Guelph Guild of Sto­ry­tellers presents rich sto­ries with an ideal back­drop – gar­dens and a river


Guelph Guild of Sto­ry­tellers presents rich sto­ries with an ideal back­drop – gar­dens and a river

Abu­colic set­ting is a great place to be en­ter­tained and en­light­ened by a good story. For the past 10 years, the Guelph Guild of Sto­ry­tellers has shown how it’s done with Tea ‘n’ Tales events at the Guelph En­abling Gar­den at River­side Park.

To mark the 10th an­niver­sary, there will be 10 sto­ry­telling ses­sions this sum­mer at 10 a.m. on Fri­days from June 30 to Sept. 1. The lineup in­cludes sto­ry­tellers from Toronto, Kitch­ener, Water­loo, Burling­ton, Elora and Wis­con­sin, along with lo­cal favourites such as Jan Sher­man, Ad­woa Ba­doe, Sya Van Geest and Brian Hol­stein. There are also a cou­ple of mu­si­cal sto­ry­tellers on the sched­ule.

Au­di­ence num­bers were small in the early days, says Hol­stein, pres­i­dent of the guild and chief or­ga­nizer of Tea ‘n’ Tales. At first, there might have been only three peo­ple lis­ten­ing with five or six guild mem­bers do­ing the telling. But the com­mu­nity is catch­ing on and crowds can reach 100 with se­niors from lo­cal re­tire­ment homes of­ten con­verg­ing on the event, he says.

“Four or five years ago, it started turn­ing around. Peo­ple would ask me, ‘Are you do­ing that thing again?’ ” Hol­stein says with a laugh.

Hopes are high for this sum­mer’s se­ries. For one thing, the Guelph En­abling Gar­den was re­cently rec­og­nized as one of 150 public gar­dens worth vis­it­ing dur­ing Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary year.

In a world ad­dicted to screen time, it’s re­fresh­ing to know there’s still de­mand for real, au­then­tic, face-to-face sto­ry­telling, says

Hol­stein, a re­tired spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher.

“A good story will put a pic­ture in your mind, but it doesn’t dic­tate the pic­ture like movies do. There are sto­ries that are meant to be read, but th­ese are meant to be told. It’s quite a skill,” he says. “And the En­abling Gar­den is the per­fect place to tell sto­ries.”

Trevor Bar­ton is a co-founder of the Guelph En­abling Gar­den, a mil­len­nium project he took on with Betty Richard. At the time, Bar­ton was a man­ager with the city’s waste de­part­ment and Richard was the city’s ad­min­is­tra­tor of dis­abil­ity ser­vices.

While the Home­wood Health Care and St. Joseph’s Hos­pi­tal and Home both had ther­a­peu­tic gar­den­ing pro­grams for their own clien­tele, there were no public ther­a­peu­tic gar­dens in the city at the time, Bar­ton says. Gar­den­ing has phys­i­cal, en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits for ev­ery­one who en­joys it. Bar­ton and Richard en­vi­sioned public gar­dens that could ac­com­mo­date wheel­chairs, walk­ers and other dis­abil­i­ties.

In part­ner­ship with the City of Guelph, and thanks to some Tril­lium and United Way fund­ing along with a fundrais­ing cam­paign, the Guelph En­abling Gar­den opened in 2005.

The gar­den fea­tures ac­ces­si­ble paths, raised gar­den beds, er­gonomic tools and signs in Braille, open­ing gar­den­ing to a pop­u­la­tion that can’t do the work on their hands and knees. Hor­ti­cul­tural ther­a­pists of­fer gar­den­ing sem­i­nars at the site, and for 10 years the en­abling gar­den has hosted the weekly sto­ry­telling ses­sions of­fer­ing free tea, hot or iced, de­pend­ing on the weather.

“The gar­den needs to be a des­ti­na­tion point and th­ese sto­ry­telling ses­sions help us,” Bar­ton says. “With the river, the gar­den and the sto­ries – it’s so re­ward­ing.”

There are stan­dard el­e­ments that make a good story, but th­ese sto­ry­tellers have their own ca­dence, rhythm, tempo and tim­bre that rise above the nearby Speed River and yet blend with it.

It’s an en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to tell at the river, says Sya Van Geest, a re­tired school teacher and long­time guild mem­ber.

“The sun, the river, the am­bi­ent sound – the set­ting is per­fect,” she says.

Van Geest be­came in­ter­ested in African folk tales through an­other vol­un­teer project – the GoGo Grand­moth­ers – and she finds th­ese sto­ries re­ver­ber­ate more when told by the river ver­sus an in­door set­ting.

Van Geest and Hol­stein say it’s bet­ter to know a story than mem­o­rize it. That al­lows the teller to adapt to the mood and re­cep­tion of the au­di­ence.

But Jay Wil­son says he prefers to re­cite ma­te­rial from me­mory. He’s an ac­tor and pup­peteer so that prob­a­bly has some­thing to do with it, he says. He of­ten re­cites po­etry and some­times tests new ma­te­rial at Tea ‘n’ Tales. And don’t be sur­prised if a pup­pet takes over the telling when Wil­son is on stage.

“It’s very ex­cit­ing,” he says. “As an ac­tor, I’m al­ways search­ing for the im­me­di­acy of be­ing in front of an au­di­ence. But any­one can do it. You just take a big breath and do it.

“I tip my hat to Brian that we’re still go­ing at this af­ter 10 years. He’s the one mak­ing it hap­pen.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ad­woa Ba­doe, Ann Estill, El­iz­a­beth Mat­son, James Gor­don

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