Canoe Pilgrimage
The participants in the Canoe Pilgrimage (pictureby Trevor Scott SJ from Click
here for larger picture.

Submitted by MNO citizen Bridget Brown. Opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

A group of Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) staff and citizens participated in events around a Canoe Pilgrimage when the paddlers from this group reached Sault Ste. Marie this summer. The Canoe Pilgrimage was part of reconciliation efforts by Jesuits, an order of Roman Catholic priests, who once operated a residential school.

In 1967, in honour of Canada’s one hundredth anniversary and with the intention of promoting ecumenical dialogue among all faiths, 24 Jesuits and other priests completed a canoe pilgrimage following the historic fur trading route that starts in Midland and ends in Montreal. This route had been in use since the 1600’s; around the time of the first contact between Europeans and Indigenous people began. People like St. Jean de Brebouf, a Jesuit priest, and others like Samuel de Champlain began to travel an already established trading route from Montreal to Midland with Indigenous guides leading the way. This passage has historical significance as one of the main trading routes connecting the St. Lawrence River to Lake Huron before colonization.

In the summer of 2017, inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report and Canada’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, 30 Indigenous, English, French and Jesuit canoeists set out on a similar pilgrimage with the intention of encouraging learning between cultures and acknowledging the role of Jesuits in residential schools. The tragic history of the residential schools is well known and according to research conducted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one of those schools was operated by the Jesuits.

During their trek, the Canoe Pilgrimage participants would stop at communities along the way, many of which were impacted by residential schools. Many of the paddlers have said the trip would not be possible without the support and encouragement the different communities they’ve stopped at along the way.

One of the scheduled stops for the canoeists was the Sisters of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie, commonly known as the Motherhouse. The canoeists arrived on July 30, pitched their tents and stayed for two nights. People from the local community were on hand to meet the paddlers and there was an opportunity to learn about each other through the many sharing circles that took place that day.

Among those present at the sharing circles were MNO Community Support Services Coordinator Mary-Kelly McCormick, MNO Summer Youth Cultural Program Lead Laura Lamore and MNO citizen Bridget Brown. They were on hand to encourage the paddlers and share knowledge of the Métis culture.

Among the residential schools that operated in this district was an all-boys school located in the town of Spanish that operated for about 45 years. Around the same time the boy’s school was running, an all-girl residential school was operating close by.

Both schools were originally located in the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island and relocated to Spanish in the early 1900’s.

Indigenous children from Manitoulin Island, the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, Parry Sound, Ottawa Valley, Chapleau, Temagami, New Liskeard and from Northern Quebec were forced to leave their families and attend. Together, both schools formed largest residential school in Ontario.

Efforts like the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage remind us that it is never too late to work towards reconciliation and rebuild broken bonds.

When the Canoe Pilgrimage was in Sault Ste. Marie, Erik Sorensen, the Project Manager of the 2017 pilgrimage, was asked how things were going. He said: “We’ve had good days and challenging days and there is always a new challenge around the corner.”

For more information about the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage go to:

For research about residential schools in Spanish conducted by The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation go to:

Posted: September 12, 2017