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Toronto’s Union Station hosts exhibit by Anishinaabe artist

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An exhibit titled We Are Still Here has been on display at Toronto’s Union Station since June. – Photo by Union Station

By Sam Laskaris

TORONTO – Officials with the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund are thrilled with their latest opportunity to share their story.

A total of nine art panels have been on display at Union Station, the major transportation hub in Toronto, since June.

The exhibit is titled We Are Still Here and features work by Anishinaabe woodlands artist Blake Angeconeb, a member of Lac Seul First Nation in Northern Ontario.

Angeconeb now lives in Winnipeg.

“It’s a really good opportunity to help educate people of the truth and history of Residential Schools,” said Sarah Midanik, the president and CEO of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.

Downie is the late singer of band, The Tragically Hip, and prior to his death, he had urged Canadians to build a better Canada.

And Chanie Wenjack’s story is a well-known one now. He was nine years old when he was sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Kenora, Ont. Three years later, Chanie ran away from the school and tried to walk back home to his family, about 600 kilometres away.

Tragically, his body was found beside railway tracks a week later as he had died from starvation and exposure.

Downie made an album dedicated to Chanie’s story titled, Secret Path.

This marks the third straight year that Union Station has partnered with the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Union Station is one of the fund’s legacy space arts partners.

A 2021 exhibit at Union Station shared information about the work the fund does. Then last fall, the stills from Secret Path were on display.

“They’re a wonderful champion of our work,” Midanik said of Union Station.

It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact number of how many people are looking at this year’s installation from Angeconeb.

“The average [foot] traffic is 200,000 people per day, so that’s the best we can estimate,” Midanik said.

And that’s why fund representatives are thrilled with this latest initiative.

“It’s hard to not feel excited about something so big and impactful in a big space,” Midanik said.

It is located in Union Station’s Oak Room and West Wing. According to a social media posting from the fund, the aim of the exhibit is to “foster connections, ignite colourful conversations, and inspire a fresh perspective on ‘Mino Bimaadiziwin,’ meaning ‘to live a good life’ in Anishinaabemowin.”

Angeconeb’s artwork in the exhibit is a tribute to youth, the next generation of Indigenous resilience and strength.

“It’s hard not to feel impacted by his work,” Midanik said of Angeconeb.

The regular exhibit is scheduled to come down on Oct. 31, but a new addition to the exhibit, unveiled in a ceremony on Oct. 19, will be staying up for a yet-to-be determined time.

This new piece is a portrait of Chanie that Angeconeb painted, and is a piece of work that Angeconeb struggled to create.

“It took me a while to be okay doing this,” he said, adding Chanie’s tale of how he unsuccessfully tried to return home after running away from Indian Residential School is one of the saddest stories around.

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