How apropos that ‘Before the Road’, a historical narrative by Tofino writer Joanna Streetly, goes on public display and on sale at Mermaid Tales Bookshop the weekend when life without a road was on everyone’s mind.
The exquisite album features stories from Japanese-Canadian Ellen Kimoto, First Nations Ah-Neets-Nas (Tom Curley) and poetry by Ucluelet Secondary School and Heartwood School students.
“This is before the road,” Streetly says as she flips to a black and white photo from the 1930s of the Princess Nora arriving at Tofino’s waterfront with mail and supplies. “This is how you got supplies was by boat.”
“We obviously can learn from history because that was the way it was easiest to do it before. And technology changed that, but it’s still always going to be the way that’s easiest to do it is using the water,” she said.
Streetly’s work on life ‘Before the Road’ began from when she was appointed the honour of Tofino Poet Laureate in May 2018. Since then, she’s been collecting interviews—and connecting youth—to prominent story-holders on the Coast.
There is strong representation from First Nations in ‘Before the Road’, and Ucluelet local Ellen Kimoto was “over the moon” to participate in the project, notes Streetly.
“I had reached out to the local non-indigenous elder population and I found a lot of shyness amongst the elders here,” she reflects. “In the end, the stories that rose to the top were the ones that needed to be heard the most, I think.”
Streetly arranged to have elder Ah-Neets-Nas (Tom Curley) share his story about residential school with the school groups.
“They took it in the way children do, in a very elemental level. They put themselves in peoples’ shoes. Kids think, ‘What happened if that was me?’ I think when you become an adult you start thinking, ‘Oh, that happens to other people’,” said Streetly.
One of the children asked Curley what he would eat for breakfast.
“Well, we didn’t really eat breakfast,” he answered. “We would have salmon broth and that would last us for the day. That gave us good energy and we would go out and play all day.”
After the presentations, the students were given a couple weeks to compose a poem based on what they had heard from the elders.
“It was so meaningful to me when the poems came in. I choked up. They understood in a visceral way what happened,” said Streetly. “I think the best way to learn about history is to feel it somehow, otherwise it’s not really meaningful.”
Currently, the original ‘Before the Road’ album can be viewed at Mermaid Tales Bookshop in Tofino. Streetly plans for the project to be a travelling exhibit, spending time with visitors and locals in a selection of resort lobbies. One hundred copies of the album were printed by Island Blue Print Co. and can be purchased for a $20 donation to the Tofino Poet Laureate program.