Touchstones Museum’s new exhibit The Grow Show is rich in dramatic stories about Nelson’s cannabis history.
The written and spoken words of growers, activists, artists, politicians, cannabis workers, retired police officers, lawyers, and business people are displayed in text panels throughout the gallery, offering a deep historical dive into an often misunderstood part of Nelson’s economy and history.
The stories are interspersed with photos, paintings, video, and news clippings, exploring cannabis culture in the West Kootenay through many different lenses, including agriculture, economy, culture, politics and community perspectives.
The exhibit opened at Touchstones on Nov. 26 and runs until Feb. 27.
Curator Arin Fay says she “tried to avoid blanket statements and black-and-white thinking” by interviewing dozens of people from different parts of the community to get a complete picture.
“There is both enthusiasm and reticence to talk about cannabis culture in the Kootenays,” says Fay. “There was a mixed bag of responses: nostalgia, bitterness, cautionary tales, collateral damage, gold-rush-fever and rose-coloured reminiscence, to name a few.”
Many of the statements on the gallery wall are anonymous, reflecting this deep community-wide ambivalence.
Slocan Valley resident Tom Wayman is quoted on the gallery wall: “Everyone has a secret. But around here we all have the same secret.”
Fay said the reminiscences in the exhibit depict “a lot of joy and pain and hard work.”
The written testimonies describe hiding from helicopters, growing up as the children of growers, and the role of secret work in the cannabis industry as a source of income and child care for countless single mothers in the days before legalization.
Many of us underestimate the role of cannabis in the culture and economy of the West Kootenay over the last 60 years, Fay says.
Everyone in the West Kootenay is connected to the cannabis economy, “whether happily or not, or whether they profit or not. We have been this enclave for so long, and have really been supported by this industry.”
Or, as commentator Clayton McCann put it in a statement on the gallery wall, “Communities had a vested interest in producing it. Once it became profitable, the cash economy meant properties could be purchased, restaurants could be opened – how many small towns like Nelson do you know of that have more than 30 restaurants? – arts could be funded, festivals launched, ski hills supported.”
A centrepiece of the exhibit is the story of Nelson’s Holy Smoke Culture Shop, started 25 years ago as a focus of activism that stood at the forefront of legalization efforts.
The exhibit chronicles the owners’ time spent in custody, in court, and with their like-minded community, including a reminiscence from the lawyer who represented them.