'I hope that it will carry on': Cree artist hopes Canada 150 project connects youth to carving

Alberta Cree artist Leo Arcand is working on the final installation for Canada 150 project along Edmonton's Capital Boulevard. He also hopes his work will lead younger members of his community to the art form of sculpture.

'As you carve, you bring it to life and you can see it'

See what it means to Cree artist Leo Arcand to work on a sculpture for Edmonton's Capital Boulevard and teach others along the way. 1:39

Sitting on wooden braces in a shed on the Alexander First Nation, a 5,000-lb slab of Vancouver Island marble slowly gives way to the sculpture Nature's Harmony.

Emerging from the stone are faces of a woman, a man, an eagle, a bear and a buffalo, important spiritual images for the Alberta Cree artist Leo Arcand.

Arcand's scale maquette sits in the foreground as the carvers work on the actual sculpture. (John Robertson/CBC)

"To enable us to get further and to learn about my culture and other minorities cultures and to be able to come together and share was my message," Arcand said.

"So we utilized that buffalo to knock away that negativity so we can walk together and walk forward as one."

Nature's Harmony is one of the five sculptures commissioned for the Capital Boulevard Legacy Public Art Project — Canada 150 and will be installed on Capital Boulevard, or 108th Street, between 99th and 104th avenues.
The site on Capital Boulevard where Arcand's "Nature's Harmony" will be placed. (John Robertson/CBC)

Arcand's sculpts in his workshop on the Alexander First Nation and with his door always open he sometimes draws a crowd.

Those showing an interest in the project may be invited in to work under Arcand's guidance.

Branden Arcand, 14, started off sweeping the shop floor before his uncle taught him how to work with power tools.

"It means a lot to work on this and carve it out and connect with the stone," the teen said. "He is teaching me something for the future to, like, carve. It's a big thing, you know, the feeling that you get from it. It's a good feeling."
Jorel Paul and Branden Arcand are learning carving skills in their home community. (John Robertson/CBC)

Jorel Paul, 17, is proud to be working on the sculpture as community members look on.

"It gives you a good deal of confidence and makes you feel really good, makes you feel happy while you are working."

Leo Arcand says the true legacy of the sculpture will be teaching skills that will last generations.

"I hope that they gain something from this culturally, mentally, physically, emotionally and I hope that it will carry on and they will continue to come back and strive to learn more and from that opening up the doors to be able to express themselves freely as human beings."

Firebrand Glass's "Transect," is one of five works installed along Capital Boulevard in downtown Edmonton. (John Robertson/CBC)

Nature's Harmony will sit outside Norquest College between 102nd and 103rd avenues joining four other sculptures including:

  • Transect by Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock (Firebrand Glass) between 99th and 100th avenues
  • Star Gazer - Koo-Koo-Sint by Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur (Voyager Art & Tile ) between 100th and Jasper avenues
  • Sentinel by Sandra Bromley between Jasper and 102nd avenues
  • World Enough, And Time by Ken Macklin between 103rd and 104th avenues

The five were selected from 48 submissions from Alberta artists.

The view south along Capital Boulevard with Voyager Art & Tile's "Star Gazer - Koo-Koo-Sint" by Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur. (John Robertson/CBC)

About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. John.Robertson@cbc.ca Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc