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Culture Crafts Co-operative Gift Shop and Museum thrives

by Sue Gallant

Anne McRae McIsaac chipping Ash

Fifteen years ago a group of concerned Islanders got together to debate the then current economic crisis on PEI. In an effort to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem, they decided a positive course of action would be to create some employment for stay-at-home women. From these humble beginnings, the Culture Crafts Co-operative Gift Shop and Museum in Richmond, Prince County was born. A large dollop of hard work, personal commitment and some government funding later, the business is thriving.

Of the Co-op's six board members, three are worker/members. Anne McRae McIsaac of Enmore was one of the original group who sat down to talk in 1986. Today she works in Richmond, alongside two fellow Co-op worker/board members, creating beautiful basketwork. The basketwork is in turn, sold to buyers from around the globe.

The Richmond Culture Crafts Co-operative is run from a handsomely converted trailer. The business is located along Route Two, PEI's main artery highway to the western end of the Island. The Co-op is a success story on many levels. The original intention to create employment in a region were work was and still is scarce, has been achieved. McRae and co-workers Frances Pickle and Beulah Costain, have learned (and learned to love) the traditional skill of basket weaving, and so continue a cultural craft to be handed down to future generations.

Past worker/members include one individual now working in Summerside, for whom her time spent employed at the Culture Crafts Co-op, proved a personal stepping stone to the outside world. "When she came to us she wouldn't hardly talk and her head was always down," recalls McRae. "In the end (before she moved on), we used to tease her that she wouldn't shut up!" McRae said she and her co-workers felt a real sense of achievement that working at the Culture Crafts Co-op had helped the individual gain enough self-confidence to move on and out into the world.

McRae learned the time-honoured craft of basket weaving from Jimmie Chaisson of Summerside. Chaisson grew up in St. Louis, Western PEI. Chaisson's family were weaving in the 1800s. "I worked with him for two years," McRae told The Buzz. "The wood preparation is two thirds of the work when you are weaving with ash splints. I loved my (new-found) wood crafting career and never looked back. Now I do pretty well all the gathering of materials. I pick the bark, I go to the woodland and pick the ash, marshland rush and cattail. I gather sea kelp and seashells. I cannot even compare the excitement when I went by myself in the woods and found my first ash tree. I remember going home and calling Jimmie. He said, `Oh it's probably not an ash, it's likely a maple back there.' Anyway he turned up and I took him back to the woods, and sure enough, it was an ash."

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