“As I stood there looking over the water a feeling came over me and it went up to my legs and my knees and I knew then the Ancestors’ spirits were still here,” Pearson said. She remembers telling Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald. It was late April and the Mi’kmaq elder was there with the mayor to offer a prayer and a blessing before construction began. She stood between two excavators.
“I knew then that this was the perfect spot for this amphitheatre,” she said Sept. 15 on the same piece of land. “It will be a wonderful place to show the many ethnic cultures we have here in Nova Scotia.”
That place where her ancestors linger is Oqwa’titek in the heart of Annapolis Royal.
The two excavators have done their work and are long gone. The land on the edge of the Annapolis Basin has been transformed, bringing many cultures together in a small, outdoor theatre. It’s changed the landscape, and changed the future.
“Most holy and precious creator, we ask you to bless these lands, the land of our forefathers,” Pearson prayed. “Make it a gathering place for music, song, and dance -- a place for happiness, peace, and love.”
Peace and Friendship
MacDonald remembers that April 25 morning. He and Pearson stood alone on what was then Petite Parc.
“We both felt the presence of the Ancestors that morning – and I feel their presence again here today as we dedicate this amphitheatre – in a renewal of that historic bond of peace and friendship established in 1605 between the Mi’kmaq people and the French explorers who established Port-Royal,” said Macdonald.
Looking past MacDonald a few kilometres to the southwest, you can see Port-Royal where the first tall ships anchored off Goat Island more than 400 years ago.
West Nova Member of Parliament Colin Fraser said that when French colonist Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, sailed into those waters in 1605 he was greeted by Grand Chief Henri Membertou and the Mi’kmaq people, forging a longstanding alliance of support and mutual respect.
“So it is fitting that this project was completed in collaboration with the Bear River First Nation (L’sitkuk),” Fraser said at the opening. “People come from all over the world to see the site of North America’s first permanent European settlement at Port-Royal.”
“It has been great working with the mayor and the council of the Town of Annapolis Royal on this venture,” said Bear River First Nation Councillor Fred Robar-Harlow. “We would like to thank him and the town for making sure we are represented at this site respectfully and truthfully. We look forward to working together once again in a positive manner.”
When They Arrived
The Sept. 15 celebration also included the unveiling of a trilingual plaque describing the land and the history of Mi’kma’ki and the district of Kespukwitk where Annapolis Royal is located.
The inscription was read in Mi’kmaq by Elder Katherine Sorbey, in French by Pierre Igot, and in English by MacDonald.
“This site marks the coming together of Mi’kmaq of L’sitkuk and the citizens of the Town of Annapolis Royal to commemorate their shared history, and renew the historic bond of friendship first established in 1605,” said MacDonald as he read the English panel.
The plaque is titled Oqwa’titek, which in Mi’kmaq means ‘When They Arrived.’
The plaque, situated at street level above the amphitheatre, was unveiled by MacDonald, Sorbey, Robar-Harlow, Pearson, and Fraser.
Nearby they also unveiled a granite monument with the inscription ‘Oqwa’titek. Renewing the 1605 Bond of Peace and Friendship. September 15, 2017.’
The stone is meant to be touched, MacDonald said after the unveiling. Sorbey said touching the stone gives it energy and said people should touch it every time they are there.
The stone was a gift from local sculptor Brad Hall who saved it from a house that was being torn down years ago. The stone had been in an entryway and the passage of many feet is obvious on its surface.
“He saw in that stone a spirit that he brought back to his workshop, and there it sat for years until it’s true purpose was known,” said MacDonald. “And it’s true purpose is here today, marking this place as Oqwa’titek.”
While the current council oversaw the construction of the amphitheatre, MacDonald noted it was a project decades in the making, an idea conceived by the development commission back in the 1980s, but never built. It was resurrected by members of the town’s Waterfront Development Committee and put in motion by the previous mayor and council and embraced by the current council.
The concept drawings came from landscape architect Joy Elliott and construction was by local company Brown Brothers. Funding came from ACOA, several provincial government departments, the town, and the Nicholson Foundation, among others.
The day also marked the official opening of the refurbished waterfront boardwalk and an outdoor boatbuilding area beside the wharf and behind King’s Theatre. Tourists watch and help out as local boat builders construct an authentic Tancook Whaler.
Back at the amphitheatre, before MacDonald and Elder Sorbey strolled arm-in-arm down the boardwalk, the mayor said that during the process of renewing the bonds between the town and Bear River First Nation the Crown stepped out of the way, a possibly unprecedented move on the part of the Crown.
“The land upon which this structure is built has brought together the communities of Bear River First Nation and the Town of Annapolis Royal – in the spirit of a shared history and a developing partnership of mutual respect and benefit – as this amphitheatre is named and marked as a place of Mi’kmaq history and heritage,” he said.
The result has been good.
“This space has been embraced by the community as a gathering place and as a place of quiet reflection,” he said.