Hands of Labour and Time

The photographs on these pages are selections from a series called Hands of Labour and Time, created by artist and photographer Dawna VanSoelen. She was inspired to undertake the personal…

November 20, 2010 | | Back Issues

The photographs on these pages are selections from a series called Hands of Labour and Time, created by artist and photographer Dawna VanSoelen.

She was inspired to undertake the personal project as she contemplated the community service her son and daughter were required to perform to graduate from high school.

“I was thinking about how to get these kids involved in some hard work,” she admits.

It was around the time of the Grand Valley Fall Fair two years ago, and her reflections turned to her hard-working neighbours in the farm community of East Garafraxa where she grew up.

“I realized they were getting older and passing on,” she says. “And that is what triggered me to pay tribute to the special people who had so greatly inspired me when I was a kid. I felt these kind, dedicated, generous, hard-working people should be recognized.”

When she approached her elderly neighbours with the idea, Dawna says, “they were all quite surprised, but they also seemed honoured.” She made greeting cards using the photos of each of her subjects to thank them for their participation.

One of her first subjects was her own grandmother, Isabelle Lightle. She “got right into it,” Dawna says. “In no time at all she wrote a story to help with this bright idea of mine.”

Following is an excerpt from the story Isabelle wrote to go with her granddaughter’s photographs:

These hands could well represent the pioneers who came and settled in East Garafraxa in the 1800s. They sailed across the ocean from other lands to take up land along the Grand River and farther inward. They plowed the land with oxen, and grew wheat to make bread for the family.

Everything was done by hand, including felling trees and chopping wood. Some families were lucky to have a cow, so Mother would churn the cream into butter. Many came with only an axe and, if lucky, a box of matches. Mother would keep the fire going in the fireplace to make a new neighbour a cup of tea.

One of the first settlers helped build a log house and it was used for both school and church. The church was the hub of the farming community.

The Grand River flows merrily through most of Garafraxa. One of its sources is in East Garafraxa between the 17th and 18th lines, at Mud Lake. This lake is fed from many strong springs on the hillsides. Without the Grand River it would have been impossible to settle here, for without water there is no life…

Times were hard, but with faith, fortitude and strong arms, they built good homes and barns…

Each and every one in East Garafraxa has had a hand in creating a beautiful township. Let’s hope that their children can pass this on. The hands of labour and time don’t stand still.

About the Author More by Dawna VanSoelen

Dawna VanSoelen is and artist and photographer from East Garafraxa.

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