Connecting through Stories

L-R: Betty Bennett, Rita Grimaldi (in mask), Hermione Rivison, Cliff McDonald and Angelica Ottewill (seated) of the Peterborough Storytellers. Photo credit: Paul Dosaj

The Link, Winter 2018
| by Joanne Culley |

The oral tradition has been an integral part of civilization from time immemorial, whether it was through telling stories during a long Arctic night, spinning tall tales in a pub, sharing ghost stories around a campfire or passing down family legends through the generations. Since 1992, a local group has been dedicated to preserving and practising this important art form.

The mandate of the Peterborough Storytellers is to encourage oral narrative and storytelling, to educate and to foster an interest in storytelling in the community, according to member Betty Bennett. At their regular meetings, they tell a wide range of stories – including fables, folk and fairy tales, historical and personal stories.

“People have the mistaken idea that stories are only for children but some of our most successful events are for adults,” says Bennett. “Many stories, particularly folktales, have very interesting parallels with current events. And seniors love stories – for many of them, it’s a reminder of when they used to gather in the farmhouse kitchen with neighbours to create their own entertainment with music, poetry and story.”

According to Bennett, there are many reasons to tell stories – to preserve cultural heritage, impart important social messages in a powerful but nonthreatening way, interact with people in a personal and intimate manner, engage audiences in using their imaginations and encourage people to become better listeners and better public speakers, which are useful skills in many professions.

“…storytelling can be a way to take a step back and remember how our ancestors related to each other and their world.”

At a time when many, both young and old, are glued to their screens, storytelling can be a way to take a step back and remember how our ancestors related to each other and their world.

“Storytelling is a way of connecting people across cultures and breaking through perceived forms of difference and division,” continues Bennett. “It has always been a way of transmitting cultural norms, of passing down history, and a means of educating and entertaining.”

The Peterborough Storytellers are made up of a core group of about five members, augmented by a few others, who plan the story tell-arounds and concerts. The group includes those from a range of backgrounds – including an actor, a library technician, educators, musicians and more.

The group holds monthly meetings to which all are invited. There are usually one or two scheduled stories, an interactive activity to encourage people to tell a short story to one or two others, then an open tell-around with no notes. Generally, they prefer that children be 12 years or older to ensure that they can sit still for 1½ hours.

“Everyone is invited to our meetings to listen – after all, storytellers need an audience – but we particularly welcome tellers,” she says. “We are a very supportive group and will gladly mentor any beginning tellers.”

Occasionally, the group holds workshops, house concerts and seasonal events at Halloween, Christmas and on World Storytelling Day in March. The storytellers as a group or individually are available to visit schools, libraries, museums, community groups or private functions.

Peterborough Storytellers is a member of Storytellers of Canada – Conteurs du Canada, a national umbrella organization which serves to connect similar groups across the country. Last spring Betty Bennett and Angelica Ottewill performed at the National Arts Centre Community Performance Space in Ottawa as guests of the Ottawa Storytelling Guild.

The group saw firsthand how stories can bring people together at a recent conference at Trent University last July.

“Storytellers of Canada – Conteurs du Canada partnered with the First Peoples House of Learning at Trent and the Curve Lake First Nation. Through workshops, concerts and ceremonies we learned that we share much more in common than we thought,” says Bennett.

For more information or to find out about their meetings, visit their page at, email or read their blog at

Joanne Culley is an award-winning writer and documentary producer from Peterborough. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Peterborough Examiner, and Our Canada magazine.

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