Nova Scotia

Art project to fill Raymond Taavel Park after COVID-19 delays upgrades

Plans to beautify the Raymond Taavel Park are on hold due to the pandemic, but painted wooden candles are being collected for the space. They will go up during the annual candlelight Pride vigil next week.

'A pandemic can't dampen Raymond's shining light'

Adriana Afford decorates some candles this week in the Raymond Taavel Park in Halifax. The candles are part of an art project that will go up during the Halifax Pride candlelight vigil on July 20. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Plans to beautify a small downtown Halifax park may be on hold due to the pandemic, but a new art project is set to bring a burst of colour into the space.

Raymond Taavel Park, named for the Halifax community leader and LGBTQ activist who was killed in 2012, officially opened at last year's candlelight vigil during the Pride festival. The park is located where Barrington and Inglis streets meet.

A small group of volunteers, named the Friends of Raymond Taavel Park, helped push for the establishment of the area. 

Adriana Afford, group member and owner of Argyle Fine Art, said they had been working toward a similar event this July with additional gardens, permanent lighting and public art.

But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic Afford said they quickly realized many of the new plans were not going to be possible, especially since the municipality told them they didn't have the staffing to help with any changes.

Raymond Taavel is shown in a 2008 handout photo. (The Canadian Press/Shambhala Sun-Marvin Moore)

Then Darren Lewis, who was Taavel's partner, mentioned he would still love to walk by and see some type of light in the park.

"I suggested that the point of the vigil has always been to remember those who have gone before us with the symbol of light," Lewis said in an email.

'A pandemic can't dampen Raymond's shining light'

If people couldn't gather with lit candles, he said maybe there could be a way for images of candles to brighten the space instead. 

"Surely a pandemic can't dampen Raymond's shining light," he said.

Afford said the volunteer group worked with local artist Chris Smith of Jampy Furniture to create 200 wooden candles that can be painted and decorated in any way before being placed in the grass like a lawn ornament.

'Something really special'

"I think everybody kind of needs a little boost," Afford said. "It does take some time to pick up one of these things and paint them. But then, the payoff is you get to see that everybody kind of worked together and did something really special."

The project was funded by a grant from the Downtown Halifax Business Commission so the candles are free for participants.

Afford said people can decorate their candles however they like. She's heard from people who plan to put LED lights all over theirs, while others are writing the names of people they miss from the LGBTQ community.

The candles can be picked up from Argyle Fine Art or Venus Envy, and Halifax Pride plans to distribute some as well. There's a quick turnaround, since any finished candles must be dropped back off at these locations by noon on July 20, or the park itself between 5-6 p.m.

That's the night of Halifax Pride's annual candlelight vigil, which begins at Victoria Park at 8 p.m. and is in support of Black Lives Matter. Participants will march past Raymond Taavel Park, ending at Cornwallis Park for the main vigil.

About 200 candles have been created. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Adam Reid, executive director of Halifax Pride, said the full event can't be held at the Taavel Park this year since it's too small for people to physically distance, but anyone participating can take a moment to place their decorated candle in the grass as they go by.

When thinking about this art project, Reid said it's important because for so long the LGBTQ community felt like they had to hide who they were, and often were fearful to record their own history.

"We just need to identify for the next generation of young people like who are the leaders, who should they be emulating, who should they be looking to for inspiration," he said.

And for those who might think that this project isn't for them if they're not in the LGBTQ community, Afford said it's meant to be inclusive to anybody who wants to remember Taavel, but also other people who did great things in their community or just take part in a beautiful art installation.

"I think it will hopefully uplift a lot of people. It definitely will bring a lot of happiness to Raymond's partner, but anyone that would have known him I think it will be extra special for them," she said.

"Even if you didn't know him and you were just driving past the park, just to be able to see something like that it would be pretty great."

Afford also said this is a great project for families to sit down together and create something while learning about Taavel's legacy.

The wooden candles will be on display for about a week, and then they will then be collected and stored safely for use in future years.

For those who aren't in Halifax, there's an option to print out a colouring page to follow along with the project from a distance, which was originally suggested by Taavel's family in Ontario.

Park upgrades

The park had some upgrades last year following its renaming, including new sod, a park sign with information about Taavel, and a new garbage can, according to an email from municipal spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray. 

Picnic tables have returned to the park this year, while there is also now a planter installed by the volunteer group.

"Consideration will be given to other park improvements for future implementation, while working with the loved ones of Raymond," Spray said.