Nick Lees: Local artist and city councillor Aaron Paquette the 'right man' for chief factor

Article content

When Fort Edmonton Park reopens this summer, it will be with its first Indigenous honourary chief factor supporting its large, new Indigenous history attraction.

The foundation invited one of Canada’s premiere First Nations’ artists to serve in the celebrated ceremonial position. The artist is Aaron Paquette, the city councillor who defeated 11 other candidates in 2017 in Edmonton’s northeast Ward 4, which includes Manning and Clareview.

“I was approached nearly two years ago about the chief factors’ position and was told I was the right man at the right time for the job,” says Paquette, 47, an award-winning artist and writer whose work can be viewed in museums, schools, hospitals and LRT stations across the city.

“My reply was that if I can help serve people by helping them understand the part Fort Edmonton played in our history, I am all in. Growing up in Edmonton, I have always thought the Fort was an amazing place. It has helped me realize the strength of families and the community.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Fort Edmonton Park is re-opening July 1 after a $165-million expansion. Its Indigenous People’s Experience is the largest of four new attractions, set on a 29,000-square-metre footprint. Other projects include an expanded 1920s-style midway and a new front entrance and guest services area, while future plans include the expansion of Hotel Selkirk.

Historically, the chief factor was a civilian in charge of the fur-trading fort.

Fort Edmonton’s executive director Janet Tryhuba said Paquette “brings a dynamic and artistic passion to the role of honourary chief factor.”

Darren Dalgleish, president and chief executive of the Fort Edmonton Management Company, said: “Our long-awaited Indigenous People’s Experience will use a full range of engaging experiences to tell the stories of history of Canada from an Indigenous perspective. Developed in partnership with the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and the Metis Nation of Alberta, this will be a truly remarkable flagship exhibit for visitors to enjoy, appreciate and celebrate our rich diverse cultural heritage.”

Paquette says he has always been immensely proud of his heritage; his mother’s family was from Norway and his father was of Cree and Metis stock.

His parents divorced when he was five years old and he found his journalist-painter dad had left behind a work that looked simply like random brush strokes.

“As I backed up, an image came into being,” he says. “That concept has led me throughout life. When I think of seemingly small events, they combine to create the image of our lives.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

He started painting at a young age, using the bottom of draws as a canvas in his basement. These became his “secret gallery,” he said.

His first art sale came as a young man when he was sitting on a sidewalk painting at a Fringe Festival and a passerby declared he would love the painting in his sitting room, if it was captured in oils, he says. “We discussed costs and I went on to eventually make a killing in the art world.”

It was love at first sight when artist, author and city councillor Aaron Paquette met his wife Clarice on a blind date in August 2009. Supplied photo
It was love at first sight when artist, author and city councillor Aaron Paquette met his wife Clarice on a blind date in August 2009. Supplied photo

As for literature, the families’ TV was covered by a tarp in the basement and evening entertainment was listening to their mother read fables and Indigenous stories.

This custom helped Paquette develop a love of literature and led to the publishing of several of his books, including his award-winning young adult fantasy, Lightfinder. It won him the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.

“The story has a young Cree woman setting out in the wilderness to find her runaway younger brother,” he says. “It centres on growing up, dealing with love and loss and the choices life puts in our path.”

His passion for education also led him to work with Alberta Education, various school boards and teachers’ associations to help develop art curriculum and improve academic achievement. In 2012, he created an education conference to develop effective approaches to creating a healthy and respectful learning environment.

In August 2009, Paquette met his wife Clarice when they were set up on a blind date. They married in July 2010.

Advertisement

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“I was immediately smitten and we now have a family of four kids,” says the artist. “But I told my Clarice if we did well, I would like to serve the community. My mother was really involved in the community and planted the idea in her children’s heads.”

In 2017, Paquette was elected to city council and has focused on improving services for residents and ending what are known as “ward wars,” where councillors fight one another over budgets and support services.

“I believe I have managed on council to accomplish a surprising amount in a short time,” he says. “I would like to finish a few more things in one more term and then sail off into the sunset. But if I think there is more work I can do after that, I will consider it and return with energy once more to a community that supports me.”

Edmontonians are invited to join Paquette, Mayor Don Iveson, and the Running Thunder Dancers at a virtual Chief Factor’s Breakfast on YouTube at 10 a.m. June 10.

nleesyeg@gmail.com

Read more from columnist Nick Lees

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles