one of ‘those’ places…

“It’s a different time and it’s one of those homes for girls, a place for pregnant girls to go away to and have their babies quietly, a convent-type thing where it is hoped that all the hushed holiness will keep the girls from heaving and grunting too loudly. One of those places. You know. You’ve seen the same movies I have. It’s a home for these pregnant unweds and an institution for children with Down’s syndrome, a kind of catch-all clubhouse for the lost and stigmatized, for all these wounds received during the passion. What difference does it make what the name of the place is? Something French. Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame de Grace or something. Somewhere in Quebec. Imagine the Plains of Abraham minus the canons and the general war aura. Then imagine that orphanage in Oliver. Now put that orphanage on the Plains of Abraham—lots of green and land stretching out, prop up a cow or two, a wire fence that always needs fixing, and a gardener named Jacques-Louis who likes to rub their pregnant stomachs with his rough, muddy hands, and maybe he’s just a little slow, a bit retarded, so the girls can fantasize that he is a violent monster, but when that calf gets caught under the wire fence and the Mother Superior wants to slaughter it, isn’t it Jacques-Louis who saves the animal and nurses it back to health? And maybe there’s a mangy German shepherd, half blind but steadfast loyal to the Mother Superior to the point where these girls in trouble, these girls with reputations, are starting rumours. The English girls give the place a Native name. They call it Shegoneaway. When they see a new face, bloated and tired, thick waterlogged wrists and ankles, they say: Hello, and welcome to Shegoneaway.”

~ from ‘A Well-Imagined Life’ and the collection Can You Wave Bye Bye, Baby?  by Elyse Gasco  (1999, McClelland & Stewart)

I found this story especially powerful as I recalled the recent installation Foundling, by Michele Karch-Ackerman, at the Art Gallery of Peterborough—an homage to the memory of young girls sent away to homes for unwed mothers. Karch-Ackerman used, among other items, long tables set only with teacups and saucers, and rows and rows of hanging baby pyjamas made from 1960’s style drapery fabric. Lovely write-up here. She has a retrospective coming up this year at Tom Thomson Gallery. Making a note…

Michele Karch-Ackerman, ‘Foundling’ (detail)
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