Parks Canada seeks Indigenous artists for Bellevue House

As part of its restoration and renewal of Kingston’s Bellevue House, Parks Canada has a call out for Indigenous artists to create art installations that will be displayed in both the interior and exterior of the historic property.

The call for artists is part of a plan to tell a more complete view of Sir John A. Macdonald’s “complex legacy” and include varied perspectives in telling that story, notably those of Indigenous people.

Macdonald, of course, has become a more controversial figure in recent years as his prominent role in orchestrating cultural genocide through residential schools has been pushed further into the mainstream.

The story told at Bellevue House previously focused primarily on 1848 and Sir John A. Macdonald’s time with his first wife and son living in the house at that time.

While the story was centred around Macdonald’s time in the home and life in the 1840s, Project Lead for the Bellevue House Renewal Project Elizabeth Pilon says updates will help tell a more complete story of Canada’s polarizing first prime minister.

“We’re going to concentrate, craft a bigger picture from 1848 through confederation and beyond even through more to today,” Pilon said.

“For a wider, holistic approach on John A. MacDonald.”

Bellevue House is seeking proposals for three exterior interpretive panels and three interior panels each with a budget of $2,000 + HST, as well as a larger, signature piece to be displayed on the exterior of the visitor’s centre with a budget of $8,500.

Parks Canada’s call for artists further describes what each installation is meant to communicate, including topics like land acknowledgement, Indigenous culinary and agricultural history, and power and privilege.

The restoration has been underway since 2019, with Bellevue House closing in 2018 for an investigation into what the property would need as part of a renewal process.

Pilon says completing restoration on such a historic property requires careful planning to ensure that any modernizations don’t interfere with the building’s legacy.

“We undertake all our restorations in a very traditional and comprehensive review before we do anything,” Pilon said.

“Anything we do doesn’t compromise the original fabric or the original structures in place, they’re all done in a heritage conservation manner.”

Fairly early in the process Pilon says Indigenous art installations were identified as a meaningful addition to Bellevue House through focus groups with stakeholders and Indigenous community members.

Right now Parks Canada is asking interested Indigenous artists to submit their name by end of day January 8 to

Interested artists will then be contacted by Parks Canada with requests for what is essentially an artist portfolio, before installation proposals are due on January 22.

Bellevue House’s visitor centre and grounds will open to the public again as of the May long weekend.

There’s no firm date for when restoration of the inside of the house will be complete and the site is open to the public again, but Parks Canada is hopeful for some time in 2023.