Published on March 3, 2022

With Gratitude: Honouring the Achievement of Cultural Leader Carol Watamaniuk

St. Albert would just not be St. Albert without Carol Watamaniuk. The results of her tireless efforts in the field of cultural development are now beloved landmarks placed throughout the city. From our very first piece of public art—the playful “Hide and Seek” prominently located at the doors of St. Albert Place—to the imposing Steinhauer sculptures overlooking the Sturgeon River, her influence is everywhere. 

As the City’s first Cultural Services Director, Watamaniuk oversaw the creation and growth of an astonishing number of arts institutions in our community including, St. Albert Children’s Theatre, the Art Gallery of St. Albert and the City’s Art in Public Places program. She’s not simply a community builder, but a community architect.

“I've always firmly believed in ‘to thine own self be true,’” explains Watamaniuk of her propensity to drive change. “And to me it means, number one, listening to your intuition. Listening to your gut and what it’s telling you. And then doing it. It's one thing to think, ‘well, I should do this,’ but if you don't do it, well, what's the point in having intuition? So, I think, people have to listen to what that inner voice is saying and go after it.”

On April 7, 2022, Watamaniuk will be honoured for her exhaustive work at the 11th St. Albert Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts with the Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s a tribute that has long been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Watamaniuk, who has compelled the creation of so much of the art in our City, will finally have her name permanently carved into a piece of public art—the Cultural Wall of Fame. It’s a distinction that specifically comes with the Lifetime Achievement Award and seems particularly poignant in this case.

“I'm very flattered,” she says. “Everybody says they're humbled, but that's the truth—you are humbled by this kind of thing. I don't need the recognition. You don't do things for that.” 

Watamaniuk’s love of the arts started when she was just a toddler. She vividly recalls making mud pies on the backstep of her family home when her mom opened the back door.

“She said, ‘well, aren't those lovely dear? Shall we decorate them?’” shares Watamaniuk. “We lived on an acreage and so we went out and got wildflowers and embellished and decorated all of these mud pies. I've been telling people I've been decorating and embellishing ever since.”

Her personal creative practice centers around jewelry making and design. Watamaniuk’s work has a sculptural quality. Using materials she’s found around the world, she fashions bold, eye-catching necklaces that turn the wearer’s neck into a showcase. 

When it comes to the question of who supported her in pursuing her early aptitude for creativity, Watamaniuk quickly gives that credit to her parents.

“My parents really recognized that there was an artistic strain there,” she says. “I was in the hospital for many months when I was a child with rheumatic fever and [my] mom and dad brought me an unbelievable number of paints, crayons, pencil crayons, sketch pads and workbooks. I can remember when we were leaving the hospital, I was in the wheelchair and I couldn't see over all of the books and drawings that were piled up on my lap.”

She also remembers the impact her father’s love of books—and his way of sharing that love—had on her inventiveness and self-assurance. “We had a wonderful library at home and he always brought home books,” she says. “He would just buy a book for you and toss it on the bed. And then he'd stop at the door of my bedroom and say, ‘well, I'll bet you could think of it better ending.’ 

“It never hit me till I was in the middle of giving a speech in Saskatchewan, how much self-confidence that instilled in me. Because what he was saying was here’s this famous author, but I bet you could get it to have a better ending. And it challenged my creativity, [because I thought], ‘oh man, I gotta think of another ending for my dad.’”

It’s that confidence, combined with Watamaniuk’s unique way of figuring out just how to do things differently—to change the pre-supposed ending—that’s made her a household name in our City, but it’s also led her to national recognition for her work in cultural development. 

“My proudest accomplishment in my life was the development of the Cultural department in St. Albert and being recognized in Canada for that department.”

Not only did Watamaniuk establish the first Cultural Services department in St. Albert, but she also established the first Cultural Services department in Western Canada. It’s a success that led her to speaking engagements across the country, as municipalities clamoured to follow suit.

After her time as a cultural administrator, she moved on to running for City Council, where she was elected for four terms. It was during this period that the Steinhauer sculptures became part of the City’s landscape. Watamaniuk fondly recalls that the motion to acquire the sculptures went through Council unanimously, but not before her fellow Councillors ‘teased her to death,’ as she puts it.

That’s another characteristic of Watamaniuk—she’s quick to share credit. From her staff during her time as Director to organizations like the Rotary Club that contributed financially to her causes, to the Mayors she worked with on City Council, she always mentions, by name, the people who helped her get the job done. But throughout her career, it’s her family, in particular her husband, that gets the most praise.

“I am married to the most supportive man you could possibly be married to,” she says. “Any crazy ideas that I have had, our entire marriage, he has supported. If he knows that I'm passionate about it, he supports me. And so does my family. I am extremely blessed when it comes to being raised in a good family and having a wonderful family.”

That abundance of support has allowed her to focus on supporting her entire community, diligently providing opportunities to children and artists in St. Albert for decades. Her big-picture thinking has allowed for countless small, but meaningful, moments of play, wonder, meditation, understanding, joy and so much more, all through our community’s engagement with the arts.

“I have seen so many children and people transformed by finally expressing themselves through the arts,” she finishes. “Everyone should have access to that.”

To celebrate the Arts with Carol and the other nominees of this year’s Awards, buy tickets to the 11th Annual Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts.

Learn more about Watamaniuk’s artwork

Last edited: March 7, 2022