Road tripping down Plamondon’s Memory Lane
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Jeremy Derksen for #TakeItToTheLake
As she bends over to look into the windows of the tiny church, Rosalie Subchuk sighs. Memories from her childhood have awoken on this visit through Plamondon, in Lac La Biche region, Alberta. Subchuk grew up on a farm in the 1960s and 70s not far from the hamlet.
For a while the church was used as a movie theatre and Subchuk remembers how she used to go there to watch the latest features. Down the lane, there is the old general store where her father would take her and her eight siblings, and if they were well-behaved, he would allow them each to choose a treat.
If you’ve ever gone back to visit your childhood home after many years away, you know the sensation. Everything is familiar, but somehow smaller. Yes, Subchuk got taller, but not enough to really have to bend over to peek into the replica church. In the Plamondon Mini Parc Heritage Park, this sensation of outgrowing your surroundings is magnified on a scale of about 50:1 because you are walking into another dimension. (Cue the Twilight Zone music)
Together, Middleton and Subchuk are literally taking a stroll down Plamondon’s memory lane. For Subchuk, the community spirit that she remembers growing up in this small hamlet - one of Alberta’s few officially recognized bilingual settlements - is still alive here.
“Some of the old ways are coming back,” she beams. “Gardening, baking bread… helping each other out.” Or having a picnic at the Mini Parc with a friend.
In these hectic, crazy times, simple activities like these can have a restorative effect. The same is true of making art. An accomplished stained-glass artist, Noella Somerville runs Healing à la Source, an art studio and Économusée where she offers workshops in making stained glass, leatherwork and traditional drums.
“Doing art is a way to heal,” says Somerville. “If I have stress, I go and create. We need to put balance in our life. Art egál - equals - healing. And I want to share that. C’est important pour la vie.”
Under Somverille’s guidance, the shape of a small bird begins to emerge as Subchuk carefully guides her cut glass through the grinder, refining the curve of its back. Somerville effortlessly walks them through each step, taking time to admire the way the light shines through a particular piece, or the glisten of silver gilding as it is applied to the edges of the glass.
Art has been central to the Plamondon area since the beginning. “When Joseph Plamondon came to this area, they couldn’t bring big musical instruments, but they would bring ukuleles or guitars or spoons, and play music to entertain themselves,” says Angelina Giammarioli, a curator at the Plamondon Museum. “Even today, so many people gather and play music here.”
Inside the replica church (the life-size one) where the museum is now housed, that heritage of music and art, trapping, and living off the land is retold in artifacts. It’s a reminder of the resilience of Alberta’s ancestors, and of what we can accomplish when we come together as a community.
Central to all of this, are the waters of Lac La Biche. At the end of the day, returning to Plamondon White Sands Resort, Subchuk and Middleton take a few moments to soak in the peace and quiet of a place that has existed since long before settlers arrived in this area, and will likely be here long after we’re gone.
The two friends lounge on the deck of their cabin silently watching the gentle waves lap the beach. Each imperceptible lap gradually changes the land, like the comings and goings of time and people through this region. You can never truly go back, but you can come home again.
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Video produced by ZenSeekers and Edmonton's Viva Voce Group and all images produced by ZenSeekers and Indigenous photographer, Canmore based Angus Cockney.