There's a good reason Stella Harvey was attracted to The Shoe Project.
The Whistler author and founder of The Whistler Writers Festival (and 2022 Whistler Citizen of the Year) wrote a book, The Brink of Freedom, about the experience of immigrants desperate to flee to Greece and the hardships of their journey. (And she was born in Cairo, Egypt before her family moved to Calgary when she was a child.)
“It’s a really important topic for me, having done so much research for my second book,” she says. “It’s a really cool way to have people tell their stories.”
The project, marking its 11th year, is a Canadian charity that helps immigrant women write, and perform, their stories told through a pair of shoes.
It starts with a 10-week writing workshop with a writer-mentor then leads to performance coaching and culminates in a performance. Events have taken place everywhere from Toronto and Vancouver to Edmonton, Canmore and Halifax.
When Harvey’s friend, author Caroline Adderson, mentioned serving as a mentor for the group and fundraising along the way, she was instantly interested.
“It’s a little different,” she says. “This brings people together that have had a particular experience that needs to be voiced and talked about and written about as a way to make it real and to deal with some of those past [experiences]. Writing is a great way to process your story.”
This year, Harvey got involved with the organization’s online auction fundraiser, donating not only a pair of shoes from Italy (that she didn’t find herself wearing in Whistler very often), but she also rounded up a basket of books from Sea to Sky authors, a Whistler Writers Festival pass, and a one-on-one writing consult.
“No one hesitated,” she says of the authors. “Everyone was happy to be involved.”
Cordelia Tang, executive director of the organization, was a participant back in 2013.
“It kind of brings up the pain that you have gone through and then to talk about it and to be brave enough to talk about it, but ... the process of sharing it with people who really can understand your stories, your feeling, your pain, that process is actually healing,” she says. “Most of the participants I have talked with, when they talk about their workshop experience, they all have said that this sharing process is really healing.”
Shoes might seem like a niche topic, but they actually serve as an accessible entry point—andmetaphor.
“It’s a universal object that everybody has,” Tang says. “Immigration is essentially a journey. At a certain point there’s a pair of shoes you’re wearing on your journey. It works to bring a whole life story—boil it down to a short essay, and it also just works so well with that metaphor of the journey to come to Canada.”
Living in a resort town full of immigrants, Harvey says she would love to bring the project to Whistler in the near future.
“I mentor students in the creative writing studio at SFU. Hopefully I could use some of those skills to lead a group here. That would be my hope,” she adds.
Check out the online auction here before it closes on Monday, Nov. 14.