Truth and Reconciliation will light up Flying Canoë Volant Festival

Giant four-metre lanterns will show messages of reconciliation penned by Edmontonians at the festival three years go.

100 messages of reconciliation painted on giant, four-metre lanterns

Filmmaker and graphic designer Lese Skidmore designed images painted onto four-metre lanterns. (Brent Roy/ Radio-Canada)

Messages of hope and reconciliation will light up the Flying Canoë Volant Festival in the Mill Creek Ravine Feb. 2 and 3.

Deep in the woods, giant four-metre lanterns will reveal messages of reconciliation penned by Edmontonians at the festival three years ago.

Truth and Reconciliation artwork debuts at Flying Canoe festival

CBC News Edmonton

3 years ago
Artist Lese Skidmore discusses a Truth-and-Reconciliation-themed art installation which will premiere at the local history festival. 1:06

"In the camps, they did a project in the teepees where the public could come in, and they were invited to write on pieces of tissue paper what reconciliation means to them," said Betty-Jo Lecours, the visual arts coordinator for the festival.

"It wasn't long before there were so many pieces of paper, they put them in the trees around the camp. But then they decided they needed to do something with all of these words and all of that collective creativity."

It took three years to finalize the design, but about 100 of the notes will be painted onto the lanterns.

Filmmaker and graphic designer Lese Skidmore designed the images on the installation, with the support of the Native Counselling Services of Alberta. 

Skidmore also invited artists from iHuman Youth Society to help paint the lanterns. The three-sided canvas frames were designed by the festival's lead art designer, Dylan Toymaker.

"I was thinking about symbolism that had to do with reconciliation and the festival itself, so I came up with the idea of having some canoes on a path together going down a river," Skidmore said.

"I also kind of wanted to think about where we were in Edmonton. The way I designed it was that it would look like it had rolling hills, it would be in a valley, the river would be winding."

Some of the messages include single words like 'tapwe,' a Cree word that means truth, and longer phrases like 'reconciliation is a commitment to change and equity.'

The art installation will be displayed during the Flying Canoë Volant Festival in Edmonton Feb. 2 and 3. (Brent Roy/Radio-Canada)

The Flying Canoe is a folk legend with shared First Nations and French-Canadian origins. It's the story of voyagers who make a deal with the devil, but ultimately lose their bet.

As punishment, they're forced to roam the skies in a flying canoe, being chased by a wolf. Legend has it the canoe can be seen blazing through the sky around this time of year.

The festival has become a destination for people to celebrate First Nations, Métis and French-Canadian heritage.

An iHuman Youth Society artist paints a lantern that will be displayed at the festival. (Brent Roy/Radio-Canada)

The reconciliation lanterns will become a permanent fixture at the annual festival.

"Often we act, and then when that moment has passed it falls by the wayside a little and we don't see any results," Lecours said.

"For me, integrating this in a permanent work … it's like a memory of the spirit from the conversations that we received, from the contact we had.

"We hold them closer when we do something with them, and we can see them again every year. To me that shows that we are invested in the idea of reconciliation."

"I think projects like this are intended to leave a legacy," Skidmore said.

"Because those messages came from people's hearts and they wrote them, I think it's important that they see that we took care in showing their message to everybody else."

The lanterns will be installed throughout the First Nations camp during the festival.

The festival runs this weekend after dark in the area around La Cité Francophone at 8627 Rue Marie-Anne Gaboury, and in parts of the Mill Creek Ravine.


Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

With files from Brent Roy and Lyssia Baldini