5 communities, 5 elements, 5 objects… countless stories.

ELEMENTAL was a 5 part series wherein the VSOS worked with 5 different communities in Vancouver. Each community used stories about a different element (air, earth, water, fire, metal) as the metaphoric access point for an intergenerational story-share and workshop series. The story-share served as a spring board for the creation of an object or series of objects which now serve as a lasting legacy and focal point for ongoing storytelling in community.


The Strathcona Community Centre approached the VSOS to collaborate on a project that would help provide activities for their youth during the extended March ‘School Closure Days’. From March – May 2011, more than 300 kids and seniors living in Strathcona collaborated to build a giant “Storytelling Kite”.  Lead artists were Carmen Mills and Naomi Horii.

From the stories shared over kite making, a series of hopes and wishes for the world’ were distilled and then incorporated onto the tail of a giant Rokkaku (Japanese six-cornered kite). The Strathcona Youth Council took on the project and helped steer Stories on The Wind on May 1, 2011.

The May 1st event was a lovely kite-flying and storytelling festival in Crab Park with professional storytellers, kite crafting and flying. The music & stories were amplified through a pedal-powered sound system  and as the kites flew, they released their prayers & stories onto the wind.


A partnership with the St. George Rainway and Native Education College (NEC),  ELEMENTAL:earth began with series of free storytelling workshops at the NEC. Elder storytellers indigenous to the land shared stories of the earth and plants from July- August 2011, giving a solid grounding to the intentions launched during Stories on the Wind. .

Following the storytelling, participants designed a “storytellers bench” based on the stories told. The MudGirls then hosted a free weekend cob-building workshop.

The site for the bench is the N/W corner of Robson Park at 13th and St. George. This is a very relevant site because it is the headwaters of St. George Creek as well as a nexus of business (Destination Auto), service providers (Kivan Boys and Girls Club, Mount Pleasant Family Centre, Odyssey) and co-op housing as well as being part of a public park with a wide array of activities and users including a community garden.

On EarthDay 2012 we celebrated our storytellers’ bench having learned so much about St. George Creek, the False Creek Watershed and the waters surrounding this beautiful Coast Salish territory!


On the November 2011 full moon, we began  a 6 week storytelling workshop series co-sponsored by the  VSOS (www.vancouverstorytelling.org) and Vancouver Community College (VCC)  (http://www.vcc.ca/). Facilitators were Lesley Ewen and Naomi Steinberg.

By bringing careful consideration to the location of VCC on the False Creek Flats the VSOS’s intention was to foster an understanding of and respect for the land’s historical, geographic, political, peopled and wild narrative. 100 years ago the Flats were a tidal marsh, fifteen times bigger than today. It was washed daily by ocean water, mixing with the 9 creeks draining into the area east of what is now Main Street. Surrounded by swamp, grassland, berry bushes, medicinal plants, and rich forest, the large tidal flat fanned towards Clark Drive from a narrow isthmus of land at Main Street. At high tide the water lapped at the edges of today’s Pender Street. Salmon bearing streams flowed up the ravines. The shallows abundantly supported muskrat ponds, shellfish, oolichon, smelt and sturgeon. Thousands of migratory birds lived around the creek. First Nations used to say “When the tide is out, the table is set.” This area was filled in in 1916 to create railroad yards, at which point Main Street was connected permanently.

We made a book of “watermarks” with handmade paper (thanks to Sharon Kallis and the Urban Weavers). Fibers for the paper were sourced at The Means of Production Garden, which is located in near the False Creek Flats as well as a cedar snag near Klahowya Village in Stanley Park.

The book was then immersed in water and frozen – a comment not only to what happens to our stories when we write them down (they become static and frozen rather than shifting and ephemeral when they remain oral), it was also a comment on the time it takes for authentic community engagement, for trust to build and water to flow together. During the 2012 storytelling festival the book was set out to thaw on the Flats.

Currently in development is a ten minute meditative documentary clip, showing the thawing process.


For ELEMENTAL: fire, we worked at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre (MACC), with a grade 6/7 class from Trudeau Elementary. From April – June 2012 the students developed an exciting story about a bear, a scorpion, food security and Ayurvedic medicine as well as planting and tending onions in the MACC herb garden. Lead facilitation was with Naomi Steinberg. Co-faciliators and guests included: Natalie Gan, Melanie Ray, Mohinder Singh and Zaccheus Jackson Nyce.

planting onions in the MACC garden
planting onions in the MACC garden

Narrative captures (journaling and illustration) were part of a display/exhibition at the Sunset Community Centre and the children told their story as part of the ELEMENTAL bike/bus tour.



Finally, working with the University Women’s Club (UWC), ELEMENTAL: metal was conceived as a “give-away”, honouring a wisdom tradition indigenous to the  West Coast namely, the opening of one’s table.


i am only as wealthy as what i am able to give

Using a set of silverware as a spring board for discussion and discovery, 18 women delved into their stories over three intensive evening workshops. They were then invited to co-host  the ELEMENTAL: reception on the grounds of Hycroft, home of the UWC.






The ELEMENTAL initiative was showcased at the 19th Vancouver International Storytelling Festival through a bicycle/bike tour facilitated in part by Red Sara.

ELEMENTAL:what stories are made of  was an opportunity to to engage with the social, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity of Vancouver, in a creative, multi-storied context.

We celebrate the Wild Wet West Coast, home to so many creatures – two legged, four legged, winged and finned.

We acknowledge the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples

We are grateful to our partners, the Strathcona Community Centre and Youth Council, The Mt. Pleasant Family Centre, the Native Education College, Vancouver Community College, Urban Weavers, Moberly Arts and Culture Centre, Trudeau Elementary School and the University Women’s Club.

                                  SCCLOGO with oldest community                NEClogo                  



ELEMENTAL was made possible through funding from Heritage Canada, The Canada Council for the Arts, The BC Arts Council, the City of Vancouver (Cultural Services), Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation (Neighbourhood Matching Fund), and Small Neighbourhood Grant (Mt. Pleasant), in addition to countless volunteer hours and in-kind donations.

Thank you.



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