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Harvesting Hope on the Northside

Harvesting Hope, A community storytelling Circle - logo for event in October, beside a photo of community members, back to, sitting around tables next to a cafe counter. At the front, A man stands at a mike, holding a book from which he is reading or singing and there is a guitarist on either side of him, seated.

“Hopefully some people share their stories of hope and some of the positive things that are happening in the community,”

Megan during her interview with Saltwire 

On October 14, the Northside Community Coalition, a volunteer-led initiative of diverse community changemakers supported by Northside Rising, hosted a free community event as part of the Celtic Colours International Festival. The event was entitled Harvesting Hope, and welcomed over 50 community members at the Cape Breton Fossil Centre in Sydney Mines. Attendees enjoyed an afternoon filled with storytelling, museum tours, good food provided by the Lobster Pound & Moore, Nala’s Bakery and Gloria’s Goodies; musical performances from Janet Bickerton, Chris Eyking, John Aylward, Shelley Allen, and Cindy Allen; and a vendor market featuring Walker’s Farm and Larry Buck. 

Four women of varying ages sit at round tables looking off to the left of the photo, toward the front of the room. They are in a cafe with terra cotta walls and there are autumn-coloured decorations around the room, including pumpkin-shaped centerpieces.

Harvesting Hope’s main activity was the community storytelling circle which provided a space for community members to share and listen to the stories on food and harvesting in our communities. The storytelling co-facilitators, Suzi Oram-Aylward and Natalie Couture, were intentional about inviting speakers who came from different backgrounds with the hope to create intergenerational and intercultural trust in our communities through this event. 

Here is a glimpse of our key storytellers during the event: 

  • Jay Denney, a two-spirit youth activist from Eskasoni 
  • Amber Buchanan, a Gaelic teacher and facilitator with an emphasis on decolonization 
  • Dikshat Chawla, a volunteer from Sukhmani Sahib Society 
  • Lisa Bond, a Northside community member and volunteer extraordinaire from Florence
  • Norma Blinkhorn from Holy Family Parish in Sydney Mines  
A long table is covered in craft materials including colourful paper and markers. Business-style wheeled chairs surround the table and a few adult women are there with six children of varying ages, girls and boys, who are drawing and making art.

The planning team also aimed to make Harvesting Hope welcoming, inclusive and safe. The storytelling circle was designed to be intimate and non intimidating to share and listen to stories, with storytellers not needing to stand up in front of the group or to use the microphone if they did not wish to. The team also made sure to hire a babysitter and provided crafts and snacks for kids to allow their parents to fully participate in the event. The kids room was one of the busiest areas in the event too! Providing childcare will be a priority at all events supported by Northside Rising moving forward. 

A younger lady bends over a table addressing an older lady who is eating soup and a roll. In the background, a woman is playing guitar.

One of the attendees mentioned how she felt more connected to the community, its history and overall story after the event. Another person who attended also mentioned how encouraging it was to see how one of the younger storytellers shared their story and struggles on being queer and how their experience was embraced by everyone including the older generations during the storytelling circle. The intergenerational sharing and connections made as a result of this event was heartwarming; especially seeing how the crowd loosened up, comfortably sharing and listening to stories and building on the stories of other people. It was truly inspiring to witness how different cultures, communities and generations showed up, listened, shared their stories, and fully participated in the event. 

A table is centred, with two women behind it and an Indian man in a turban at the front of it. All face the left of the photo, towards the front of the room. The man is smiling broadly, clearly enjoying himself. Other people are visible in the background, chatting with each other.

This event showed us how storytelling can be a powerful tool to create positive change in our communities. It provides a deeper understanding on the experiences of other people and how our differences can make our community more special. It allows for each community member to not only share their personal experiences but also learn from others in the storytelling circle. It illustrates how spaces and opportunities such as this can instill hope, spark inspiration, or provide a whole new perspective to each of the attendees. When done consistently and with intentionality, storytelling events can build trust in the community and eventually create more safer spaces for sharing, listening and being with the community. 

If you are interested to learn more or attend similar events, subscribe to our mailing list to get updates straight to your inbox. If you have questions or would like to explore co-hosting a storytelling circle, please do not hesitate to reach out: send an email to Northside Rising’s Project Lead, Megan MacLeod mmacleod@northsiderising.ca

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