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Promoting community in a time of social distancing

In this Grounded feature we go back to the garden for the first in a series of outside concerts and events in support of the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group

There was an autumn chill in the air Saturday night at the Huron Street Community Garden, but performers got a warm reception from audience members who gathered for the first in a series of fund-raising events for the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group.

“By the grace of the city’s emergency COVID funding we are presenting a series of performances from artists within the Two Rivers neighbourhood here in the Ward,” said musician and promoter Braden Phelan. “Each presentation will involve the pairing of a musical act with a visual artist, a dance artist or, in this case, a storyteller. There is a circus artist as well.”

They have events scheduled for Halloween, the winter solstice, the spring equinox and other, yet-to-be-announced, dates.

Local storyteller, Byron Murray, opened the show Saturday with a couple tales from the good old days.

“I am going to tell some old stories,” said Murray. “One from about 600 years ago and one from about 1,100 years ago – ancestral stories to match the season.”

Candles were the primary source of light for the first part of the show and that helped Murray journey back to a mythical time before electricity, the internet and modern social media.

“I think storytelling is just such a magical craft that we can all do and participate in so, I just want to do that with folks,” he said. “I love community projects especially now more than ever when we are so separate.”

Murray was followed by a performance from Tragedy Ann which includes Phelan and his wife Liv Cazzola. They brought a small generator to power their sound equipment and lamps from home to light the stage which helped to maintain the intimate atmosphere of the show.

“I can’t remember doing a show where I had to wear four layers of clothes and a sweater,” said Cazzola as they launched into their set.

“That’s not including long underwear,” Phelan responded.

The next event in the series is a Halloween show intended to replace the popular, annual Pumpkin Promenade.

“It is very heartbreaking for us that we aren’t doing the Pumpkin Promenade but our plan is to have the parade musicians that normally join us for that, to do a parade through some of the streets of the Ward,” said Alisha Arnold from the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group. “It will happen between 7 to 9 p.m. on the Sunday after Halloween. We are going to have volunteers following the parade musicians with wagons collecting food donations and we are going to ask people, if they have a pumpkin, to put it out at the side of the road lit in honour of the Pumpkin Promenade.”

In past years the Pumpkin Promenade was held at Tytler Public School where the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group has also operated educational and food security programs.

“We normally have between 400 and 600 people out for the Pumpkin Promenade so we can’t risk it,” said Arnold. “All of the schools have cancelled community use of schools, so, now Two Rivers is out of my property, which is across from Tytler. I operate the market out of my driveway.”

Arnold made sure that the garden concert Saturday was safe.

“What we did is opened up 10 bubble spots with 10 spots where a family can come,” she said.

“Before we set up, Jenn and I walked around and we measured 10 feet between each of the bubbles so people feel safe to come and sit and listen to the stories and music.”

She is grateful for all the work Phelan has done to bring the community together for these events.

“Braden is a regular at our Stone Soup Market and he was just talking ideas,” she said. “He got the grant for us and asked if we could do it by donation as a project for the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group food security work.”

The funds will also support their educational programs.

“We also run an outdoor program for kids on Thursday afternoon, Friday morning and Friday afternoon in this garden,” said Arnold. “We are trying to utilize this garden in more ways. We want to start doing a monthly story telling throughout the winter and initiatives like this to just try and keep a little bit of community spirit when we are supposed to be distanced.”


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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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