Duane Jackson, Justine Knott and Kathy Nelson used to have a list of potential interviewees pinned on the wall of their offices at the Hecate Strait Employment Development Society.
The list gave them guidance in their 28-week journey to target and reach suitable Prince Rupert residents, whose stories they could share and publish in their project, the second volume of the Book of Rainbows – a job creation partnership project between Hecate Strait and the Employment Program of BC, funded by the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada.
What they quickly found out, however, was that their pinned-up list would be discarded in favour of general chats with Prince Rupert residents out in the public.
Their new method proved to be overwhelmingly successful. Jackson, Knott and Nelson found 50 residents with tremendous stories tracing Aboriginal descent, immigration and more, diving into the coastal city’s history through the oldest communicative medium of all – story-telling.
“We started going out into the community and talking to people and running into people in store aisles and parking lots, and told them ‘This is what we’re doing,’,” said project coordinator Jackson at the Book of Rainbows Volume Two’s launch at Rupert Square Mall last Saturday.
“There’s just unbelievably humble people in Prince Rupert. They’re not saying ‘I’ve got a story for you’, they’re saying ‘You know who you should talk to?’ and after that the list came down off the wall. We stopped making [it].”
A $56,000 grant from the government’s Job Creation Partnership helped the book become a reality and numerous people contributed – from Danielle Dalton whose energy and enthusiasm Jackson said was contagious from the first volume, published in just November 2013, to book designer Aaron Dalton to contributing Tsimshian artist Peter Dennis, to Knott and Nelson, the two writers who gained a considerable amount of skills in researching, writing and computer proficiency among other things.
“You can do this over and over again. You’re telling people’s stories, but you’re also talking about the history of your community … With community engagement, you get the understanding of how we got here and a really good idea of the decisions that were made and the decisions that worked and the decisions that didn’t work,” said Jackson, adding there was never a shortage of fascinating subjects from which to draw tales from.
“This book could be written 20 times,” he said.
Knott’s engagement with recent immigrants or with Aboriginal residents with strong roots tied to the land gave her a sense of perspective and offered the writer a glimpse into the different fabric that’s sewn into Prince Rupert’s diversity.
“We heard so many stories from people [from] all over the world who choose to live in Prince Rupert. It was so amazing … wherever they came from, [some of them] just packed up their car and drove here with whatever they had,” said Knott.
“Listening to their stories and then writing them up, [the stories] get embedded in your head and they’re there forever. It makes you appreciate all of their experiences and all of your own. It’s an eye-opener.”
Seven hundred and fifty printed copies will be distributed for free to North Coast Literacy, multicultural groups, schools, the Prince Rupert Library, the City of Prince Rupert, the District of Port Edward, the Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Prince Rupert and First Nations.