“What fair and equitable basis may exist for federal union of Newfoundland and Canada?” Seventy years ago, Newfoundland decided to ask Ottawa that question.
Two years later, they’d sorted it out to their satisfaction. The Terms of Union stipulated what would change and what would remain the same for Newfoundland industry, resources and people.
Spelled out in the Terms of Union was the continuation of Newfoundland’s denominational school system and the right to sell margarine. The status of the Mi’kmaq of the island and the Innu and Inuit of Labrador? Not a mention.
The Constitution Act (1867) in Section 91(24) says that the federal government has jurisdiction over “Indians, and lands reserved for the Indians”. In this instance, “Indians” includes Inuit. So you’d think that the Canadian government would assume responsibility for the indigenous peoples of the new province whether or not there was explicit mention in the Terms of Union. But it didn’t happen, creating a Canadian anomaly. A province without officially recognized indigenous populations.
It isn’t that no one thought about it during negotiations. Here’s what happened, from my Putting It Back Together (1983:116).
“Subsequent to Union”
During the two weeks following September 29, 1947, the section which dealt with the Indian Act was removed, reintroduced, and then pencilled out in three different versions of the National Convention subcommittee report. No decision was made by the time of Confederation, and it was agreed to establish an Interdepartmental Committee on Newfoundland Indians and Eskimos which could “more appropriately” discuss the matter “subsequent to Union.” This committee sought an opinion “as to the precise legal extent of the federal government’s responsibility insofar as Indians and Eskimos residing in Newfoundland and Labrador are concerned” from the federal Department of Justice. In the reply of April 14, 1951, the Justice Department said, “It is the responsibility of the federal government to formulate and carry out all policies that are directed at dealing with Indian or Indian problems [sic].”
[Public Archives of Canada: Claxton Papers, Min. of Justice, Min. of Mines and Resources, 1949-1951]
So why didn’t Ottawa assume its responsibility? Joseph Smallwood said in a 1982 radio interview that he intended the Indian Act to apply. But he did not want people to lose the vote and other rights of citizenship that went with that. However, the federal government reformed the Indian Act soon after, giving status Indians most of the rights of other citizens.
The Canadian government was actively pursuing assimilation of indigenous peoples in policies and practices. So perhaps it served the purposes of both nations. Newfoundland did not lose control over people and lands to Canada. And Canada did not have to add to its responsibility toward indigenous peoples. It didn’t exactly work out as planned, as the next 70 years showed.
Here are some books that are valuable for anyone wanting to know more about First Nations and the history and process of colonization within a land. That land might be Newfoundland, Labrador, Canada as well as others around the world.
The peoples of such internal colonization is what George Manuel defined as “the Fourth World”. I’ve been thinking about that since hearing that Arthur Manuel died last week. He was a chief and political activist in British Columbia. He was also the son of George Manuel, author of The Fourth World.
I read The Fourth World at university. Wow, I thought then, and still do whenever I reread parts of it. I still have my original copy. It’s moved with me many times over four decades.
Going through my bookshelves for it, I saw other books that I consider indispensable for thinking about First Nations and Canada. Make a list then, I thought. So this is its beginning. I will add to it as I think of more. I have put in links for purchase when I could. Otherwise, libraries and used book stores are your best bet.
Prison of Grass: Canada from the native point of view, Howard Adams, General Publishing 1975 & 1989
"With the publication of this eloquent, passionate and scholarly work, no Canadian can ever again boast that this is a country free from the cancer of racism." - from cover blurb by Pierre Berton. (Click image for Amazon link)
Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn, Evan S. Connell, North Point Press 1984.
A novel, and a history of a big moment in Euro-American and First Nation "contact" - the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn. Facts and interpretation, in lyrical writing that carries you along in the action. (Click image for Amazon link)
Son of the Morning Star (DVD)
The 1991 movie based on Evan Connell's book stars Gary Cole and Rosanna Arquette. I didn't think a movie could do justice to the book, but this does. (Click image for eBay listings)
Grassy Narrows, George Hutchison and Dick Wallace, Van Nostrand Reinhold 1977
Hutchison and Wallace covered the Grassy Narrows, Ontario mercury poisoning story for the London Free Press. My mother bought me this book. The story and images were horrifying then, and they still are 40 years later. (Click image for Amazon link.)
The Inconvenient Indian: A curious account of native people in North America, Thomas King, Anchor Canada 2013
Anything written by Thomas King is worth reading, but this look at 'being Indian' - historically and in modern Canadian society - is especially valuable. (Click image for Amazon link.)
The Fourth World, George Manuel and Michael Posluns, Don Mills: Collier Macmillan Canada 1974
Colonization within lands and the connections between "Fourth World" peoples. Available in libraries and, if you're lucky, somewhere for sale. (I couldn't find it online at a reasonable price.)
Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A history of Indian-White relations in Canada, J. R. Miller, U of Toronto Press 2000 3rd ed.
I asked Dr. Gordon Inglis, of the Anthropology Dept. at Memorial University, what would be good texts for an introductory class on indigenous issues. This was one he recommended. He was right. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Big Chief Elizabeth: How England's adventurers gambled and won the New World, Giles Milton, Hodder and Stoughton 2000
Queen Elizabeth I's 16th century adventurers in North America. The early colonies, and also Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his "discovery" of an already fairly crowded St. John's harbour. (Click image for Amazon link)
We Were Not The Savages: Collision between European and Native American civilizations, Daniel N. Paul, Halifax: Fernwood 2006
A history of European-First Nations relations, from before contact to the late 20th century. The focus is on Atlantic Canada from the point of view of the Mi'kmaq. (Click image for Amazon link)
People of Terra Nullius, Boyce Richardson, Douglas & McIntyre 1993
"Terra Nullius, a land that is empty of people. This is a legal concept used by Europeans when they first arrived in North America." (Click image for Amazon link)
Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, ethnicity, and Indian identity in the Southern United States, Gerald Sider, Cambridge U. P. 1993
A fascinating look at definitions of identity. The Lumbee of North Carolina fought for many, many years for recognition as an indigenous people. Dr. Sider also has spent a lot of time in Newfoundland. (Click image for Amazon link.)
Nitassinan: The Innu struggle to reclaim their homeland, Marie Wadden, Douglas & McIntyre 1991
The story of the Labrador Innu, internally colonized perhaps doubly. First by the Dominion of Newfoundland, then by Canada. (Click image for Amazon link)
Where The Pavement Ends: Canada's aboriginal recovery movement and the urgent need for reconciliation, Marie Wadden, Douglas & McIntyre 2009.
Like The Dispossessed, a journalist travels around First Nations communities. The stories told are both sad and hopeful, personal and political. (Click image for Amazon link)
Stolen Continents: Conquest and resistance in the Americas, Ronald Wright, Penguin Canada 1992
First subtitled 'The "New World" through Indian eyes since 1492', it is the story of contact and its aftermath in North, Central and South America told from the perspective of the indigenous peoples. (Click image for Amazon link)
The Dispossessed: Life and death in native Canada, Geoffrey York, Vintage UK 1989
This was the other book that Dr. Gordon Inglis suggested as a Native Issues course text. Some students said it was depressing. Yep, it is. And what's more depressing is that, all these years later, it still reads like current news. (Click image for Amazon link)
People of the Pines: The Warriors and the legacy of Oka, Geoffrey York and Loreen Pindera, Little, Brown & Co. 1991
The standoff in the summer of 1990 at Oka and Kahnawake told by two reporters who covered it. (Click image for Amazon link)
“The King’s Government call for lumber men and all skilled workmen not eligible for the Regiment or the Royal Naval Reserve for service in the forests of the United Kingdom.”
In World Wars I and II, Britain needed foresters. Lots of timber available, especially in Scotland, and both military and civilian need for lumber. But not enough people left in the UK with the necessary skills and strength to cut and mill it. That’s where Newfoundland, Canada and other British dominions came in: to provide the skilled labour.
The Newfoundland Forestry Corps sent about 500 men overseas in 1917 to cut and mill wood. From 1939 to the end of WWII, the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit sent about 3,680 men. They worked in Scotland, England and France.
According to Neary and Baker (2010:9), “the largest single group of Newfoundlanders to go overseas during the Second World War did not go in uniform, but as members of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit.” In both wars, the forestry units were civilian.
The same rules for recruitment applied in the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) but it was part of the Canadian Armed Forces. The CFC was created in 1916 and disbanded in 1920. It resumed service in 1939 to 1945.
Forestry Soldiers and Civilians
The difference in civilian or military categorization didn’t matter at the time, but it did afterwards. In Newfoundland, men of the forestry units were not eligible for veterans’ benefits. The same was true for veterans of the Merchant Marine, a civilian unit responsible for keeping shipping channels safe for military and commercial vessels. Finally in 1962, the forestry units and Merchant Marine were recognized under the Civilian War Allowance Act. In 2000, their veterans received the same benefits as those of military branches.
In both wars, many men left the forestry corps to sign up for combat units. Either they reached legal enlistment age or got the required education level. As war dragged on, and more and more fighting men were needed, the physical requirements changed. Those men rejected earlier due to maybe not meeting the height or eyesight standards became eligible.
Lumbering was still needed, however, so men continued to be recruited to replace those who had left. And there were injuries and deaths. It may not have been combat, but woodswork is dangerous. While working, 335 NOFU men were injured severely enough to be sent back home and 34 were killed. That’s one tenth. In WWI, 14 names are on the honour roll for the NFC.
The Mi’kmaq community of Flat Bay in Bay St. George is on YouTube. Below is a 16 minute documentary about the west coast Newfoundland village (Feb. 2017).
You can also download the accompanying report on Traditional Land Use and Occupancy. In 86 pages, the authors give a good overview of Flat Bay’s history, traditions and kinship networks.
Flat Bay is an important historical and political centre of the Newfoundland MI’kmaq. Its people have been central in the fight for official recognition as a First Nation. But if you’re driving across Newfoundland, you’re likely to miss it. It’s well off the TransCanada Highway at the end of a road that goes nowhere else. This has been good for Flat Bay’s preservation of identity. From the conclusion of the report, here’s a bit of the reason why.
[The Mi’kmaq] settled in Flat Bay, due to its abundance of eel, access to the interior by the “river highways,” and provided isolation while allowing closeness to trading partners on Sandy Point.
…Originally a patchwork community was knit together due to their natural river boundaries. Hundreds of people bound together, through various means, surviving off the bounty of land and water, slowing closing the distance between them through the relationships that established the bloodlines we document in this study. For a time, the communities, Flat Bay West, East, and St. Teresa’s, were divided by the dialogue of outsiders. Divisions [were] drawn along… place name, family name, income and occupation, education, dialect…
As the community began to shrink for these reasons and others, the residents undertook policy, whether they did it consciously is still up for debate, of their community’s regeneration… Flat Bay was not unlike a thousand other small communities… of Newfoundland; the difference was someone else was writing our story. [pp 57-58]
Flat Bay History and Families
Flat Bay has been writing its own story, in terms of maintaining a strong Mi’kmaq community, for a long time. They literally write their own story in this study, in its authorship and use of interviews with residents. It begins with a concise history of the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq and of Flat Bay. The authors then trace the history of industrial and subsistence economic activities, social and trade contact with nearby communities, and the effect of game laws. Education, language and the role of women are discussed in terms of tradition and change. The final section is an easy to follow history of the major Mi’kmaq families in the town: Benoit, King, Webb and Young.
It is an excellent study. Thanks to authors Calvin White, Hailey Burroughs, Mary Elsa (Dale) Young and Ivan White.
Below is a list of the Newfoundland Regiment soldiers killed at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916. There are many more; those killed in the lead-up to the battle, those who died of their wounds, casualties in other regiments that also went over the top. A list that included all those would be massive. Far shorter would be the list of those who survived.
801 men of the Newfoundland Regiment went into the battle. Figures vary, but about 255 were killed in action, 386 were wounded and 91 were missing. Only 68 were able to answer roll call the next day. About an 80% casualty rate.
The Allied assault on Beaumont Hamel was supposed to start June 29th. Weather and other factors delayed it to July 1st. An artillery barrage at 6:25 AM, and infantry assaults starting an hour later. The Newfoundland Regiment was the third wave, starting at 9:15. It was all over in half an hour.
It was the start of the Battle of the Somme: The Big Push, The July Drive, “the heaviest single-day combat losses in the history of the British Army” (Legion Magazine Sept 2011). The Battle of the Somme lasted four and a half months, advanced the Allies’ front line 10 kms. There were over 620,000 Allied casualties and 465,000 German.
When I looked for the names of those killed that day, I couldn’t find a list. So I began piecing one together from online sources listing all World War I casualties. The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance, RNR WWI Nominal Roll and WWI graves listings.
I did find specific Beaumont Hamel lists eventually – of the dead, wounded and survivors. Once I started googling individual names, I found more lists and profiles of soldiers. So I didn’t need to make my own. But I had noticed things that gave me pause, made these young men, their families and neighbours real to me. Addresses on the same street, next of kin names turning up more than once. I checked my genealogy database and online ones. And I added the scraps of information to my list.
Here’s what I have. And forget-me-nots that a Facebook friend happened to post just after I’d been reminded that it is the flower of remembrance for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. It is the lapel flower worn to remember Beaumont Hamel since the first anniversary 99 years ago.
Killed In Action at Beaumont Hamel
Pte. ABBOTT, George 1242 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: Henry and Emily Abbott. Address: Battery Road, St. John’s
Pte. ABBOTT, Stanley 283 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Henry and Emily Abbott Address: Battery Road, St. John’s
George and Stanley were brothers. A neighbour or maybe cousin, Pte. Fred Abbott #3483, was killed in action Aug. 16, 1917 near Steenbeek. He too lived on Battery Road, son of Walter and Jane Abbott.
Pte. ANDERSON, Israel 1069 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of Joseph and Jessie [MacNeil] Anderson, Mouse Island. Buried Y Ravine Cemetery, Somme
Pte. ANDREWS, Joseph 1119 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 27
Next of kin: Mrs. Catherine Andrews. Address: St. John’s
Pte. ANTLE, Gilbert 1899 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Thomas and Mary Antle. Address: Botwood, Twillingate
Pte. ATWILL, James 1914 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Son of Samuel and Charlotte Atwill. Resting place: Ancre (Sp. Mem. 37)
Cpt. AYRE, Bernard Pitts, Norfolk Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, d July 1st 1916
When the war began, Bernard was attending Cambridge University in England. He decided to join up there. Son of Robert Chesley Ayre and Lydia Gertrude Pitts of St. John’s. They had only one other child, Eric. See below for his name. (Brothers in Arms)
L/Cpl. AYRE, Edward Alphonsus 1009 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 19
Son of Edward and Selina Ayre of Isle Aux Morte. Buried Y Ravine
Known as Ted. Family name also spelled Hare. Edward Sr. was son of Samuel Hare and Juia Gillam. His mother was born Selina Wells. The family moved to Sydney, Cape Breton soon after the war.
RMS Megantic postcard to Maud McNiven, girlfriend and sister of fellow soldier Will McNiven: “Dearest, Just a few cards of the ship we are leaving by. We left Aldershot nine o’clock last night. I am going to try and get someone from the shore to post these for me, we are not allowed ashore. I did not get a letter from you before leaving. Believe me to be yours. xxxxxx Faithfully, Ted”
Cpt. AYRE, Eric S. RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 27
Brother of Capt. Bernard P. Ayre, above. They were grandsons of Charles Robert Ayre, founder of Ayre & Sons Ltd.
2nd Lt. AYRE, Gerald W. RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Next of kin: Frederick William and Mary Julia [Pitts] Ayre. Address: St. John’s. Resting place: Memorial Park
1st cousin of Wilfred and brothers Bernard and Eric. His brother Charles was also in the war and survived.
2nd Lt. AYRE, Wilfrid D. 164 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Son of Charles P. and Diana [Stevenson] Ayre, St. John’s. Resting place: Knightsbridge
1st cousin of Gerald, Eric and Bernard. HIs brother Ronald was also in the war and survived.
L/Cpl. BARBOUR, Horatio 1419 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Son of William and Amy H. Barbour of Port Rexton. Resting place: Beaumont Hamel 1
Pte. BARNES, Maxwell 1576 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: Mrs. Sarah Ann Barnes. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BARRETT, Leonard Josiah 372 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Mrs. Maud Barrett. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BARTLETT, Joseph Patrick 629 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Next of kin: John Bartlett. Address: Maryvale, Brigus
Pte. BARTON, John 1485 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 29
Next of kin: William and Annie Barton. Address: The Goulds, Bay Bulls Road, St. John’s West
Pte. BENNETT, William 1229 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 31
Next of kin: William and Agnes Bennett. Address: St. John’s
Pte. BISHOP, Wilson 1597 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Son of John and Annie [Feaver] Bishop of 10 Second Avenue, Grand Falls. Resting place: Ancre
Full name Henry Wilson Bishop. His father’s parents were Edward Bishop and Elizabeth Piercey. His mother’s parents were Enos Feaver and Catherine Foote.
Pte. BOONE, Stewart Malcolm 1219 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of William Thomas and Sarah Jane Boone of South River, Clark’s Beach. Resting place: Ancre.
Pte. BOWMAN, Charles 938 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 26
Next of kin: Frigaz Bowman, St. John’s. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BREEN, John Joseph 67 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 22
Son of Mrs. Catherine Breen, Alexander St., St. John’s and the late Jacob Breen. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BRENT, David 1794 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 23
Next of kin: Mr. and Mrs. John Brent. Address Botwood, Twillingate. Resting place: Memorial Park
Sgt. BROWN, Bertram 1382 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 21
Next of kin: Amos and Selina Brown. Address: Grand Falls
Pte. BROWN, Edward John 545 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 28
Next of kin: Eli and Annie Brown. Address: Harbour Grace
Pte. BURGE, Allen 624 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Next of kin: George and Mary Jane Burge. Address: Bonavista
Pte. BURKE, Garrett 1023 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Son of Silvester and Mary Ellen Burke of Tor’s Cove, Ferryland. Resting place: Knightsbridge
Pte. BURKE, Leo Michael 1170 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 18
Son of Martin and Annie Burke of St. John’s West. Resting place: Ancre
Sgt. BURRY, Sidney George 1044 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 31
Next of kin: Job and Matilda Burry. Address: Greenspond, Bonavista. Resting place: Memorial Park
Pte. BUTLER, Edward William 1567 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 25
Son of John and Phoebe Butler of Fogo. Buried: Y Ravine.
Pte. BUTLER, Harry 1897 RNR, d July 1st 1916, age 20
Son of Henry Stephen and Laura May Butler of “Hillcrest” LeMarchant Road, St. John’s. Buried: Y Ravine
Pte. BUTLER, Ignatius Joseph 1442 RNR, d July 1st 1916
Next of kin: Mary C. Butler. Address: St. George’s. Buried: Memorial Park “In June 1918 Iganatius’ mother filled in a form to request continuation of an allotment made her to following Iganatius’ death in 1916. Her husband had drowned at sea in 1900 leaving her to raise her family alone. For some time she was able to run a successful boarding house but by 1918 her health was failing. Two daughters still lived with her and one Bridie was an invalid. By the time the pension was awarded Mrs Butler had died and the pension went to Bridie.” (Lives of the First World War)
Mrs. Mary Webb was a midwife, one of the best known and most respected on Newfoundland’s west coast. She was also a healer using traditional Mi’kmaq medicines. She was a craftswoman. She farmed, raised animals, fished, hunted, trapped, and cut wood. She raised children and grandchildren.
Her first language was Mi’kmaq. In school, she learned English. From her Codroy Valley neighbours, she learned Scots Gaelic. As an adult living in Bay St. George, she learned French. These were the languages of early 20th century west coast Newfoundland. Her fluency meant she could speak with clients in their own language.
A “lay midwife”, Mary Webb had no formal training or accreditation. She started as an assistant and learned by experience. There were other midwives in Bay St. George: Susan Benoit and Emily Ann Paul in Flat Bay; Minnie Blanchard, Philomena Ryan and Philomena Sheppard in St. George’s; Rose Curnew in Stephenville Crossing. Formally trained midwives worked for the Grenfell Mission (see my Tempting Providence). Mrs. Webb was noteworthy for the great distances she travelled in her work. In all seasons at all hours, she went as far south as the Codroy Valley and north to Corner Brook and the Bay of Islands.
Midwife or doctor: social change
Until the mid-20th century, women in outport Newfoundland had their babies at home. The midwife arrived shortly before a woman’s due date and she or her assistant stayed for several days after the baby’s birth. A doctor was called if necessary. Emergencies happen, of course, so the midwife might be called early and she had to deal with complications if a doctor could not get there in time.
In the 1950s and ’60s, cottage hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices opened in rural areas. More vehicles and new roads made travel to larger centres easier. Hospital births became the norm. Health care became professionalized. Informally-taught midwives and healers were longer central to it. Mrs. Webb was among the last generation of lay midwives in Bay St. George.
She passed on her knowledge of traditional medicines to those interested in learning. And she embodied being Mi’kmaw. Her fluency with the language and traditional skills, her pride in her heritage, her self-respect. All these things were noted by those who knew her. For those who were part of the Mi’kmaq cultural and political revitalization in the 1970s, Mrs. Webb was a reminder of who they were and what they were fighting for.
She was born in 1881 in the Codroy Valley, daughter of Ben François and Mary Young. In 1903 she married John Webb of Flat Bay in Bay St. George. He died about 1930. She remained in Flat Bay, with Norman Young as her life companion. She died June 3, 1978.
Pillorikput Inuit (Blessed are the People): Inuktitut Arias for All Seasons is a cd of beautiful music. Soprano Deantha Edmunds-Ramsey, tenor Karrie Obed and the Innismara Vocal Ensemble sing sacred songs by Haydn, Handel and Moravian composers.
The songs were written in 18th and 19th Europe and brought to Labrador by Moravian missionaries. The Moravians first came to Labrador from Germany in the mid-1700s. Newfoundland Governor Hugh Palliser gave them rights to 100,000 acres of land in northern Labrador. They built mission posts and began their evangelical efforts.
For 200 years, the Moravians functioned as the government of northern Labrador. They operated schools, medical clinics and stores. During the 1900s, the HBC replaced them in trade, the Grenfell mission in health care, the federal and provincial government, and most recently, by the Inuit themselves under a self-government agreement. Religious life remained primarily Moravian, but with Inuit leadership rather than imported missionaries.
Labrador Moravian Music
Music was, and is, central in the Moravian church. “Three years of provisions and two French horns” is a CBC Radio documentary by MUN musicologist Tom Gordon. Its title summarizes the credo of the early Moravian arrivals.
They and their converts translated sacred songs into Inuktitut, and formed brass bands and choirs. Over the years the music was adapted and arranged to fit the instruments and voices available. This music of 18th century Europe, transformed but still true to its original form, became a part of Labrador Inuit culture. The Moravian Church remained strong in Labrador long after missionaries stopped coming from Europe. Brass bands still played in the churches, choirs still sang.
Dr. Tom Gordon found long-forgotten musical manuscripts in church archives. Some of them had fallen into disuse, particularly the solos, due to the quality of voice needed to do them justice. Deantha Edmunds-Ramsey has that voice. The arias on this cd are a joy to hear, indeed, in all seasons.
It puts faces to names. That is what makes it so valuable to Mi’kmaq genealogy researchers. Even more, Ms. Whitehead’s descriptions set those people and places in a historical and cultural context.
It is a picture book: Mi’kmaq rock carvings and paintings, sketches and photographs from European contact to the 1980s. The photograph on the cover is of Molly Muise of Annapolis Royal NS. A tintype from the mid-19th century, the full image is described in the preface:
“Molly’s photograph may be the earliest surviving photographic portrait of any of the Mi’kmaq. (Her name was originally French ‘Mius,’ and is now spelled Meuse.) She is wearing a peaked cap with double-curve beadwork, a dark shirt, and a short jacket with darker cuffs, over which she apparently has draped a second short jacket with its sleeves pulled inside, as a short capelet. Her traditional dress with the large fold at the top is held up by suspenders with ornamental tabs. In her hands she may be clutching a white handkerchief.”
Mi’kmaq Images and Information
Descriptions of clothing styles, as in this picture, or surrounding landscape or structures or implements – anything that might contribute to knowledge of who and where people were, and how they lived. Documents that give further insights are quoted in whole or relevant part in the description or endnotes.
Dates of birth and death, family members, name variations, and historical references are given. She also gives conjectures about who someone may be, making the basis for her conjecture clear. If conflicting information is in records or recent research, that is mentioned.
Descriptions of two photographs of Frank Joe and wife and their home in Bay St. George show this preciseness and detail of information. Ms. Whitehead remarks on a sled and the type of cabin construction shown in the photo of their home. On the other photo (shown here), she discusses in detail the family history of Frank Joe and his wife Caroline.
When your eyes are tired from looking at family groups on your computer screen or deciphering old documents, you can take a break with this book. You may also find a new piece of your puzzle or a new avenue to search. Even if you don’t, you’ll see a beautiful record of the past.
In James Lee Burke’s novel Cadillac Jukebox, a New Orleans mob guy brings a gift to Detective Dave Robichaux. A jukebox filled with 45s of classic Cajun recordings from the 1940s and ’50s.
‘There were two recordings of “La Jolie Blon” in the half-moon rack, one by Harry Choates and the other by Iry LeJeune. I had never thought about it before, but both men’s lives seemed to be always associated with that haunting, beautiful song, one that was so pure in its sense of loss you didn’t have to understand French to comprehend what the singer felt. “La Jolie Blon” wasn’t about a lost love. It was about the end of an era.’ (p. 198)
I wondered who Iry LeJeune was. With Professor Google’s help, I found his musical significance and traced his family tree. His 5th great-grandparents are Jean-Baptiste LeJeune dit Briard and Marguerite Trahan of Cape Breton. In the 1750s deportation, they went to North Carolina, then Maryland, finally settling in Louisiana.
Ira LeJeune, called Iry, was born in Acadia Parish October 1928 to Agness and Lucy (Bellard) LeJeune. Agness’ parents, Ernest and Alicia, both had the surname LeJeune.
Iry LeJeune Family Tree
When a young boy, Iry learned to play the accordion from his cousin, uncle or great-uncle Angélas LeJeune, a well-known musician. I could find nothing on Angélas’ parents, but I think he may have been a great-uncle on Iry’s grandmother’s side.
In an interview, fiddler Milton Vanicor and his daughter explain their kinship with Iry. Milton’s wife Odile and Iry were double first cousins – a LeJeune sister and brother married a Bellard brother and sister.
Linda, M. Vanicor’s daughter, says Angélas was Iry’s great-uncle but doesn’t mention the same connection with her mother. When I saw Iry’s father’s mother was a LeJeune by birth, I wondered if Angélas might be her brother.
Milton Vanicor died June 5, 2015 at the age of 96. He was one of the last surviving Lacassine Playboys, the band he, his brothers and Iry formed in the 1940s. M. Vanicor was a veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He played fiddle at festivals throughout the United States right up to his death.
Iry died in October 1955 age 28. Driving home after a gig, he was changing a flat when a passing car hit him. He left a wife and five children. His other legacy was reviving the popularity of Cajun music and making the accordion central to it again.
Bill Smallwood takes a complicated period of history and makes it more complicated – and that’s good. The Acadians, the first novel in his Abuse of Power series starts in 1749 with the British looking for a site to build a fort in Nova Scotia. They choose a harbour they rename Halifax. It ends in 1757 with British soldiers and sailors choosing tracts of “unoccupied” Nova Scotia land to homestead. The Acadians have been deported and the Mi’kmaq are being ‘cleared’ off their lands. The French have been driven back, and Nova Scotia is open for British business.
The facts of it: war between the French and British for control of North America, deportation of long-time Acadian settlers to France and the future United States, and war with and suppression of First Nations. We know these things from living in the Maritimes or reading history. By situating the facts in a story, Smallwood brings them to life and explains the intricacies of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘why’.
I have read a lot about the colonization of North America and the history of the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. I have been to Halifax many times and traveled around Nova Scotia. I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the history and geography of the region. But this book made so many things click into place for me. Instead of a spreadsheet of facts, the story gave me a flow of events, places and reasons. The dots were connected.
The main character in The Acadians is William Gray who was in real life a clerk to Governor Cornwallis. Smallwood promotes him to British Navy Lieutenant in order to permit him to travel to the extent he does and be privy to the discussions that he is. But it is not only from his perspective that we look. We get to know all the players involved; British, colonial American, French, Acadian and Mi’kmaq. Fear and confusion, bravery and avarice – we see the emotions and actions of all sides. Only the Mi’kmaq remain relatively unknown to us, and I’m sure that is remedied in later volumes.
It is history that shaped Smallwood’s story and character rather than the other way around. Most of his characters are real people. Events are based on letters, logs and other documentation of the time. When he creates or alters events or characters, he explains why and gives what is actually known in notes. So you can become involved in the story and also keep track of the real events. Sources and his changes are referenced in chapter endnotes.
My only quibble is that footnotes would save having to flick to the end of the chapter each time. You can, of course, ignore the notes but they contain archival sources as well as additional bits of information, quotes from letters and official records as well as the points at which history and this story deviate. That, I found, adds to the story.
The Acadians, 1749-1757 is the first of seven in the Abuse of Power series: The Colonials and the Acadians, 1757-1761; Crooked Paths, 1755-1862; The Planters, 1761-1921; Expulsion and Survival, 1758-1902; Rebels, Royalists and Railroaders, 1841-1910, and Lives of Courage. You can read more at Mr. Smallwood’s website or the publisher Borealis.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.