down silos and building collaborative relationships. “The intangible outcome was the first opportunity to bring all of these organizations together under one roof, and to have a discussion about the future of the community from a cultural and heritage perspective,” says Pettyjohn.

These processes have led the community to a shift in thinking, and one such result is that businesses and arts groups have started to build partnerships with each other. One such collaboration resulted in the Maple Creek Business Awards of excellence now using locally-made art rather than plastic trophies as awards. In doing so, the awards become more meaningful for recipients, and in the process they elevate the status of the artist chosen.

Also arising from the planning processes was the creation of a Métis Cultural Centre in Maple Creek. According to Pettyjohn, the Métis story in the Cyprus Hills, which is located south of Maple Creek, is rich; however, in the past there has been a stigma attached to being a Métis person. “Fortunately because of work being done by the broader community, people are becoming more comfortable with Métis cultural identity and heritage. They’re starting to celebrate it in ways that would have been inconceivable when I was younger,” says Pettyjohn. The centre hosted workshops on playing the fiddle, creating sashes, beading and dancing the Red River Jig. It has also developed a mutually beneficial collaborative partnership with the local museum. The two groups share space and utilize the gallery for public programming, while maintaining their own unique identities.

The Nekaneet First Nations Regalia Group is another success story built on collaboration. The idea grew out of a realization there were young people who were interested in pow wow dancing, but faced challenges of not having access to regalia.

The project brought together elders, artisans and young people at the museum to create regalia. Since this time, more than a dozen young people have now had the opportunity to start participating in pow wow, and as a result stay connected with their culture.

Maple Creek is now embracing the unique aspects of its past to create a future that celebrates culture and diversity, and also builds an engaged, thriving community.

“We wouldn’t have been having this conversation in Maple Creek ten years ago. It just wasn’t on the radar, there was no appetite for it, no understanding, really no interest in it whatsoever,” says Pettyjohn. “Ten years later we’re now talking about tourism, we’re talking about cultural activity, we’re talking about festivals, events and heritage conservation.”

The town of Maple Creek received funding from SaskCulture’s Municipal Cultural Engagement and Planning grant for these planning processes.

For more information on Maple Creek's cultural endeavours, check out the videos below...

The video above showcases the work in the community of the S.W. Sask. Oldtimers' Museum, and draws attention to the efforts to "restore" its log museum which had fallen victim to the ravages of time. The video also demonstrates the work that the museum has undertaken to strengthen their on-going relationship with Nekaneet First Nation and the Cypress Hills Métis Cultural & Resource Centre; both of which have undertaken programming in the museum in collaboration with the museum (with the support of SaskCulture).

At 10:57 on the Heritage Canada The National Trust video above, "Regeneration on Main Street" there is a section related to how the Commercial Hotel in Maple Creek that was saved from the wrecking ball through the combined efforts of the Maple Creek Main Street Program, the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation, and a group of Filipino investors who as new Canadians and new residents of Saskatchewan wanted to give something back to their adopted community while at the same time forging a new life for themselves in Maple Creek.