Artists respond to Goderich tornado

Celtic Cross in Goderich

“Nature giveth and taketh all,” says an inscription on The Tree of Life, a new sculpture in a Goderich, Ontario, park. On August 21, 2011, a powerful F3 tornado roared off Lake Huron and devastated the picturesque town, killing one man, tearing the roofs off numerous historic churches and store fronts, and destroying many thousands of trees. A year later the community is still digging itself out, but artists have responded creatively to the damage.

The Once, Goderich Celtic Roots FestivalOn Saturday I attended Goderich Celtic Roots Festival with some friends. It took place at Lions Harbour Park, where the tornado had mounted a bluff and headed toward downtown. Some century-old trees shattered by the tornado have been turned into a series of chainsaw carvings by artist Bobbi Switzer. The designs follow the Celtic theme of the 20-year-old music and arts festival. The Once (at left under the appreciative gaze of one new statue) from Newfoundland was just one of 25 international bands performing.

With proper maintenance the carvings are expected to survive about 100 years. Keeping the stumps in place will also help stabilize soil and prevent erosion.

Near the centre of the park another sculpture was installed as a historic marker to commemorate the disaster. The Tree of Life, created by blacksmith James Wallace, depicts a broken tree with a living branch sprouting from one side. Guelph residents will be familiar with another of Wallace’s installations: the memorial to the 14 women murdered at the École Polytechnique in Montreal on Dec. 9, 1989, located at the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa Rivers.

Ontario Huron shoreline is famous for its sunset. It is eerie to see video footage of the deadly storm approaching the beach which I photographed when my daughter, Brenna, and I visited Goderich in 2006 (below). How can we respond to nature’s brutality? Art provides a powerful path to healing.

Goderich beach

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