On Dec. 5, a crowdfunding campaign was launched to support the development of a new centre for traditional arts in Algoma.
Since 2004, AlgomaTrad has partnered with arts organizations, local schools and municipalities, and First Nations communities to provide over 300 programs, workshops, dances, festivals, and camps throughout the Algoma district.
The organization’s focus has been primarily on “traditional arts,” which encompass everything including folk music, dance, heritage craft, wood fibre arts, blacksmithing, woodworking, food and more.
“Traditional arts involves hands-on learning,” says Julie Schryer, co-founder and artistic director of AlgomaTrad.
When Schryer and co-founder Pat O’Gorman started AlgomaTrad in 2002, they rented locations to run camps, festivals, workshops, classes, concerts and dances.
For the past ten years, they have rented the former Algoma Music Camp on St. Joseph Island, a property that used to belong to the Gartshore family, as their home base.
Schryer has had a long history with this property.
“I went there as a kid,” says Schryer, who along with O’Gorman, has over 40 years of involvement in Canadian traditional music as performers, teachers, recording artists, and festival organizers.
In 2015, when the 50-acre former Algoma Music Camp property went up for sale, AlgomaTrad and its supporters acquired it.
“We needed a home and a place to flex our mandate and our programming,” she says.
The property had a number of structures that the organization has been using for its mandate.
Almost three years ago, the group created a business plan and began to design drawings for a $3 million upgrade to the infrastructure on the property.
One of the first improvements was the development of a pavilion on the property.
“We have a beautiful big 30 by 60 timber wood pavilion that we built with the support of Ontario Trillium Foundation funding, as well as other money we fundraised,” says Schryer noting that in addition to financial support, over 100 volunteers offered “muscle” in the building of the structure.
But that was only the beginning of their plan.
In order for AlgomaTrad to take this critical next step in its journey, to build the AlgomaTrad Centre as an environmentally-sustainable, year-round home for learning, sharing and the celebration of traditional music, dance, and heritage arts, they needed to raise further funds.
The group set a goal is to raise $300,000 in order to leverage grants of $2.5 million for their ambitious project.
To accomplish this, they launched a crowdfunding campaign on Saturday, Dec. 5 through Fundrazr.
“We already have a conditional contract with NOHFC for a million”.
The additional funding would help AlgomaTrad to winterize buildings, add a modern kitchen large enough to host foods workshops year-round, build a signature hall for hosting workshops, performances, dances, and events throughout the year, and improve the facility for accessibility.
“There is a barn on the property that has been used as a concert hall since the 70s. It is rough shape, but it’s up on the hill in a beautiful location,” says Schryer.
“So we are going to rebuild [it] so it will be a four-season timber frame building. It will be gorgeous.”
The property also currently has a dining hall that requires upgrades.
“It is made out of reclaimed B.C. fir and it’s charming. But it’s not insulated, and structurally, it could use some work. You can only currently use it for three months of the year, then it gets very draughty,” she laughs.
“Our plan is to add a new kitchen onto that building that will be designed to offer many workshops in foods, whether you want to learn about fermenting, food security, or local food.”
Funds will also provide septic, better accessibility and parking, as well as a permaculture landscape.
“I have been thinking about this all my life,” says Schryer.
“It has always been a part of my life to bring people together to experience community and connection through joyful arts, through shared experiences, like dance, music and craft.”
Schryer, along with co-founder O’Gorman, have been moving closer to their vision of a year-round centre with inclusive, multigenerational programming.
She notes that there are also ongoing discussions with both FedNor and Canada Cultural Spaces Fund which are still “pending”.
“If the fundraiser does well, and we have our own money, then NOHFC will start releasing funds.”
The group would like to begin construction in 2021.
“We would like to at least start getting one of the main buildings and septic worked on, as well as accessibility,” says Schryer.
“We have design drawings and been in communication with builders and architects.”
She recognizes that there will be stages to this project, starting with the current fundraising campaign.
“What we need right now is funding to come in from the public, and possibly sponsorships.”
On top of all the volunteer work and planning they do for AlgomaTrad, Schryer and O’Gorman also have to work elsewhere to make ends meet.
“The organization is our life and it is a huge commitment,” said Schryer.
“We said, ‘let’s just make this happen.’”
That is exactly what they are doing.
“We want to build a destination in Northern Ontario for this kind of multi-generational and inspirational learning, sharing, and celebration,” says O’Gorman in the press release.
The centre is expected to benefit St. Joseph Island and the central Algoma region with tourism opportunities, local employment, as well as support for local farms and businesses.
The annual AlgomaTrad Family Camp already brings local, provincial, national, and international musicians, artists, and students to the area.
“2019 was the first year we were able to have a camp back on the site … because we built the pavilion there,” says Schryer.
Like many organizations, 2020 has brought some disappointments due to restrictions for gathering in order to keep everyone safe.
“This year we had a whole summer planned of concerts, in addition to the camp, but we couldn’t because of COVID,” says Schryer.
“We held an online camp which was pretty amazing. We had incredible people helping us make that happen, so we went ahead with that, but it has definitely been a challenge for people.”
Despite current pandemic restrictions, Schryer is looking at the value the centre will have in the future.
“We are looking beyond the pandemic,” she says.
“We are not getting any younger. We see this as a centre that is going to be there after we’re gone.”
Schryer and O’Gorman hope their passion for promoting and preserving traditional music and dance, heritage craft, sustainable agriculture, and environmental health, and building a supportive and strengthened community will be passed along to the next generation.
“We invite everyone to join us in being part of this community-built project,” says Schryer.
Watch a video created to support the fundraising campaign here.
Further information on the project can be found on AlgomaTrad’s website.
For more information, you can reach out to Julie Schryer or Pat O’Gorman by phone at (705) 782-4311 or email at email@example.com.