DELBURNE — They hold pets and framed photographs, stuffed toys and hockey sticks. They wear ball caps, a veteran’s beret, hoodies and sports jerseys.
A few are looking out solemnly through their spectacles — but many are smiling widely.
More than 300 local residents — from age five months to 94 years — are depicted in striking black-and-white photos being pasted to the walls of eight local buildings.
In what’s being called a first for any Canadian community, photographer John Beebe from Toronto was invited to create a personal map of Delburne through photographic murals of the village’s parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbours, entrepreneurs, farmers and students.
Beebe aimed to capture naturalistic, humanistic images of residents in a large (one metre by 1.3 metre) format for each photo portrait.
“There was no retouching. People came in as they were. There were no stylists. It was like, ‘Here I am, this is who I am,’” Beebe recalled. His subjects were asked to bring in an item that revealed something about their “authentic” selves — whether it’s a tool box they use regularly, gear from their sports team, or a quilt they made themselves.
Beebe believes the cumulative result speaks for itself.
Motorists are reducing their speed along Main Street to take a better look at the photos mounted to the ATB, canoe sales shop, local drop-in centre and other buildings. Passersby stop to point out people they know on the wall of Delburne School.
“It’s a wonderful thing. I see people who are so interested — they say, ‘Oh that’s my dad!’ … People are slowing down to appreciate other members of the community,” said Nora Smith, a Delburne Family and Community Support Services worker who’s behind the temporary Belonging: Delburne exhibit.
She credits local residents for being courageous enough to allow oversized images of themselves to be displayed publicly, and for having enough buy-in to participate in the community-building effort.
A “people-driven” project that would gather grassroots hopes for Delburne’s future, was initially proposed for the community’s centennial year in 2013. When things got too hectic, Smith said the effort was delayed to Delburne’s 101st year — which is also appropriate, since residents were being asked to look ahead.
Besides the photo murals, the other main component of the $50,000 Belonging project, which was paid for through a municipal grant from the Red Deer and District FCSS, was a community consultation. Some 400 residents — or 48 per cent of Delburne’s 830-person population — revealed their wishes for the rural community that once seemed to be in decline, but lately has been gaining population, particularly young families.
Smith said it was remarkable that people from all demographics — both old and young, newcomers and homesteader families — came up with a very similar wish list for Delburne.
The main wishes were: to see expanded services in the village without a doctor, pharmacist or health clinic; to see downtown revitalization; an improve communications strategy between the village and community members; and a public process to decide where the Belonging project goes from here.
While the large paper photo murals, which are being temporarily mounted onto building exteriors with wallpaper paste with the help of Toronto street artist Dan Bergeron, are only expected to last six months to two years, digital photographs of city residents will live on.
Smith said they could be compiled into a book. “It will be up to residents to decide.” She noted there’s also a question of what should be done with the audiotape of the consultation process.
An action plan for the main goals that came though the consultations is expected to be done later this year.
Meanwhile, students at Delburne school were the latest to appreciate the familiar faces being mounted onto their building on Thursday.
“It’s cool,” said Grade 12 student Jacob Yasinski of the photo murals, while his friend Cassidy Fegan believes the effort is helping build civic pride.
Fellow Grade 12er, Halley Flexhaug, said she likes that the project is personal to Delburne. “It means something.”