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The Ancestors linger where Annapolis Royal’s outdoor theatre renews old bonds of a shared history

Oqwa’titek means ‘When They Arrived’ and is the name given to the new amphitheatre in Annapolis Royal. The venture brings together Bear River First Nation and the Town of Annapolis Royal. Unveiling this plaque Sept. 15 were Bear River First Nation Councillor Fred Robar-Harlow, Annapolis Roayl Mayor Bill MacDonald, Elder Judy Pearson, Elder Katherine Sorbey, and West Nova MP Colin Fraser.
Oqwa’titek means ‘When They Arrived’ and is the name given to the new amphitheatre in Annapolis Royal. The venture brings together Bear River First Nation and the Town of Annapolis Royal. Unveiling this plaque Sept. 15 were Bear River First Nation Councillor Fred Robar-Harlow, Annapolis Roayl Mayor Bill MacDonald, Elder Judy Pearson, Elder Katherine Sorbey, and West Nova MP Colin Fraser.

ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - Judy Pearson remembers back in the spring walking the land where the new amphitheatre would be built and feeling the presence of the Ancestors.

“As I stood there looking over the water a feeling came over me and it went up to my legs and my knees and I knew then the Ancestors’ spirits were still here,” Pearson said. She remembers telling Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald. It was late April and the Mi’kmaq elder was there with the mayor to offer a prayer and a blessing before construction began. She stood between two excavators.

“I knew then that this was the perfect spot for this amphitheatre,” she said Sept. 15 on the same piece of land. “It will be a wonderful place to show the many ethnic cultures we have here in Nova Scotia.”

That place where her ancestors linger is Oqwa’titek in the heart of Annapolis Royal.

The two excavators have done their work and are long gone. The land on the edge of the Annapolis Basin has been transformed, bringing many cultures together in a small, outdoor theatre. It’s changed the landscape, and changed the future.

“Most holy and precious creator, we ask you to bless these lands, the land of our forefathers,” Pearson prayed. “Make it a gathering place for music, song, and dance -- a place for happiness, peace, and love.”

Bear River First Nation drummers perform a drum ceremony prior to the opening of the new amphitheatre Sept. 15 in Annapolis Royal. The new performance site was a joint venture between the two communities and was name Oqwa’titek which means ‘When They Arrived’ in reference to the Mi’kmaq observation of the arrival of French colonist Pierre Dugua and Samuel de Champlain at nearby Port-Royal.

Peace and Friendship

MacDonald remembers that April 25 morning. He and Pearson stood alone on what was then Petite Parc.

“We both felt the presence of the Ancestors that morning – and I feel their presence again here today as we dedicate this amphitheatre – in a renewal of that historic bond of peace and friendship established in 1605 between the Mi’kmaq people and the French explorers who established Port-Royal,” said Macdonald.

Looking past MacDonald a few kilometres to the southwest, you can see Port-Royal where the first tall ships anchored off Goat Island more than 400 years ago.

West Nova Member of Parliament Colin Fraser said that when French colonist Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, sailed into those waters in 1605 he was greeted by Grand Chief Henri Membertou and the Mi’kmaq people, forging a longstanding alliance of support and mutual respect.

“So it is fitting that this project was completed in collaboration with the Bear River First Nation (L’sitkuk),” Fraser said at the opening. “People come from all over the world to see the site of North America’s first permanent European settlement at Port-Royal.”

“It has been great working with the mayor and the council of the Town of Annapolis Royal on this venture,” said Bear River First Nation Councillor Fred Robar-Harlow. “We would like to thank him and the town for making sure we are represented at this site respectfully and truthfully. We look forward to working together once again in a positive manner.”

Elder Judy Pearson felt the spirit of the Ancestors when she first walked the site of what was to be the new amphitheatre in Annapolis Royal back in April. She knew it would make a good place for the bringing together of cultures and for music, dance, and song. She said a prayer for it during the opening ceremonies Sept. 15.

When They Arrived

The Sept. 15 celebration also included the unveiling of a trilingual plaque describing the land and the history of Mi’kma’ki and the district of Kespukwitk where Annapolis Royal is located.

The inscription was read in Mi’kmaq by Elder Katherine Sorbey, in French by Pierre Igot, and in English by MacDonald.

“This site marks the coming together of Mi’kmaq of L’sitkuk and the citizens of the Town of Annapolis Royal to commemorate their shared history, and renew the historic bond of friendship first established in 1605,” said MacDonald as he read the English panel.

The plaque is titled Oqwa’titek, which in Mi’kmaq means ‘When They Arrived.’

The plaque, situated at street level above the amphitheatre, was unveiled by MacDonald, Sorbey, Robar-Harlow, Pearson, and Fraser.

Nearby they also unveiled a granite monument with the inscription ‘Oqwa’titek. Renewing the 1605 Bond of Peace and Friendship. September 15, 2017.’

The stone is meant to be touched, MacDonald said after the unveiling. Sorbey said touching the stone gives it energy and said people should touch it every time they are there.

The stone was a gift from local sculptor Brad Hall who saved it from a house that was being torn down years ago. The stone had been in an entryway and the passage of many feet is obvious on its surface.

“He saw in that stone a spirit that he brought back to his workshop, and there it sat for years until it’s true purpose was known,” said MacDonald. “And it’s true purpose is here today, marking this place as Oqwa’titek.”

This trilingual plaque was unveiled during the opening of the new Amphitheatre in Annapolis Royal Sept. 15. It describes the lands and the history of the site and is headed ‘Oqwa’titek’ which means ‘When They Arrived.’ Taking part in the unveiling were West Nova MP Colin Fraser, Bear River First Nation Councillor Fred Robar-Harlow, Elder Judy Pearson, Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald, and Elder Katherine Sorbey.


While the current council oversaw the construction of the amphitheatre, MacDonald noted it was a project decades in the making, an idea conceived by the development commission back in the 1980s, but never built. It was resurrected by members of the town’s Waterfront Development Committee and put in motion by the previous mayor and council and embraced by the current council.

The concept drawings came from landscape architect Joy Elliott and construction was by local company Brown Brothers. Funding came from ACOA, several provincial government departments, the town, and the Nicholson Foundation, among others.

The day also marked the official opening of the refurbished waterfront boardwalk and an outdoor boatbuilding area beside the wharf and behind King’s Theatre. Tourists watch and help out as local boat builders construct an authentic Tancook Whaler.

Back at the amphitheatre, before MacDonald and Elder Sorbey strolled arm-in-arm down the boardwalk, the mayor said that during the process of renewing the bonds between the town and Bear River First Nation the Crown stepped out of the way, a possibly unprecedented move on the part of the Crown.

Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald spoke during the opening of the new amphitheatre in Annapolis Royal Spt. 15. The site is called ‘Oqwa’titek’ which means ‘When They Arrived.’ Beyond MacDonald in this photo is Port-Royal. Beyond MacDonald to the southwest, 412 years ago in 1605, the sails of French colonist Pierre Dugua’s ships would have been visible – when they arrived.

“The land upon which this structure is built has brought together the communities of Bear River First Nation and the Town of Annapolis Royal – in the spirit of a shared history and a developing partnership of mutual respect and benefit – as this amphitheatre is named and marked as a place of Mi’kmaq history and heritage,” he said.

The result has been good.

“This space has been embraced by the community as a gathering place and as a place of quiet reflection,” he said.

Elder Katherin Sorbey read the Mi’kmaq inscription on a plaque unveiled during the ceremony opening the new amphitheatre in Annapolis Royal Sept. 15. While two previous speakers had noted the absence of children at the ceremony, Sorbey thought differently. “I heard that there were no children here, from two sides. I say there’s children here because we are all children of creation.”
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald and Mi’kmaq Elder Katherine Sorbey walk the refurbished boardwalk on the Annapolis Royal waterfront Sept. 15 after the opening of the amphitheatre as ‘Oqwa’titek,’ and the opening of the boardwalk and new outdoor boat building site behind King’s Theatre.

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