Ephemera Storytelling Box

A photo of the wooden ephemera box with the lid askew so you can just peek in and see a hint of the contents.
The Ephemera Storytelling Box: A Story Art Installation. Gallery at the Centre, Elliot Lake ON


What are ephemera? Lists, receipts, notes, birthday cards: these are artefacts to be used temporarily before they are discarded. Ephemera are the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. One scrap of paper by itself is likely recycling; but multiple ephemera from the same person can piece together a life lived, giving us a glimpse into that person’s character. We based the Ephemera Storytelling Box (or ESB) upon this idea.

There are two ways to approach the Ephemera Storytelling Box. You can read it chronologically, sorting out the pieces and putting them in order. This would allow you to experience the arc of the story as you might a novel. Most of the artefacts have dates on them, and the rest you can glean from context.

The second way is to approach this as someone happening upon another person’s memory box. Your curiosity gets the better of you and you slide the lid off the box to uncover a curious array of objects.

As you begin to rifle through the artefacts, they don’t mean much – a ticket stub, a scarf, errant postcards, worn journals. But as you read the letters and journals, a story begins to take shape. You get to know the people whose lives are represented in this box. You begin to understand why these mementos matter and how they helped shape a shared history. Eventually, you will find yourself surrounded by a puzzle you know how to solve, because this memory box a universal image of romance.

This project has been a six-month labour of love involving the talents of many artists. The process began with the editorial team who planned the overarching story and parcelled each plot point into a ‘story node’. Each writer developed their story nodes and worked with the editorial team to establish continuity across all the writing.

Concurrently, the makers created key artefacts in wood, leather and textiles, while other materials were sourced from vintage shops across North America. We cast eight handwriting actors as the characters in the story and they painstakingly transcribed all the writing into letters, journals, postcards, and other paper items. Finally, the head maker designed printed elements, such as newspaper articles and ads, and aged the ephemera.

The Ephemera Storytelling Box launched on January 25, 2019 at the Lester B. Pearson Civic Centre. After the launch, the ESB will be installed in the Gallery at the Centre in Elliot Lake for a limited time where visitors may sit and peruse it at their leisure. After its time in the Gallery, the ESB will travel to its next destination. To check the ESB schedule, please visit thevesselproject.ca. If you would like to arrange for the ESB to visit your institution, please contact vesseltransmedialab@gmail.com.

In the near future, we will be presenting a digital literature version of the project so that readers outside of Northern Ontario may experience the project. Keep your eye on the blog and social media for updates on this initiative.

For those who get the chance to view the ESB, we hope you enjoy your experience!

The Story

Elliot Lake. 1957. Jude Nesbitt moves to Elliot Lake from his small town in Newfoundland to become a miner. Tagging along: his brother, Johnny, and friend Seamus. At the same time, Genevieve Lefevre relocates to Elliot Lake with her husband Marcel, an engineer.

Through happenstance, Jude and Genevieve meet and kindle a charged friendship. Over the course of twenty years, their evolving relationship will be moulded and tested by Elliot Lake’s boom and bust cycle. Ultimately, their love story will reflect the resilience of the land and community, as well as Elliot Lake’s changing identity.


Copy of ESB Booklet (pdf)

Copy of Launch Poster (pdf)

For teachers, creators and researchers: Copies of the strategy documents available for pedagogical or academic purposes. Contact the VTSL directly if you would like to view these documents.



Article from Elliot Lake Today