Merriam Webster has two definitions for the word bridge. Bridge as structure and bridge as a time, place or way to connect or transition. Not here or there. Not now or then. In between. A co-worker told me she walks the High Level Bridge home every Friday from the office. It’s her way of marking the end of the week. A bridge is a liminal space.
We have a new bridge over the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. The bridge joins Cloverdale and Boyle Street neighbourhoods. It’s called Tawatina, a Cree word for “valley.” It’s a double bridge: the top deck is for the new LRT Valley Line and the bottom is for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. On the bottom, if you look up, the ceiling is filled with a collage of more than 500 images. I walked it this past weekend.
As you walk, you move through the epochs (a mastodon stands under one end of the bridge), the stages of settlement to present day, and all the seasons. You walk under shapes within shapes. A winter river within a winter bear. Beaded flowers overlaying riverscapes, portraits of Métis ancestors. Bees against a blue sky. Stars within flowers. Clouds within clouds. Geometrics within arrowheads, within coyotes, within raindrops. Moose, bison, beaver, northern pike: the North Saskatchewan running through bodies divided first by river lots, then surveyed by sections, then each a checkerboard of neat agricultural settlement. A beaver holding spring water, lodge and forest within; a beaver wearing Hudson Bay stripes. Fish streaming: Sturgeon, northern pike, sturgeon, goldeye, walleye, sucker. Bees, dragonflies. Crows in flight; sandhill cranes ascending. Eagles. Holding landscapes. Swallows filled with fire. Canoes, York boats. A hearth, with a fiddle and dancing. The eyeball of every kind of animal from this place, two- legged and four-legged. All of it on the move: walking, falling, running, flying, dancing.
And things I can’t describe. It’s an experience: to stand under; to under-stand. Another way of being.
I heard David Garneau, the lead artist, interviewed. The Garneaus were a prominent founding family of the City and Métis from the Red River Settlement. A neighbourhood is named after them and a Manitoba Maple still grows on the University of Alberta campus at the site of their original homestead. David Garneau is a direct descendant. For this bridge project, he worked with local elders and knowledge keepers who told him what images to draw; he wasn’t always given the meaning of the stories behind them.
In a way, I think it’s better that way. Some will know the origin stories, some will bring their own stories to the work. But overall, as I overhead someone else say on the bridge, Sunday: “Everything here is connected to the land.” And that’s all we really need to know.
This bridge is not only a structure, but a place to connect across time and everything living in this place, to heal from our shared history and to move forward together into a new vision. To move forward, on this National Indigenous Peoples Day, in a good way.