Open Air Market at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation each Thursday

The women of the market work on their beadwork and leatherwork.

by Jan McQuay

M’CHIGEENG— When Mark Seabrook asked me what I thought of a craft market at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF) in M’Chigeeng, I looked at the location with new eyes. The OCF is perfectly situated at the crossroad of Hwy 540 and Hwy 551, one of the busiest corners on all of Manitoulin, and there was lots of room for vendors on the grounds outside the beautiful round OCF building.

Darlene Bebonang shows off her deerskin moccasins. photos by Jan McQuay
Darlene Bebonang shows off her deerskin moccasins.
photos by Jan McQuay

Mark envisioned the new market as an addition to the summer market experience for visitors to the Island. He named it the Open Air Market.

This newest, fledgling market began in July, and runs every Thursday through August. I am there, with my potter’s wheel under the shade of a tree. Darlene Bebonang brings her beadwork, necklaces and other jewellery, and sets up her display where cars turning from Hwy 540 can see her. Darlene has taught beading and leatherwork at Kenjgewin Teg and the OCF. “I learned how to make deerskin moccasins from Lillian Cheechoo,” she told me. She’s the mother of well-known artist Shirley Cheechoo.

You never know exactly who will be there. Bertha Roy, who tells me to call her by her nickname, “Squeek,” may come with her knitting, sweaters, hats, mittens. Muriel Assiniwe and her sister may be here from Wikwemikong, with beaded jewellery and knitting. Maggie King may be here with her leatherwork and dreamcatchers. Many of the vendors are Anishnaabek, all of us do our own crafts.

We chat while Squeek knits. She says knitting is easy, and sometimes makes her own patterns using graph paper. I guess it’s like pottery, it’s easy with practice. She tells me how the OCF used to be full of crafts and elders came and sold their work. It seems to me this market is in the same tradition, although it’s just for the summer.

The Open Air Market opened with little fanfare so it’s quiet, but the time isn’t wasted. We can make things, and we chat quite a bit. Darlene sets up some chairs around a table and some ladies work together. Sheila Schuette, who makes hand-stitched quilts, joins them, learning beadwork. Stephanie Skilling, a summer resident, makes jewellery. Pat McGibbon does bicycle repairs and maintenance, and has new and used bikes for sale.

Passing vehicles sometimes stop, surprised to find a market here on a Thursday. When a tour bus comes for an Anishnaabek dance performance, there may be a flurry of activity, or not, depending on their schedule.

Stephanie Skilling discusses her work with a customer.
Stephanie Skilling discusses her work with a customer.

The market, the art gallery, the performances, the videos that play in the central hall, they’re all part of the cultural tourism experience that Mark is helping to create at the OCF this year.

Mark is no stranger to markets. An artist in his own right, he regularly attended the Mindemoya Market on Saturdays last year, and still does when his busy schedule allows. He has a book of photography and poetry, entitled ‘Cruising Back to the Ranch with My Young Friend.’ But his work on projects for the OCF is a priority right now.

Manitoulin now has a Wednesday market in Kagawong, a Thursday market at the OCF in M’Chigeeng, a Friday market in Gore Bay and Saturday markets in Mindemoya and Little Current. And every festival, powwow and special weekend has its own market, all through the summer.

There’s a poem in Mark’s book that starts, “what I say is its summertime: live every day like it were your last. move at strange hours and see the beautiful land and sea…” The freshwater sea, I think.