By Joanne Doucette (© Joanne Doucette, 2014 and 2016, revised 2016)
There is an age old question in the Maritimes, “So, my dear, who were your people?”
That should be an easy question to answer, but, for me, and many like me, it is a difficult question. My roots are deep in U’Nama’kik (Cape Breton), the homeland of my father and his fathers before him. (My roots are also in England, the homeland of my mother and her mothers before her.) I was raised in Ontario on stories of down home: of giants, ghosts, fishing and who my ancestors were. I grew up learning about plants and trees, tracking animals, learning to hunt and snare rabbits and fish for trout. (I was the only little girl in kindergarten who knew how to fire a 22-calibre rifle.)
But I remember the day when, as I, a young teenager, stood in the driveway of our home while a neighbour sneered at my father, “You people never did anything for this country. It was we, the British, who explored this nation and opened it up.” I watched the knuckles grow white around the wrench in my father’s hand. So, while this site is about the history of Leslieville, a small postal village that is now part of the City of Toronto, it is driven by my own passion for history and for true stories. The type of racist incident from my teenage years would not have been out-of-place in the Leslieville of a hundred years ago or even 32 years ago when I first moved to Leslieville.
I wish that I could say that this was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. In rural Ontario fifty years ago the brown, the beige and the off-white were expected to know their place and their place was not a good place to be. And those bearing a French last name bore the term, “Frog”, with shame or pride (or both).
My dad told me that when he was a kid in Nova Scotia, the other kids would sing, “Chickasee, Chickasaw, Grandpa Doucette married a squaw.” Despite my English grandmother’s best efforts to make us white and English, we were known as the “Indian Doucettes” and even pronouncing our last name “Dowsett” didn’t make us English.
Years later when I first moved to Leslieville, I told a kind and much-loved neighbour that I was Métis and my ancestors were Mi’kmaq and French and English. My neighbour responded, “But that can’t be. You’re so clean and you work so hard and you don’t drink!”
No wonder we grew up with a deep sense that we were second rate, at best. I don’t talk about it much, but in 2013 I spoke to Madeleine McDowell about my heritage. She invited me to talk about the Métis voyageurs, the Doucets, who were here in the days when the Humber River and the Toronto Carrying Place were major thoroughfares for voyageurs. (I gave that presentation to Heritage York on June 12, 2014 at Lambton House.) Charles Doucet was among those who powered the canoes that took carried Alexander Mackenzie to the Arctic Ocean in 1789 and to Dean Channel on the Pacific Ocean in 1793. (Girouard 1893, 229; Sulte 1884, 55-56.) In 1808 Métis took Simon Fraser to the mouth of the river that was to bear his name. (Denton, 1928) Métis took David Thompson in 1811 to the mouth of the Columbia River (Thompson 1915 and 1968, 472). I knew Doucets were there. But were we among those Métis families? What were the links? Could I consider myself Métis?
PART ONE: DOWN HOME
So let’s talk about down home and where my father’s people came from. Ingonish and the Clyburn Valley is now the home of many Doucettes and Ingonish had been home to Mi’kmaq people for thousands of years. They were first, then came French explorers, fur traders, soldiers and priests. The French called Cape Breton Isle Royale, as it is named in this map by N. Bellin from 1764. (L’Isle Royale, 1764. N. Bellin. Map 707. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.) Ingonish is actually a series of villages (Ingonish Ferry, Ingonish Beach, Ingonish, North Ingonish). They sit on the rugged coast of the Atlantic north of an ancient mountain called Cape Smokey. The scenic Cabot Trail runs through there, though in father’s childhood it was a rough track and they relied on boats. My father grew up in a log cabin in the Clyburn Valley in Ingonish and was steeped in the local lore.
Ken Donovan’s excellent article, “Precontact and Settlement: Ingonish and Northern Cape Breton From the Paleo Indians to the 18th century” (Donovan 2009, 330-387), deals with the history of Ingonish, including that of the Mi’kmaq who fished there and occasionally brought their children to be baptized at the chapel there. He acknowledges the Mi’kmaq ancestry of the Doucettes and LeJeunes (anglicized to Young), who like some other Cape Breton families, have intermarried in and out of the native and European communities. Archaeologists have uncovered native activity at Ingonish back to the Paleo-Indian period. This large site was occupied by Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Indian people. Artifacts found there date back 7,000 to 9,000 years ago. The site is named Geganisg, a Mi’kmaw word meaning ‘remarkable place’. Ingonish Island, as my father told me, was an important place because it had quarries for stone to make arrow and spearheads that were traded widely. Archaeologists have confirmed this.
The Mi’kmaq name was for Ingonish was “Kegannagwetch”. It was the largest French settlement on Cape Breton outside of Louisbourg and was known as “Port Orleans” to the French. It was significant to the cod fishery. Fishing was rich there and there were sheltered beaches where the fishermen could land and dry their cod in racks in the sun. Samuel de Champlain called it “Niganis”. It became “Niganiche” and eventually “Ingonish”. (Patterson 1978, 179-180)
The French had a small fort on Ingonish Island, manned by a junior officer and a few men. The seigneurie belonged to the Boularderie family who valued it for its fishing rights. In 1739, after his father’s death, Antoine Le Poupet de La Boularderie became the military commander of the Port of Orleans. In 1744 he fought the British at Canso and at the defense of Louisbourg in 1745. He lost his fortune in the raids by the New Englanders and had to start again, (the villagers of Ingonish, white, Métis and Mi’kmaq lost much more):
Sa propriété avait été entièrement détruite par « des flibustiers françois et sauvages » pendant que l’île Royale était aux mains des Anglais, et il commença à la reconstruire sur des bases plus modestes. (Miquelon, CyberAcadie)
According to my father and his father before him, we are descendants of French soldiers stationed there and the local Mi’kmaq people. A number of Métis families lived there (Dad could name them, one by one). The Mi’kmaq encamped near the mouth of the Clyburn Brook and Ingonish River and fished for cod since the “beginning of time”. Ingonish is now the headquarters of the Cape Breton Highland National Park. It sits on Cabot Trail under the watchful gaze of Smokey, a series of villages like jewels on a necklace.
It is believed that we are the descendants of Jean-Baptiste Doucet (1717-1792) who was among the navigateurs in Ile Royale in the 1740s. Navigateurs, in fur trade terms, were those who guided the fur trade canoes up the great rivers and across the great bays in brigades of many canoes. His grandfather, Germain, was a Mi’kmaw. At the time, people of mixed descent were called Creoles, as well as Métis. The Jesuit Father Vivier, in 1750, first introduced the derogatory term half breed into Canada. He believed the very condition of being Métis was against the Laws of God. The English first called the Métis those Peddlers (c. 1750) and later called them those Canadians. (The French were called those French Canadians.) The English would later also adopt the French term Half Breed. Even today we hear the crazy racist math trying to pigeon hole people as ¼ breed, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32. The term mixed blood was introduced by the American English during the 1800’s treaty process. People of mixed heritage were also called Bois Brulé, Country-born, Michif, Chicot, Mountain Men or even Savages (Sauvages) (Bellemare 2006, 6).
But there is only one race: the human race. All my relations the Mi’kmaq say. There is only one colour in my veins and yours: red. Today I am proud of my heritage, proud to share it with you. This is blood that my ancestors and people have shed time and time again in defense of our country and our land. For example, on June 7, 1944, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend murdered Private Charles Doucette (1912-1944) and 19 other Canadian soldiers in cold blood in what is known as the Ardenne Abbey Massacre. It happened at Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe, near Caen France. Charles was with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (Mikaberidze 2013, 25-27). He was cousin to Noel Doucette, of Eskasoni (recently deceased) and is remembered. I honour his name and the others, of all backgrounds, cultures and heritage, who served our country, including my father, my grandfather, and my many cousins and uncles and great uncles (see the list of those Doucets and Doucettes from Cape Breton who served in World War II at the end of this presentation).
Much of this is based on oral history: where history meets story. Most of it is hard to verify. There are a number of sources:
- Contemporary written material: baptismal, marriage, death certificates, letters, journals, reports, ship’s logs, etc.
- Contemporary images: maps, photographs, paintings, drawings, diagrams, plans, etc.
- Oral history
- Secondary sources: books, articles, etc.
Many of the usual sources are absent. I can’t go to the cemetery and look at the headstones. St. Peter’s Church, Ingonish, had two graveyards in the early 1900’s. In a severe storm, a storm surge collapsed the limestone bedrock underlying the older graveyard and it fell into the sea. Where the cemetery was is now the inlet bay to the back of the church to the east. So the headstones and grave sites, so valuable to genealogists, are missing. As well many people were buried in a mass grave during an epidemic in the mid-1800’s and that site is lost (Personal communication from Lark Szick). St. Peter’s Church itself burned down in 1911 and records were lost (Our Ingonish, “St. Peter’s Parish”). Even earlier were the destruction of Acadian records and the murder of many of the Mi’kmaq elders who carried the history of the people. The absence of written records does not mean that we have no history.
There is an element of conjecture, speculation, in my history/story as well. I will say when it is not proven: I will indicate that I believe it to be so. Oral history can drift or just plain be bogus. So, you will see, “It is said” or “I believe”. I will tell who the story came from when I know. But remember, please, that written records aren’t always accurate and are sometimes fraudulent. Just because someone can write something down doesn’t unfortunately mean that he tells the truth. Most history is a history based on the “Big Lie”: that only powerful and imporant people make history, that history is their story and no one else counts. Usually that means history is the story of powerful white men. Everyone else is “discounted” (often literally not counted in censuses).
Oral history is just as valid as any other record and can allow peoples who have been pushed to the margins to reclaim our own past. What the elders pass down is, therefore, extremely important. I have spoken to the elders in my own family and have stories passed down from other elders. One important source is my Great Aunt Susan who died in 1941 at about 100 years of age. According to Mary Barron, another descendant, Susan lived to age 104. Susan was a tall woman with a large frame “with a dark complexion and sharp features”…”of French and Indian descent”. She wore long black shirts and a black bonnet. She went blind and she sold herbs or “Indian Teas”. Susan was a story teller. My father described her the same way and told me the stories that she told him when he was young.
I have the privilege of knowing the Doucettes of Eskasoni, the largest Mi’kmaq reserve, and we have explored origins. The records are lost but we recognize that we were related in some way, sharing similar stories. Noel Doucette spoken to me at length about his family history and I shared mine. I will treasure the warm welcome and the great kindness of the people of Eskasoni for the rest of my days, along with the eagle feather they gave me. You can learn more about Eskasoni and its First Nation by going to http://www.eskasoni.ca/Home/ or, even better, going to Eskasoni itself. I consider no one an expert on Mi’kmaq culture expect the Mi’kmaq themselves and honour their elders, stories and traditions. They welcomed the others to their shores and, as my grandfather told me, without them, the newcomers would not have survived a single winter. I needed to know more about our connections.
A Francis Doucet, 32, appears in the Micmac Census of 1841 (Strouthes, An Account of the Indians within the County of Richmond). This makes him the right age to be the son of Francis Doucet and Elizabeth Marie, my great-great-great grandfather and grandmother. Another Doucet, Louis Doucet (born around 1811) (Strouthes, 1881 Census of Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia), founded the Mi’kmaq line of Doucettes in Cape Breton and is believed to be another son of Francis and Elizabeth Marie.
To do this work you must care about the truth because the history of native peoples is forgotten, distorted or stolen. Caring means being careful. It means honesty, truth telling. Truth is woven into the story teller’s art like the braided Métis sash. It is woven by the passion in the question: “Who are my people?”
Francis Doucet, my forbearer, was born François in Quebec and married Marie Elizabeth of no last name. According to oral history passed to me by my father, she was Mi’kmaq and died giving birth to triplets who also died. Leona Doucette, my aunt, spoke of how her grandfather’s great-great-grandmother died in the Clyburn valley giving birth to triplets. According to her and my father, she and the three babies are buried somewhere there — together. Aunt Leona also spoke of how John Richard Doucette, my great-grandfather, left the Clyburn Valley around 1900 because of the isolation there. The gold mine closed in 1896 and the valley emptied.
In searching for my roots, I have found as many questions as I have answers. I have built a family tree of over 11,000 Doucets/Doucettes and their close kin. Two things are clear: we are prone to multiple births and that, if we survive childhood, we generally live very long lives. Francis (Marie Elizabeth) had a son James (Mary Hawley) who had a son John Richard (Jane Brewer) who had a son Thomas Leo (Agnes Lucy Devenish) who had a son Thomas Vincent (Margaret Stevens) who had a daughter — me! This is quite certain. Further back there is an element of connecting the dots, speculation.
So what about the Mi’kmaq? The Mi’kmaq are a First Nation, a Maritime people of the Algonquian language group. Theirs was an affluent culture and is rich today, but not in loonies and twoonies. By and large my Mi’kmaq ancestors did not have to slave to scratch a meal out of Mother Earth like European peasants had to do. The sea was rich with fish, seals, shellfish, sea vegetables and life was not as hard as some may think. Ingonish was particularly valued for its cod fishery. There was leisure time to develop a rich culture: music, pictographs, dance and stories. Chiefs called “sagamows” helped settled disputes, especially about hunting territories, but decisions were made by consensus. There were no kings or nobles.
They were a people who excelled in the canoe. Noel Doucette of Eskasoni told me that it was a rite of passage for young boys coming into manhood to paddle from Cape Breton to Newfoundland across dangerous and unpredictable seas. The wide-bottomed Mi’kmaq canoe was raised at both ends and the sides sheared upwards in the middle. This shape allowed the Mi’kmaq to canoe far out to sea as well as in shallow streams and even in rapids. Canoes were 3m to 8m long, made of birch bark over a light wooden frame. A small canoe could take a load of several hundred kilograms but was light enough for one person to carry. They travelled great distances for trade and warfare.
During the European invasion of the Americas, the navigational skills of First Nations did not go unnoticed. At the time, the Mi’kmaq on the East coast were among the greatest seamen in the world, and their skills were especially evident when warfare took to the water, where the Mi’kmaq inevitably gained an advantage. Mi’kmaq warriors, during their 130-year war with the British, are known to have boarded and seized 85 British ships during that time. According to Daniel N. Paul, Mi’kmaq seamen sometimes traveled long distances over the treacherous North Atlantic in ocean-going canoes large and heavy enough to battle the huge waves (O’Neal, The Art of the Birchbark Canoe).
WARFARE ALL ALONG THE COAST AND A MASSACRE
There was warfare throughout 1700s. Traditional rivalries were stoked by European greed for beaver skins, territory and old grudges from their homelands. Warriors, like hunters, were of high status. Noel Doucette told me a story of the torture and death of a Mohawk warrior on an island, still remembered. Bloodshed was accelerated by European dynastic rivalries and religious tensions. Then as now, immigrants brought their feuds with them. Then it was the War of the Austrian Succession, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War) and so on and on and on.
There were massacres on both sides. It was brutal: scalping, butchery of women and children, the wounded. Hazen’s Raiders and Gorham’s Raiders out of New England raided Mi’kmaq communities for the British. Daniel Paul, Mi’kmaq historian, is a good source for those who wish to know more of these painful, dark days (Paul, We Were Not the Savages). Brian D. Carroll, Assistant Professor of History at Central Washington University, in his recent article ““Savages” in the Service of Empire: Native American Soldiers in Gorham’s Rangers, 1744-1766” in The New England Quarterly, vol. LXXXV, No. 3 (September, 2012, ), states:
During the Seven Years War, Gorham’s Rangers were the brutal fist of British imperialism in the Maritimes. Generally portrayed as early “special forces” or frontier super-soldiers, colonial rangers in that conflict, particularly Roger’s Rangers, are often highly romanticized. the truth is far from glamorous. The role the British army assigned to Gorham’s Rangers was to terrorize, persecute, and deport civilian populations – Acadians and Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia and current-day New Brunswick, and later, Canadians around Quebec. (Carroll, 409)
The Acadians and Mi’kmaq dispersed and scattered. Thousands became refugees. It was cold, calculated genocide of Nova Scotia’s First Nation and those associated with them, the Métis of Nova Scotia. The British and Americans committed open, unapologetic slaughter, but also used germ warfare, trading small pox infected blankets, and using natives to fight natives. In the long run all the First Nations involved lost as many were killed in the fighting, weakening already weakened peoples.
According to Dennis Bartel, professor of anthropology at Memorial University, “in 1764 that there were approximately four hundred Micmac fighting men around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canso, and Cape Breton Island. If this figure is accurate, and assuming a ratio of one fighting man to four noncombatants, the Micmac population of this area was approximately 2,000 (Bartels and Janzen 1990, 71-94). “Micmac Migration to Western Newfoundland.”) This was a dramatic drop in population from the time Cartier and Cabot sailed their big canoes onto our shores.
For the politicians of New Englanders, war against the Mi’kmaq was a religious crusade, Protestant Puritan against benighted Papists, as well as an act of outright economic opportunism.
April 4, 1745 I KI. 8:44-45: A people of God may be called of God to go forth to war against their enemies…Fast for success in the expedition against Cape Breton (Williamson 1745 and 1755, 3).
In the War of the Austrian Succession (also known as King George’s War) 1745, William Shirley, who was “in everything but name” governor of Nova Scotia, responded by issuing a proclamation declaring war upon the Mi’kmaq.
The picture of the Mi’kmaq encampment at Levis, across the St. Lawrence from Quebec, painted in 1788, shows an idyllic existence. The size of the Mi’kmaq children (exaggerated to that of giants) and the tranquility of the scene give no hint that these were in fact refugees from genocide. Gorham’s Rangers, included Wampanaog, Nauset and a few Pigwacket. Although oral tradition has it that Mohawks made up most of Gorham’s Rangers, this is not true.
Perhaps two hundred Native Americans from southern New England cycled through the company over its nineteen-year existence, but the vast majority were Wampanoag; no Mohicans or Iroquois are present in any record relating to Gorham’s Rangers. (Carroll, 417)
The native members of the company were offered bounties for Mi’kmaq scalps and prisoners as part of their pay. These New England First Nations were marginalized, increasingly impoverished, and the scalp bounties they were promised were, in the end, never paid. As time went, Gorham’s Rangers inceasingly became composed of more and more non-native recruits. It later became the Nova Scotia Rangers. (Krugler, JOHN GORHAM)
...this corps, constituted largely of Amerindians and Métis, was henceforth part of the regular British army. This meant that the Nova Scotia Rangers were the first regular corps raised in the British colonies in Canada (Canadian Military History Gateway).
With the arrival of the Gorham Rangers, matters were to be put on an entirely different basis in Nova Scotia from what they had been. The first 34 years of British occupation had consisted of a holding or defensive operation: Gorham Rangers were an offensive bunch, and they knew exactly how to apply frontier techniques to their benefit. They were to make a lasting impression and became much hated by the French and local aboriginals (Landry, 1998).
When I was young my father told me of how the French priests like Abbés Le Loutre and Maillard incited violence towards the British, encouraging raids on New England settlements. Apparently, my ancestors were revolted and wanted nothing to do with it, but I am not so sure as respect for bravery in battle is a part of our heritage too. In any case, it was clear that the British intentions towards the Mi’kmaq and Acadians and spelled disaster for these communities and for the small clusters of Métis in places like Ingonish.
In 1744 towards the end of October, Mr. Gorrhon (John Gorham), commanding a detachment of the English troops, sent to observe the retreat the French and savages were making from before Port Royal (Annapolis) in Acadia (Nova Scotia): this detachment having found two huts of the Mickmaki savages, in a remote corner, in which there were five women and three children, (two of the women were big with child), ransacked, pillaged and burnt the two huts, and massacred the five women and children. It is to be observed, that the two pregnant women were found with their bellies ripped open. An action that these savages cannot forget, especially as at that time they made fair war with the English. They had always looked on this deed as a singular mark of the most unheard of cruelty (Maillard 1758, 62-63).
But no one could claim to have hands free of blood.
In any case, whether Maillard’s report of the incident is true or distorted for effect, Indians in Nova Scotia cited it years later when calling for revenge. Their hatred of English invaders openly celebrated in their rituals, the Mi’kmaq were soon routinely torturing and executing English prisoners. (Carroll, 421)
According to one New Englander who was there, Everyone Did what was Right in his own Eyes (Williamson 1745-1755, 3).
I know a chilling story from my great aunt Susan (c. 1843-1946) who married George Brewer. Susan Doucette Brewer is depicted again in the photo collage above. My grandfather Leo Doucette and my grandmother Lucy Devenish Doucette are sitting on the front step of a fishing cabin at Lake Ainslie. My father Tom appears in his sniper gear in this photo from the Second World War. He was a phenomenal marksman and skilled tracker, able to live off the land for days and weeks at a time. Susie was an herbalist — well known for the “Indian” teas that she sold. The older generation apparently spoke what was called “Chéticamp French” as well as Mi’kmaq, some Gaelic and fluent English. Great-Aunt Susan Doucette told this story to my father when he was very small. It was passed down to her and passed down to me:
One time a terrible illness swept through the people of Ingonish and, as was the custom, they went up the Clyburn Brook through the passes into the mountains, away from the village, until they died or got better. This was so they did not spread the disease. One day, those of the five families that survived the pestilence were going down the valley to have a mass said in thanksgiving. But from a lookout they saw a sight they had never seen before: a British man-of-war in Ingonish Harbour. As they came closer they saw that the village was deserted, not even a dog in sight. The mission church was surrounded by soldiers in red coats. They burned the church down with the people inside of it. Those that survived the plague watched in horror from the woods and stole away to safety up the Clyburn Brook and along secret paths through the bogs in the interior of Cape Breton where strangers did not dare to go.
It is unclear to me whether Gorham’s Rangers took part in the raid on Ingonish, but it is the kind of warfare that they excelled in.
…Gorham’s Ranger’s operated as a specialized amphibious strike force. Attacking suddenly and without warning from the sea, they assailed communities along the coast, and traveling upriver, struck at inland hamlets as well. (Carroll, 411-412)
My ancestors fled up trails to the plateau that local people call the “Indian Rising”. My relatives showed me the trail that was taken. My uncle Albert Doyle could point out the place where Mi’kmaq people came to the Clyburn each year to fish for salmon. Even in his youth this was the place where they camped.
Ingonish elders such as Maurice Donovan (born 1904) recalled that the Mi’kmaq went up the Clyburn Valley into the Highlands via “Indian Rising”, plateau that offers a panoramic view of the Clyburn River Valley and watershed. Facing east, the plateau comes to a point that divides the Clyburn River into the North and South Branches. Still identified on maps, “Indian Rising” was part of a passage way for aboriginal people into the Highland plateau where they hunted caribou, moose and other wildlife. Within living memory in the early part of the 20th century, the Mi’kmaq came to the mouth of the Clyburn River to fish. They had encampments on the north side of the Clyburn River along and adjacent to the beach.
Some Ingonish families such as the Doucettes and the Youngs (formerly Le Jeunes), and numerous other people north of Smokey are part of this continuum since they have Mi’kmaq ancestry. Other Ingonish elders such Annie Belle Gillis (1874-1978) and Mary Grace Barron (1908-2001) noted that the Mi’kmaq continued to come to Ingonish and other northern communities until the mid-twentieth century selling fish, baskets, butter tubs and axe handles as well as visiting their traditional hunting grounds. (Donovan, 346-347).
In New England documents I found corroboration telling of how the men of the New England snows (a type of sailing ship) torched Ingonish:
On the 8th [of May] the Prince of Orange and the Defence weighed anchor at 4 P.M. and sailed northward. They captured a shallop, but turned it adrift in a snowstorm. On the 9th they reached Aganish [Nigonish] Bay and burnt a town of 80 houses. They also destroyed the towns of Bradore and Bayonne, as well as St. Ann. At noon they started back for Louisbourg, but were forced to lay to until the 12th on account of stormy weather (Chapin 1923, 95-110).
Capt. Joseph Smethurst from Marblehead, Massachusetts, commanded the Prince of Orange. The Connecticut sloop Defence was commanded by Captain John Prentice. The description of destruction of Ingonish is documented (Brown 1869, 214). It was part of the siege of Louisbourg 11 May to 28 June 1745. The meticulous and Bible-reading New Englanders recorded their attack on Ingonish and their men and vessels in great detail:
In the Pay of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Three Thousand Land Troops, with arms, Ammunition, Provision, and etc.
|His Majesty’s Ships.||Guns.|
|The Ship Massachusetts, Capt. Tyng,||20|
|The Ship Caesar, Capt. Snelling||20|
|The Shirley Galley, Capt. Rouse,||20|
|The Prince of Orange, Capt. Smethurst,||16|
|The Brig. Boston Packet, Capt. Fletcher,||16|
|A Sloop, Capt. Donahew,||12|
|Ditto, Capt. Saunders,||8|
|Ditto, Capt. Bosch,||8|
|And near 100 Sail of Transports.|
|Also hired of the Rhode Island Merchants,|
|A Ship, Capt. Griffin,||20|
|And a Snow, Capt. Thompson,||16|
In the Pay of the Colony of Connecticut, their Proportion of Troops, 500 Men, with Arms, Ammunition, Transports, andc. and their Colony Sloop, of 16 Guns.
In the Pay of the Province of New Hampshire, their Proportion of Troops, 350 Men, with Arms, Ammunition, Provisions, Transports, andc. and their Province Sloop.
In the Pay of Rhode Island, no Soldiers, but their Colony Sloop, of 16 Guns and 80 Men (Pennsylvania Gazette, June 13, 1745).
This was a scorched earth policy. These were raiders who excelled at surprise assaults, brutal, efficient killing. This heartbreak preceded the expulsion of the Acadians known as “Le grand derangement”. It was deranged, disordered, men driven mad by the greed for money and old fears: a sort of historical madness. Survivors slipped quietly away through the woods and canoed hundreds of miles to safety. Disease, starvation tracked them down in this ethnic cleansing. By the 1850s less than 1,500 Mi’kmaq were left in Nova Scotia. The Mi’kmaq now number about 25,070 individuals — two per cent of the total Nova Scotia population. Once all of Nova Scotia was theirs and they travelled great distances through the Martimes and beyond. They used the resources of the Province and many Nova Scotia places names are from the Mi’qmak (Whycocomagh, Eskasoni, Chéticamp, Antigonish, Shubenacadie, Cobequid Bay, Musquodoboit Harbour, Memracook, etc). Mi’kmaq First Nations now occupy only 26,000 acres on reserves, but are found through the Maritimes in urban centres and cities and elsewhere in Canada (Province of Nova Scotia, MI’KMAQ CULTURE).
Selections from the public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia: ¨
We do hereby authorize and command all officers civil and military, to annoy, distress, take or destroy the savages commonly called Mic-macks wherever they are found; and we further by and with the consent and advice of His Majesty`s council do promise a reward of ten guineas for every Indian, Mic-Mack , taken or killed to be paid upon producing such savage or his scalp if killed, to the officers commanding at Halifax, Annapolis Royal, or Minas. (Selections from the Public Documents of the Province of Nova Scotia, 582; Beamish 1866, 163).
And the violence went on: in 1758 the British deported all the Acadians they could find and killed any Mi’kmaq or Métis they could lay hands on. Families shattered and scattered like leaves in a November gale. There was fighting all along the frontiers. Another Doucet voyageur was killed serving avec les bateaux for the French in April 1758 in George Washington’s successful assault on Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh). The article below describes the 1745 attack on Cape Breton.
The British and Americans did not take native people prisoners except to torture information out of them: the First Nation of Nova Scotia was totally expendable. The Acadians in Cape Breton were loaded onto ships in 1745 and deported back to France. On September 23, 1758, 400 British soldiers disembarked at Cap-Sable as two ships sailed along the shore to prevent the vermin from escaping in canoes (Brown, 325).
In despair, weakened by disease and hunger, according to my family story, the survivors of the burning of Ingonish stole away back up the valley into the boggy highlands, the “Barrens” of Cape Breton where a false step meant drowning in the muskeg, but game, including caribou and moose, abounded. They went over to the west side of the Island for a time and down the Margaree Valley, eventually ending up near Port Hood and Mabou. Donovan records the plight of the starving refugees:
In the meantime, the women and children of Ingonish and St. Ann had escaped with Eleonore-Jeanne de Beaugny, wife of Antoine Boularderie, junior, to the woods near Little Bras d’Or. Since they were unable to reach the safety behind Louisbourg’s walls, they were short of food even though efforts had been made to bring them relief. (Donovan, 347)
Some fled to Prince Edward Island, some to the Magdalen Islands, some to Newfoundland. Cape Breton, the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island formed a watery triangle in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Canoeing from one to another the refugees fled north and west, using portage routes to go up the Restigouche River from the Bay of Chaleur to the St. Lawrence River. Others escaped up portage routes from St. John River Valley to the St. Lawrence. These were well-travelled, ancient routes that came out near Riviere du Loup.
Cape Breton was virtually depopulated after 1745:
When the French returned in 1749, they reoccupied the fishing outports immediately to the north of Louisbourg – Scatarie, Lorembec, and Baleine – in smaller numbers than before 1745. There was a similar drop in the population of Saint-Esprit, to the south of Louisbourg. Meanwhile, Niganiche, once the most northerly French-settled outport on Ile Royale, attracted not a single French colonist in the second French period. Yet before 1745 it had been the home to more than 600 inhabitants (Johnston 2007, 53).
In 1802 and 1803 Scots settlers moved into the “empty” area along with some Irish settlers. Archibald, Barron, Beaton, Bown, Burke, Cain, Campbell, Conrad, Corson, Cowan, Fraser, Gillis, Hardy, Hawley, Hefferman, Hine, Job, Kavanagh, Keigan, MacDonald, MacDougald, McKay, MacLeod, MacNeil, MacLean, Nolan, Power, Rideout, Shea, Stockley, Timmon, Whitty and Williams all received land grant in Ingonish. We were later to intermarry with many (if not all) of these families. I believe that some of my ancestors survived to became the Doucettes on Eskasoni Reserve.
My direct ancestors came back over the mountains on foot in the 19th century to settle again in Ingonish. Great Aunt Susan said she walked back with her mother (Mary Hawley) and the other children to join the men folk who went first. The men are believed to have worked on the laying of the first Atlantic Cable begun in 1854. When the dispossessed Doucettes returned they had to buy land, mostly poor and marginal. A. A. Church’s Map ca. 1864 shows J. Doucette on the south side of the Clyburn Brook (Szick, Early Settlers of Ingonish). My grandfather, Thomas Leo Doucette, inherited some land from the Hawleys. In 1936 that land was expropriated to make the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and we were displaced again. In 1940 the Cabot Trail was built to Ingonish. In 1948 the road was finished between Ingonish and Neil’s Harbour. Many of my relatives hate the park; many of my relatives love the park. A number of my relatives work for Parks Canada. After the Second World War, my father was himself displaced. He, a Catholic, married a Protestant and the parish priest told the people of Ingonish that they must not hire him or rent a house to him and that his children would be bastards in the eyes of God and Holy Mother Church. My father and mother left for the new Promisted Land, Ontario, with its car plants and jobs. Displaced again. Nothing was simple in 1745; nothing is simple today.
There is much archaeological evidence of French settlement and some of the attack on Ingonish. The mission church bell was found according to several different versions of the same story:
We have already alluded to the chapel which was erected at Ingonish in 1729. Messrs. Lawrence Brown and J.W. Burke, while ploughing on the farm of the former, in or about the year 1854, found a bell near the site of the old church. Upon it was engraved this inscription, “Pour la paroisse d’Inganiche jai ete nommee par Jean Decarette et par Francois Urail, parrain et marrain Le Josse Huet de St. Malo m’a faite, L’an 1729” (for the parish of Ingonish I have been named by John Decarette and Francis Urail, Godfather and Godmother. The founder Huet made me, in the year 1729). This bell was nearly as large around as an ordinary flour barrel and weighed 586 pounds. It was sold…to a gentleman of Halifax, owner of a foundry (Patterson, 41.)
The Story of the Acadian Bells: By the late Rev. C. J. d’Entremont
We find other bells also elsewhere in Cape Breton at the time of the Acadians. In Ingonish, now in Victoria County, which was founded in 1720, a church was built in 1729, when it received, this same year, a bell, to which was given the name of Jean-Francoise (anglice John Frances). It had a long inscription in French, which I translate: “For the parish of Ingonish I was named Jean-Francoisse (sic) by Jean Decarette and by Francoisse Vrail, godfather and godmother. Le fosse Huet made me in 1729.” After the conquest of the island in 1758, it was only in 1849 that it was unearthed at the site where the church had stood. It was still in perfect condition. It was brought to Sydney, and that is as much as we know about it, although an author, J. G. Bourinot, wrote in 1892 that it was brought to New England, where most of the relics of this type at the time have found their way (Gibson in Doucette 1958 and 1997, Vol 1, 5).
PART 2: TO QUEBEC, BACK TO CAPE BRETON AND BEYOND
My ancestors fled to Quebec, probably by way of the Magdalen Islands, Prince Edward Island, Chaleur Bay, and Restigouche River. The Restigouche River was a major route for the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet and they helped the survivors as they fled. From the Restigouche the route went to the Matapedia River and over what was considered short portage to the St. Lawrence River. The portage was about one league or 3.3 miles or 5 kilometres (Burnett 1821, 122). (Those of us who canoe today might not consider this a “short” portage!)
The refugees of 1745 ended up in Quebec, near Quebec City, as Bernard Doucet and his family had done when they fled another British attack in 1710. In 1713 Acadia became permanently British with the cessation of hostilities and the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. The same year Fortress Louisbourg was built on Cape Breton, still claimed as French territory. Bernard’s son Jean Baptiste Doucet (1717-1792) and Marie Louise Delage dit Lavigueur (1725 – 1805) had a number of children. One is believed to have been François (Francis) Doucet, my forebearer. Francis and all of his brothers and sisters were all born in the Charlesbourg quarter, Portneuf, Quebec City, where many of the Acadian exiles lived. This town was laid out in the shape of a star, with wedge-shaped fields radiating from a central point. This is one of only two such star-shaped towns in North America. Baptismal records for François Doucet still exist.
Pierre Doucet (believed to be my 2nd great grand uncle) was also born in Charlesbourg was born 26 Sep 1765 and died 20 Jan 1810 (45 years old) in St. Antoine, River Raisin, Monroe County, Michigan. He was buried there in the Michif community there. He married Elizabeth Fontaine on March 7, 1791 at the British Fort in Detroit. She was 17, born November 1, 1773, in Sandwich, the daughter of a fur trader and soldier. She is had family connections to the Red River Métis. She was christened at the L’Assomption de la Pointe-de-Montréal parish in what is now Windsor. After Pierre died she married Francis Godon at St. Antoine, on the River Raisin. Her cousin, Francois Godefroy, became a chief of the Miami First Nation. His mother was apparently Mi’kmaq.
My direct ancestor, François (Francis) Doucet was born November 7, 1767 in Quebec and died about 1833 in Nova Scotia. Some believe that Francis Doucet was granted land in Mabou as a reward for serving under General Wolfe. But why would a Doucette (French) have fought for the English against the French? It is an easy question to answer since Francis was not even born when Wolfe and his men defeated Montcalm’s army on the Plains of Abraham. Moreover, the 1813 militia documents record that Francis had no military experience and he did not own land, but leased it. He was recorded in 1811 in a Census: Francis Doucet, Farmer. His wife was still alive and they had four sons under the age of 14. They also had four cattle, but no sheep, horses, or boats. They lived at the Gut of Canso (Census Rolls of Cape Breton Island 1811). James was born around 1807, Charles, around 1809; Francis, around 1810, and Adam around 1812 and all were baptized at the same time in the Anglican Cathedral Saint George, Sydney, Cape Breton on August 17, 1813. (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V5MV-RN7) It is believed that another son Louis was born around the same time. The Doucet children were baptized in an Anglican church — not one of the Catholic parishes near to their home at the Gut of Canso.
It is an enduring mystery why Catholics would go all the way across Cape Breton to have their children baptized into the Church of England. However, there have always been many so-called mixed marriages in my family: where Catholics married Protestants. One possibility is that Francis and Marie Elizabeth were not married in the eyes of the Catholic Church and there may have been some impediment to marriage (e.g. one or both of them were already married). Son James was also married in an Anglican Church: in Sydney Mines, to Jane Brewer (a Protestant)on September 6, 1877. Maybe being Protestant was a simple choice, a conversion. (Marriages Solemnized in the County of Cape Breton, 1877, 131). Another possibility is that as voyageurs like the Doucets married native women and took their wives back to Quebec, they found that their wives were no longer welcome. As time passed, country wives found themselves ostracized in a Quebec where being pur laine or pure wool came to be considered more and more important and many Métis could “pass”. Marriages to native women were no longer encouraged and came to be frowned upon. Racism crept in.
In 1813 Francis Doucette, aged 45, born in Quebec, was farmer living at the Gut of Canso, leasing 130 acres of land on Grant 130. He had no military experience but was a member of Captain John Higgins’ Company, Second Regiment, Cape Breton Militia, Eighth Military Division. His wife was with him. He had five sons (Cape Breton Militia Papers NAC, MG 24). Francis again appears in the 1818 Census in approximately the same location. He also shows up in other records. The Doucet family lived in Mabou – near Brook Village behind the Meagher farm. The family later moved to Little Bras d’Or.
As Sheryl Boivin, an Ontario Métis, noted (personal communication), these Doucettes always seemed to stay close to a Mi’kmaq village, close but not in. This may have been a question of changing identities. Choosing to be white could have made the difference between surviving and starving to death as so many Mi’kmaq did. Passing became a defense against discrimination. For those with more ambition, it was the passport to climbing the social order. People re-invented themselves and moved from speaking French, practicing Catholicism and being native or Métis to being white English Anglicans. It was a long stretch that only occasionally succeeded, leaving a trail of psychological and social damage in its wake.
I warn you that genealogy can be a dangerous business. You may find things that will shame or embarrass you or other relatives. Questions of identity scare people. Exploring this brings up questions of identity/self, rights, property and money. Who am I? What am I entitled to? What can I get out of this? Who and what did my fathers leave behind?
It is far more tasteful to uncover United Empire Loyalist roots. They were the heroes in the ethnocentric and racist textbooks of my elementary school days and those of many in English Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Hawleys were United Empire Loyalists who fled Connecticut to New York and sailed as refugees to Nova Scotia on HMS Argo in 1783. The Hawleys first appear in the Port Hood area in the 1818 Census. Francis and Marie Elizabeth’s son, James Doucet, married Mary Hawley, the daughter of Captain Matthew Hawley of Connecticut, Port Hood and Mabou. The HMS Argo was a 44-gun fifth-rate British man-of-war launched in 1781. She was the largest vessel that had been launched on the River Tyne. In 1783, she was captured by two French frigates, but was recaptured two days later by HMS Invincible. She was sold in 1816.
In 1786, the first of a group of New England Loyalists arrived at Port Hood — Captain David Smith, his wife Rebecca and their children. They were soon joined by the families of Matthew Hawley and Hugh Watts who were to make up the backbone of the first permanent settlement. Despite the loss of Captain David Smith on the winter ice floes in 1789, his family carried on and their many descendants still live in the area and have gone on to contribute to Canadian life in many fields (Gillies, Catherine M. A Brief History of Port Hood).
So, as well as being of Mi’kmaq descent, I also descend from UELs. Ironically it was the influx of American Loyalists that finally pushed the Mi’kmaq off of their lands and threatened the survival of the last remnants of this First Nation. Forced to live on the margins, on wasteland no one else wanted, deprived of hunting and fishing grounds, it is a testimony to the strength of these ancestors and the beauty of the culture that this First Nation is thriving today in spite of the squatters who took everything, but their spirit and the Residential Schools almost stole that too.
My family name in Mi’kmaq is plant-based which makes sense because my father’s family knew an incredible amount about plants and their attributes. I am the fortunate bearer of some of that knowledge, but much is lost. The family name was Sa’kati or “spruce needle”. Spruce was a healing plant. An infusion of branch tips was used for healing the insides. A tea made from the needles was drunk to promote general good health. Spruce gum was chewed like candy but also used as a salve. The roots were soaked and split to sew canoes, snowshoes and wigwam covers. The young wood was steamed and bent to make snowshoes. Peeled spruce poles were preferred for making wigwam frames because they are straight and do not taper much. Spruce boughs were carefully interlaced and laid on the ground as flooring in lodges and in front of the door as a door mat. Needles and branches were used to stuff pillows and bedding. The wood was easy to carve and used to make canoe paddles. The pitch sealed the seams on birch bark canoes. So the spruce is a good tree to be named for because it is so useful. The official tree of Nova Scotia is the red spruce.
A “Doucet” Surname DNA Project
There are many Doucettes and many stories, but, until recently, most Doucettes and Doucets believed that their ancestor was a French nobleman named Germain Doucet. Yet there were always family stories like my own that cast doubt on this noble genealogy. Recently, DNA analysis is rewriting our family history.
Marie Rundquist, founded the “Amerindian Ancestry Out of Acadia” project at Family Tree DNA. She is researching the DNA of those bearing the Doucet surname. This involves testing the Y-Chromosome DNA (Paternal DNA), found only in male descendants, not the maternal mitochondrial DNA. The Y-Chromosome DNA remains little changed through many generations as it is transmitted from father to son. In the last decade DNA testing has proved that the father of Germain Jr. Doucet (1641) was definitely a North American Native, not a French man, noble or commoner. This DNA research shows without a doubt that many Doucettes have native ancestry (Family Tree DNA).
This introduces the whole IWANNABEANINDIAN phenomenon and upset lots of Doucettes. DNA testing can bring out the hidden racist in all of us – and the greed. In the past when a Doucette contacted me about the family tree, they often showed absolutely no interest in the history itself. They only wanted to know if I could help them to get status so they can get perks — funding for education, fishing rights, etc. Others were repelled at the thought of any Indian blood even saying in effect, “That DNA evidence doesn’t matter. I am white, white, WHITE!” I am not kidding and I find it unbearably sad. They cling to Germain Doucet, Sieur de La Verdure. However, there are many Doucettes and Doucets who are deeply interested in their family history for its own sake. Many, like myself, have grown up with strong connections to the land and particularly Cape Breton, and to our heritage with its Métis stories. It is for them and others who are interested in true stories of long ago that I put the stories into writing. I am afraid that when I die these stories of our Métis past will be lost forever.
DNA is according to one genealogist, “A thorn in the backside of many genealogists”. Recent DNA research challenges the accepted wisdom found in works like Stephen White’s “Dictionnaire Généalogique des familles Acadiennes” ( Leclair, Genetic Genealogy). Germain Doucet, Sieur de La Verdure (born around 1595 near Couperans en Brye (most likely Coubron northeast of Paris, France) was a French commander in the French colony of Acadia. Doucet’s career began when he began working with Charles de Menou d’Aulnay. D’Aulnay was a well known seafarer, a captain and eventually became the Governor of Acadia. In 1632, he arrived in Acadia with the governor Isaac de Razilly. He served as master of arms of Fort Pentagouet (now Castine, Maine) as a major.
After the death of d’Aulnay in 1650, Doucet became the commandant of the French fort of Port Royal. The British and Americans, under Major General Robert Sedgwick, captured the fort on August 15, 1654. When the French surrendered, Doucet had to leave Acadia. He sailed for France and never returned, but his “sons”, Pierre and Germain, and his daughter Marguerite stayed behind. DNA has proved that Germain was native. In 1660 Pierre married Henriette Pelletret, and has many descendants, particularly in the Digby, Nova Scotia area. Germain married Marie Landry and also has many descendants, including most of the Doucets (Doucettes) of Cape Breton.
Germain Doucet (1641-1698) and Marie Marguerite Landry (1648-1719) had nine children:
- Charles Doucet (married Huguette Radegonde Guerin)
- Bernard Doucet (married Madeleine Corporon)
- Laurent Rene Doucet (married Jeanne Babin)
- Jacques Doucet (married Marie Pellerin)
- Claude Doucet dit Maître Jean (married Marie Comeau)
- Marie Doucet
- Jeanne Doucet (married Jean Chrysostome Loppinot)
- Alexis Doucet (married Madeleine Legere)
- Pierre Doucet
Thus, Germain Doucet and Marie Marguerite Landry left many children and their descendants can be found throughout Canada: especially Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, but also in New England. All can claim “native blood” and many have stories to tell about their ancestry.
For example, Claude Doucet dit Maître Jean (1674-1754) married Marie Comeau (1676-1722). Their son Joseph (1706-1767) married Anne Agnes Surette (1715-1834). They had the following children:
- Marie Modeste
- Jean Magloire
- Marie Osithe
Many of these Doucets settled in the Yarmouth and Tusket at the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Joseph Doucet and Anne Agnes Surrette had a son Joseph (1731-1809) who married Ludivine Mius dite D’Entremont (1750-1836). Joseph settled at Hubbard’s Point (Butte-des-Doucet); another son, Charles, settled at Amirault’s Hill; son Michel at Pointe-des-Bens (later went to Quinan); and Jean Magloire settled at Tusket Wedge (Wedgeport). Paul Tufts of the Association des Acadiens-Metis Souriquois of Nova Scotia supplied this information and it is from “Genealogy, Saint Michael’s Parish, 1767 – 1925 (Wedgeport), 2004.
Doucet descendants of Germain (nicknamed “L’Amerindien”) number the many thousands and I hope to find more stories to add to my own as we explore our own history and reclaim our own stories. A number of Germain’s descendants became voyageurs working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company and other trading outfits.
PART 3: THE VOYAGEURS
At first most of the voyageurs were so called full-blooded French or Creole, men like Charles, Pierre and Francis Doucette, of mixed blood, chiefly Mi’kmaq, and French. These Métis voyageurs themselves often married women from the First Nations. Why?
1) Opportunity. There were almost no French women went west of Montréal.
2) Economics. Women prepared and packed furs. First Nations women knew how to do this. This also had the family supports necessary to deal with the extended absence of a husband.
3) Marriage Customs. Marriage by a priest was uncommon. There were not many priests available to perform the rite. In native culture marriage was by mutual consent. Sometimes the marriage was consecrated by a priest, but often was not. For a Catholic marriage, the native women had to convert to Catholicism. Therefore, most of the children were illegitimate in the eyes of the Church. People had what was known as Country Marriage – la façon du pays, or the custom of the country. They could be dissolved anytime by mutual consent. This was the most common form of marriage among French/native couples.
4) Love. Romance and passion are not European prerogatives.
5) Cultural affinity. Many Métis from the Martimes may have felt more comfortable or at home with native peoples than in Quebec.
There were certain advantages for native women in marrying voyageurs or fur traders.
- Opportunity. There may have been a shortage of eligible men in the native communities around the Great Lakes and possibly in Cape Breton too. The male population had been decimated by wars. Also most native people lived in small bands where they were closely related to everyone. Marrying a stranger made sense and clan rules usually meant that you could not marry your cousin even if you wanted to.
- Sexual morality. Native men demonstrated their manhood by abstaining from sex and limiting the number of children they had. French men demonstrated their manhood by participating in as much sex as they could get and having as many children as possible.
- Status. Native women and their families gain status through their connection to the fur traders and voyageurs.
- Economics. Native women who married voyageurs and fur traders had better access to trade goods. Their families shared in that preferred access.
- Novelty. Sometimes it must have been nice to marry someone who wasn’t your cousin. A jolly voyageur could be someone new, exotic, different, and, in sort, exciting.
- Love (Jung, French-Indian Intermarriage and The Creation of Métis Society)
But just who were the voyageurs? The voyageurs were men who transported furs by canoe for the fur trade. Voyageur is a French word that literally means traveler. The voyageurs followed long-established First Nations trade routes along trails, rivers and portages. Elders, according to my Dad, dreamed of white men with beards in big canoes with wings like white birds, coming to Canada. They knew the French were coming long before they actually arrived. But long before this there was long distance trade among native people along trails and canoe routes stretching far across North America from north to south and east to west. For example, the Odawa carried exotic chert into Ontario and European trade goods to the distant people they visited.
French was the working language of the fur trade until the 1840s McDonald of Garth, appraising an associate, called him, A very good fellow, but no trader: he never could learn to speak French. Daniel Harmon, a fur trader for 19 years with the North West Company, even confessed to himself during one of his many voyages: Now I am as it were alone, there being not a person here able to speak a word of English (Thompson, Columbia Journals, 196).
The fur trade was structured hierarchically like a pyramid or like European society with royalty in Montréal and the voyageurs as peasants. In order of importance from top to bottom they were:
1) Bourgeois – Traders with the money and capital who bought the trade goods, sold the furs, and hired the men who worked in the trade.
2) Commis – The clerks of the trade. They could read and write. They kept the books and wrote the correspondence of the trade. Often, they became bourgeois if they managed to save up enough money. They had to be literate which ruled out most men.
3) Voyageurs – The backbone of the trade. Although this word originally was used to designate a licensed trader during the French regime, by about the 1780s it came to designate a boatman. Most were illiterate and and could not become bourgeois or commis. By the 1800s, the voyageurs had become almost a caste, father to son. As time went on voyageurs increasingly were recruited from the Métis settlements of the Great Lakes region. Among the voyageurs, there were certain distinctions.
a. Hivernants – These were “seasoned” voyageurs who wintered over at least one winter in the “high country”.
b. Mangeur du lard – This meant pork-eaters, and these were rookie voyageurs in the trade. The food of the voyageurs was a simple fare of corn mixed with grease, but because new men often found it difficult to subsist on this, they were given pork to eat until they could stomach the food of the seasoned voyageurs (Kinzie 1856, 199).Dr. Charles L. Codding described a trip with the voyageurs in about the year 1800, using the Ottawa Route. The journey began about nine miles outside of Montreal on the St. Lawrence at La Chine. A guide (navigateur) responsible for all pillage and loss and having sole control of the fleet directed a birch bark brigade of three or more canoes. All of the men and their wages were answerable to him and he decided the times and places of the arrivals and departures of the fleet.
(Warnes. Fur trading on the Detroit River.)
The contracts between the Company and voyageur were recorded and notarized and are a rich source of information. The voyageur had to:
- Obey the bourgeois
- Work responsibly and carefully
- Be honest
- Well behaved
- Help the bourgeois make a profit
- And remain in service. (They were essentially indentured servants unlike the “freemen” — traders who came and went as they pleased and were not under contract to anyone.)
In turn the voyageurs received food, equipment and wages. The equipment was usually one blanket, one shirt and one pair of trousers a year. Sometimes they were provided with tobacco. The food consisted of wild rice, corn (lyed), maple syrup, whitefish, sturgeon, salt pork, hard tack and grease, but also whatever was available. Voyageurs paid a portion of their wages into an insurance fund to provide for them in their old age and if they became sick or injured and to provide for their widow and orphans if need be. Voyageurs were paid according to their status, skills and experience. They usually sent their wages home to their families.
By mid-18th century the fur trade was separated into two groups:
- Montréal pedlars who lived in the haut payes or the high country north and west of Lake Superior and beyond and who were independent, trading through partnerships.
- the London-based Hudson’s Bay Company.
These two groups were rivals with different identities and ways of doing business. Instead of having the First Nations trappers come to trading posts like the Hudson’s Bay Company did, the pedlars went directly to the First Nations, cutting out middle men and driving the fur trade further west and north into the interior of North America.
In 1783 The American Revolutionary War ended. In Montréal and Grand Portage (in present-day Minnesota), the North West Company was formed by a group of trading partners. The border between Canada and the U.S. was accepted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Lake of the Woods. The North West Company had been organized in the winter of 1783 to 1784, but had never become an incorporated company like its chief rivals, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Fur Company. The North West was essentially a holding company, made of Montréal firms and partners doing business in the fur trade e.g. the McGills and the Bâbys.
In 1789, at the request of the North West Company, Alexander Mackenzie journeyed to the Beaufort Sea, following what would later be named the Mackenzie River. In 1793, by canoe and on foot, he crossed the Rocky Mountains and the Coast Range, reaching the Pacific Ocean. On July 22, after a harrowing journey, Mackenzie recorded his arrival at the Pacific on a rock near Bella Coola, British Columbia.
By 1798, the North West Company controlled most of the fur trade between Montréal and Lake Superior. Its main route was the difficult canoe route from Montréal up the Ottawa River, and through Lake Huron and Lake Superior to its chief inland depot. This was Grand Portage before 1804 and Fort William after 1804. In 1811 the North West Company temporary merged with the American Fur Company. By 1816 the North West Company had established its posts over much of Canada and the northern United States. In 1821 the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The canoe made all this possible. The voyageurs’ canoes were made from the bark of large paper birch trees stretched over a white cedar frame. There were several sizes available for use, but two common sizes:
- the larger (approximately 36-foot or 11 m long) called the Montréal Canoe or canot du maître (shown in Shooting the Rapids, 1871 by Frances Anne Hopkins) ;
- and a smaller (approximately 25-foot or 7.6 m long) north canoe. The large canot du maître was used on the Great Lakes, and the canot du nord was used on the interior rivers and past Lake Superior in the high country.
The Montréal canoe, or canot de maître (master’s canoe), was used on the Great Lakes and the Ottawa River. It weighed about 600 pounds (270 kg) and carried 3 tons of cargo or 65 90-pound (41 kg) standard packs called pièces. The crew was six to a dozen men, but eight to ten was the average. On a portage four voyageurs usually turned the canoe over and carried it upside down. Two men were in front and two men behind, but on steep terrain there might be more men portaging the big canoe. They used shoulder pads to ease the load. When running rapids the avant standing in the bow steered the canoe, watching for rocks and reading the current and eddies carefully. The avant was responsible for making sure that the men loaded the canoe properly with the weight evenly distributed and well balanced. The avant had to communicate closely with the gouvernail standing in the rear who also helped steer the canoe but could not see the rocks ahead. Both the avant and gouvernail used special, longer paddles.
In the middle sat Le milieu who acted as the power house of the canoe, brawn but not necessarily with the brains or skill of those in the bow or stern. They were paid less and got less equipment, but could hope to advance to being avant or gouvernail if they demonstrated skill and intelligence — and followed the rules.
Theirs was a life of toil and they faced a short life expectancy although there were exceptions and some men lived well into their eighties and nineties. Voyageurs were short men, average 5’6”. They were phenomenally, almost mythically strong, but human. A life of hard work was paid for with osteoarthritis: bad knees and damaged spines. Hernias (ruptures) frequently caused death even to young, fit men. A strangulated hernia caused bowel failure. Voyageurs had to be able to carry two 90-pound (41 kg) bundles of fur over portages. Some carried four or five, there is a report of a voyageur carrying seven for half of a mile, and legends of voyageurs carrying eight. They were an elite and they knew it:
I have been 42 years in this country. For 24 I was a light canoeman; I required but little sleep, but sometimes got less than required. No portage was too long for me; all portages were alike. My end of the canoe never touched the ground until I saw the end of it. 50 songs a day were nothing to me. I could carry, walk, and sing with any man I ever saw. During that period I saved the lives of ten Bourgeois, and was always the favorite, because when others stopped to carry at a bad spot, and lost time, I pushed on-over the rapids, over the cascades, over chutes; all were the same for me. No water, no weather ever stopped the paddle or the song. I have had 12 wives in the country; and was once possessed of 50 horses and six running dogs, trimmed in the finest style. I was then like a Bourgeois, rich and happy; no Bourgeois had better dressed wives than I, no Indian chief finer horses; no white man better harnessed or swifter dogs. I beat all Indians at the race, and no white man ever passed me in the chase. I wanted for nothing; and spent all my earnings in the enjoyment although I now have not a spare shirt on my back, nor a penny to buy one. Yet, were I young, I should glory in commencing the same career again. I would spend another half century in the same way. There is no life so happy as a Voyageur’s; none so independent, no place where a man enjoys so much variety and freedom as in the Indian country. Huzza! Huzza! Pour de pays Sauvage. (Les Metis…Voyageurs and Grandparents) (See also Podruchny 1999, 14).
They typically carried their food with them and ate two meals a day. They worked fourteen or more hours a day, seven days a week, starting before dawn and finishing after sunset. The painting, Voyageurs at Dawn, painted in 1871 by Frances Anne Hopkins, is not typical then of a voyageur day. Probably in deference to their bourgeoisie passengers, breakfast is being prepared while others are getting ready for the day or enjoying a quiet pipe. A hard day lay head, and the voyageurs would not have dallied for breakfast like this. They paddled at 55 strokes a minute, stopping only for a break to smoke a pipe. They often measured the distance they had to go by how many pipes from place to place. Theirs was strenuous work and they needed a high calorie diet. Most of their diet in the high country consisted of pemmican, rubaboo (a porridge made of peas or corn and fat and sometimes pemmican), and local foods, such as fish or wild rice. They carried their food with them, often re-supplying with provisions purchased at their encampments along the route. They caught fish on lines trailing over the sides of their canoes.
The Montréal-based canoemen ate mainly dried peas or beans, sea biscuit (hard tack) and salt pork, earning them the nickname mangeurs de lard or ‘pork-eaters’. In the Great Lakes voyageurs bartered or bought some Indian corn or maize at settlements like Detroit, Penetanguishene, Sault Ste. Marie and Mackinac. Wild rice could be obtained locally. The Rainy River was famous for its rice lakes, but Toronto too had great rice fields in Ashbridges Bay and the Humber Marshes. Voyageurs could buy wild rice and other supplies from the Chippewa of Lake Simcoe or the Métis who lived along the carrying routes from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay.
On the Prairies Métis and local bands hunted bison, dried and prepared the meat as pemmican. Pemmican is lean, dried meat mixed with grease (lard) and berries, typically Saskatoon berries. In this form it is packed with calories, does not required refrigeration and will not spoil and is very portable. The pemmican trade was as important to prairie peoples as was trading beavers elsewhere. It was the main way they obtained trade goods from Europeans and helped to develop a distinct Métis society. The Métis became skilled at hunting buffalo from horseback. Women played the major role in preparing the pemmican just as they did in processing hides and fur pelts through the high country. Fur trade companies purchased packs of pemmican and shipped them north to be warehoused at their larger posts such as Cumberland House, Fort Garry, Norway House and Edmonton House.
The voyageurs typically arose long before sunrise, sometimes as early as two to three in the morning. They set off early without breakfast, but perhaps with a bit of hardtack or pork to chew on. Sometime around eight in the morning they stopped for breakfast. For lunch, if they had lunch, they just got a bit of pemmican and chewed on it as they paddled. Tobacco smoking, then and now, was for many both a pleasure and an addiction and it provided regular breaks throughout the long work day. They stopped every hour and took a few minutes for a smoke break, filling their pipes with strong tobacco. They measured the distances on their routes by the number of “pipes” between destinations. Sometime just after sunset, between eight to ten in the evening, they made camp. In the long twilights of the high country, darkness does not settle in until far late in the evening, making even fourteen hour work days possible.
Native peoples marked their trails, portages and canoe routes using trees and these practices were picked up and continued by the voyageurs. Indian thong trees are trees bent into positions that indicate the direction of a trail. Native people like the Mississauga would bend a young sapling in the direction of the trail and tie it in place with ropes or leather thongs. The tree then grew in the desired configuration, pointing the way up or down the trail. Many of these trees still stand but their function and purpose has long been forgotten along with the trails that they marked. First Nations also indicated portages and routes by lobbing a tree: that is cutting off some branches just below the crown or top of the tree. These trees had distinctive profiles that could be seen for a long distance across the water. Native people and voyageurs lobbed trees to honour people, naming the point of land after the person so honoured. Then as now, points of land were favoured places to camp as the wind kept the mosquitoes and black flies within tolerable limits. Native peoples used herbs to make insect repellants, but they also used a potent insect repellent in ointment form made from bear fat and skunk urine.
Furs were put into standard weight bundles known as pieces (bales) of 90 pounds each. Bales were marked with a piece number, the company symbol, the year that the bale was packed (e.g. 1815), and the weight of the pack in pounds. Thus illustration shows a North West Company brass token, men portaging bundles of fur or pieces and a couple of men with standard pieces. I am a strong woman but found backpacking with a 50 pound pack tough going. The standard load for a voyageur on a portage was two bundles, or 180 pounds.
The Forgotten People are always those who do the work — the heavy lifting, and was the lifting heavy! Many became old young men with arthritis, bad knees, bad backs, ruptured disks, compression fractures and hernias. La ceinture flechée, the Métis sash, was not just decoration — it was a safety device, tightened at a portage to prevent hernias.
Many retired young. Métis settlements grew up all along the fur trade routes as men settled down to hunt, fish, trap a little, trade a little and farm a little – if you can call it that. Doucettes (sometimes changed to Dissette) settled at the end of the Toronto Carrying Place in Georgina Township, on the south shore of Lake Simcoe, and at the Narrows where Lake Simcoe joins Lake Couchiching. Edouard David Doucet, their paternal ancestor, came from Quebec and was one of the voyageurs who moved from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene in 1828. He received a land grant in Tiny Township, but later moved to Mara Point, at the Narrows, Lake Simcoe. Their maternal ancestor was from Manitoba, showing the strong connections the fur trade wove among the Métis peoples everywhere there was a portage, a rendezvous or a favourite encampment.
Many did not live to retire as being a voyageur was dangerous work despite their expertise. They suffered:
- exposure to outdoor living
- broken limbs
- compressed spine
- repetitive strain injuries.
- respiratory problems
Hordes of black flies and mosquitoes rose up under the canoes, flying up nostrils, slipping into ears and eyes, biting, stinging. The voyageurs, like the First Nations, kept the bugs away from themselves while they slept by keep a smudge fire going. However, the smudge was a mixed blessed as the smoke caused respiratory, sinus and eye problems.
David Thompson’s narrative describes an attempt to run rapids:
They preferred running the Dalles they had not gone far, when to avoid the ridge of waves, which they ought to have kept, they took the apparent smooth water, were drawn into a whirlpool, which wheeled them around into its Vortex, the Canoe with the Men clinging to it, went down end foremost, and [they] all were drowned; at the foot of the Dalles search was made for their bodies, but only one Man was found, his body much mangled by the rocks. (Thompson, “David Thompson’s Narrative).
The main route for the fur trade ran up the Ottawa River to the Mattawa and over many portages down the French River to Lake Huron. The other routes through via Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to Lake Huron were not as well travelled. Like the fur traders, the French explorers and missionaries who preceded them used this native route as their main route to the west via the St. Lawrence, Ottawa and French rivers. The route started at Montréal and followed the Ottawa River past the Chaudiere Falls, the Chats Falls, Allumette and Calumet Islands and Fort Coulonge. They then paddled up the Mattawa River to North Bay and Lake Nipissing. From there the canoes went downriver along the French River to the north shore of Lake Huron. It was the fastest route, but difficult and dangerous with its many portages and rapids. The contemporary paintings below give some sense of just how hard a route it was.
All these different routes converged at Manitoulin Island, a nexus for native peoples from time immemorial. Manitoulin means God’s country. The various nations along these routes had traded long before Europeans came and became middlemen in the fur trade that went through their territories. The Odawa, Mississauga, Pottawotami, Wendat and Wyandott, were all important middlemen in the fur trade, trading for furs with other First Nations further up the high country and selling the coat beaver to the North West Company and others at a profit.
Two other routes were the route via the Toronto Carrying Place to Lake Simcoe and up to Lake Huron and the route via the Niagara Portage Road over to Lake Erie and onto Detroit and up through Lake Huron to the high country. Other portage routes and trails led from Lake Erie into the Ohio country and beyond that to the Mississippi. The voyageurs paddled past Toronto Island or portaged over the Peninsula into the Bay for a pipe in calm water. I have read reports of salmon so thick in the water off Gibraltar Point that they impeded the stroke of the voyageurs’ paddles.
The Doucets, like other Métis, were here from early in the eighteenth century and worked in the fur trade and lived along the routes, but particularly at the beginning and end of a portage, like the Toronto Carrying Place. On August 30, 1790 Pierre Doucet signed a contract to work as a voyageur for one year. He was a relative, but just how is not clear. Pierre Doucet was Francois’ brother, but there was more than one Pierre Doucet in the fur trade. In this case, the representative of the company was Jacques Bâby, whose family became wealth in the fur trade and built Bâby House in Windsor and another fine home on Bâby Point overlooking the Humber River in Toronto (the Bâby’s themselves had Métis offsprint). On February 2, 1802 Pierre Doucet signed a contract as a hivernant in the northwest for Alexander Mackenzie. Doucet received double equipment: two blankets, etc. On September 13, 1803 Pierre Doucet signed a contract with McTavish, Frobisher and Co. to go again to the North West. His wages were 450 livres and he received 100 livres in advance, plus his equipment. They paid one percent of their wages into an insurance fund to assist sick or injured voyageurs or, in the case of death, their families.
Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet (after 1673) showing the Rouge trail. Other trails crossed to Lake Simcoe (Lac de Toronto), including one along the banks of Duffins Creek where I grew up. Tom Doucette found a French trade axe and a belt of shell-bead wampum about 1960 beneath the roots of a 150-year-old maple near this trail. The route was still visible when I was a child. These trails were well worn over centuries. Even the granite of the Canadian Shield was worn smooth where these portage routes ran.
On Jan 1, 1808 Pierre Doucette signed a contract for Messieurs de la Compagnie de Michilimakinac. His wages were 500 livres.
Notes au sujet du contrat, – une Couverte de 3 points, trois aunes de cotton, une paire souliers et un colier – s’oblige de contribuer d’un pour cent sur ses gages pour le fonds des voyageurs – les dits bourgeois ne pourront être tenus de nourrir le dit engagé, dans quelque endroit qu’il puisse être pendant le présent engagement, qu’au bled d’inde ou autre aliment qu’ils ont ordinairement des sauvages.
Pierre Peter Doucet died 20 Jan 1810 (45 years old) in St. Antoine, River Raisin, Monroe County, Michigan, a Métis community. As time passed, more and more voyageurs were drawn from the Métis communities around the Great Lakes like Detroit, the Raisin River, Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac, etc. ( I am indebted to the work of Dr. Patrick J. Jung, of Marquette University, and his work: “French-Indian Intermarriage and the Creation of Métis Society”) as well as many other historians. History is being written that, for the first time, takes into account the oral histories and viewpoints of First Nations and Métis people. There are no forgotten peoples any more as history is being turned upside down in what some have called “The History Wars”.
The history of the Toronto area is one in which Native peoples were integrally involved. Their full knowledge and use of the area and its rich environmental resources prior to the arrival of Europeans is attested to by the rich archaeological history of the area, by its recounting in oral testimony, and by the abundance of place names given to various geographical features in the city. Many of these names survive in anglicized forms today such as “Spadina”, which was “I-shpa-di-naa”, a hill or sudden rise in the land in the Anishinaabe language. They also had extensive knowledge of the lifeways of other Native peoples across North America, and enjoyed participation in a rich trading network. Situated geographically, and with regards to other nations, they were in a unique position to take advantage of new trading opportunities with Europeans. Their participation in the fur trade was buttressed by their control of two key travel routes in the Great Lakes area – the portages to Lake Simcoe and to Georgian Bay (Howard, 2008/2009).
The Ottawa River route to Detroit began in Montréal, passed over about thirty portages, and came down through Georgian Bay through Lake Huron to Detroit. The Niagara route over Lakes Ontario and Erie was shorter and contained one portage at Niagara Falls. Toronto was used as a fur trading post through the eighteenth century. In 1720 the French Crown established a fort at Toronto. In 1725 the French Fort at Niagara was set up. By the 1740s some First Nations in southern Ontario, most notably the Mississauga in the Toronto area, were conducting trade and interacting simultaneously with both the French (through trading posts at Toronto and Niagara) and British (based in post at Oswego, south shore of Lake Ontario in New York State). At the same time, the French were British are battling each other on other fronts (i.e. War of Austrian Succession, or King George’s War, 1744-1748).
The voyageurs paddled past Toronto Island on to the mouth of the Humber. Some turned into the Humber. Some kept going, across Lake Ontario, over the Niagara portages, to Lake Erie and onto Detroit, “le détroit” (the strait). The Humber route was the shortest and, compared to the Ottawa River route, and easy route with a long portage. The Detroit route was the easiest, but Lake Erie could be very dangerous with winds picking up seemingly out of nowhere and flat waters turning to chop, then breakers. Waves were driven by the wind, La Viellée or Old Woman as the voyageurs called the one presence that could drive them ashore and keep them there. There were long entrenched fur trading interests at Detroit, going back to the early days of the French Regime so the Toronto Carrying Route was not preferred. It was, however, used more extensively during the War of 1812 as it was more secure than the Detroit route.
Here is a contemporary description of the Niagara Portage Trail:
Under the hill there can be discerned beneath the shadow of the Height the old road leading up from the lower level of the dock to the upper level upon which, what is left of the Town of Queenston stands. It is marked and scarred with the ruts of many decades and full of memories. Upon these slopes the Indian made his way to the waterside at the Chippewa creek. Here came the trappers with their bales of furs brought down from the far North-West. Here came the voyageur traders of France with beads and gew-gaws for barter with the Indians, and later the English with blankets and firearms.In the earliest days two portages were available, one on each side of the river, but during the French period and for long, long after the one on the east side from Lewiston was mainly used, its terminus at Lake Erie being called Petite Niagara as distinctive from the great Fort Niagara at its lower end (Cumberland 1911 and 2001).
From 1701-1703 Sieur de la Cadillac founded the French settlement at Detroit and Fort Pontchartrain was built there. This was a hub for the fur trade and a natural rendezvous for native peoples. Odawa [Ottawa], Pottawatomi, Wyandot (Wendat) settlements lined the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. There was an Ojibwa (Potawatomi) settlement on Walpole Island and they camped at Ojibway Prairie, one of the best oak savannah remnants left in Ontario. Other First Nations came here as well: Miami, Sauk, etc.
By the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s Métis people were living in numerous settlements throughout the Great Lakes region at places such as Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, Chicago, Vincennes, Kaskaskia, Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit, Mackinac Island, and Milwaukee, and, in Ontario, Keswick, Orillia, Georgina, Lake Couchiching and many sites along the canoe routes. Almost of all these sites were First Nations encampments as well and the fur trade was the most important business at these locations. Even those who were not voyageurs were part of the fur trade economy, supplying fish, wild rice, corn and other food to the voyageurs.
The two most important sites in the Great Lakes region were Detroit and Mackinac Island (later post moved to St. Joseph’s Island). These were at strategic locations with military posts. French missionaries came to the Detroit areas as early as 1634. They named the river the River Aux Raisin because of the many grapes in this locality. A trading post and fort were established here in 1778. Francois Navarre was the first white settler in 1780. The first settlement was called Frenchtown when about 100 French families came here from Detroit and Canada.
Monroe, Michigan, Pierre Doucet’s home, was on the Saginaw Trail, an ancient route from Saginaw Bay to Lake Erie. The Saginaw Trail connected with the Great Trail that stretched from Chicago through Toledo, Ohio, to link with other trails. These trail systems linked First Nations across North America in a sophisticated network. It is a source of continual amazement to me that so many explorers and settlers could unselfconsciously (and unthinkingly?) write about trackless forests and empty wastelands even as they traveled over well-worn trails like the Davenport Trail in Toronto or ventured further up the high country along millennia-old routes. Of course, the explorers had native guides and usually native women paddling, cooking, mending their clothes, doing their heavy lifting and keeping them warm at night. Explorers who tried to bull their way alone through a First Nations territory, without guides or knowledgeable women, suffered for their stupidity and usually had to reconsider. Or, like the Franklin expedition, they simply and slowly died of starvation.
At this point, I want to speak more about the Wendats, allied of the Mississauga and the other Ojibway peoples and of one Wendat woman in particular. Catherine Anenontha (or Annennontak, Annennonta) was born approximately 1649. She was from the village of Ste-Madeleine in Conception parish in the land of the Wendat near Orillia in present day Ontario. Her father was Nicolas Anenonta and her mother was Jeanne Obrihandet, Christians probably converted by Jean de Brébeuf, the Jesuit missionary. Catherine fled Georgian Bay area with her mother after her father was killed in raids by Iroquois in 1649. This was a difficult period for the Wendat people; they were essentially “wiped out”.
Refugees fled west to Michigan and beyond. Some fled east to Quebec and settled at Lorette. Catherine was probably sheltered by Ursuline nuns in Québec and survived to marry — three times. She died January 11, 1709 in Batiscan, Québec. Her first marriage was to a Frenchman, Jean Durand, on September 16, 1662, in Québec. (Durand, The Legend of Louis Durand; Labelle 2013, 111). From this marriage she had three children, Marie Catherine, Ignace and Louis Durand. Louis, the youngest, was the ancestor of my friend Sheryl.
By the 1760s there were French/Métis, British and First Nations (Odawa, Pottawatomi, Wyandot) settlements along both sides of Detroit River and Lake St. Clair area. By 1771 Detroit was the center of the Great Lakes fur trade. There were good portage routes into the Lake Michigan, the Ohio Valley and beyond to the Mississippi. In the 1780s British merchants took over Detroit. A heavy military presence at Detroit meant that the economy was more diversified. While many people at Detroit and Mackinac Island took part in the fur trade, some Métis people around Detroit grew food to sell to the garrisons or to fur traders. These were some of the largest of the Métis settlements at that time. In 1783, Michigan becomes part the United States. However, the British refused to surrender the forts in Detroit and Mackinac.
Fur trading comprised most of the business in this area then. Hunting fur-bearing animals like beaver and muskrat, preparing their furs for market and transporting them to Montréal provided much of the impetus for exploration and settlement. There was a lot of money to be made.
Louis Durand was an important part of that. He was born November 13, 1670 at Sillery, Quebec, to Jean and Katherine (Annannontak) Durand. Louis was their third and last child. His older brother Ignace, born 1669, also became a voyageur, a coureur de bois and made many trips up the Ottawa River. Since his mother Katherine was a Wendat, Louis was no doubt fluent in French as well as several First Nation languages. His mother Katherine was reported to have spoken many languages. Katherine’s father was an important chief of the Bear Clan of the Wendats. He was killed by Haudenosaunee warriors in 1649 in their attack on the Wendat Confederacy. Katherine’s name Annannontak means something like “she to whom compassion must be shown or “poor little thing”.
Other descendents of voyageurs became very important in the Métis native communities of Michigan and south western Ontario. For example, Peter Godefroy, (1797-1848) a merchant, survived the massacre at Frenchtown in Monroe. All of the garrison and all the settlers within the fort except him were killed. This is known as the Raisin River Massacre. François Godfroy 1788-1840) was born near Kiihkayonk, now Fort Wayne, Indiana. He became a chief of the Miami and a trader. His many children and grandchildren married among all the Miami kinship groups to the extent that over one-fourth of the current Indiana Miami tribe can claim descendency from him. In a contemporary picture of François Godfoy wearing a blue capote, an early 19th-century winter coat made from a wool blanket. He is wearing a European waist coat but moccasins and leggings.
A number of Métis, led by François Navarre, moved south from Detroit to the Raisin River in what is now Monroe County, Michigan. More than 100 families had built cabins on the Raisin River by 1788. The settlement was known as Frenchtown. Frenchtown was dependent on the fur trade. The men went off as voyageurs while the women, children and elderly tilled some farms, providing food to the fur trade and building a local economy deeply intertwined with the nearby First Nations, especially the Miami and Pottawatomi. The Métis became known as The Mushrat French (Au in Bénéteau 2003, 167-180).
The River Raisin settlement was a small, independent community. It was a small place with only several hundred people who basically set their own rules and formed part of the Métis culture that sprung up along the fur trade routes. Worn-out voyageurs settled down here with. Women and children worked the land, snared game and fished while the men were away. Voyageurs usually sent money and sometimes letters back home to their families. Though most were illiterate, they entrusted their money and letters to those who could read and write a little. Pierre Doucet retired here where his wife and children lived. He was apparently not a great farmer, but more interested in hunting and fishing, producing just enough crops to get by.
As trappers cleaned out the beaver from one area after another, the fur trade frontier pushed further and further west into the High Country. By the time I was a child in the 1950s, beaver were unknown along the north shore of Lake Ontario. (They have come back and now populate even the Toronto Islands.) As the fur trade moved west and white settlers moved in from the East, the Métis of the lower Great Lakes drifted north and west to the Prairies, settling into Métis communities in the Red River and westwards. Here they had close relatives, tight family connections that spanned great distances. Yet the Great Lakes Métis settlements like the beaver did not entirely disappear from Ontario. Many Doucets and others married back into native communities or gradually became perceived of as French. There was a great temptation to forget Métis and aboriginal roots, as discrimination became rampant even within the Hudson’s Bay Company and other fur trading companies in the nineteenth century. Opportunities closed and racial prejudice grew as First Nations were forced onto marginal land in reserves. Often native roots were intentionally hidden. Those voyageurs who returned to Quebec with their native wives and Métis children increasingly found that they were not as wanted as they had been in the eighteenth century. In Quebec it became increasingly important to be seen as “pur laine”, the term used to describe a “pure” French Canadian.
However, from the beginnings these communities were not passive people. They were used to standing up and fighting for themselves. In 1696 there was a law suit, for example, between Louis Durand, voyageur and Pierre Moreau, voyageur against Sieur de Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac, Commandant of troops at Michillimakinac, and his wife, Marie-Therese Guyon. Cadillac is usually seen as the founder of Detroit, but those who were also there when the settlement was founded weren’t about to let a noble name and position cheat them of their money.
Make no mistake, the fur trade as about money. The old worn out winter coat that native people traded to Europeans was gold on four legs. To get that gold was hard work. Today we have an idyllic idea of canoeing. It evokes memories of the sound of the loon through the mist on the water, fresh trout frying over a smoky wood fire, the crisp coolness of an Algonquin morning. For the voyageurs it was back-breaking, gut-wrenching hard work. They paddled at a rate of 55 strokes per minute and portaged pieces or bundles of fur weighing 90 pounds each over portages that were often long. (If the voyageurs considered a portage of a mile short, imagine what a long portage could be!) According to Anishnaabe elders I spoke to, native people usually left the canoe behind and walked to the other end of the portage where they either picked up another unused canoe or made one on the spot. Many native people disdained the drudgery of the voyageur’s life although many Mohawk men became voyageurs and trappers. But the Métis did not and Métis communities persisted here in Ontario too.
The Toronto Carrying Place
Another ancient trail, the one from the Humber over the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Simcoe, was the “Toronto Carrying Place”. It was a short cut to Lake Huron and was heavily used by native peoples for thousands of years before the coming of the French and British. The Davenport Trail connected the Carrying Place with Trails along the Don, including the Parliament Street trail. The Carrying Place was the main reason native people settled extensively at the mouth of the Humber. French traders came there as well to trade for furs and to try to monopolize the Carrying Place itself. The European fur-trade economy integrated the native trails of Toronto into itself and they became the basis of many of our modern roads and highways. Before the fur traders, these portages were links in a native trading system based on the exchange of gifts. Etienne Brulé, in 1615 was reputed to be the first European over the Carrying Place.
Humber Bay looks very different from what it did 200 years ago. Over 100 species have been introduced accidentally or intentionally into the Great Lakes in the last 200 years. These exotics are a serious problem. Some native species have disappeared, like bears and wolves, while others are more common, including raccoons and mallard ducks. The sandy uplands around the Humber were logged. Much of the pine and oak went to Britain to build the British navy and merchant vessels that colonized the world. Farmers, especially from the 1840s to 1867, made this a wheat bowl. After that mixed farming, dairying, orchards and market gardens predominanted. Suburbs appeared along with industrialization and ultimately urbanization — with the demand for parks on a shoreline that was fully occupied.
The mouth of the Humber has been the site of fishing for millennia. Native people fished for Atlantic salmon, whitefish, sturgeon (up to two metres long), lake charr, brook charr, pickerel, pike, and other species. There is a popular sports fishery in this area now, but it depends on fish stocking.
In a letter by Peter Russell (1733-1808) to John Gray, Montreal, there is a good description of the Humber River:
About 6 miles to the West of this [the Don River] lies the River Humber–navigable for two miles to the Falls–This River is about 100 yards across–and confined between abrupt and Steep Banks from two to three hundred feet high formed of Sand Hills covered with tall Pines, Hemlock and Cedar, the ridges of which are so narrow in many places as scarcely to admit a foot path–and these Hills, which assume a variety of whimsical Shapes, cover nearly two miles of the Country to the east of this River–The land gradually grows better–and increases in goodness of Soil and Timber until you come to the Town from which it slopes away to fine Meadows… (Firth 1963,18).
French fur traders, like Rousseau and Baby, arrived in the 1700s to trade with the Seneca and, later, the Ojibway. The Europeans trading in southern Ontario mostly used liquor as their medium of exchange. The French traded in brandy; the British in rum. A French trader was probably located near Teiaiagon, the late seventeenth century Seneca village at Bâby Point on the Humber.
About 1720, Sieur Alexandre Douville set up a small trading post, the Magasin Royal, in Toronto. It operated for a decade on the west side of the Humber, north of the Pumping Station. A lot of the trade goods consisted of liquor. British traders at Oswego (Choeguen) competed with Toronto for the native trade. In 1750 the French built a small fort on the east bank of the humber. It had a palisade and four guns. It sat where the Petrocan gas station now. See how we value our historic sites!
In 1751 Fort Rouillé (also known as Fort Toronto) was built near foot of Dufferin Street on what are now the CNE grounds. The annual trade there was worth about 35,0000 livres. The military detachment in 1754 consisted of five men: an officer, five soldiers, two sergeants and a storekeeper. The remains of this fort could be seen well into the nineteenth century, but it was partially eroded with some of it having fallen into the lake. In 1878 the ground was leveled and a monument in the form of a pillar put up to mark the spot. Archeologists have excavated the fort which was actually on the site where the monument marked it. Their report is interesting reading. It is in the Toronto Public Library. During the Seven Years’ War, Fort Rouillé was in danger of falling into British hands. In 1759, according to their emergency plan, the French burnt their fort to the ground so it would not fall to the British.
Jean Baptiste Rousseau, also called St. John, had a trading post on east side of Humber (then called the St. Jean River after him) near the mouth of the Humber. His family had been trading in the area for many years and he was married to the stepdaughter of Joseph Brant. Thus he was well connected. He was important in the local fur trade. All the fur traders trafficked in booze as well as cloth, cast iron pots and pans, muskets, axes, knives, beads, etc. Messrs. Bâby (Bâby Point), one of a famous Montreal family, and a British trader Knaggs bore a reputation for exploiting the Ojibway through trading rum. In 1763 British troops under General Gage captured Knaggs and his supplies.
In 1764 Alexander Henry, well known fur trader, was captured and forced marched over the Toronto Portage:
On the 18th of June we crossed Lake aux Claies [Lake Simcoe], which appeared to be upward of twenty miles in length. At its further end we came to the Carrying-Place of Toronto. Here the Indians obliged me to carry a burden of more than a hundred pounds’ weight. The day was very hot, and the woods and marshes abounded with mosquitoes; but the Indians walked at a quick pace, and I could by no means see myself left behind. The whole country was a thick forest, through which our only road was a foot-path, or such as, in America, is exclusively termed an Indian path. Next morning at ten o’clock we reached the shore of Lake Ontario. Here we were employed two days in making canoes out of the bark of the elm tree, in which we were to transport ourselves to Niagara….On the 21st we embarked at Toronto, and encamped, in the evening, four miles short of Fort Niagara, which the Indians would not approach till morning. (Henry 1807, 179-180.)
The most lucrative exploitation of the Ojibway, was, however, the Toronto Purchase: 250,808 acres sold to the British for 1,700 pounds sterling in cash and goods and a treaty so poorly worded and mapped that it had to be renegotiated years later.
In 1788, Alexander Aitkin surveyed the site of Toronto survey by on the orders of Lord Dorchester, Sir Guy Carleton, Governor General. Later in 1788, Captain Gother Mann also surveyed Toronto. In 1791 August Jones, father of the Mississauga preacher Peter Jones, surveyed the Toronto area once more.
The First Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada was John Graves Simcoe. He had commanded a regiment known as the Queen’s Rangers in the American Revolution. Simcoe arrived in the province during early summer of 1792 with his wife, Elizabeth. He stopped first at Kingston, then went on to Niagara-on-the Lake (then called Newark). The first capital was at Newark until 1794 when Simcoe moved the capital to Toronto. Simcoe re-named his new capital York on August 26, 1793. Ostensibly, the name change was in honour of the truly incompetent “the grand old Duke of York he had ten thousand men, he marched them to the top of the hill and marched them down again…” The Duke had won a minor victory against the French. Simcoe used the victory as an pretext – he wanted to anglesize native place names. He was determined to create an idealized Little Britain here – albeit with American human resources. Who knew it wouldn’t work out that way?
Simcoe began building two main routes that he considered vital to the military and economic interests of Upper Canada. Yonge Street, named after the Minister of War Sir George Yonge, was cut through the woods north-south. It paralleled the old Humber Carrying Place portage trail between the mouth of the Humber on Lake Ontario and Holland Landing at the Holland River into Lake Simcoe. In some places it was built on the old portage route. Soldiers of the Queen’s Rangers began cutting the road in August 1793, reaching Holland Landing in 1796. It was, like the other of Simcoe’s roads Dundas Street, a rough, narrow track. The North West Company reportedly considered making it a major transportation link between Montréal and the western fur country or at least local entrepreneurs in York (now Toronto) hoped they would.
Business in York, Newmarket and elsewhere along Yonge Street stood to gain if Yonge Street became a major route to the Upper Great Lakes and the high country north and west of Superior. The Upper Canada Gazette of York that this would: “benefit this country materially, as it will not only tend to augment the population, but will also enhance the value of landed property.” However, it never worked out. While the North West Company did send a few consignments for the fur trade along Yonge Street over the next ten years, the £12,000 grant to improve the road never materialized. Although the fur trade did use the Yonge Street route a little more during the War of 1812, the company “never formally committed itself to Yonge Street” and never came forward with the cash to make it a good road. Simon McGillivray and the other Montréal merchants who controlled the North West Company preferred the Ottawa River and Detroit routes both because these routes did not involve the long portage that the Toronto route did and because these merchants already had considerable investments at Detroit and along the Ottawa River route (Stamp 1991).
Lake Simcoe and the Fur Trade
The Odawa, Pottawatomi and Mississauga together formed an alliance called the “The Three Fires”. All these peoples are Anishnaabe and speak an Algonkian language. Mi’kmaq is also part of this language group as are Ojibway, Cree and Dene. This family of languages is spoken over a huge expanse of North America, including most of the high country that was the source of the beaver pelts that made the fur trade what it was. The Ojibway or Ojibway (also known as Chippewa) controlled southern Ontario at the time Simcoe arrived at York. They played an important role in the fur trade.
The Potawatomi are close relatives of the Odawa and Ojibwa, all being part of the Algonkian language group. The oral histories of the three nations, in fact, state that they were once one people. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the three groups moved closer together as a result of the predations of the Iroquois and the demands of the fur trade. The Potawatomi, unlike the Ojibwa, lived in villages and these settlements provided safe havens for refugees and migrants. During this time, the three nations formed a loose confederation called the Council of Three Fires…The exact date for the arrival of the Ojibwa in the Simcoe County area is unclear but by 1710 residence around Matchedash Bay is certain. Direct mention of these people is rare in written accounts of the time but we can be certain of their participation in the fur trade with the French forts in southern Ontario. (Innisfil Public Library http://www.innisfil.library.on.ca/)
The Toronto Carrying Place trail terminated at Lake Simcoe, but the fur trade route itself continued past Fox and Snake Islands up Lake Simcoe, past Mara Point (homestead of Edward Doucette) and through the Narrows into Lake Couchiching. Edward Doucette was a voyageur from Drummond Island who moved, with other voyageurs and British military personnel, to Penetanguishene in 1828. As noted earlier, Edward Doucet owned land in Tiny Township, but later moved to Mara Point near the Narrows where Lake Simcoe meets Lake Couchiching. Here, it is believed, Quetton St. George had a fur trading post that attracted families like the Doucets. From Lake Couchiching portages crossed over to the Severn River and down into Georgian Bay. A portage also led overland from Kempenfelt Bay to Georgian Bay (the Penetanguishene Road).
Photo From Osborne, A.C. “The Migration of Voyageurs from Drummond Island To Penetanguishene in 1828.” Ontario Historical Society: Papers and Records. Volume 3, Toronto , 1901, Pages 123-166. A GROUP OF VOYAGEURS (From Photo, taken in 1895) 1.-Lewis Solomon, born on Drummond Island, 1821; died at Victoria Harbor, Ont., March 1900. 2.-John Bussette, born in the Rocky Mountains (near Calgary), 1823. 3.-James Larammee, born on Drummond Island, 1826. 4.-Francis Dusome, born at Fort Garry, Red River, 1820. Osborne, Drummond Island. “Indian Canoe“ At Coldwater near Lake Huron – Sept. 1844 Toronto Reference Library
The naval and military depot was moved in 1818 from the Nottawasaga River to Penetanguishene. Ten years passed during which the Establishment was conducted on a limited scale, and then the place received a sudden expansion by the removal of the military post from Drummond Island thither, the soldiers being followed by a variegated retinue of French and half-breed boatmen, traders and pensioners,- no greater mixture was ever found on any frontier. (Hunter 1909, Vol. II, 127-128.)
The Chippewa of the Lake Simcoe area played an important role in the fur trade as guides but also as suppliers of wild rice, game and fish to the voyageurs. It is believed that the Big Canoe family name may have come from their manufacture of the big Montréal Canoes for the fur trade. The Big Canoe family have been chiefs of the Chippewa of Georgina since the 1800s, following Chief Joseph Snake.
By the 1740s the fur traders had extended the main route of the fur trade to the west end or head of Lake Superior and over several routes to the Winnipeg River and from there to Lake Manitoba and the Red River. The great fur trade brigades from Montréal in their 36-foot canots du maître landed at Grand Portage and the cargo was broken up. Trade goods, bundled still in 90-pound piéces, were loaded into the smaller 25-foot canots du nord. The Grand Rendezvous at Grand Portage was thus an important point for merchants who directed the unloading of the “Big Canoes” and the loading of the smaller canoes. Traders also brought furs here and collected their trade goods and money. Families camped here for weeks at a time. It was the social event of the year for the voyageurs.
The Grand Rendezvous was a trading/commercial market, an economic summit, a fair, and an international event. Deals were made – all kinds of deals, including many marriages that linked the Métis communities of the Great Lakes with those of the Prairies as men and women from the West met men and women from the East. Fighting, loving, trading, mergers, separations all floated on the sea of booze that lubricated the fur trade until the Hudson’s Bay Company swallowed up the North West Company and decide in the 1820s to stop trading liquor. The devastation that cheap alcohol inflicted on native communities was all too apparent by that point. That subsidized alcohol abuse still haunts so many families connected to the fur trade as cultures that had never known how to distill liquor fell apart. Alcohol fogged judgment making people easier to cheat, land easier to steal and older traditions easier to forget while numbing the pain.
The Grand Portage itself was an eight-and-one-half mile long carrying trail that began near Grand Marais and lead to a series of inland lakes and rivers, eventually reaching the Prairies.
Another route led from Kaministiquia, north and east of Grand Portage. Kaministiquia sat behind the Sleeping Giant on the banks of the Kaministiquia or Kam River. Kaministiquia was originally a French post, built in 1685. It seems that Kaministiquia was a focal point from which coureurs des bois spread out throughout the hinterland.
When I lived in Ontario’s North, an old fisherman and “Bush guide” told me of smaller waterfalls where, at the foot of the cascade, he had dived down and picked up trade goods from the bottom: axes, knives, guns, etc. The extremely cold water preserved the metal and other goods. He pointed out places where the voyageurs or coureurs de bois stopped and camped, still good camping places today: on windy points free of black flies but with a sheltered place to land the canoes (Personal communication, thank you to Wally).
The courier de bois or “wood runners” may have gotten as far as Lake Winnipeg. No one is sure just how far they penetrated into the interior. These men were quite different from the voyageurs though they were from the same background. The couriers de bois were independent traders who took to the woods at first in defiance of the French governor at Quebec who tried to compel them to trade through official channels. The couriers de bois went where they wanted at great risk to themselves, but reaped the rewards, trading their furs to whomever they wanted, including the English at Albany and other posts. They were not the good, obedient servants of the bourgeoisie that the voyageurs were to become. La Vérendrye took over the high country fur trade posts or postes du nord in 1728. From 1731 to 1743 as native trappers used up local supplies of good “coat beaver”, the fur trade frontier moved further west and La Vérendrye followed it west beyond Lake Winnipeg. The routes went mainly via Grand Portage using Kaministiquia as a base. Kaministiquia was abandoned in 1758 or 1760 when New France fell to the British. Trade was open again by at least 1767, most likely using the easier Grand Portage near Grand Marais.
In 1804 when the border between the United States and Canada put Grand Portage firmly in Minnesota on the American side of the line, Kaministiquia became the North West Company’s Grand Rendezvous point. The North West Company built Fort William on the site of the old French Fort Kaministiquia. Fort William is now, with Port Arthur, the city of Thunder Bay. From Fort William the route lead up the Kaministiquia or “Kam” River past Mount McKay. It twisted north and west with more than 50 portages on the route and countless black flies. The local joke was that, “If it isn’t snow flies, it is black flies.” The smudges used to counteract the black flies were a leading cause of respiratory ailments and ophthalmic problems among both the native peoples and the voyageurs. This was a more difficult route to west, past the beautiful Kakabekka Falls.The route led to Rat Portage, now known as Kenora. From there it went down the Winnipeg River to Lake Winnipeg, but, of course, there were more portages on the way.
The voyageurs sang while they paddled, as working people do everywhere. Soldiers sing while they marched. Works songs are part of the rhythm of a culture’s life. Music is extremely important and is a big part of Métis tradition. Métis fiddlers still swing out jigs. Dancing jigs is an amazing experience, even just watching makes the feet move irresistibly. Cree and Ojibway fiddlers still play old reels long forgotten in Scotland. Joe Doucette from Ingonish, a distant cousin, is a renowned fiddler. His website is http://www.cranfordpub.com/recordings/J_Doucette.htm
From Lake Winnipeg the traders headed west via the two branches of the Saskatchewan River. Many continued on northwest via the Methye Portage (Portage La Loche) to Lake Athabasca and other portages to new trapping territories. As the fur trade depleted beaver stocks and wiped out beaver from area after area, the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company had to drive routes further and further into the interior. Finally, in the nineteenth century, the Hudson’s Bay Company introduced rules and regulations to foster sustainable trapping.
Part 4: Birth of the Métis Nation
In New France and Acadie, children did not think of themselves as anything but member’s of their parents’ ethnic group. If their fathers were native, they usually considered themselves and were considered native, as members of the Nations or “L’nu”, as Mi’kmaq people refer to themselves. If their father was French, they usually considered themselves as Acadien or French. The native communities did not think in terms of race per se, but more in terms of clan and family. The boundaries were fluid, as far as the Doucet lineage is concerned. As Donovan noted, the Doucettes of Ingonish are part of a continuum of habitation that goes back some ten thousand years. Those who had parents from the Mi’kmaq and from the French had tough choices to make or, in many cases, choices were made for them. Some chose to be part of the Acadian community; some chose to be First Nations; many moved easily between the two communities. Ingonish, however, was certainly one of the distinct Métis communities in Nova Scotia as was Little Bras D’Or. Families of mixed race like the Doucettes and LeJeunes have long existed there and not much research has been done our lives. There is so much that could be done to research our history from the grassroots up and I encourage people to make their story their own in every way possible: first by listening to our elders with their stories, then by research and documenting them wherever possible, and finally by retelling them so that future generations will have the legacy.
From Metis Nation of Ontario, Region 4.
Distinct Métis communities developed at key portages and rendezvous places along the fur trade routes in the Great Lakes and westwards. When the beaver was virtually wiped out through over trapping, many Métis from these Great Lakes communities moved west to the Red and Assiniboine Valleys. Pressure from the immigration of Loyalist settlers in Ontario and others Euro-American migrants also pushed Métis people west and north. From early on, as we can see with the Doucette/Dissett family of Lake Simcoe, voyageur families from the Great Lakes intermarried with those of the West. Close family ties led people to the Prairies where intermarriage with First Nations of the Prairies created a new people – the Métis Nation of the West. The Métis of the Prairies played a vital role in the expansion of the fur trade across the West, but not necessarily as trappers or as voyageurs. Instead they provided pemmican, the vital food that sustained much of the fur trade as it expanded beyond the Great Lakes. Pemmican is made up of dried meat, fat (lard) and berries. It is light, very high in calories, nutritious and does not require refrigeration. So it was perfect food for long canoe trips.
There is an intense controversy ongoing about Métis identity. Recent court cases recognizing the special status of Métis people have helped fuel the controversy. On April 16, 2o16 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that that the Government of Canada’s government’s duties and responsibilities apply to all three of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples including the Métis.
I am in danger of over-simplifying complex questions of historical identity and rights, but will try to at least make the bare bones of the problem clear. Some argue that in Ontario, historic Métis settlements emerged along the rivers and watersheds of the province, surrounding the Great Lakes and throughout to the northwest of Ontario. My research and understanding certainly supports this in every way. The argument continues from the premise that Métis communities have existed and still exist here and that these settlements formed and form regional Métis communities in Ontario that are an indivisible part of the larger Métis Nation. Following from this, the conclusion is that these communities are, therefore, entitled to Aboriginal rights.
However, others disagree, contending that it was only in the mid-1850s that these people of mixed ancestry began to consider themselves a separate ethnic group, different from the First Nations, French Canada (Quebec and Acadie), Anglophones and Scots. (Many of the traders who controlled the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company were Scots and had numerous offspring of mixed native and white descent.) Therefore, this argument goes, since there were no Métis communities in eastern Canada, no one can claim Métis rights here.
The Supreme Court decision of April 16, 2016 recognized that Métis communities did exist from early on in Nova Scotia.
There is no consensus on who is considered Métis or a non-status Indian, nor need there be. Cultural and ethnic labels do not lend themselves to neat boundaries. ‘Métis’ can refer to the historic Métis community in Manitoba’s Red River Settlement or it can be used as a general term for anyone with mixed European and Aboriginal heritage. Some mixed-ancestry communities identify as Métis, others as Indian:
There is no one exclusive Metis People in Canada, anymore than there is no one exclusive Indian people in Canada. The Metis of eastern Canada and northern Canada are as distinct from Red River Metis as any two peoples can be. . . . As early as 1650, a distinct Metis community developed in LeHeve [sic], Nova Scotia, separate from Acadians and Micmac Indians. All Metis are aboriginal people. All have Indian ancestry.
(R. E. Gaffney, G. P. Gould and A. J. Semple, Broken Promises: The Aboriginal Constitutional Conferences(1984), at p. 62, quoted in Catherine Bell, “Who are the Metis People in Section 35(2)?” (1991), 29 Alta. L. Rev. 351, at p. 356.)
The full decision is available on line at:
In reaching its decision, Justice Abella speaking for a unanimous court stated: “The history of Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples, inequities are increasingly revealed and remedies urgently sought…This case represents another chapter in the pursuit of reconciliation and redress in that relationship.” The judgment clearly “recognized that Métis and non-status Indians have no one to hold accountable for the inadequate status quo”. The court concluded that Canada has a constitutional and jurisdictional responsibility for Métis under s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.
From The Metis Nation website at: http://www.metisnation.ca/index.php/news/supreme-court-of-canada-affirms-canada-has-a-constitutional-and-jurisdictional-responsibility-to-deal-with-the-metis-nation
Fur Trade Contracts: Throwing light on roots
People turn to genealogy to substantiate their claims to Métis status, a quest that I am very sympathetic with as I know from personal experience how difficult tracing ancestry can be. Many people were illiterate and did not keep records, write letters, keep journals or leave auto-biographies behind. Marriages were often in the “country fashion” with no official recognition, no record in a parish register and no marriage licenses. People were buried along the fur trade routes without benefit of clergy with no headstones marking where they lie. Some cemeteries like the “French” graveyard in Ingonish lie unmarked. Moreover, people of little status or wealth were often ignored by the record keepers of their time. What records that did exist disappeared in fires, flood and through negligence. Furthermore, records from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are not unbiased or outside of history and often reflect blatantly racist and sexist attitudes. It takes skill, patience and forebearance to plough through some of these archives. Hence, very little is known about the genealogy of Métis peoples.
To rectify this, Dr. Nicole St-Onge of the University of Ottawa’s Department of History, set up a project to map out the ancestral lines of Métis people. Fortunately, the different companies that contracted voyageurs and other employees did negotiate agreements or contracts and these were notarized in Montréal. Those who could read and write signed their names; those who could not put their mark or X on the contract and the fact that they were illiterate was noted in the contract. This protected them from being cheated out of their due wages. The notaries kept these contracts and now they are a gold mine of information for those interested in the fur trade and/or the genealogy of the voyageurs. They are a very valuable primary source where few exist (Centre du Patrimoine, Voyageur Database).
Detroit historian Clarence Burton collected thousands of contracts and agreements, dating from 1680 to 1760. These contain the names of the early voyageurs, where they lived, their occupations, times and terms of employment, etc. Often these contracts show the values of services and commodities and the volume of the trade. The full text of Clarence Burton’s The city of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922 (Vol 1, published 1922 by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company) is available on line at https://archive.org/details/cityofdetroitmic01burt
Suzanne Godbout’s article A Trip Back in Time with the Voyageurs (University of Ottawa Research Perspectives, Fall Issue – November 2006) describes how Dr. Nicole St. Onge and Robert Englebert set up a database with the assistance of two master’s students and four undergraduates. Their database brings together the information from over 35,000 notarized contracts from 1755 to 1870. These contracts were for voyageurs working from Montréal to Trois-Rivières corridor. Godbout reports that, “Most of these contracts (32,590) are part of existing databases; the team’s work involved restoring and merging this information. In addition to collecting the often illegible info on the contracts, the team photographed microfilm in order to provide the most exhaustive record possible.” (Godbout 2006)
If you are researching your origins, you may be lucky to find images: photographs, paintings, drawings, etc. Some of these may be family photos, but some, like the magical paintings of Frances Anne Hopkins, may speak of larger worlds and longer travels. Images are a powerful testament to the lives of people who may have left little written record. However, images have to be looked at critically. In almost all cases of images of voyageurs and Métis people, the artists were outsiders to the culture, language and lives of the people they depicted. All too often they often had little understanding of what they saw and tried to depict and sometimes even less sympathy. Like written records, they may contain exaggeration, half-truth or no truth at all. Often they are inherently racist. Like any part of the cumulative historical record, including primary and secondary sources, images must be “handled with care”. However, these records are still fascinating and invaluable.
CONCLUSION: THE EXPLORERS: GOING BOLDLY…
The names and biographies of many so-called explorers are well known to many Canadians, although history does not received the same attention in schools that it used to. Many Canadians know that Cabot, Cartier, Champlain and a few others were important even though they may not be able to tell much about them. However, the Métis men and women who did the hard work and who guided the explorers are forgotten. It is sometimes joked that the “explorers” were not so much exploring as being taken on guided tours. This contains more than a kernel of truth. Without the Métis voyageurs there would have been no voyages; without the women who negotiated with strangers, the “explorers” would have had to turn back — or worse.
Charles Doucet and Pierre Doucet, their wives and the other voyageurs crewed the explorer’s canoes, cooked their meals, carried their loads and bushwhacked their way across North America. They were highly skilled. Both Charles and Pierre had been in the position of l’avant at the bow and le gourvernail at the stern, working together to steer the canoes through rapids.
Les membres de l’équipage ont un rôle distinct selon l’endroit où ils sont assis dans le canot. L’avant (le rameur de proue, ou voyageur à la tête du canot) est assis à la poupe du canot et agit à titre de navigateur et de guide. Le gouvernail ou timonier, est assis ou debout à la poupe (arrière) du canot et dirige l’embarcation selon les instructions de l’avant. Le milieu est assis et pagaie. Les milieux sont les membres de l’équipage les moins expérimentés et, après avoir maîtrisé la technique, peuvent aspirer au poste de timonier. En raison de l’habileté et de l’expérience nécessaires, l’avant et le gouvernail sont payés deux fois plus que les milieux. Un conducteur, ou pilote, auquel tous doivent obéir, est désigné pour un groupe de 4 à 6 canots. (Hudson’s Bay Company. Notre histoire: Transport et technologie: Le canot. Available on line at http://www.patrimoinehbc.ca/hbcheritage/history/transportation/canoe/accueil)
Often the explorers looked down with contempt upon the men who worked for them. These upper class and upper middle class Britons (mostly Scots) had little in common with the French Canadian voyageurs and even less with the Métis of the fur trade and the First Nations trappers whose beaver pelts were the basis of the industry. The great men of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company only rarely mentioned the names of the men who they lived with every day. In the nineteenth century the Hudson’s Bay Company tightened its rules and regulations in such a way as to keep First Nations men and women at the very bottom and only allow Métis people to rise so high before they hit what could be called a plaid or tartan ceiling. The wives who accompanied their voyageur husbands on the long trips into the “unknown” are completely nameless in the explorer’s records. Only an occasional aside lets us know that these women were even on the journey, paddling their own canoes (often with their children), alongside the North canoes.
(Hudson’s Bay Company. Notre histoire: Transport et technologie: Le canot. Available on line at http://www.patrimoinehbc.ca/hbcheritage/history/transportation/canoe/accueil)
Journal of a Voyage.
June, 1789. Wednesday, 3. “We embarked at nine in the morning at Fort Chipewyan, on the south side of the Lake of the Hills . . . . in a canoe made of birch-bark.” (Alexander Mackenzie, Bryce, The Makers of Canada 1910)
To make a successful voyage in the wilds of the far north the great requisite is a reliable crew and a good band of followers. Hearne had found this out. Mackenzie himself knew it well from his half-dozen years of western exploration and trade. He had secured a guide, the “English chief,” who was a true successor of Matonnabee, Hearne’s famous guide. The “English chief” had often made the journey from Lake Athabaska to Hudson Bay to trade with the English company, and had thus gained his name. With his two wives and two young Indians in one canoe, and his followers and slaves to act as interpreters and food providers in another, the chief accompanied the “Kitehe Okema“—Mackenzie.
Mackenzie led the way in his own canoe, accompanied by four French-Canadians, two of them having their wives, and a steady young German named John Steinbruck. His four Canadians deserve mention. They were Francois Barricau, Charles Ducette, Joseph Landry, and Pierre De Lorme (Bryce, The Makers of Canada 1910)
Mackenzie did not hold his voyageurs in high esteem:
Alexander Mackenzie … reported that ten to twelve French freemen are settled at Sault Ste Marie with their Indian women and Metis families.
Alexander Mackenzie … didn’t like the Indians or Metis and considered himself vastly superior to them. He made no efforts to understand their cultures. It is, however, noteworthy that he used two women to assist in paddling his canoes.
Other Freeman Metis colonies established at this time are: Grand Pointe, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, (Wisconsin), Red Lake, and St. Paul, (Minnesota) and Red River, (North West Territories), all of which are under Canada control.
…Alexander Mackenzie … in happy ignorance, resolved to follow Peter Pond (1740-1807) on an alleged six day trek down the great river of the Athabasca to visit the Inuit and to discover what he thought would be the Pacific Ocean. Leroux went with MacKenzie to Cook’s Inlet. Leroux wintered at Slave Lake. It is noteworthy that the expedition down the Mackenzie River included the voyager wives and children.
Alexander Mackenzie … sired two Metis children: Maria Mackenzie Metis, who married Robert Munro- a Scot, and Andrew Mackenzie Metis who died at Fort Vermilion March 1, 1809.
Alexander Mackenzie … at age forty eight, married 1812 Geddes Nee a 14 year old Scot. His attitude towards the Metis women changed for the worse, probably as a result of the influence of his new wife. His contempt for the Metis would grow over time. He noted the Algonquin from the country between Red River and Lake Superior are frequenting trading posts around Lake Winnipeg in the 1789-90 winter seasons, not being fixed habitants.
Thomas (John) Thomas, born 1766 St. Andrews, Holborn, London, arrived at Hudson Bay in 1789 and worked York Factory until 1793, then went inland for two years. He then became the Master of Severn House in 1796. What is rather strange is on his Arctic expedition he took two wives of the voyagers who must have been qualified as crew members (Garneau, Metis History Index 1750-1799).
In 1793, by canoe and on foot, Alexander Mackenzie crossed the Rocky Mountains and the Coast Range, reaching the Pacific Ocean on July 22. It is claimed that he was the first man to cross North America north of Mexico and he probably was the first white man. He recorded his arrival at the Pacific on a rock near Bella Coola, British Columbia. Charles Doucet was there.
Voyageurs en canot Joseph Landry, Charles Ducette, François Beaulieux, Baptiste Bisson, François Courtois et Jacques Beauchamp, tous de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest, comptent parmi les pionniers de la C.-B. Le 9 mai 1793, ces six voyageurs canadiens-français et deux Amérindiens accompagnaient le commandant écossais, Alexander Mackenzie et le deuxième en charge, Alexander McKay, sur la rive de la Peace River au nord-ouest de ce qui est maintenant l’Alberta. Les dix hommes, dans leur canot de 25 pieds de long et 3000 livres de “cargo”, allaient franchir les montagnes Rocheuses pour ensuite trouver une voie jusqu’à l’océan Pacifique. Ils arrivèrent à Bella Coola, sur la Côte du Pacifique, le 22 juillet 1793. (Bryce c. 1911, 63)
It is inconceivable to me that North America had not already been crossed, many times, by members of various First Nations. Often, in history books, “first man” means “first white man” or “first man that we know of” or even “first man deemed important enough to mention.”
Simon Fraser was a Scottish fur trader and an explorer who charted much of what is now Britsh Columbia. Fraser was employed by the North West Company. By 1805, he was in charge of all their operations west of the Rockies. He was responsible for building that area’s first trading posts, and, in 1808, he explored what is now known as the Fraser River. Fraser’s exploratory efforts were partly responsible for Canada’s boundary later being set at the 49th parallel, since he as a British subject was the first European to establish permanent settlements in the area. According to historian Alexander Begg, Fraser “was offered a knighthood but declined the title due to his limited wealth”(Garneau,http://www.telusplanet.net/public/dgarneau/). With him were 24 men, 19 of whom were voyageurs. He recorded some of the names of his crew: La Chapelle, D’Alaire, La Certe, Jean Baptiste Boucher, Bourbone’, Gagnier, La Garde, Baptiste Proveau and clerk, Jules Maurice Quesnel. Pierre Doucet is said to have taken part in this trip.
Charles and Pierre Doucet left wives and children when they passed away. Those children had children and they had descendants who are alive today. Doucets and Doucettes are Métis scattered all along the routes of the voyageurs.
While the Métis Nation of the Prairies grew and flourished, the Métis settlements of the Great Lakes did not disappear. These communities were born of the fur trade and depended almost entirely on the fur trade. In time relentless trapping almost extirpated the beaver in Southern Ontario and Michigan. At the same time white settlers moved in, forcing native peoples off their lands. Many Métis people were absorbed into local First Nations. Some went to Quebec where their descendants often passed as “pur laine”, the term used to describe a “pure” French Canadian. Many went west to be absorbed into the Métis communities of the Prairies where many relatives already lived. Some stayed where they were in Ontario and continued as Métis communities. Some, like my ancestors, went back to Cape Breton where we have always been seen as the “Indian Doucettes” by our neighbours. Many in Ingonish are now proud to call themselves Métis.
The Lies I learned in School vs. The Truths That I Learned the Hard Way
|Empty country||Emptied country|
|Gradual change||A world turned upside down|
|Superiority of the British /Anglo-Saxon race||Racism|
|Military superiority (Plains of Abraham, Batoche)||Two solitudes|
|Two founding peoples||Many founding nations|
So we return to the old question, “Who are your people?” I hope I have made it clear that family connections are like roots. A family is like a tree spreading down and spreading up with a solid main trunk, many branches and twigs and many roots and rootlets. The living generation is the trunk of that tree and that tree still lives even though many branches may be split and some broken. This family tree knows racism, exclusion, poverty and violence. But it still solid, still growing. Many Doucets and many descendants of the voyageurs are Métis. We are asking questions that, up to now, historians have not even considered. With the development of the Internet, electronic communications and accessible sources on line, people are writing their own history and asking questions like I my own.
Am I then Mi’kmaq? No, definitely not, though related.
Am I then French? No, definitely not, my family hasn’t spoken French for generations.
White? What is that anyways? A piece of paper is white. Human beings are brown and pink and all kinds of lovely colours and why does it matter so much anyway?
Race? What is race? There is only one race. The human race. There is only one blood and it is red. Resist, resist, resist the little boxes.
Am I then Métis? What is Métis? It is said that there are no Métis in Nova Scotia since there were, it is claimed, no Métis communities and no culture. The Supreme Court has answered this question firmly and decisively.
Unquestionably some of my relatives became Métis by moving to the Great Lakes basin and intermarrying with First Nations and Métis people there and further west on the Prairies. Some of my relatives were Métis in Ontario and Michigan. But my direct ancestors, despite their travels and participation in the fur trade, went back to Cape Breton. I am still asking questions, but it is clear to me that Ingonish was a Métis community and so I claim my Métis heritage with pride.
Thank you for going with me up the Humber to the West to discover more about my Métis voyageurs. I hope you can see how it is true that, while the Doucettes did discover Canada for themselves, before that many generations of First Nations had fully occupied this land, crossing it with trading routes, on foot and by canoe.
My English mother always said that before the others came, “There was a Doucette on the shore to greet them.” My father told me the stories passed down to him, including the massacre at Ingonish. My grandfather, Thomas Leo Doucette, told me that all the explorers would not have survived their first winter if the Mi’kmaq had not taught them about the country and gave them cedar tea to cure their scury. I look into my own face in the mirror and see that heritage written there.
I went to university and studied history because I wanted to know if the stories were true. Now, forty years later, I am sure they are. I’m even more sure that History is not the perogative of the few, the university-educated, the highly privileged. We need to tell our own stories for ourselves. I leave you with this question, “Who are your people?”
All my relations.
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Links to Related Websites (please note that neither http://www.leslievillehistory.com nor Joanne Doucette endorses or is responsible for the content linked on these external sites.)
Some Mi’kmaq Sites
To Honour: A List of Those Doucets and Doucettes from Cape Breton who served in World War II
Pte. Alfred Doucet __ RCASC __ Inverness
Pte. Alphonse Dedier Doucet __ __ Grand Etang Wounded
LAC Arthur Doucet __ RCAF __ Grand Etang
Cpl. C. Doucet __ RCAF __ Grand Etang
L/Sgt. C.A. Doucet __ __ Inverness
LAC C.J. Doucet __ RCAF __ Sydney
LAC Charles N. Doucet __ RCAF __ Inverness
Pte. E. Doucet __ __ Grand Etang
Cpl. F.J. Doucet __ RCAF __ Sydney
LAC Ferdinand Doucet __ RCAF __ Grand Etang
Pte. Henry J. Doucet __ __ Sydney
Cpl. John J. (Dukes) Doucet __ __ Sydney
Spr. John Thomas Doucet __ RCE __ Belle Cote Wounded
LAC Joseph Louis (Joe) Doucet __ RCAF __ Grand Etang
L/Cpl. Louis M. Doucet __ NthNSHighrs __ Friar’s Head
Matthew Doucet __ RCAF __ Sydney
Sto. PO Patrick Henry Doucet __ RCN __ Belle Cote
Gnr. Paul Angus Doucet __ RCA __ Inverness
LAC Philias (Phil) Doucet __ RCAF __ Grand Etang
Sgt. William Joseph (Willie Joe) Doucet __ Army __ Inverness
Pte. A.P. Doucette __ __ Glace Bay
Amedee Doucette __ __ Cheticamp
L/Cpl. Bernard Joseph Doucette __ CProC __ New Waterford Wounded
Pte. Charles Doucette __ NthNSHighrs __ Membertou Killed in Action
Spr. Earl V. Doucette __ RCE __ Glace Bay
Pte. Frances Margaret (Honey) Doucette __ CWAC __ New Waterford
Cpl. H.F. Doucette __ __ North Sydney
Pte. Harold Bernard Doucette __ __ Glace Bay Wounded
Harry J. Doucette __ __ Cheticamp
J.B. Doucette __ __ New Waterford
F/O James Gordon Doucette __ RCAF __ Ingonish Beach
Jimmy Y. Doucette __ RCN __ Cheticamp
Spr. Joe Doucette __ RCE __ Glace Bay
Joe Doucette __ __ Membertou
Spr. John Doucette __ RCE __ Glace Bay
Pte. John R. (Buddy) Doucette __ CBHighrs __ New Waterford
Pte. Joseph Francis Doucette __ __ Ingonish Beach
Gnr. Joseph K. Doucette __ RCA __ Ingonish Beach Killed in Action
Pte. Keats Leo Doucette __ __ Ingonish Beach
CSM L.H. Doucette __ WestNSR __ Glace Bay
Pte. Lee Doucette __ CBHighrs __ Glace Bay
Leo Doucette __ __ Glace Bay
Pte. Leonard J. Doucette __ __ North Sydney
Pte. Levi Doucette __ __ Glace Bay
Pte. Mary Doucette __ CWAC __ New Waterford
Cpl. R.M. Doucette __ RCAF __ Sydney
Thomas Doucette __ WestNSR __ Glace Bay
Pte. Thomas Vincent Doucette __ RCR __ Ingonish Beach Wounded
Victor Doucette __ __ Glace Bay
Wilfred Y. Doucette __ RCN __ Cheticamp
Pte. William A. Doucette __ RCOC __ Glace Bay