Saturday, April 27, 2013

Crazy white men among the Cree

What do you get when a white family moves north to live among the Cree?

Dad grew up a pioneer in what was still a sparsely-settled province of Alberta. Mom grew up on a farm in New Brunswick that had been in the family for generations. Dad was a Catholic French-Canadian, whose family had been in Québec for centuries. Mom was an English speaking Anglican of Scottish and Loyalist descent who lived in an area where people were suspicious of French-speaking people. Dad liked the outdoors, hunting, snaring, trapping and camping. Mom was afraid of horses, so she rode the bony backs of cows home instead.

Dad (on right), on a hunting trip
What do you get when you put the two of them together? Besides a Dad who knows the name of just about every fruit-bearing tree and potato plant available in North America; a mother able to tell the difference between McIntosh, Empire, Spartan and Cortland apples (as well as a few different breeds of cow); Midnight mass at Christmas complete with Réveillon; Maritime fiddling records steeped in Scottish tradition; reducing, re-using and recycling before it was in style and summer vacations to both ends of the country, you get some interesting memories.

Mom (on left) with her sister, on the family farm
Queenstown, New Brunswick
Somehow, (after a year of theology courses at St Paul’s University in Ottawa) Mom and Dad ended up North with the family in Moose Factory Ontario; neither East nor West exactly, and neither French nor English, but among the Cree people. Because we kids weren't mixed up enough, they had to add another culture to the pot.

Moose Factory is an island, so it goes without saying that in order to get anywhere in summer, you need a boat. To get to the mainland or to Charles Island Provincial Park, you could always get a water taxi. But if you wanted to explore any of the other islands around, it was much more practical to get oneself a boat.

Anyone who had a boat in Moose Factory had a freighter canoe with a 40 hp motor. Those were your real boats. The hunter’s boat, the taxi boat, the man’s boat, the anybody-who-was-somebody’s boat. Dad was a deacon in the Catholic Church with five mouths to feed and not a lot of extra money. A good boat and outboard motor didn't come cheap so he couldn't afford one.

Going over to Moosonee in the mid-70's
Cecil (on Dad's lap) Rose Anne and myself (in front)
Then, one day, he saw it; the inflatable rubber raft in the Sears catalogue. Dad mentally rubbed his hands together. Finally he would be able to take his family on boat excursions to nearby islands and not have to pay a fee or arrange a trip with someone else.

Dad’s boat arrived in due time and, all excited to try it out, we drove over to the back of the island (where the Cree Village Ecolodge now stands) parked, took the trail down past the Maybee’s house to Nurse’s beach. This was going to be amazing.

Once down at the beach, Dad took out his little pump and proceeded to blow up the raft. After about 10 minutes, we got bored and took off to play along the beach. Half an hour later, possibly more, Dad called us back. We proceeded to get into the boat. Now, the sides of the boat were blown up, but the bottom part was barely inflatable and remained flat. Until we got into it. At this point, being rubber and not solid, it sunk under our feet to the bottom of the river.

Some of us managed to get in, despite the tendency of the bottom of the boat to give way as soon as someone new got in. Then my father had to push us off from shore. This was no easy feat, as the boat was now sitting on the sand at the bottom of the river, thanks to the weight of our bodies on it. Dad had to scrape us off from shore, and then try to hop in while spreading out his weight enough so that the whole boat didn’t just collapse inward and send us all to the bottom of the river. It was a very delicate maneuver, but somehow he managed it, and we were off.

The small outboard motor roared to life. Okay, it sputtered to life. No, it murmured to life. I think the mosquitoes buzzing around were louder than the motor.

From Nurse’s Beach to Charles Island, it’s about half a kilometre. In a freighter canoe, with a 40 hp motor, it would have taken us all of 2 minutes to get to the other side, if that.

Dad’s motor couldn't have been more than 2 hp. It was attached with some kind of rubber strap and kept slipping. It took us at least 15 minutes to get to the other side. Your grandmother (or your Kookum) could probably dog-paddle faster than that.

Then he had to turn around and come back for the others. It took a whole hour before everyone was standing on Charles Island.

After that, Dad, being the problem-solver and manually good with his hands, made a few adjustments to the boat. He carved a solid bottom for it out of a piece of plywood. No more danger of sinking the moment you stepped into to it. At the stern, he added a wooden support for the motor. He put together a make-shift trailer for the boat, so it could be inflated and set up ahead of time and then taken to the beach.

Every time we’d go to Charles Island, he’d hitch the boat on its trailer to the back of the van, Mom would pack a lunch and we’d all pile into the van and head off to Nurses Beach. When we got older we’d duck in the back so no one could see us. As if the whole island didn’t recognize the van, the “white man’s boat” and our Dad in the front. As if none of our peers would guess we were there.

One day, when we were still quite young, Dad decided to go camping. Mom wasn’t much of a camper and there were younger kids to take care of, so he took Rose Anne and I, the two oldest.

Dad had previously taken us to Hayes Island, to clear out some of the brush in order to make room to pitch a tent. That Friday afternoon was beautiful, warm and sunny. We took the boat down to the flats and set out a second time, with all the camping supplies, for Hayes Island. Dad pitched the tent and Rose Anne and I swam a bit off the rocky shore. We built a fire, roasted marshmallows and finally called it a night. The evening was fine and we were more than comfortable in our sleeping bags.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of my father fighting with the tent in the howling wind, trying to keep it upright. Our sleeping bags were wet and cold with rain. The temperature had dropped 10 degrees.

Poor Dad had to fight with the (white man’s) tent all night. Rose Anne and I huddled together, trying to keep warm. When day broke, the wind settled down, but we were stranded, as the rubber raft had floated away.

Around noon, we were finally rescued. Someone across the river in Moose Factory had seen Dad’s attempts to use clothes as a flag, to try to catch anyone’s attention, and sent people over in a boat to get us. The rubber raft was found and brought back as well.

I don’t know if Dad ever lived that one down.

Family (with a friend) January 1, 1984.
Moose Factory, Ontario
In Moose Factory, people still remember us as "those weird white men", what with our tendency to do things our own way.  Mom the ex-school marm, used to call us home with a bell, the way farm workers in the fields were called for lunch or school kids called in from recess.  This was a novelty in Moose Factory.  We kids still hear about it to this day.

Mom, still being a school mistress at heart, used to come in to the school and sit in on our classes, just to see what and how we were being taught.  She would do this at least once a year.  No other mother, I repeat, NO OTHER MOTHER did this.  She also made a point of inviting all of our teachers over for supper at least once in the school year.

In the early days, I remember my parents providing water for neighbours who came over with pails, because they didn't have any running water.  Not everyone had an indoor toilet either in those days.  Many had just an outhouse.  We were lucky to have one toilet and a chamber pot in the basement.  My parents also often provided a place to spend the night and a few cans of beans and other necessities to people who temporarily needed it.

Moose Factory changed a lot in the years we spent there, by the mid-eighties, most people had modern homes and running water.  Our home had been renovated and we now had two toilets (the chamber pot was never seen again).

My parents left Moose Factory in 1996.  They hadn't returned to visit again until summer 2011, when we kids took them up to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary and Dad's 35th ordination anniversary.

Mom and Dad, July 2011 in what used to be Dad's garden.
Moose Factory, Ontario

Friday, April 12, 2013


Man butchers new-born babies capable of surviving outside the womb. Makes jokes about it. Also kills woman who went to him for abortion. Mainstream media adamantly refuses to cover story. But those of us who find this despicable are the ones who need to stop "inbreeding"?  Sheesh.  When you have no valid argument, just resort to insults...
Read more here:

(WARNING: graphic images

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013