The Millarville Forge invites frontline workers to relieve stress while forging community sculptures

James Greisinger, project manager and blacksmith at Forge and Farm, holds a diagram of what the maple leaf sculpture will look like.  (Dominika Lirette/CBC - photo credit)

James Greisinger, project manager and blacksmith at Forge and Farm, holds a diagram of what the maple leaf sculpture will look like. (Dominika Lirette/CBC – photo credit)

A group gathers around James Greisinger, the blacksmith of Forge and Farm in Millarville, Alta., about 30 kilometers southwest of Calgary. You listen as he explains how to properly swing a hammer when striking a hot piece of steel.

Anvils should be the right height, he says, so your back doesn’t hurt.

Hit hard, he adds, because the material will boss you around if you don’t.

“You have to bend over it, hit it, and tell the steel you’re in control,” he said. “And have fun.”

It’s a message that resonates with those attending these blacksmithing courses. They all work on the front lines, from firefighters to police officers to nurses.

Greisinger, along with his wife and business partner, Cheryl Greisinger, hosts a series of free workshops for them. The idea came about in recent years when he saw first responders signing up for the courses.

“I got hugged by seven-foot-tall firefighters at the end of the day and I was like, ‘Wow, I really needed that,'” he said.

“They’re so focused on helping us as a community that they don’t have that opportunity and sign up for a class if it was a significant other that saw they had to do something … and shut them in the store.” bring. At the end of the day, there was this emotional release.”

The free workshops will run until March. In the classes, workers help punch out the veins of a massive maple leaf sculpture that will eventually be donated to the Diamond Valley community.

Part of the funding for the workshops came from the federal government’s celebration and memorial program, which supported in part community projects that marked Canada’s emergence from the pandemic.

HEAR | The participants explain why they wanted to take part in the blacksmith workshops:

Greisinger said both the veins and the sculpture’s material, old railway spikes, are symbolic.

“That spike held this railroad, these sleepers and this rail together, and without it the entire rail system would collapse,” he said.

“Each railroad spike will be a single vein, which I will then weld together to make a maple leaf seven feet long.”

Each first responder’s initials — about 100 by the end, the Gresingers hope — will be stamped on the vein they forged.

“You need a valve”

Kerri Boisjoli, a rural health worker in Okotoks, said she was nominated to attend the workshops.

“It’s been a stressful time during COVID. And this is a great way to learn a new skill and have time to reflect on the past few years,” she said.

“To pound on my piece of metal, to get those feelings and that energy out. It was wonderful to know that I will contribute to a sculpture that will be in the community and built by first responders and nurses like me.”

Dominika Lirette/CBC

Dominika Lirette/CBC

It was nice for Keegan Thomas, a firefighter in Okotoks, to talk to the other members of the class.

“A lot of us are alike in terms of our jobs and how much we are alike in terms of family life and work-life balance struggles,” he said.

“To be able to come here and do something new and just enjoy the conversation…sharing some of our stories and reflecting on our sanity.”

The sculpture is expected to be completed in the next few months.

Dominika Lirette/CBC

Dominika Lirette/CBC

Barry Crane, mayor of Diamond Valley, which is southeast of Millarville, said he hopes the sculpture will land in front of the town’s Oilfields General Hospital.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “So these discussions need to be had with the hospital … But we will give our full support to any area that we can provide for this art from the Council’s perspective.”

So far some veins of the sculpture are complete.

Greisinger said he knows first responders have busy lives, but he’s excited to provide a space for them to come in, hammer some steel and turn it into a public sculpture for all to enjoy.

“What I discovered by watching these firefighters, police officers, nurses and doctors [is] that no one is looking after them and their mental health,” he said. “And they need an outlet.”


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