The Drayton Valley Municipal Library has turned their annual Culture Days Celebration into an event that could bring the community together.
Youth and Adult Programmer, Verna Wicks, says this year she felt it would be appropriate to share their stories in regards to the Wildfire, and give thanks to those that worked to save the community.
“When we came back from evacuation, one of the first things I noticed was that everyone you ran into wanted to talk about their experience,” says Wicks.
She says another thing that came to mind was her gratitude for being back, but many people weren’t sure who to thank. “This has been in the works for a while in my mind,” she says.
When Wicks saw Councillor Tom McGee in the library, she decided to ask him. McGee pointed her in the direction she needed to go. She says she did speak with some of the organizations involved and was able to get a list of some of the main contributors.
She says all of this was taking place while she was still trying to come up with a theme for Alberta Culture Days. Then, when the library brought in two films called Resilience and Paper Tigers which showcased adverse childhood experiences and how children have the resilience to get through it.
“I thought to myself, we have resilience,” says Wicks. She considered all of the things that residents in Drayton Valley and Brazeau County have been through, and everyone still manages to go on.
With Resilient Alberta being her theme, Wicks says her vision was to make a place for people to share their stories. She says there were two main reasons for the plan. The first was that sharing stories helps people to realize they are not alone, and maybe express any trauma that they experienced. The other was that, like many, Wicks found herself repeating her own story over and over again.
“But I still wanted to hear everyone else’s story,” says Wicks.
For Wicks, the evacuation and the stories people have of that experience is an important part of the community’s history. She says that ideally she would get enough stories from people that they could create a book about the event.
However, there were some hiccups in their planning.
Library Director Doug Whistance-Smith says the library applied for an Alberta Culture Days grant hoping to get $5,000.
“At first we heard that we got a $750 grant, and then they clawed that back and said, ‘No, you didn’t get approved for any grant,’” says Whistance-Smith. The day they were told no for the grant, the Town was evacuated.
Wicks called her contact, who was very apologetic about the confusion, and it was agreed that the Province would pay for an entertainer to come to the community. However, with the election taking place it was difficult for anything to get done.
“The theme of resilience comes in here as well,” says Whistance-Smith. “We’ve been through three years of pandemic, we’re dealing with the disturbance in the politics and a new premier, and then there was the evacuation in the middle of this grant cycle.”
But despite the challenges, the library was able to make the event happen.
Wicks says there were many businesses and organizations that contributed to the event, including covering the cost of the banners and giving a discount on the pizza, as well as others. There were also volunteers from the BEST Youth Hub, the McMan Centre, and the Friends of the Drayton Valley Library Society.
The event was planned around signing banners to give thanks to the fire department, Town and County Council, as well as the RCMP. Then there were stations set up where people could make thank you cards, chat about their experience, write about it, or make a video.
Then, rather than have an entertainer come in, Wicks decided to bring in local author Ann Edall-Robson. Edall-Robson brought copies of all of her books, spoke about her writing process, and showcased some of her photography for attendees.
“She was great from the get-go,” says Wicks.
While the turnout on September 23 was disappointing, Wicks says the community still has the opportunity to submit their stories or sign the banners. She says people are welcome to submit their stories, through writing, video, art, or other means. If those who submit want their stories shared, Wicks will do it, if not, she says the project has still served its purpose.
Wicks encourages residents to keep an eye on the library’s social media page to find out when the banners will be out for signatures. Those who want to share their stories can contact the library at 780-514-2722, or they can be submitted online through the library’s website at www.draytonvalleylibrary.ca.
By Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 28, 2023