Birth of a Labyrinth

It is quite the undertaking to make a labyrinth, any way you go about it. In the new Hall of the Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa, flooring installer Hugh Voogt created a replicate of the historic Chartres Labyrinth in Forbo linoleum. It was a challenging project to cut by hand the exacting geometry underlying the medieval labyrinth. Without any previous background on the history and geometry of the medieval labyrinth, Hugh did a remarkable job, and in the process, discovered the secrets of the system of the ancient geometers.

The floor was covered in the accent colour. The sacred orange bucket covered al pin which became the centre of a giant compass used to draw the circles of hte labyrinth.
The floor was covered in the accent colour. The sacred orange bucket covered a pin which became the centre of a giant compass used to draw the circles of the labyrinth.


The lines of the labyrinth are cut and glued in place.
The lines of the labyrinth are cut and glued in place.


 A large compass made to span the 21' radius of the labyrinth.
A large compass made to span the 21′ radius of the labyrinth.


Drawing and cutting the lunations around the outside of the labyirnth.
Drawing and cutting the lunations around the outside of the labyirnth.


The background material is layed on top of the accent lines and cut to fit exactly.
The background material is layed on top of the accent lines and cut to fit exactly.


Humbling work all on done on bended knee!
Humbling work all on done on bended knee!


Hugh Voogt and Assistance
Hugh Voogt and Assistance

The end result is a very pleasing and faithful reproduction of the 11th century labyrinth found in the floor of the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame in Chartres, France.


The Labyrinth at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.
The finished Labyrinth at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.


The rose pattern at the centre of the Chartes Labyrinth
A detail of the rose pattern at the centre of the  Labyrinth

Look for announcements of upcoming events and programs that will animate this ancient spiritual tool.


The Invisible Work of Preparation

Circular Tree Bench Plan
Circular Tree Bench Plan

Planning, organizing, shopping, and site preparation have me noticing the invisible quality of preparations. Preparing is essential and poor preparations can be ones undoing.

Considerable time has been spent on preparing for the Beyond the Edge Artists Gardens Project and very little of it can be seen. Mary Faught and Judith Parker are co-curating this project and have spent many long months in preparations. Many meetings with the powers that be, negotiating land use, grant writing, coordinating with artists and extensive planning have gone on this winter in preparation to invite 5 artists to engage with the future site of the Botanical Garden in Ottawa.

Now with preparations in hand we begin with shovel in hand…..well not so fast. More meetings and coordination behind the scenes. The artists are arriving on site and preparations begin in earnest. What seemed a good idea last fall may not hold up in the light of spring. Some rethinking, and more planning and rejigging are required as we approach the site and the realities of what our plans look like when laid out on the ground.

It’s an interesting process to review plans that were made in a “pie in the sky moment” six months ago. One of my calculations was missing “pie” in the formula and as a result the cost went up by 1/3rd, Yikes!

This weekend my partner Daniel stepped in as master carpenter. I am the assistance holding the other end of the board. We are making a round bench to encircle the trunk of the “Mighty Red Oak”. Hoping those who thread the path of the Labyrinth will appreciate a place to sit and rest a while.


Carpenter Man in the Middle
Carpenter Man in the Middle

We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council,

an Agency of the Government of Ontario

2014 OAC Logo Colour JPG

8th Annual Candlelight Labyrinth

Setting up the candlelight labyrinth is not novel to me, but there is always some new and this year was no exception. This was the eighth annual McKellar Park Labyrinth. As I looked at the kids who were helping me I noted that some were the younger siblings of my usual helpers. The first few years I hosted the labyrinth I found I was explaining it to many visitors but now, eight years on, there is a certain knowledge and comfort level in the community. One older woman came out to help because she had received an email from a friend and just wanted to see what it was all about.

The Neighbourhood Gang of helpers.

This year I had intended to participate in Ottawa’s first Nuit Blanche on September 22nd but the weather forecast for that day was for certain rain and thunderstorms. So we cancelled and we were so incredibly disappointed, especially when the evening turned out to be perfect after all! Since we were all geared up to put on a labyrinth we decided to go ahead with our usual location in McKellar Park the following week.

One never knows who will show up to help set things up but they always do. The core of my team are my kids, my nieces and nephews and their friends. We had a sunny warm afternoon to work and it was fun to catch up and connect while we filled 700 paper bags with sand and tea lights. As we waited for the sun to go down, we enjoyed an impromptu picnic in the park. I sat, taking in the scene, and wondered why we don’t picnic in our own park more often.

My daughter lends a hand with the paper bags.

For the Nuit Blanche project I had collaborated with composer and musician, Bruce Nicol. We have worked together on labyrinth projects for several years and Bruce had acted as curator for our Labyrinth as Sanctuary Series at the Cathedral. He had an idea to create a soundscape based on our previous recording of music at our labyrinth events and he acquired some new software to allow him to collage and interweave sounds. He was able to create a spontaneous mix from his collection of pre-recorded soundtracks. One of our guiding principals for labyrinth music is that it be responsive and sensitive to the mood of the participants. Bruce was on site and mixed a customized surround-sound.

Bruce Nicol at the controls

My friend and vocalist Antonia Pigot dropped by with to add another layer to the sound collage. At some points she found herself singing along with a recording of herself. I suppose singers do that all the time but she was a bit surprised.

Vocalist Antonia Pigot

I doubt if any of us would have spent the evening outside, had we not been at the labyrinth. It was a mild night with a few clouds making for a dramatic backdrop.The labyrinth was set up on a baseball diamond and as the full moon rose later in the evening it lined up and bisected our set up. Bruce and his electronic sounds were at home base, the center of the labyrinth was on the pitcher’s mound, and the entrance to the labyrinth with glowing electric blue lights and the full moon were all in a line.

All lined up.

In spite of no publicity or advertising the word got out and people came. It was a pleasure to greet old friends and to have shadowy conversations in the dark.

Full Moon at the Labyrinth

Winter Solstice Labyrinth

At the invitation of Pranashanti Yoga Centre, Canadian Labyrinth Ventures created a temporary labyrinth especially for the occasion of the winter solstice. It seemed a fitting combination to walk the labyrinth on the darkest day of the year in order to celebrate and prepare for the return of the sun.

The new room at the yoga centre that was chosen for the event was large enough to hold a labyrinth event but had a couple of pillars in the center of the space. Early on we had an idea for how to incorporate the pillars and transform them into an elements of the event. But as we got closer to the installation and began to consider the room size and the number of people expected, we had second thoughts on exactly what would work well in the space. As we considered the options Vanessa suggested a hexagon labyrinth. While I knew there was an octagonal historic precedent in the St. Quentin Cathedral Labyrinth in France, we had always worked with circular labyrinths because they support the sense of community we seek to engender through our work. As we puzzled out what to do, I remembered the geometry of a snowflake is the same as the geometric basis of a hexagon.  So this was the perfect justification. And because we had never made a hexagon labyrinth before, this was an opportunity to learn.

Saint Quentin Labyrinth, France 12th century

Historic labyrinths may have been laid out using a system of relational geometry rather than by measuring. I had wanted to create an oversized compass and draw arches in order to divide the space but in the end we measured, based on the sketch that Vanessa had drawn. It’s always fascinating to see how things work out in a partnership especially when there is a time line. We each have our gifts and moments of clarity come as we work through the process. Vanessa has great patience for detail. On the other hand I can move through the process without getting bogged down in the detail. Somehow we manage to accomplish together what would have been more challenging for us to do alone.

Vanessa and volunteer Chris are figuring it out, the hard way
Barb trimming the corners.

After decorating the labyrinth with tea lights and creating a kind of receiving bowl in the altar space we greeted Kathy Armstrong and her husband and performance partner Rory Magill. I gave a brief introduction and then the ting-shaw bells created the opening of sacred time and space. As I greeted the participants and created a sense of pacing I offered each person a small pebble suggesting it could represent anything they where releasing or letting go of this evening. Participants were invited to deposit their pebble into an earthen bowl filled with water. This created a ritualized way of making intentional a desire to consciously turn toward the light.

Finished Hexagon Labyrinth

As I stepped back to make room for someone entering the labyrinth I bumped into a person. I turned around and realized the line-up of people waiting had encircled the labyrinth. This was the spirituality of waiting in action! I checked in with a few people and they seemed to be doing fine and after about 20 minutes the anxiety in the room settled. It is quite something to be the keeper of a labyrinth as you hold open the invitation never really knowing what it will be for those who participate. Kathy and Rory’s delicate rhythms held the space and helped to ground the experience for all.

It was a beautiful evening and a wonderful observance of the solstice. What a great way to blend ancient practices with contemporary life. It seems people are seeking opportunities to ritualize secular living. I am pleased to be exploring ways of observing and marking our days and making our living intentional.

In all it was a tremendous evening with approximately 80 people attending and $1500.00 raised for the Ottawa Food Bank. Thanks everyone!