CANADIANS WHO STANDOUT – DONNA HARRIS (63/150)
Niagara Falls, Canada, midnight, 1979. Abba is playing on the car radio, while my mother frantically fills a rental car with our worldly possessions. I, age five, my brother, age seven, wiping the sleep from our eyes, confused as to why we are abandoning the only home we’ve known. My mother, (a single mother) did not pay the rent. As we drove aimlessly for a few hours my mother decided home for the next few months was a hotel, which I thought would be a temporary residence, but it became an odd permanent dwelling. As the months continued, money dwindled, so we drifted to our next port of call. A campsite within the city surrounded by lush maples and the roar of the falls would be our home for the summer. My brother and I, played blissfully night after night in the camp pool surrounded by tourists and the smell of BBQ’s. What seemed like a Peter Pan life actually was an unstable occurrence of events. My mother, with two kids, was a drifter with no set purpose. Out of the chaos, my imagination rose amidst midnight moves, craziness and instability, to poetic adventures.
As winter approached, the campsite could no longer be called home, once again; we hit the road, back to my birth city, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Settling in an old Victorian mansion turned into apartments, my days we’re filled of dreams of becoming a professional dancer. However, with my mother frequenting local bars, no money, and at times no food, my dreams of becoming a dancer could not be a reality. Before I could start pursuing other creative outlets, my Mother’s wanderlust takes hold once again.
Next stop, Red Deer, Alberta, 1984. I’m 10 years old, confused and moving again. I daydream about dancing and my love of fashion begins. We arrive in Red Deer during the wee hours of the night, via the train. My grandfather picks us up, and then drives us to a hamlet called Bluffton. Grandpa’s farm is reminiscent of an old western movie set in the early 1800’s. When the sun rises, I see endless wheat fields and various livestock, no running water, and an outhouse for a toilet. Shocked, perplexed and dumbfounded, I stare at my new surroundings not sure if I should cry. A city girl from Ontario in a new land.
A brief stay in Bluffton, we moved to Red Deer settling in an apartment. However, similar to travelling gypsies, we move on average, twice, yearly, within the city of Red Deer. During this time, I discover I can draw well, and practice secretly in my bedroom while taking art glasses in school. Another move beckons my mother to Rimbey, Alberta in 1989. My brother, 16, decides his life does not include small town living, and goes it alone in Red Deer.
After high school, I embark in a career in social work for eleven years from 1997-2008. My artist within needed a canvas to paint my personal mosaic. Quitting my job in Red Deer in 2005, I left for Toronto to get the life I dreamt about as a child. I started an apprenticeship at a production studio learning graphic design, along with painting commission works for clients.
For many years, I lived and breathed art. However, in 2009, a recession hit Canada, and I made a decision to relocate back to Alberta for work.
Once in Calgary, I submerged myself in the art scene; fashion, performing and visual arts.
Toronto gave me my artistic wings, while in Calgary I used my wings to fly. I married in 2014, moving to San Jose California with my child and husband. Unfortunately, a divorce ensued, a short time after. I returned to Calgary as a single mom. After I re-grouped, I felt I needed to reinvent myself. With my love for art being the centre of my core, in May of 2017, I decided to turn my old dresses into fabric necklaces. After self teaching myself to create my necklaces, I combined my three passions into my designs; fashion, gardening, and recycling into wearable art.
My beginnings, roaming with my family across Canada, ultimately turned me into the person/artist I am today. The adventures that pursued, all though unorthodox, have forged a path that has defined my life in extraordinary ways. Starting from a young age, I rose up to life’s challenges, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Whatever life threw at me, I overcome with courage, dignity, laughter, faith, and hope. “A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn.” ~Author Unknown. After many turns in my road, I have come full circle living my truth as an artist, parent, women and entrepreneur.
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