Indigenous Tourism Business Feature: Sipuke’l Gallery, Nova Scotia
Only five ancient “spark holders” have been found in the world and one of them is in the Sipuke’l Gallery in the old town hall in Liverpool, N.S. “It’s a clamshell that would have been used way back then to hold fire,” says gallery curator Judy Boutilier. “They named it a spark holder. It was clay-lined in a clamshell and you’d carry the fire in it.” All five spark holders were discovered in nearby Port Joli.
Sipuke’l (which means beside the river) overlooks the Mersey River where the Mi’kmaw have lived for thousands of years. As well as the spark holder, the gallery displays a number of artifacts that shed light on Mi’kmaq stories, legends, and history. It also showcases contemporary Indigenous artists from around the region and the country.
An $8,000 grant helped the gallery develop a marketing strategy, print brochures and learn how to use social media. “It helped us a lot with advertising on Facebook,” says Boutilier. “We took a one-day course about how to post on Facebook and different things to build up that presence, and hopefully get people through the door.”
The gallery, which is owned by the Acadia First Nation, opened in 2015. And while the numbers of overall visitors to Nova Scotia were up last year, the number of people who came to the gallery dipped. “We do a count every night and we make sure that we get every person that comes through the door,” says Boutilier. “Come this fall I will compare the numbers to 2017 and see how it all works out. We’re definitely keeping track.”