Métis Role in the War of 1812 Remembered

Assembled by Linda Lord with the assistance of Senator Brenda Powley, Senator Ruth Wagner and Anne Trudel

Métis Role in War of 1812Métis Voyageurs on their way to take Fort Michilimackinac

The Métis Voyageur, spring edition (70), featured stories about Métis involvement in the War of 1812 and commemorations that were planned for July, 2012. As expected, Fort St. Joseph was invaded again! This time, hundreds of re-enactors brought Algoma’s history to life for the crowds in attendance.

The British troops, who successfully took Fort Michilimackinac two hundred years ago, did so with the assistance of Métis and First Nations.

On July 17th, two hundred years after the attack on Fort Mackinac, an estimated 1,300 people descended upon Fort St. Joseph to remember those who were part of the War of 1812. A moment of silence was observed.  Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Senator Brenda Powley opened the ceremony with a prayer. She also presented sashes to speaking dignitaries while Anne Trudel, assisted by her daughter Rebekah, provided a brief presentation on the functions of the sash and other items carried by the voyageurs, such as the clay pipe, explaining that the distance travelled was calculated by the number of pipes smoked along the way.

Métis dignitaries seated on the platform were Provisional Council of the MNO (PCMNO) Region 4 Councillor, Ernie Gatien; President of the MNO Historic Sault Ste Marie Council, Kim Powley; and, Councillor Stan McHale.  Many other Métis attended and volunteered; these included PCMNO Senator, Ruth Wagner, and MNO Historic Sault Ste Marie Council Vice-president, John Konawalchuck.

Other special guests were Mr. Bryan Hayes, MP for Sault Ste. Marie; Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma/Manitoulin/Kapuskasing); David Orazietti, MPP for Sault Ste. Marie; Isaac Murdoch, four-times great-grandson of Chief Shingwauk of the Serpent River First Nation.

The Métis Dance Club was well represented and performed to the music of both Senator Ruth Wagner and Zach and Benoit Schryer Lefebvre. More Métis dancers came from the MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program-- Gen, Justine, Marie, Nikki, Erika, Jada, Melody, Hollie and Rebekah—and from the larger community of  relatives and friends-- Alana, Beth, Bill, Christine, Evelyn, Jean Marie, Larry, Mckenzie, Myrta, Rhona, and Tracey.  These people had already contributed many volunteer hours sewing the period attire that everyone wore.

All of this activity and Métis involvement was the product of years of work donated by many people who sat on various committees to ensure that the Métis contribution to the British colony was noted. Senator Brenda Powley said: “There were a lot of Métis people involved....Anne Trudel has worked about five years on the committee....” Co-chairs, Kathy Fisher, curator of the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site, and Carol Caputo, executive director of Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association, have always included the Métis in the region--starting with former PCMNO Councillor, Brent McHale, and MNO employees and volunteers like Anne Trudel, Lynne Sinclair and Heather Armstrong.  This gave the local community a voice and an opportunity to sit on sub committees such as “research” and the “canoe zone”.  The canoe zone, a great success, was lead by Mark Croft and Wally van Dyke of Blind River.  The Métis were well represented on this committee by former PCMNO Councillor, Art Bennett and current PCMNO Councillor, Ernie Gatien, and from the MNO Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council, Councillor Steve Gjos; President, Kim Powley; and Senator, Brenda Powley; Hollie and Stan McHale from the MNO North Shore Métis Council and other MNO citizens.

On July 15th re-enactors wearing voyageur and period attire had begun with an early morning presentation at the Sault Ste. Marie Yacht Club where the sash, its functions and essential role in the fur trade were introduced to spectators and participants. Kim Powley then presented sashes to all 65 re-enactors individually. Many of the people said that they had a new understanding of the significance of the sash.

Following the re-enactments at St, Joseph’s Island, the activities moved to the “Old Stone House” in Sault Ste Marie where visitors enjoyed a different kind of “re-enactment”. Domestic skills, such as beading, rug hooking, embroidery, candle making, period games and more Métis dancing were demonstrated by the many Métis volunteers. The youngest dancer was Savannah Hansen, daughter of MNO employee Shawna Hansen.  Savannah, at four years of age, is already teaching her daycare peers the rabbit dance.

Over the next three years, the 1812 Bicentennial will be recognized on both sides of the American and Canadian border by celebrating 200 years of friendship. The taking of Fort Mackinac on Mackinaw Island is recognized as the first strategic move after the Americans declared war on Great Britain.  In the Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma region, the Algoma 1812 executive is focusing on true friends, true stories and true heritage.

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