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Long before Edmonton was Alberta’s capital city, and long before Fort Edmonton was erected by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North Saskatchewan River Valley was a meeting place. A place of commerce. A place of ceremony.
With support from ATB Financial, the soccer ball was given to each of the 1,300 participants in the Free Footie program. Free Footie provides Edmonton’s children at risk an opportunity to play the beautiful game at no cost.
Marchand was asked by Free Footie founder Tim Adams to design artwork for the ball that would help young people understand something they didn’t know about the history of indigenous peoples in Edmonton.
“I thought one thing that would break barriers down the road would be an understanding about who their neighbours really are and, by introducing them to their neighbours, they would learn more about the diversity and the way things work for indigenous communities,” said Marchand.
She decided to depict the river valley as it looks today with skyscrapers in the background, and combine that image with how it looked hundreds of years ago.
“I went to the top of a hill and took a panoramic shot of the river valley from one of my favourite places to watch the sun,” said Marchand. “I wanted the visual connection to that land. Anyone in the city knows that landscape, that skyline.”
In the foreground of the work are 13 horses, eight coming from the right and five from the left, representing the many nations who frequented the area.
“I decided to move the horses together,” said Marchand. “The horses coming in from the right hand side, moving towards the left, those are all the nations that are close to Edmonton. These are your closest neighbours. You’re going to be doing business with them. You’re going to meet more of these people.”
Once her artwork was featured on the ball, Marchand was thrilled with the end result. She hopes it gives young people a better idea of the deep history indigenous peoples have in the Edmonton area.
“I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was,” she said. “I have friends who have bought the ball and they’ll give them as gifts to their kids. I’ll get calls from their kids asking me if the paint is going to wash off. It’s so precious to them. They’re scared to use it because it’s so pretty. I say, no, you use that ball!”
Marchand has had a chance to see some Free Footie games and was moved to see the children running around, chasing her artwork on the soccer field. And she admits she never envisioned her art being featured on a piece of sporting equipment.
“It’s interesting because it’s not done a lot,” Marchand said. “It’s interesting to know we’ve kind of created a precedent that you can do something a bit different to engage people and tell our stories.”
Any child in grades three through six at participating schools is eligible to play in the Free Footie program. Free Footie started with four teams and has since expanded to 76. With continued support from community partners like ATB, Free Footie plans to grow even further.