THE ARTIST REFLECTS ON HER NIAGARA ROOTS AND THE FUTURE OF THE FRUIT LANDS
Elizabeth Chitty is an interdisciplinary artist who primarily creates video and audio installations and performances. Born and raised in St. Catharines, she returned to Niagara in the late 1980s after gaining a national reputation for her work while based in Toronto and Vancouver. Her video work is included in the current exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian and Indigenous Art: 1968 to Present.
Very recently, Elizabeth learned how her family came to select Niagara as a home. She knew her relatives first came to Canada because one aunt was a war bride to a Canadian Air Force pilot. Then, her grandmother and the youngest aunt followed thereafter – they took a bus from Cape Breton to Toronto, where Traveller’s Aid told them there was work in Niagara, picking peaches. Her grandmother, Edith Mottram, found work cooking for peach pickers while her young aunt cleaned at the camp. That was 1949 and the camp was likely at Port Dalhousie. The rest of the family soon arrived in Niagara - and, it turns out, peaches were the reason Elizabeth is here.
Those of a certain age who grew up in north Niagara remember acre upon acre of soft-fruit orchards and especially remember spring blossom time – the cascades of delicate pastels along the seemingly-endless orchard rows. Over time, many of us watched with concern as some of the best fruit-growing land in Niagara was abandoned in the face of urbanization. And, sadly, as the farms dwindled and the food supply system flooded the market with lower-cost imports, we watched as the local canning industry also disappeared.
‘Guardian of Niagara: The Soft Fruit Industry’ is one of three constructed photographs forming the Guardian of Niagara series, which relate to issues about the environment, food and the economy. The identity of the fantasy figure, Guardian of Niagara, highlights the local but the issues are global.
In this work, The Guardian returns to comment that soft-fruit agriculture, which once defined Niagara, is at serious risk. With her staff of falling water, she straddles the roof of the last fruit-processing plant (closed in Niagara in 2008) and a cherry orchard in bloom, flanked by ripe peaches, all layered on top of a row of suburban houses where orchards once flourished. She says, “Hmmm…subdivisions, monoculture, agribusiness, crazed economy of imports, can we save this land in time?” The answer? “Perhaps.”
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