LIVERPOOL, N.S. - Todd Labrador said it was a huge honour to win the Indigenous artist award.
Labrador, who’s known about the award since September, accepted it at a gala at Halifax’s Discovery Centre Nov. 18.
Labardor divides him time between Queens County and Vancouver Island, where his wife’s from. When he’s on the island, he’s just outside Qualicum Beach, about a half hour north of Nanaimo.
The self-taught artist is best known for building birch bark canoes. Labrador has also built wigwams and recently built one for the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre. Labrador built another wigwam on Prince Edward Island.
“A wigwam is a traditional home of the Mi’kmaq people,” he explained.
Labrador said there are different styles and shapes, but he built a cone-shaped one that is about 11 feet tall with a 12-feet diameter.
“It’s all made out of birch bark and sewn with spruce root and things like that,” he said.
Labrador’s father was the first chief of the Acadia First Nation and was mostly raised by Labrador’s great-grandfather, Joe Jeremy.
“Joe Jeremy was born in 1874, and he made his living creating things with his hands – baskets and he built birch bark canoes and wooden sleighs,” said Labrador.
As a young person, Labrador heard lots of stories about what his great-grandfather did, including all the things he created.
“I became fascinated with that,” he said.
Over the years, Labrador and his father wanted to bring back the canoe-building tradition because no one really did it anymore.
Though Labrador has learned a lot about canoe building on his own, he said he got some teaching from elders across North America.
“My father died in 2002, and I built my first full-size canoe in 2004,” he said.
One of the things Labrador works with is winter bark.
Winter bark is something you can scrape to make images. Getting winter bark takes patience, he explained, because it has to be a certain temperature and certain time between September and May. If the tree is not ready, Labrador said you have to walk back many times throughout the week for the right time.
“It’s my hobby. I love it, and that’s what I do in my spare time,” he said.
Read more about Labrador's canoes:
Labrador received his award almost exactly four years from the day his son died.
“The anniversary of my son’s death was the day after I received the award,” he said.
After his son died, Labrador ran away from his friends and home province. Four years later, he said he’s beginning to release his anger and guilt.
“Birch bark and teaching culture and art and being around M’ikmaq people has really helped me through that rough four years of my life,” he said.
“My wife and family and friends have also very much helped me.”
Labrador said canoe building and reviving parts of his mi’kmaw culture has been extremely therapeutic.
Visit https://artsns.ca/creative-ns-gala/creative-ns-awards-gala-2017 for information about the Creative NS Awards Gala.