Spaces of Belonging: A Journey Along Highway 41 (1990-2000)
Between 1990 and 1994, Thelma and her husband Jim travelled from their home in Saskatoon to the region surrounding Melfort, Saskatchewan. Once a week they packed a lunch and set out to explore the area, as well as learn its history, not only through local museums and landmarks, but by talking to people who still lived there—the people who first settled the towns, villages and farms. The exhibition, Spaces of Belonging: A Journey along Highway 41, is made up of photographs and taped interviews from these weekly excursions.
The people who remain there, in an area considerably depopulated over the last twenty to thirty years, represent the diverse cultural backgrounds of the original settlers. They are of Scandinavian, Hungarian, Polish, Ukrainian, English, Scottish, German and French ancestry. The early years of their settlements were marked by extreme poverty and hardship, failed crops and severe winters. The people of the region worked cooperatively to overcome every obstacle, and a strong community spirit developed, a spirit that is still evident to this day.
With each visit, Thelma’s rapport with the people she photographed and interviewed increased. She made many special friends who came to trust her enough to speak plainly about their values and beliefs. She didn’t always know what she was looking for when setting up a portrait or asking questions, but she did know that there was a mysterious power in this part of the Prairies. Thelma was drawn to document the landscape, towns and villages, and the people who have been both weathered and strengthened by their lives in this place. There is sadness in the dwindling of these communities, but also joy in what continues. Thelma’s search for the truth of their stories, and of the historical period in which they lived, was rewarded again and again by their insights and observations.