In what must be a speed record, the Awen Gathering Circle stands tall, the site is landscaped and the opening ceremonies are complete.
“What a beautiful monument that is dedicated to friendship and reconciliation,” said Chief Guy Monague, who spoke at the opening ceremonies Sept. 7 at Harbourveiw Park. “This represents coming together as human beings and recognizing each other with true respect. And true respect, like reconciliation, comes from the heart.”
The project was included in the town’s waterfront master plan last year. The dream came to life faster than expected when the town received an offer from the United Steelworkers of District 6. The steelworkers were coming to Collingwood for a conference and offered to help with a community project, and they promised 450 volunteers.
Dean Collver, Collingwood’s director of parks, recreation and culture, obtained council’s permission to move forward and worked with Brook McIlroy (architects), town staff, the steelworkers and Indigenous communities to build the Gathering Circle in time for an opening ceremony on Sept. 7.
“I was getting congratulations and it doesn’t sit well with me at all, because it was a team,” said Collver at the opening ceremony, adding thanks to a long list of groups and individuals who were involved in raising the Gathering Circle structure. “Thank you for the impact you’ve made on Collingwood’s story.”
Some of Collver’s thanks was directed to the United Steelworkers whose massive volunteer effort on Sept. 6 included laying sod, spreading mulch and planting all the beds at the Gathering Circle site.
“This is a small act and we’re making a small offering in an attempt to make a difference,” said Marty Warren of the United Steelworkers District 6 at the opening ceremony. “This is an attempt to start a discussion about what’s right and what’s just.”
Bringing greetings on behalf of residents and town council, the mayor also offered thanks to the people who made the project happen.
“This is truly a legacy for our community,” said Mayor Sandra Cooper.
Dr. Duke Redbird, an Ojibwe poet, teacher, and historian from Saugeen First Nation helped inspire the design of the Gathering Circle structure through the seven ancestor teachings.
“This celebrates the enduring presence and heritage of our people on this land,” said Redbird, adding he was also glad it would serve as a place of rest and reflection for the people who visit.
He shared a teaching on the seven levels of the forest and the lessons learned from them, and read out one of his poems, which ended in this:
“The spirit of the people is equal to the power of the land.”
James Carpenter of the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation has been coming to Collingwood for many years with his family. So he was glad to be part of the Gathering Circle project. He performed a pipe ceremony, which started before construction began. He and a small group of others scattered tobacco in all directions to acknowledge the history of the site as a place where many Indigenous groups lived or stayed for a time. Of the many groups, the Petun tribes were most prevalent. Their name means People of Tobacco, so he used tobacco in the ceremony months ago and again today for the opening of the gathering circle.
“When municipalities grew, Indigenous people moved further and further away,” said Carpenter. “After a time, it wasn’t permissible to be aboriginal, and we slowly lost our identity. What this is about is rebuilding that identity.”
Carpenter is thrilled with the Gathering Circle and hopes the site will see more projects like it and more opportunity to share stories and history of Indigenous people who once inhabited the area or hunted in the forests.
“Our community and our people have, for a long time, just wanted to sit at the table and share our knowledge and our wisdom,” he said. “For a long time we were not able to sit at the table. This is a start at sitting at the table together.”