In 2021, Marcia P. approached Belonging Brant with a meaningful and beautiful idea — let's capture the legacies of our elders! For two years, citizens in Brantford, Brant County, and Six Nations have been collecting these powerful, fun, important, and touching stories as shared by our seniors. Please explore this page and engage with these amazing individuals and their lives.
David Wells was born in Toronto in 1947. David didn’t take a traditional path through life, but his adoptive parents loved watching his journey and hearing his stories. David was an enthusiastic thespian and loved every aspect of theatre. He said, “Theatre should be an opportunity to explore the world, to explore our lives, to explore the different facets that are so intriguing and beautiful.” True to this philosophy, David performed in many different countries all over the world and worked alongside many names including Bill Davis and Anne Bradshaw. David’s love of theatre started as a child. In school his teachers would call his parents into meetings where his father would heavily critique them for not being able to recognize his son’s passion. His father enjoyed hearing his stories of the things he had done in theatre and the people he met. He loved his son’s gifts and supported them whole-heartedly, as did his mother. David’s mother was well-read which allowed her to share her David’s passion for theatre. David studied dramatic arts for over twelve years at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. He loved living in Old Montreal near the river. During his time there, he went to a film meeting, where he encountered a beautiful woman named Maryanne. Maryanne wasn’t very involved in theatre, but they were drawn to one another. They did a large amount of work together, including improvisation. They talked to people and got their stories, which Maryanne was very good at. She was good at pulling people in and getting them involved in theatre. Eventually, David and Maryanne married, and they accompanied each other for many adventures throughout their lives. After graduating from the National Theatre School of Canada, David went to Europe where he spent the next eight years. He travelled all around, looking for opportunities to tell stories, perform, and share his love of acting. He even began filming and making documentaries. Though he enjoyed meeting people and getting to know their stories, over time he grew toward new endeavours. He travelled through Europe, Australia, and New Zealand – where he opened two theatres and a theatre school with Maryanne. He joined in on any production that captured his interest during his travels, hoping his adventures would become a story worth telling. After David’s time in Europe, he returned for a well-deserved rest to Canada. He wrote, and eventually found himself back in Montreal near the river, getting involved with smaller theatre projects. David preferred serious plays to comedies, siting Hamlet as a favourite due to his love of the characters and the emotions he was able to find in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Although David is proud of his theatrical achievement over the years, he is also proud of his family. He raised three kids with Maryanne – Desirae, Libby, and Davie – who all have their own unique passions and interests. All three of his children live in Toronto, which David said is a big city filled with theatre and opportunity. David loved dogs, especially his two border collies. David experienced many joys in his life, and some challenges too, but his love for theatre carried him to new adventures and opportunities throughout the years where he could meet and work with many people and develop his gifts and passions.
I met Reverend Dr. Paul Shepherd in 2022 at the ABCD symposium through Belonging Brant where he offered a drum circle and let us know that he offered the drum circles weekly at Sydenham-Heritage United Church. When the weather turned nice the drum circle moved to Victoria Park. It was after a drum circle that I got to interview him for his story in which I learned he has worn many hats, he has his Ph.D. in Physics, he became an environmental scientist, and was a software engineer until he heard the call to be a Minister 17 years ago. There was a call for a Minister in the United Church in Brantford so he and his family moved from Toronto to Brantford and he began his ministry in February 2020. He is a progressive and inclusive minister with a focus on healing, Paul told me, “I preach about topics on healing, identity and boundaries, grieving, forgiveness, meditation.” Healing is not only about faith; it’s about finding wholeness and finding your voice.” He has written a book titled, “Evolving Christianity: Using Science to evolve Christianity to fight racism and other social diseases.” The Brantford Library carries it and it is also for sale on Amazon. Paul said to me, “Healing has to involve change, change is always continuous, and the reality is, there is always a possibility to become a better version of ourselves.” He told me a quote between the difference between Science and Religion. “Science is about asking questions that may not have answers and Religion is about answers that cannot be questioned.” Paul encourages his congregation to ask any questions that matter to them. He also has a podcast which also has some of his sermons under the Reflections tab he offers them in a spirit of helpfulness. It can be found at paulshepherd.ca/podcasts/ I swung the conversation back to the drumming because of witnessing people over the last year be really moved by the drum circle as well as the good feelings it invokes in me. So I was really curious to know how he got into it? Paul told me that he has been in or offering drumming for 10 years off and on. “It was my wife, who bought a small Djembe drum, but she didn’t enjoy it, and I did.” He joined a drum circle for two years and after a year and a half he started to learn elaborate rhythms and he felt confident to lead his own circle. He sees that drumming is a way to find your voice, and finding your expression in community. People tend to come to change their energy, to escape for an hour, to be in community. Paul expressed beautifully some of his life lessons “I Realize I only have today, not tomorrow, don’t put things off. He encourages people to, “Focus on the present and you can become more self-aware enough to find yourself.” He continued, “Pay attention to your feelings, make the unconscious, conscious.“ Is the feeling serving you and who you want to be? If you hold anger, is that who you want to be?” He said,” I am talking from the viewpoint that we are always rational, but we are not.” His advice is,” to take a step back, so we can be rational some of the time and have more acceptance of ourselves.” By Margarit aka Margarita Brigham
It was a beautiful spring afternoon when I met with Gary Black Bear and we went to Mohawk Park. I feel privileged to be the one to gather his story and to be a voice for a meaningful time in his life. I was also blessed to sit by the river with him as he played songs from both of his flutes, which he fashioned from a Vision. The birds sure liked it, and I enjoyed it tremendously. I will use Gary’s medicine name Black Bear for the rest of his story. Black Bear was born and raised in Brantford. His roots are Ojibwa, and his people are from Rainy River by Lake Superior. When I asked him the if Ojibwa is another name for Anishanabee, he replied, “The meaning of Anishanabee is brothers and sisters of the One, the Plants, Animals, Birds, Bees, Fish, Trees and all that is Seen and Unseen.” Black Bear has been a carver since he was eight. He took me to his workshop, and I was not only impressed with his carvings in stone, but also amazed at how tiny some pieces are. I was touched when we first met up – he gifted me with one of his carvings as a necklace, from a clam shell! Not only did carving come naturally at a young age, but music did also. He took piano lessons until musical grade eight, and then started free flowing. He is also a poet and songwriter and was a welder too. He was in the music industry, but being an empath and highly sensitive, he turned toward the spiritual path. The Elders came to mentor him from the Mississaugas of the New Credit, as well as Elders from Sault St. Marie and Six Nations of the Grand, to show him the path of his heart and his gifts as a Medicine Man, Shaman, and Pipe Carrier. I asked, “Isn’t a Medicine Man and Shaman the same thing?” He explained the differences this way, “The Shaman deals only with the Spiritual, and a Medicine Man works with the physical and also the spiritual, using the herbs.” Speaking to his role as a Pipe Carrier, Black Bear said, “A pipe can be a flute. It is sound frequency tuned into the natural order.” One of the flutes he carved is from white pine which is a Tree of Peace and it is tuned to the Earth tones. He calls it Ahki Pawagan. The other is fashioned from cedar and it is to lift a person up. It is called a sky flute named Ahnii Pawagan. He told me, “Pawagan means pipe.” A memorable time in his life when Black Bear was called as a Pipe Carrier to Australia, along with his other healing skills, not once, but six times! Over those years he travelled from one end to the other of Australia sharing stories and ceremonies with their Nations of Aboriginal Shamans. It is good that we live in a time when Indigenous Ceremonies are not against the law, like they once were, when good medicine can be shared. How much has the world missed out on? Black Bear received a beautiful message that began with a question in Australia and the answer came when he came back home. I feel the answer will uplift more people than just him. He was speaking by the mountains in Australia, and he said, “You didn’t need a microphone.” The spot they were in boomed out voices of the speakers. He felt the sacredness of the mountain had opened him up to speak from the flow. When he was finished speaking a beautiful young girl in her late teens beelined it straight to him from the distance. He could see she was light up, and he said to her, “A little spark hit you, eh?” She asked him, “Who are you?” He took that question and started asking himself, “Who am I?” That was in 2012. When he came home, he did a Ceremony on the Rez and he heard a man’s voice on his way home, as clear as day answer his musing. This was different for Black Bear as his most prominent way to receive a message from Creator is through visions. This time it was a voice which said: You are all of one, One of All, There is no time, manmade time, Without time, there can be no space, Without space, there can be no distance, Without distance there can be only One. You are all of One, One of All, You are, No one beneath you, no one above you, One of All, All of One - We are. All the way home to the Rez he kept hearing the voice with same message over and over like a chant. Another time in Australia he was called as a Pipe Carrier to go perform a Miracle for bringing rain. He was honoured to be with six others and a fellow from Montana who is the International Pipe Carrier. The news reported it on ABC and the interviewer beforehand had scoffed at it and said, “That can’t be done.” These pipe carriers prayed and called in the Thunder beings and yes, did it rain! Forty-gallon drum barrels of rain fell all at once in the severe drought and it ended very quickly. My final question for Black Bear was, “Do you have wisdom to share with the younger generation?” He said, “Always remember the inner child is never older than nine.” He suggests to walk in nature, to smell the breeze, to look around, look around, look around and see the beauty. The last part of “look around,” he said came from his Elder’s book. By Margarit aka Margarita Brigham
What the comeback of the Trumpeter swans has meant to me, Margarit Brigham, is a life worthwhile, a purpose, new meaning, and carrying on a legacy entrusted to me by Jim and Norma Soul. Before I could relate to the Beautiful Graceful Swan, I was the ugly duckling kicking and screaming to the Miracle change of events with the twists and turns my life took before my blessings showed up – all at once, I may add. I saw the similarities of my life to the fairytale “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen. I have felt like an outcast all my life, but it became very intensely personal when I was ill – just like the ugly duckling who was led to within an inch of his life. Who felt alone, cold, lonely, frozen, harassed, chased, shot at, given up on, malnourished, and not knowing what will come next… It is hard enough for adults to cope when the storms of life come out of the blue. Many children don’t have the experience to know Miracles can happen in an instant. Life has something for each of us to receive and contribute. Your reason could be just around the corner, so hang on, and hang tight to hope, or if nothing else, to my comeback story. My life was interrupted by a health crisis in 2018, and many people did not believe me. I was battling a lot of shame. I took all the stress and walked briskly, then calmed down by a pond where a swan family lived to heal my mind, body, spirit and later my soul. How appropriate Mr. and Mrs. Soul showed up in my life. I lived in a small town and did not have a vehicle and they were part of the volunteer drivers. They led to me learning so much history about the majestic swans. They were so eager to pass on knowledge to me that I took that passion and started advocating for the Trumpeters, even while my life was in crisis. They had me over to their home and pond, which led to meeting their swans and hearing stories to warm my heart and essentially meeting the parents of my swan friends. Months later, it was very sudden to learn Mr. and Mrs. Soul sold their house and were moving. That day I was handed 40 pages of short stories from Mr. Soul. I learned Mr. Soul was so willing to pass on his notes of raising swans with his wife for 25 years that he learned a new skill of using the computer to hand me the short stories for the book I was writing of the Miracle Healing Swan Story. Mr. Soul’s introduction to Trumpeter Swans was Elegant, Graceful, Black-billed, Long-necked, Sasquatch-footed, Trusting, Inquisitive, Friends. You see, our swans are part of our heritage, and their life was wiped out in Ontario in the late 1800s. Harry Lumdsen, who was a retired biologist, wanted to leave Ontario with the gift of returning the Trumpeters. He found a colony in Alaska and brought eggs here in 1982 and the swans have been a fragile return of the wild. Hans Christian Andersen said the tale of the ugly duckling was his autobiography. He was an outcast all his life and his constant message was to find your own kind. With a small community, the swans have succeeded to persevere and Triumph over Tragedy, which mirrored my life. I had to break the lies that I was unlovable and mature into the swan. I took whatever energy was thrown at me and transmuted it. The anger, rejection, and what seemed like betrayal, was training ground for me. Not only did I walk it out, I wrote it out and talked it out. All went into a fuel tank that propelled me into a transformation process to create a new story where now I express gratitude for the experience. Miracles are true and can happen in an instant, I hope my story has inspired someone whether you are young or old. I wish to remind you: you are needed, and you are loved by many sources besides humans. Hang on and believe a helping hand makes the world go round. To stay up-to-date on Margarit's story and to view her swan photography, visit https://magicalmargarita.substack.com
I had the honour to sit down with Rodger who I was introduced to as Yogi Raja or Big Tree. I learned his favourite name is Big Tree so that is how I wish to introduce you to him. Big Tree is an Elder with Relations in Six Nations. He was born in New York and is Onondaga (of the Six Nations Confederacy). He moved to be with family in Ontario when he got out of the Marines in 1975. When he arrived one of his uncles told him, “There are two paths you can walk: the spiritual or the material. Choose wisely.” From getting to know his story he has chosen wisely and is a knowledge keeper in several different interests and healing modalities he has learned over the years. The same time in 1975, he began a journey of doing Hatha yoga from a TV show with Richard Hittleman and bought a book and followed along. Big Tree’s yoga journey continued to evolve, and he became a certified teacher in Kundalini Yoga. In the more recent years he leans more towards Bhakti Yoga which is a devotional path. It was the year 1994 when he went to hear a medicine man from Nova Scotia who came to Ontario. This medicine man was a blind man named David Cheeo. He gave such a powerful talk that Big Tree knew he had to work with him. Not only was he learning to be a traditional medicine man from this Elder, but Big Tree also became his escort on his trips to Ontario. Big Tree’s life path has taken him down the road to become a pipe carrier, and able to lead sweat lodges and other Ceremonies. He is a Sundancer and committed to dancing in South Dakota for many years, where he had the honour to be in a pipe ceremony with the main pipe carrier in the USA, Chief Orville Looking Horse. Chief Looking Horse was also his teacher, who guided him as a Sundancer, Pipe carrier and to run sweat lodges. You can really get the sense that Big Tree has followed his heart and explored different ways of healing the body, mind, spirit and soul for himself and for the benefit of others. His first Elder used Hypnosis to help people heal and he encouraged Big Tree to be certified in it too. Big Tree also taught Tai Chi for 20 years. He is a Reiki Master who took his first level one in the 1990s in Niagara and became able to teach others in 2002. He still offers Reiki Certifications today. His own sessions are now a combination of energy healing of Reiki, breath work, and being able to suggest herbs for weak areas as he can scan in the body of a client. He’s his own brand of Reiki Medicine Man. He did have a close brush with death a few years ago which makes him even more grounded in feeling blessed to enjoy creation as the Creator intended. He knows everything is here for a reason and he looks upon the plants as his friends. He blesses and honours the herbs, plants and medicines with respect, love, and appreciation for being in his life. His medicine he shares with community now has the beautiful intentions and prayers he has added. He can also be found helping at his son’s amazing crystal store at Six Nations called Central Fire Crystals. His son Jordan, the owner, has the most knowledge about crystals that I have ever come across, and believe me, I’ve been collecting crystals off and on for over 30 years. This kid is impressive! I didn’t ask if Big Tree was just as knowledgeable, but I’m pretty sure he knows his crystals too. He is a father not just to Jordan, and he is a grandfather as well. Elder Big Tree shared with me one of his life lessons is seeing and experiencing humans can get anything they want with meditation. I asked him if he could share some of his wisdom for the youth. Many are lost and there is no spiritual connection to something greater. He told me, “A simple practice of gratitude, can open the doors to Miracles in your life. It can be as simple as one thing to be thankful for in the morning and when you first go to bed. What can you be thankful for?” He went on to say, “And I know for a fact too, it makes life a lot better to live with a grateful heart.” His daily prayer is, “Peace of Mind from the Creator, and to help me have a pure heart a good mind and a loving soul.” By Margarit aka Margarita Brigham
Watch a video on Stephen here.
Listen to a podcast with Floyd here.
Blanche's story coming soon.
Jo Anne's story coming soon.
Nigel's story coming soon.
Byron Woods was born in Hamilton on September 20th, 1952. He didn’t have the easiest start to life: at age two, he had choked and died. Thankfully, he was brought to hospital in time and was resuscitated. He remembers seeing God, Jesus and Angels during his time unconscious. This was his first experience connecting with his faith. Byron’s dad unfortunately died in truck accident at five-years old. His mother raised him and his siblings in Caledonia before moving to Brantford after losing dad. At about age twelve, his mom remarried, and he had a stepfather. It was a busy household with his parents and eight children running around. Growing up, Byron had five brothers, three sisters and lost one sibling at birth. Byron began working age fourteen, then started traveling at seventeen with Paul’s Travel. He worked a lot in his twenties, thirties and forties at various jobs to support himself, such as: •Westins Candy •York Farms •Arbys Unfortunately, he experienced another bout of tragedy later in life when he lost a brother, sister and his mother to cancer, as well as another brother to suicide in his thirties and forties. Byron met his wife (Cheryl) in late forties early fifties at a singles dance at best wester. When she got cancer and died at forty-five, Byron turned to the church and his community for support. Byron is very involved in the community and participates in many groups. He enjoys attending regular church service, helping at the “fix-it” group, singing in the choirs, jamming at the drum circle, and of course getting together with friends at the mall and Mohawk Park. Byron is extremely active! You can often find Byron riding around on his e-bike or walking his dog and best friend, Leroy. Byron also enjoys dancing, cycling, roller skating, cooking, watching Netflix and volunteering with Belonging Brant. Byron’s story is one of triumph and perseverance. Despite his hardships, Byron continues to maintain a friendly demeanor and open heart. His legacy is one of community, kindness and compassion. Thank you for sharing your light, Byron!