A childhood handprint, a link to 200 years of family history in Canada
Cazhhmere's mould hung for 30 years in a place of honour: her granddad's wall
As part of CBC's What's Your Story campaign, we're asking Canadians to tell us about the one object they would submit to a collection of national treasures, objects that contain the strongest feelings, personal histories and vivid memories of our diverse population.
For Toronto-based filmmaker Cazhhmere, it's a piece of art she made when she was a kid: the imprint of her hand in cement.
For "important stuff"
"This is a hand mould I made when I was 6 years old in senior kindergarten. I made it for my granddad," says Cazhhmere.
Cazhhmere and her single mom moved from Halifax to Toronto when she was eight-years-old, but come summer holidays, she would return to Nova Scotia. "Sending me to go spend summers with granddad is cheaper than summer camp," she says, laughing.
In her grandfather's home, one wall displayed the plaques from his military service and his boxing achievements. As a kid, Cazhhmere didn't understand the scope of his accomplishments, but knew that wall "was for important stuff, from when grandad did important things."
Including one very important gift from his granddaughter: Cazhhmere's hand mould.
My grandfather, he was very well respected within his community, and I never really understood why as a kid.
"I grew up with only one grandparent as my mom's mom died three months before I was born, and I've never had a relationship with my father. So Grandad was Dad and Grandparents all in one," she says.
"When I made this for him at school, when I brought it home he put it up on his wall right next to all of his plaques and it stayed there until he passed away in the summer of 2015."
A positive life
As a kid, Cazhhmere felt she wanted to be "just like him."
"My grandfather, he was very well respected within his community, and I never really understood why as a kid, but now as an adult I know why. Those plaques had meaning — he was somebody," she says.
Indeed, her grandfather Robert John "Bobby" Downey Sr. was the Canadian amateur lightweight boxing champion for 1960 and served in the military between 1957 and 1986. As a military chef, he prepared banquets for Prince Charles and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
"[It's] not necessarily wanting to follow in his footsteps literally, but in terms of it being a positive role model for our family, and for other people within our community. Just to live a positive life that inspires people. ...to also contribute to the better being of our nation through my art."
Did her grandfather know what it meant to young Cazhhmere for her hand to be part of his wall of prized possessions? She's not sure. But by including her art among his treasured artifacts, he embedded a positive message within her: she, in turn, saw herself as important. "It made me feel special."
Cazhhmere's family history reaches back over 200 years in Canada. "[Ours is] a history that's embedded not just in society but from the roots," she says. She told her family's story in her recent documentary Deeply Rooted and says the cement mould is a strong symbol for her family's history.
"My identity is Canadian, because I am Canadian," she says. "As most people are learning from the documentary, that can be a questionable statement. ...the whole point of my documentary is to show that I am deeply rooted in Canada. And a hand is a good symbol, it's an imprint," a physical representation of her family's long presence in this country.
Watch Deeply Rooted: A black family's history as 7th-generation Canadians
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