Le Cousin

November seems to be a time of rememberance. Today we remember my cousin 4 times removed Louis Riel famed Metis leader and the sacrifice he made for his people.  I am related to him through my paternal grandmother Josephine Beauchamp nee Daigneault. The chart is below ( from the St. Boniface Historical Society).

Relationship to Louis.jpg

My grandmother married into a family from Quebec who decended from original settlers and voyageurs in New France . I have written about the Fur Traders and Explorers in my family as well as The Spirit of Resistance about the Metis uprising.  I hope will enjoy reading about them.

 

 

 

Lest We Forget

Some of you may know that I work with a variety of people tutoring English. Some are very young.  One of them is from worn-torn Cambodia. He knows little of the war having come over so young but his mother remembers. We have been working on C.S. Lewis’s  “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” and were talking about how the children in the story had to evacuate London during WWII.  Of course, the subject came up of another global war happening  and I found myself thrown into the same conversation I have had with my own children. There would be no war because nuclear armament has advanced so much we would simply be gone. What do we tell our children, to vote the right people in ? Disarmament must happen. Who will do it?

Today, I remember the soldiers in my family, my great-uncle Robert Smith lying in Flanders in an unmarked grave and his brothers, James and Samuel Smith from Glasgow. All the brothers of the Fraser family of Dublin, Ireland  and all the boys in my fathers family, Rene, Leo, and Paul Beauchamp of St. Boniface, Manitoba. My father Edmond who had been crippled by polio served at home. My aunts Margaret and Evelyn Phillips who served in the Womens Army Corps.

Thank you for your service.

Halloween Memories

I thought it would be fun to reminisce a little today about Halloween when I was young.
The earliest I remember was around the time I started school. We had just moved to a new house on Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg. My mother came home from work and quickly put my brother and I into our costumes. I  was Snow White and my brother was Caspar the Friendly Ghost, I don’t recall if our little sister came along. It was a very blustery night and that part of town was very dark. Soon my brother started crying and saying to take off his “boogie man”. We wore masks with our costumes in those days and the vapour of our breath would get caught inside the mask and make it wet and uncomfortable. All over the neighbourhood you could hear firecrackers going off . Boys would put them under a tin can and light them. Many would be wearing the cap guns and holsters that were part of their cowboy costumes. You might even see a Red Rider BB gun. There were some pretty bad accidents in those days.

All the discomfort was paid off with the wonderful treats we would find at the various places we visited.  Most of the businesses had some sort of miniature item of whatever stock they sold. The miniature loaves of McGavins bread wrapped in wax paper just delighted me.  It was also a time to visit your neighbour who might make homemade treats for you.  You could end up with some interesting stuff. One of our Polish neighbours used to make beautiful wedding cakes for the members of her church and she would give us little bags of almond icing and silver beads. It was not unusual to be invited in and be given any type of food.

We usually lived in an ethnic area where we would sample all types of food. We once had a neighbour who actually cooked for Halloween and put a huge table out on her porch with all kinds of baking on it. You were invited up to have something. I recall no problems happening. Some people kept tubs of water and apples at their house so you could bob for apples, a singularly uncomfortable experience which the braver of the boys didn’t mind !

As the ’60’s progressed, things became more commercialized and rice krispie squares and popcorn balls became more popular.  (Apples? Who needs ’em? )Then the inevitable candies that we all loved to hoard, molasses toffee kisses, double bubble and life savers. One of my memories is of my younger sister waking up in the morning with  toffee stuck in her beautiful brown curls and the ensuing calamity as my mother tried to get it out. One might even think of it as the “morning after a binge”! We generally had enough candy to last us until Christmas. Our dental records were the proof of that!

Once we hit Grade 5 or 6, we would make our own costumes out of whatever was available at home and use our mothers make up for our faces. My brother, like something out of a Rockwell painting, was a speed runner and challenged himself every year to see how much of a haul he could bring in. We used pillowcases to gather our candy. He probably wandered a radius of a mile at least and one year came home with 3 or 4 pillowcases full of candy. I vaguely remember being worried about him catching a bus .  My mother was the sole provider and often worked at night, to wit, we would go crazy.

One of my favourite Halloween memories is of the parties my girlfriends and I would organize. We were all very sociable then, about 1968. We lived in a “rough area” of Edmonton called Cromdale and our house backed onto the Exhibition Grounds. I had friends of just about every nationality, but my best friend was a girl from Manchester, England. We decided to create a “haunted house” that year and what fun we had! Again, everything was “from scratch”. We first had a meeting of all interested parties which included some boys we had recruited to play “monsters”. Then we decided on music which would be played on “45” records. For this we had to nominate a disc jockey which of course was one of the boys.

We hung up sheets all over the basement and got a few boys to wear Frankenstein and Dracula masks, hide and then jump out at people once they were inside. When we were finished the basement was fully dark. I was host, so I led the kids inside (mostly classmates) and stuck their hand in a “bowl of brains” which was cold macaroni and some “eyeballs” which was olives. Then they had to have a “drink of blood”. That was tomato juice. My friends parents were upstairs of course. Afterwards, the party returned to normal or as normal as it could get which a bunch of 14 year old boys running around.  We were still children and knew little of the world. Very few of us had a television.

Later, when I was raising my own children and attitudes toward Halloween had changed, I encouraged them to go out and meet their neighbours. Of course I went with them at first but after that they raced around with their friends braving the technological advances in decorating; coffins on the lawn that opened up, technicolor lights and screaming music.  One of my daughters once kicked a man who was a living tree. He moved, she kicked. The costumes sometimes were extraordinary but seldom came from the store and neither were they “made by Mom”.  I helped buy material or find old clothes but they made their own costumes and did their own make-up, well, except for the pig-tails that had to be wired up for a Pepi Longstocking costume!

I truly hope that my grandchildren will continue in the spirit of creativity and independence that my own children and their parents did. Happy Halloween everyone!

Pretty Anna

Below is a marriage photo of my maternal great-aunt Annabella McGhee Smith, a bonnie Scots lass if ever there was one.

Annabella McGhee Smith, Joseph Collins Peat-1908 ret..jpg

I have written about her previously here.  Shortly after they married, the couple moved to New South Wales, Australia, presumably for work. Last week as I reviewed my family tree, I came upon a hint for James Smith Peat and naturally I opened it. The record was for an inquest into the death of a 16 year old boy at Lithgow, a bullet wound to the head; parents Anna and Joseph Peat. This happened in 1933, the year my mother was born.  James ( I assume named after Anna’s father) died in April and my mother was born in May. I was greatly saddened by this piece of news. Genealogy is probably not a great pursuit if you are an “empath”.

Again my imagination started to take hold, I know very little about that part of Australia or any part of Australia for that matter. I do know that all of the Smith family worked in the smelting factories of Coatbridge and that James, my great grandfather was a “hard man”. Anna would have had some grit in her but what prepares you for the loss of an oldest son, especially like that.

I wonder what the circumstances were that he would have even had access to a gun and also what my grandmother’s reaction would have been to the news. My mother was her last child and she almost hemorrhaged to death having her a month later.

I am not sure how many families whose ancestors were pioneers have stories of the unsuitability of many of them for the life they chose.  For some, the freedom they were seeking came at an extremely high price. The actual realities of the women’s lives especially, are seldom spoken of .  Many people have come to me and asked how I have managed my own life. It is nothing compared to that of my predecessors.

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers. We are privileged to live in such a great country, one that is amoung the wealthiest and safest in the world. It is a place of refuge for the thousands fleeing oppression and an example of peaceful relations. Let’s remember all who came before to make this country what it is!

Putting It All Together

I am,  at this moment,  negotiating the pile of papers, certificates and photos I have accumulated over the last 10 years with a view to compiling a book about my family. I find myself getting sucked back into researching which brings about the old feelings of frustration and overwhelm. However, I am determined to create something out of it all. I have confessed before to getting swept away by the adventures of my ancestors, from battling the Iroquois, to following Mackenzie to the Pacific, to the rise of  William McDowell in Ireland, from poor farm boy to owner of a successful tilery and farm.

History was never far from my siblings and I as we listened to our parents talk about their lives as children, one whose family was part of the Red River settlement, the other daughter of Scots/Irish pioneers. We grew into the Canadian landscape and it became part of us, creating strong, independent and resourceful people.

So, I will be clacking away as usual on the computer in between times with my Korean students who themselves are coming to know the ways of this land and people. I will advise you on my progress. Thanks so much for following me on my adventures. As always if you would like to comment on a post, feel free.  Yolanda

The Spirit of Resistance 12

The events of the Northwest Rebellion eventually led to the surrender, by Riel, against overwhelming odds. He felt this would save further blood shed and that the ensuing trial would provide a platform from which to air the grievances of the Metis people. He did not wish his actions to be known as those of a “madman”, the defense’s main tool. This did not help him. After pleading the case of the Metis for an hour, the judge finally lost patience and along with the jury, sentenced him to be “hanged by the neck until dead”. The arm of the law could not be seen as weak.

I often ponder the many aspects of the Riel situation. I think about my grandmother, Josephine Daigneault and how she must have heard the story many times as a child; perhaps there were still relatives living who were affected by the death of their relative.

I think about Riel’s situation;  how he was thrown into a situation he may not have been fully prepared for because he was educated and religious. His father was a man of strong opinion and ambition and probably gave him a strong sense of responsibility towards the community.

Talk of his sanity brings to my mind the religious raptures that the nun, Marie L’Incarnation experienced as she went through the trials of establishing a convent in the New World.  We are taught that we must put our faith in God when we are overwhelmed with fear. Belief can overcome.  That is what it would take to face the strong possibility of death.

I think Riel’s life is an example of being swept up by forces out of our control, about fighting against greed, deceit and inhumanity. Rest in Peace, cher cousin.