Métis history at the Beausoleil Island Cemetery of the Oaks

Submitted by: Larry Ferris, MNO Georgian Bay Métis Council Chair

Georgian Bay Metis Council
Members of the MNO Georgian Bay Métis Council
at the Beausoleil Island Cemetery of the Oaks. 

The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Georgian Bay Métis Council (GBMC) have sat on the Cultural Advisory Circle for Georgian Bay Islands National Parks (GBINP) going back to the days of MNO Senator Helen Bradley. The Circle promotes the Aboriginal cultures of the area with respect to the GBINP. The work on the Cemetery of the Oaks has been continued with representatives from Beausoleil Island, Georgina Island, the MNO GBMC, Wasauksing First Nation, Rama and First Nation Bands.

Dating back to the 1800’s, the cemetery was one of the first places Métis were buried. Beausoleil Island was also one of the places that some of the Drummond Islanders settled. However, the soil was poor for farming and eventually people moved off of the island. First Nations history in this area is documented as far back as the Middle Archaic Period, 7,000 years ago.

In the early 1900's, the cemetery fell into disrepair. Fortunately, when the island became a national park—Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada—Park Warden George Lynn began carefully reconstructing the cemetery and rebuilt many of the crosses. Along the way, he tried to find out as much information about the Métis people who had been laid to rest here.

The cemetery has had its boundaries shifted to include burials of ancestors who were laid to rest on the outside of the original fence line. Ground searching radar has been used to determine the actual size of the cemetery. Under the watchful eye of Parks Aboriginal Liaison Officer Brian Charles, great care has gone into the preservation of this sacred and historic site. One of Charles’ many jobs involves preserving the rich Aboriginal culture on the island with the respect that it deserves.

Below is a first-hand account of MNO GBMC Chair Larry Ferris’ trip to the Beausoleil Island Cemetery of the Oaks with MNO GBMC:

Métis youth Dalton Latondress, former MNO Senator Dora McInnis and MNO Community Senator Ray Bergie and myself were all able to make the trip to the cemetery. We were very happy to have Dora along for the visit, as she is a direct descendant of Louis Beausoleil, who the Island is named after.

As we walked among the graves, it was a moment to listen to our elders as they pointed out specific Métis names and told us about their families. There were also First Nations elders present who similarly talked about many of the same ancestors and their relations. The elders were able to show us the connections that we have with each other, which was a great moment.

I was grateful that our MNO Senators were present and were able to share their knowledge. It was very encouraging to see a Métis youth like Dalton take the time to listen to his elders.

Michif information plaque
The Michif translation for the information plaques that have
been erected at the Beausoleil Cemetery of the Oaks.
Click here to view a larger version.

After we were doing exploring, the GBINP provided a barbeque lunch for guests, at which point [Parks Officer] Charles explained the history of the cemetery. Two information plaques were then placed at either side of the cemetery. The plaques were written in Annishinabe, French, English and Michif. The translation for these plaques was done by the [MNO Michif Committee]. It is a great feeling to know that these signs—which are in our language, and explain the Métis past and connection to this very land—will be there for thousands of visitors to see and read.

Published on: May 24, 2016

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