CHASING HISTORY (Chapter 1 of 10)

LOONIES NEED APPLY

No, not these loonies, silly.

Where the hell is Loon Lake?

And why should you care?

Well, if you are a teacher or a librarian or a farmer, you should care.  And not just a farmer.  If you are a trapper or a trucker or a logger or a lover, you should care.  I guess what I am saying is, if you are a human being, you should care.  Particularly if you are Canadian you should care where Loon Lake is.

I am not going to be able to tell you why in just one chapter, so I’m writing this journal over several days.  It’s the continuing saga of my summer vacation.

On Sunday, July 3rd, John and I left Sandilands, Manitoba, for Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, where we would meet up with Grace.  This summer, I and my brother John and my sister Grace were chasing ghosts.  The ghosts of our family’s past and, as happens when you start down that path, the ghosts of Canada’s past.  You can’t do one without the other.  If fact, doing one – it matters not which – you inevitably do the other.

We soon came upon the charming village of Ste. Anne.  Full name, for the cognoscenti:  Ste. Anne des Chênes.  The name betrays its Métis origins.  I wanted to show John the charming museum here.  Years ago, I had charmed a villager into opening the museum for me – didn’t know what I’d find.  He showed me an incredible artifact from Canada’s past.

In 1869 at Ste. Anne des Chênes, an event transpired that would forever change the country we know and love.  I don’t think that even professional historians know what transpired here.  Oh, they know WHAT transpired, but they don’t know it transpired HERE.  If you said to a so-called professional, “Hey, you know Ste. Anne in Manitoba?”, he or she’d say, “Eh?” or “No” or “So what?”

In the fall of 1869 Louis Riel, one of the Fathers of Post-Confederation, stepped on a surveyor’s chain here.  He did it deliberately.  You see, this surveyor, and several like him, had parachuted into the North-West Territories, via steamboat on the Red River, and begun running grid lines all over Métis and Indian land (Yes, they called themselves “Indian” in those days) because, you see, they’d been told nobody owned it.  Probably some had been told nobody even lived there.

Well, Louis Riel did live there, and when he stepped on the chain, he was saying, in effect, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”   This “chain”, by the way, is a surveyor’s measuring tool, like a measuring tape, being a series of 100 linked metal rods, each exactly 7.92 inches long, hence the unit of measurement of 1 chain = 66 feet.

And the surveyor thought, “What the hell is that half-breed doing?” (Yes, they called Métis by that name in those days).  This wild-eyed half-breed had been educated and trained as a lawyer by white men (the name they still call themselves).

So, in a nutshell, by interfering with the survey, Riel started a “rebellion” that ended by his negotiating a deal with the then government of Canada, John A. Macdonald’s government, to create a new province called Manitoba.

And that chain that Riel stepped on, resides in the museum of Ste. Anne, and I’ll wager that not a single professional historian knows that.  That’s one of the charms of being an amateur historian – you find out things that only you and few others know.

Anyway, that Sunday morning we stopped in Ste. Anne.  The gentleman who had shown me the chain yea these many years ago had gone to church – so his wife said – so I said I would call in again on our return trip.  This gentleman, Norbert, with an equally delightful French family name, is not an historian, not even an amateur historian, but he sits, or used to sit, on the museum board. 

So many little museums in this country are lovingly managed by people with little or no academic training.  It would surprise me if half the village of Ste. Anne has ever visited its museum.  Certainly, when we made inquiries, it seemed half the village thought it might be open, and the other half had no idea, and cared less.

More later on the state of Canada’s community museums . . .

To drop into a village hoping that its little museum will be open, you don’t have to be loony.  But it helps.

Westward we sped, the sun chasing us . . .

Our destination

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About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website www.WhiskyJackPublishing.ca
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