by John Copley
(ANNews) – When the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery (RDMAG) introduced the arrival of its latest major exhibition: Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Archival Records of Library and Archives Canada, it marked the culmination of nearly a year and a half of communicating, planning and organizing to bring this unique opportunity to the region.
“The exhibition,” explained the museum’s Exhibition Coordinator, Kim Verrier, “was actually developed by Library and Archives Canada, with support from the Government of Canada and in collaboration with the Manitoba Metis Federation and the Métis National Council. Hiding in Plain Sight is a travelling exhibition; there’s a great deal to see and learn, and we encourage anyone who hasn’t yet visited this unique collection, listened to the stories or viewed the pictures of the past – and the present, to come and enjoy this adventure.”
The exhibition opened its doors in Red Deer, AB on December 15, 2018. On January 20, 2019 the museum held “a wonderful celebration of culture,” a theme that will be expounded on during Family Day celebrations on February 18, 2019. Initially scheduled to close on March 10, the exhibition has been granted an extra week at RDMAG and will now close on March 17, 2019.
This exhibition explores the portrayal of the Métis people – some of whom are “hiding in plain sight” – in reproductions of artworks and photographic collections, and in the accompanying archival descriptions. The exhibition aims to foster a better understanding of the history and culture of the Métis Nation.
“The story of the Métis people in Central Alberta is one of the keystones of our history,” assured RDMAG Executive Director, Lorna Johnson, who said the “exhibition presents a great opportunity to explore Métis culture and history across Canada, and to place our own history into that larger context. We are very grateful to the members of Central Alberta’s Métis community who have helped us assemble local stories to supplement the touring exhibition.”
Métis Local 492 president Raye St. Denys said she was “very excited by this exhibit; I think it is a great beginning to increase the awareness of Métis Nation, its history and contributions in Central Alberta.”
“When we learned that Hiding in Plain Sight would be travelling to Red Deer, it was an exciting time,” noted Verrier. “One of the things we did was hold several community conversations and we asked our local Métis community what they would like see in the exhibit. We work closely with Métis liaison Carmen Houle; her input has been valuable and is greatly appreciated. Another person who has been instrumental in bringing this program to fruition is Métis Nation Local 492 President, Raye St. Denys.”
As a result, the exhibition highlights numerous local Metis artifacts and tells the stories of Métis community members whose families have lived in the region for centuries and those who moved here in more recent years. The stories are delivered on panels and include artifacts associated with the Métis. An interactive area allows visitors to participate and learn.
“We do have one local gentleman who has helped us put together about a dozen words relevant to Métis culture,” noted Verrier. “Interactive participants will get to see and hear the words in three distinct languages: English, French and Michif. It’s a great opportunity to participate and learn.”
Local schools are also participating.
“We’ve had schools coming in, we had a home-school program and kids coming in to create still-life drawings of Métis clothing and symbols, including items such as a violin, a fiddle, a Capote and Métis family sashes,” she explained. “Our Family Day event will be a celebration of Métis culture – where Dan and Laura Allard, a local Métis family who we met during our community sessions, will come out and teach us how to jig. Carmen will be telling some constellation stories. We’ll also have craft and other activities and of course we will have cake.
Feedback from visitors has been positive and despite the recent three weeks of cold weather, visitors continue to make their way to see the show. Hiding in Plain Sight is one of many exhibitions that will take place in the museum’s temporary gallery space this year.
“Come down and join the hundreds of others who’ve visited the exhibition to date; we will be hosting other activities and exhibits in coming weeks so visit our website for updates and new arrivals.”
One of those upcoming exhibits includes the Witness Blanket Installation, a breathtaking creation by Vancouver’s Carey Newman. His work stands as a national monument in recognition of the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era. It will open in Red Deer on May 4 and run until June 23.
Verrier has been with RDMAG for the past nine years. She’s always had a “love for museums, heritage sites and great stories,” something she attributes to her childhood and a family who often travelled to various places and events and always took time to visit the museums.
“It’s definitely my calling. I really enjoy the work; history is fascinating and so are the many people you meet along the way.”
Before Red Deer, she added, “I worked at the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, Fort Calgary Historic Park, and the Museum of the Regiments (now the Military Museums).”
The Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery began in 1973, marking the City of Red Deer’s 60th anniversary. The Museum expanded into its present quarters in 1978. It houses a collection that comprises more than 90,000 objects, and includes one of the finest collections of clothing and textiles in Western Canada as well as an extensive collection of First Nations and Inuit art. The museum’s mandate is to be Central Alberta’s leading establishment for the research, collection and presentation of visual art and material culture that is related to this region. The Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery is a not-for-profit organization supported by its members, individual donors, corporate funders, foundations, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the City of Red Deer.
The Métis emerged as a distinct people or nation in the historic Northwest during the 18th and 19th centuries. This area is known as the “historic Métis Nation Homeland,” which includes Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, extending into the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Ontario, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.
Library and Archives Canada has a wide variety of archival documents pertaining to the Métis Nation, including textual records, photographs, artwork, maps, stamps and sound recordings. Library and Archives Canada would like to recognize the knowledge and expertise provided by the Métis National Council and the Manitoba Metis Federation in the creation of this exhibition.
For more details regarding the exhibition Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Archival Records of Library and Archives Canada contact Kim Verrier, Exhibitions Coordinator, [email protected], 403-309-8405 or Lorna Johnson, Executive Director, [email protected], 403-309-8439.
Be sure to see the website at: www.reddeermuseum.com