Edmonton Indigenous art park poised to open on Queen Elizabeth Park Road

An indigenous art park opens next week on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ is 'going to be an eye opener I think for a lot of people from all cultures'

Artist Tiffany Shaw-Collinge stands in front of her work, Pehonan, at ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Tiffany Shaw-Collinge considers her first permanent piece of public art, Pehonan.

"It's an amphitheatre but it's also got a sacred circle at its base too, so it's kind got a bit of both worlds," she explains.

The work features four tiers of seating made from different materials, each used by generations of Indigenous people from prehistoric times to the present.

Take a tour of Edmonton's new Indigenous Art Park, ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞. 2:40

"I felt I wanted to honour that and make an intentional point of finding ways for people to continue gathering on this place."

The place is ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞, an art park on the site of the old Queen Elizabeth Park swimming pool.

The park showcases the work of Indigenous artists and their "deep connection in history to this area we all call home," Shaw-Collinge said.

Shaw-Collinge is one of six artists from Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario who have works featured in the park, which opens to the public on Sept. 15.

The name is pronounced EE-nu River Lot 11.

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      ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) means "I am of the Earth," an ode to the ancestral lands of the Cree, while River Lot 11 is a nod to Joseph McDonald, a Métis settler who once lived on the site.

      The park is a collaboration between Treaty 6 First Nations, Métis Nation of Alberta, Edmonton Arts Council and the City of Edmonton and part of a larger $5.3-million revitalization of the area, according to Martina Gardiner, the city's director of open space delivery.

      "There's a beautiful new shelter, a commemorative wall that acknowledges the Queen Elizabeth Outdoor Pool. We've got new walking trails which connect the upper and lower of Saskatchewan Drive," said Gardiner.

      Shaw-Collinge was awarded her commission just days after giving birth to her son Jasper, who accompanied her on her research outings and scouting missions for materials.

      Jasper Collinge, 2½, has grown up while his mother Tiffany researched and assembled her artwork. (Tiffany Shaw-Collinge)

      "It was a really magical experience for me to just bring life into this whole conversation as I was looking at the deep past with my family."

      Jasper is now 2½ years old and Shaw-Collinge can't wait to see him scampering up the grass on her creation.

      A little farther away, another work called Turtle was made with children in mind.

      "They're made for kid height, so a kid can sit down on it real comfortably and even walk on the edges or on top of it where we did mosaic tile," said artist Jerry Whitehead.

      "They're solid concrete, there's rebar inside. One weighs 11,000 pounds, the baby one, and the mother one weighs 16,000. They're not going anywhere."

      The work is a departure for the Vancouver-based painter — the first time in his 40-year career he applied for a commission for a three-dimensional work — but he wanted to be a part of the "modern-day gathering place."

      Working alongside students from Edmonton's Amiskwaciy Academy to bring the colourful turtles to life, Whitehead incorporated ideas and designs from conversations with local elders.

      "It's going to be an eye opener I think for a lot of people from all cultures," Whitehead said.

      A mosaic of a beaver on new artwork by Jerry Whitehead is showcased in ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

      That's what David Turnbull is hoping as he inspects the park a few days before the grand opening.

      "We would love to see this space active," said Turnbull, the director of public art for the Edmonton Arts Council.

      "We want it to be a marker. We want it to really ring true, the importance of this site and the history of the people of this site. This was a traditional gathering space for thousands and thousands of years."

      You can see more from ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ on this week's Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.
      David Turnbull, director of public art and conservation for the Edmonton Arts Council, checking in on the progress at ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

      About the Author

      Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.