N.W.T. Norman Wells Public History

Norman Wells,
Northwest Territories

The Norman Wells at Night Gallery originated in discussions between the School of One Carver and DF regarding the possible applications of the Carving Vignettes literacy program for creating innovative and collaborative "ePublic histories" documenting rural communities, especially those settlements found in parts West and North in Canada. DF, a recent graduate of the Honours Student program of the English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, calls the community of Norman Wells home and had already started crafting personal travel accounts for the Global Art Project in and around the Edmonton area. DF guided a Photography and Storytelling workshop held by Education, Culture and Employment, Government of the Northwest Territories in Norman Wells for summer employment, so Carving Vignettes held additional appeal for a possible and plausible activity for students enrolled in the government program.

The School of One lent nine carvings to DF for the larger Norman Wells pilot project while DF’s own carving, Ms. Hoody Stacks, was also marshaled for this collective and collaborative endeavour in alternative history making. Two of the carvings were previously utilized in another pilot project for a university course at the University of Alberta, as detailed in the “Carvings History” found at the end of this gallery. Aside from outlining the five basic parameters for the photographs and associate narratives of the Carving Vignette program on the hard copy descriptions for each piece, the School of One did not have any contact with any of the collaborating participants in the project. Instead, the program was entirely organized and undertaken by DF. Consistent with other galleries and travel accounts found within the Global Art Project, the School of One will not publish the names of contributors, and, for this gallery in particular, participants must remain completely anonymous as stipulated by formal agreement. “D” and “F”, for example, are not the actual initials of the organizer’s real name. This decision for complete anonymity relates to the small population of Norman Wells and the deep-seated commitment of the School of One to privacy even in a small tight-knit community.

As seen elsewhere in the Global Art Project, the anonymity attached to each vignette lends itself to some extraordinary historical and cultural insight frequently combined with some useful routine practical information not found in other forms of original sources, including personal testimonials or oral histories. There were twenty-five participants in this pilot project and their ages ranged from ten to “over fifty” while 40% are Aboriginal or Métis. In addition to at least one university student and the students enrolled in the Photography and Storytelling Workshop, contributors included administrators, museum employees, educators, amateur photographers, government employees, hunters, golfers, many other types of outdoor enthusiasts, and an enthusiastic hair stylist. In the effort to document a portion of their summer (where darkness “at night” proves highly illusive) many participants provided links that offer additional information on topics ranging from to traditional Aboriginal medicine to the dismal failure of a federal government program to ensure fresh produce at the grocery store. To be sure, the collective efforts of the participants in this unique gallery have resulted in their creation of a highly personal kaleidoscope of historical vignettes which capture an extraordinary place populated by truly inspired and inspirational inhabitants.