A collection of stories that can never be replaced

By Andrea Cranfield –

Creative minds Brenda Dunn and Shawn MacDonell are all set to show the world their latest project, a book set to be released later this month.

Re[place] Re[collect] is a collection of stories told by seniors living in different rural neighbourhoods throughout Ottawa and interlaced with photographs. Brenda did the interviews while Shawn snapped the pictures.

Both are Hintonburg residents. Brenda is a visual artist and has a website called Art in Jest and Shawn runs a creative agency called Creativision. They are always working on new projects to showcase Ottawa’s beauty, businesses, and people.

Their goal with Re[place] Re[collect] was to put seniors’ memories into a book with the intention of connecting people through stories.

“I think the thing that really stuck out to me was how important storytelling is as a way of building a neighbourhood; making yourself a community and making yourself connected has so much to do with sharing stories and listening to stories and asking for them and offering them,” says Brenda. “I didn’t realize how much that mattered to me until I started talking to all these seniors and finding out how incredible their stories are when they just feel so normal and everyday for them.”

Larry Ellis and Brenda Dunn. Photo by Shawn MacDonell

When deciding to publish a book, Brenda said she knew she wanted to do something with seniors.

“Shawn and I both got a lot of influence from our grandparents, they were natural storytellers, my Nanny still is, and we always really liked sitting and hearing people chat about memories and connect with each other in that way.”

Many times, instead of sitting down and interviewing the seniors, Brenda and Shawn ended up integrating themselves into the seniors’ lives, going to their euchre games, Bingo nights, socials, or just hanging out.

“We tried briefly the format of sit down, ask questions, see what people say but that’s not really the best way to get someone’s best story because they feel put on the spot and nobody thinks that their story is particularly interesting,” says Brenda. “What we ended up doing was just sort of talking to people as a group and being in the room and being part of their community and part of their conversations.”

After their outings, the duo would go home and listen to the recordings.

“I would go home and listen to the whole thing over and over and over and little stories and antidotes and snippets would start to emerge and the book ended up being this really beautiful collection of ‘once upon a time’ stories and also little quotes and clips,” says Brenda.

It took about half a year to complete the project, which was made possible when the AOE Arts Council gave Brenda and Shawn a grant for a program called Neighbourhood Arts 150 in order to celebrate different neighbourhoods outside of the downtown core for Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Since the book release coincides with Canada’s 150th anniversary, there are only 150 copies up for grabs.

Re[place] Re[collect] will only be available at the book launch taking place on Oct. 22 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion Orleans Branch at 800 Taylor Creek Drive. With a ticket to the event, which is free to attend, you can get your hands on a book. Fifty books are already reserved for people who helped make the book possible, meaning there are only 100 copies of the book available to the public.

“They’re not for sale, you can’t buy them anywhere, you can get them only as a gift and we’re actually giving them all away at the book launch that we’re hosting so the only way presently to get your hands on a copy is to come to the launch,” says Brenda.

The launch event will feature live music, some speakers, words from Brenda and Shawn, and footage and photographs of the interviews. Of course, attendees will also be able to meet some of the seniors whose stories shaped the book.

“We just want to see people, and make sure the storytellers get to meet people and people get to meet them,” says Shawn.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite or by emailing Brenda at artinjest@gmail.com.

Stories that didn’t make it into the book can also be found at Brenda’s website, artinjest.com. Residents are encouraged to share their stories by going to the website or emailing Brenda.

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