The Hills Are Alive Music and Dance Cultural Fest
If you drive down the southern stretch of the Alberta Highway 41- the Buffalo Trail- through the town of Elkwater in mid June, you’ll notice a sign for The Hills Are Alive Music and Cultural Fest on the side of the road. A small dirt road to the left of the sign leads down into a valley in which a main building and a handful of cabins stand at the edge of a field. In the midst of these permanent buildings are a scattering of portable structures, namely trapper-style tents, teepees and Red River carts. This scene, vaguely suggestive of a Red River Metis buffalo-hunting camp, is the site of the annual Hills are Alive Music and Dance Cultural Fest.
The Hills are Alive Music and Dance Cultural Fest is a four-day Metis music and dance workshop and cultural festival held annually in mid-June. The event- which is put on by the Miywasin Centre in Medicine Hat, Alberta– is located in Whispering Pines Camp- a venue typically reserved for Christian summer camps- just outside of Elkwater, Alberta, in the Cypress Hills.
A product of the Metis cultural revival of the 1980’s and 1990’s, The Hills are Alive camp helps to perpetuate the traditional Metis arts and instill a sense of cultural and ethnic pride in both older and younger Metis generations. The following is a brief description of some of the workshops and activities the Hills are Alive Music and Dance Cultural Fest has to offer.
At the heart of the Hills are Alive camp are the various fiddle workshops taught by renowned Metis and Old Time fiddlers. The camp offers group lessons- which are taught in cabins, trappers’ tents and teepees scattered throughout the camp- for fiddlers with “Beginner”, “Moderate”, and “Advanced” skill levels. The groups will often practice to the accompaniment of seasoned piano accompanist Lionel Gilbertson, who rotates from group to group. In accordance with Metis and Old Time fiddle culture, these workshops are notably relaxed and carefree. Some of the fiddle instructors at the camp include:
- John Arcand, dubbed the “Master of the Metis Fiddle”, a widely respected Metis violinist and a leader in what could be called the Metis Cultural Renaissance of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
- Patti Kustorok Lamoreaux, sometimes referred to as one of the smoothest fiddle players in North America, a renowned Old Time fiddler from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
- Gordon Stobbe, a master fiddler from Canada’s East Coast.
- JJ Guy, a Metis fiddle showman from rural Saskatchewan.
- Daniel Gervais, a Metis fiddle instructor and virtuoso.
- Alex Lamoreaux, son of Patti Kustorok Lamoreaux, a Metis fiddle champion from British Columbia.
Each day during the camp, at the end of the lessons, a number of fiddlers from all manner of workshops, along with a handful of guitar and mandolin players, congregate in the main building to jam to traditional Metis and Old Time fiddle tunes. These jaunty jamming sessions offer reprieve to the students after a hard day’s work.
Guitar, Mandolin and Bagpipe Workshops
The Hills are Alive camp also offers guitar and mandolin lessons to musicians of all skill levels. Some of the guitar and mandolin instructors at the camp include:
- Don Sawchuk, a guitar, mandolin, piano and fiddle player from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
- Wally Garioch, a musician and actor from Medicine Hat, Alberta.
- Ernie Mylymok, a composer and guitar, banjo and mandolin player from Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Lessons on the bagpipe, an important cultural instrument for Anglo-Metis of Highland Scotch descent, are taught by bagpipe maker and performer Bob Colley.
A number of Metis dance experts- including Doreen Bergum, a Metis elder- teach Metis jigging- a mainstay of Metis culture. Some of the traditional dances the instructors teaches include the iconic Metis Sash Dance- in which dancers jig within the four quarters of a cruciform made from perpendicularly-laid arrow sashes; most frequently done to the accompaniment of the famous Red River Jig- and the Metis Broom Dance. The instructors also teaches square dancing at the camp.
A culturally invaluable element of the Hills are Alive camp is the Michif language workshop, taught by elders native to the Qu’Appelle and Red River Valleys fluent in the language. Michif- a hybrid language influenced by the French, Cree, Nakota (Stoney) and Ojibwa languages- is the traditional language of the French Metis.
Other related classes at the Hills are Alive camp include classes in Metis history, storytelling and archaeology.
Other important parts of the Hills Are Alive camp are the Metis craft lessons, taught by skilled Metis artisans. Some of these traditional crafts include sash finger weaving, capote making, Metis-style beading and hand drum making. Other First Nations-style and modern items made at the camp include dream catchers, medicine bags, medicine wheels and friendship bracelets.
Some other activities at the Hills are Alive camp include bannock-making (bannock, a type of frybread and a stable of Metis cuisine, is a Scottish food that was introduced to the Americas by Scotch/Orcadian fur traders) and rock climbing.