An only child, Caterina Edwards often provided her own company. “As far back as I can remember, I was telling myself stories – people probably thought I was talking to myself.” She learned she was good at writing when a substitute teacher in junior high school caught her writing a story using her classmates as characters instead of paying attention; the teacher began reading aloud installments of the tale, and the class got hooked.
Today, Edwards is a successful Canadian writer who excels in several genres and has put Edmonton on the map as a setting for literary work. “I discovered at university that good writing could come out of this place, and not just from cities like London and New York.” Her Italian heritage comes through as many of her stories and characters shift in place and time between Edmonton and Italy. Edwards’ first novel, The Lion’s Mouth, was set in Edmonton and Venice. Published in 1982, it has since been translated into French and Italian.
Edwards describes her 2008 non-fiction work, Finding Rosa: A Mother with Alzheimer’s, a Daughter in Search of the Past, as “the most satisfying experience I had as a writer.” The book, lauded by the Alzheimer’s Society, spans the personal and political as it weaves her mother’s loss of memory with her loss earlier in life of her country, Istria, which is now divided among Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. “In it, I was able to help other people and also give voice to people from Istria.” The book was abridged in the Reader’s’ Digest series: Encounters: Today’s Best Non-fiction. In 2000, Guernica Editions published Caterina Edwards: Essays on Her Work by professors in Canada, Italy, and the US.
Her latest book, The Sicilian Wife, was named a Best Book of 2015 by The National Post. It is the story of a Sicilian immigrant who finds refuge and opportunity in Edmonton.
“I realize I have a sense of responsibility to give voice to people who don’t necessarily have voices.”
Usha Gupta has been singing and dancing since she was four years old in her native India. Today she is known as an ambassador of cultural diversity in Edmonton and Canada as well as for the strong body of work she has created over the past three decades as a dancer, choreographer, producer, and teacher. “Coming to Canada in 1989 was a great blessing for me. It’s such a wonderful multicultural country. I was able to fulfil my dreams here.”
From expressive solo numbers to elaborate group dances, Gupta has created a beautiful body of work focusing on traditional classical Indian dance forms as well as the language and forms of contemporary dance and art. With her professional dance company, Usha Gupta Dance Entourage, she has toured her major dance works, including Aalaap and Nari, Nari,Nari…My Love, across Canada and seven major cities in India. She has been featured with the Brian Webb Dance Company and Kalanidhi Fine Arts of Canada, earned the Government of India’s Choreography Award, and received support from various agencies including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the Edmonton Arts Council. She has always found time to mentor students from her Usha Kala Niketan Dance School. Some have gone on to develop their own professional careers and many participate in Heritage Days, Canada Day, and Family Day celebrations. “I teach in the same way that I learned in India. Your foundation has to be very strong.”
Gupta’s influence in the Edmonton community is a celebration of diversity. Her positive energy brings people together through artistic innovation, quality and humanity.
“I am the most content person at the moment, in dance, in music, and in my career. I can sit in my living room and feel I have everything.”
Alex S. Janvier
Art was Alex Janvier’s consolation during the 11 years he spent at the Blue Quills Residential School. “When art came along every Friday, I would be lost in it. Art was my escapism, a precious hour.” During Janvier’s teens, he enjoyed three summers of private tutoring by Professor Carlo Altenburg of the University of Alberta, who recognized his ability. “It was a wonderful introduction to the art world. He trained me in observation. I picked up so much during those summers. The professor was absolutely the pivot in my life.” Janvier was accepted to an art school in London, England, and also to the Ontario College of Art, but the federal government refused him permission to attend either. Janvier graduated from the Alberta College of Art (part of SAIT at the time) with honours. Now at age 81, he has acquired more than enough lifetime honours and doctorates “for a guy who couldn’t be accepted by the Indian agents,” including his most recent, an honourary degree from the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Janvier’s work is seen in buildings across Canada and is exhibited internationally. He is a member of the Order of Canada and of the Alberta Order of Excellence. He has received the National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award, the Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Governor General’s Award, and honourary doctorates from the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, and the Blue Quills First Nations College, among many other honours. Described as timeless, empowering, and healing, his work is found in numerous collections, including the Canada Council Art Bank, Art Gallery of Alberta, and City of Edmonton Public Art Collection. A one-man show will open at the National Gallery in Ottawa in November.
Janvier’s biggest project – a signature public artwork for the new Rogers Place Winter Garden entitled Tsa Tsa Ke K’e (Iron Foot Place) – is currently being translated into a 150-square- metre tile mosaic and will be unveiled this summer. Another highlight of his career is the striking 62-foot- diameter dome entitled Morning Star in the Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Many of Janvier’s works can be seen by appointment at the Janvier Gallery, which Janvier and his wife Jacqueline operate near their home on Cold Lake First Nation.
“I still paint full time and love every second of this life that is the nearest thing to heaven. It’s a privilege when you’re painting.”
Howard P. Stutchbury
1874 - 1957
Howard Stutchbury’s legacy is still being felt in Edmonton more than a century after he moved here in 1903. He was born in Taunton, Somerset, England in 1874 and raised in Toronto where he studied piano and voice at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
An accomplished baritone, Stutchbury founded the Edmonton Operatic Society in 1904, with his friend Vernon Barford, and played the villainous Gaspard in their first operetta The Chimes of Normandy. That same year he joined the Edmonton Choral Society, serving on the board and as a soloist. In 1905 Stutchbury and Barford organized and performed in the grand inaugural concert at the Thistle Rink celebrating Canada’s entry to the Dominion.
The two friends led rival choirs, Stutchbury at Grace Methodist Church and Barford at All Saints Anglican. Together they organized and competed in a new music festival in 1908 that drew an audience of 2,000, 11 per cent of Edmonton’s population at the time, to its final concert. That festival grew into the Alberta Music Festival, which continues to this day and was the forerunner of provincial and territorial music festivals across Canada. It also spurred the creation of the Edmonton and District Music Festival, known today as the Kiwanis Music Festival. Stutchbury served as president and endowed the festival’s coveted Stutchbury Cup for vocal excellence. He was also long-time choral director at McDougall United Church.
Not only was Stutchbury a central figure in Edmonton’s cultural development in the first half of the 20th century, he is remembered also for his contribution to veteran’s affairs and his pioneering of the public accident prevention movement in Alberta as founder of the Alberta Safety Council.
“He was a marvelous man!” says his granddaughter Helen (Stutchbury) Lees. “He was passionate about his volunteer work, and his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren have carried on in his footsteps.” His great-granddaughter Mary Dormer is treasurer of the music festival in Inverness, Scotland. When Mayor Elmer Roper dedicated a memorial and park in Stutchbury’s honour in 1960, he said Howard Stutchbury had “done as much as any person in Alberta to promote culture in the Province.”