An extraordinary school project is bringing a tradition lost to time,alive again for a whole new generation of First Nations students.
Famed carver and Chemainus Secondary grad John Marston is known around the world for his art and now he’s paying it forward by helping teens carve out a canoe by hand, as Coast Salish people have for thousands of years.
Being renowned around the world for his art doesn’t take away from the thrill of this moment for John Marston.
“A little bit nervous. Excited,” Marston said in front of a growing crowd of teenagers on a Chemainus beach on Tuesday.
His work commands tens of thousands of dollars a piece, but the Marston said the canoe he unveiled in front of the students is priceless.
“Just a really strong feeling that I got when I was working on it and just brings so much history back to us,” Marston said.
The Coast Salish Artist said it feels great to come back and work in the school.
“It’s really been an amazing journey to watch the canoe come together,” Chemainus Secondary Teacher Dan Norman added.
For two years, the famed carver has been working alongside students at Chemainus Secondary on the traditional Coast Salish canoe. Marston, along with his team of students, carved it out from a bare log, steaming the wood just as his ancestors did and painstakingly carving out the work they can now all take pride in.
“It’s learning about what keeps us alive,” Marston’s mother, Jane, said. “Where’s the spark that keeps us going.”
At the unveiling, they also had a chance to test out the canoe in the water.
“You know up and down our coast, these canoes would have been everywhere in all our villages so pretty excited to see it,” Marston said.
The excitement shared by elder Florence James.
“I haven’t seen a baptism ceremony for a canoe since I was a little girl and I’m almost 70 now,” James said
Her granddaughter Kara Smith, a Chemainus Secondary student, was the first to paddle in it and was quickly humbled by the old style canoe. She fell into the water as the canoe tipped on its side.
Smith did back in, a fact that makes her grandmother and Marston proud.
“This was a big honour for me to come and be a part of this ceremony,” Smith said.