Oak Bay celebrates artist, activist and leader Marion Cumming with a gathering of gratitude
Cumming died peacefully at home on the morning of Aug. 1, surrounded by friends and loved ones.
Born in Toronto in 1936, Cumming turned 86 on July 26. She and her late husband Bruce lived in Ontario and New Brunswick ahead of the last three decades in Greater Victoria. Bruce died in 2008.
Longtime friend Robin June Hood called Cumming a tour de force – a remarkable combination of a brilliant mind and a woman ahead of her time with her involvement in Indigenous rights, the land back movement and the links between cultural and ecological existence and well-being.
The awareness dated back to her days as a young woman, Hood said. Cumming recognized her privileged upbringing, something highlighted while working in Mexico as a volunteer art teacher at a mental institution. She bused two hours each way to a tough part of town to teach children abandoned, once by family and again by the system, Hood said.
“She was so struck by the power of art and beauty and kindness, she made an amazing impression on the kids,” Hood said. “This is where that big consciousness about justice and the use of art and kindness bringing people together and this amazing love for children (started).”
Her interests grew as she did, and Cumming became a champion for ancient forests to heritage buildings alongside and she documented environmental movements through her art.
She used her privilege and levied it when possible to make the world a better place through art and education and conservation and preservation of special places and was always “trying to drag folks along” with her, Hood said.
“She was unbelievable in her productivity. She had about eight different campaigns going on at a time.”
In all campaigns she was wonderfully, passively persistent, said friend Ron Carter, who sat for tea many a time with Cumming as they shared a passion for talking trees.
“I regret now just being more in a rush than to stop for tea. It was always a pleasant thing. She was calming just by her own calming manner,” Carter said.
He feels Oak Bay lost a matriarch of the community.
Aside from her doggedness, Carter remains impressed with her “mind-blowing” generosity.
“She has such as strong affinity for First Nations and correcting past wrongs, trying to make it up for the rest of us,” Carter said.
Cumming and her husband Bruce, discovering they were on unceded territory, donated their New Brunswick farm to the Maliseet in 1992. In 2019, she donated a Cowichan Valley cabin to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre and bequeathed her Sunny Lane home to them as well.
“She really was the person who started reconciliation on the ground,” Hood said.
Cumming worked with local archives and artists to create a trail of monuments that highlight history in what is now Oak Bay. Unveiled in 2009, the monuments feature artwork by Salish artist Charles (Temosen) Elliott.
Cumming’s artwork will be on display as her life is honoured with gratitude at a gathering on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre at Oak Bay High, 2121 Cadboro Bay Rd.
The event will also be live-streamed at lumeraevents.com/marioncumming.
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