|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
|Contact:Michel Lopez |
My return home actually went so fast as to make me feel dizzy. Fresh horses were hitched up to the wagon every so often and we were at Woody Mountain before nightfall of the second day. There had been almost one-hundred miles to cover and towards the middle of December the days are quite short.
So there I was again in my winter camp in my little cabin. In the radius of a few miles there were about sixty families. They were all French -Canadians Metis, the majority of whom hailed from Pembina and the other from Cheval Blanc (White Horse) or the mission of St. Francis Xavier. I believe that there were about two-hundred Metis families living out on the prairie at that time, hunting the buffalo in the summer and winter. During the warm weather they were all encamped together in the tents in a big village. By mid October they had chosen a good location for the winter camp, a valley where there was a supply of firewood and water and good grazing land, all of which was not far from the buffalo herds. It is customarily a little before All Souls Day where they settle down in the winter camp. Each family has a log cabin with a door and a tarp, and a chimney where they spend the winter relatively comfortably. When they have a priest visiting, they organize the building of a house and chapel. They take great care of the missionaries and they are very respectful, very obedient and generous to them.
As soon as their cabins are finished, the men and boys set out on sleds made for the buffalo hunt. Depending on how far the herds were, they would return with loads of meats and hides.
The elderly, the women and children stayed at home. The old men and young boys chopped firewood, the women were in charge of the housework and the kitchen and scraped the buffalo hides. The tanning of the hides was a very laborious chore and took a long time.
My ministry was that of a priest in his parish, above all else entailing catechism. One winter, I had more than twenty children in class.
My people were very faithful and during the four years which I spent with them there were at most two or three complications among them. When I first arrived at Woody Mountain there was a lot of drinking going on, but it was going on far away from camp and I never heard anyone speak about it.
The second year (1871-1872) there was very little drinking among the people wintering there and the two other years (1872-1873,1873-1874) one could almost say there was not at all. In any case I can't remember now having seen a man drunk during those years I spent among these good Metis people.
I gave sacrament of first communion to a good number of children and young people. During the high holidays almost everyone came to confession and attended mass every morning. The last three years I said mass every day. There were good singer among them (les Bergers).
I also baptized many babies. One year, if my memory serves me correctly, I baptized more than one-hundred children. I put their names in the baptismal registry at Qu'Appelle when I went there to enjoy life in the community during a few months in the summer.
It was also to the mission of Qu'Appelle that I brought the tithings of the Metis. Nothing but horses and buffalo robes! Any money I brought to dear Father Decorby. When I came to Qu'Appelle he only had a miserable little pony. When I left he had a very nice herd of horses at the mission and everything there was quite fixed up.
Having learned that Monsignor Tache wanted to finish the interior of the cathedral I sent him one-hundred piaster worth of buffalo robes for my contribution.
The first winter I spent at Woody Mountain (1870-1871) was very harsh. The buffalo were far away and few in number. Many Indians died of starvation. The Meis did not exactly have food in the great abundance, but they did not go hungry and neither did missionary.
In the spring, near the end of March, our Metis set up their tents and set out for the hunt. The Metis traders set out with there bundles
of fur for Winnipeg, toward the middle of the month of April.
In the Spring of 1871, I accompanied these traders to Winnipeg. I spent a couple of weeks at St. Boniface and returned to Qu'Appelle where I stayed six or seven weeks before returning to Woody Mountain.
I wintered with the Metis three years at Woody Mountain, but each winter it was in a different place. One time it was in the south near Cypress Mountain near a river whose name I have forgotten.
During the summer of 1871 and 1872 I visited St.Boniface and returned to Qu'Appelle every year where I spent a couple of month with dear Father Decorby.
I spent most of my years as a missionary with the Metis at St.Boniface, St.Norbert, on the prairie, and at St.Albert. I was happy to give them the word of the gospel. This was an exemplary people, full of faith, civility, honesty, gentleness, courage in the face of adversity, and who trusted in the will of God. They had great respect and generosity for the priest and for the Church. Among these Metis, it would seem that buffalo hunters were the best. It was a great sorrow for me when I had to leave them and go on to St.Albert. (August of 1874)
In the winter I stayed in the big village so that I could administer the Sacraments. One winter I gave catechism to a class of twenty or more children. Once or twice I also visited the smaller village.
There were almost always about forty families wintering there.
In the warm weather our Metis came together, camped in a big circle and every evening the wagons and the carts were put in a big circle with tents right next to them. It was really quite a sight. At night the horses were put in the middle of the circle and three or four men kept guard. Sometimes there were as many as three or four hundred carriages and seven or eight hundred horses. In the evening, before rounding up the horses, we would all gather in the middle of the circle for prayers, after discussing the pressing matter of the day. In the morning, there was another gathering at the entrance to my tent and I would say mass. I said mass almost every day of the yea4 and there were many people in attendance.
It was at the beginning of the month of August when I learned that I was to sent to St.Albert and I left Mount Cypress where the big encampment of Metis was located. Although I myself had requested this transfer from our superior general, I could not say good-bye to these gentle people without it pulling at my heart. These nice people had shown me so much kindness and affection, respect and perfect obedience and heaped so many gifts upon me.
What has become of them after my departure? They stayed three or four years on the prairie where they were visited only rarely by Father St.Germain. When the buffalo finally disappeared for good these gentle Metis people went to Turtle Mountain, some to Qu'Appelle and others to Batoche, a few went to Mount Cypress.
I left Mount Cypress around the 19th of August, 1873 and checked in at Qu'Appelle. About half way on the journey form Mount Cypress to Qu'Appelle I encountered the first detachment of Mounted Police who were passing through the country to establish the town of Macleod. I was greeted by the officers jColonel French and Colonel Macleod and had dinner with them during which I was able to give them some information.
My arrival at Qu'Appelle on the 2nd of September I was happy to meet not one , but two brothers, Father Hugonard was the new companion of Father Decorby.
Like Mr. Grandin, my new vicar urged me to go on to St.Albert and I only spent a few days at Qu'Appelle. The good Father Decorby to whom I gave all that I had brought back from the prairie gave me all that was necessary for my trip! Three horses, two carriages, provisions and a good guide to Carlton with a nice tent.
I left Qu'Appelle near the beginning of September (the fourth) and I must have gotten to St.Laurent near the fifteenth of the month.
I had the pleasure to meet there a compatriot, Father Andre and to make the acquaintance of the most worthy Brother Boeves(?). This
good Brother was to accompany me to St.Albert with a certain Frenchman (Henri Lambert) whom Monsignor had left there before his return .
to France. Brother Bowes (?) had started building an alter for Father Andre and could not leave until it was finished. We were able to leave around the end of the month.
We had a most enjoyable journey together. We had nice weather and no accidents to speak of .
Only at the Sturgeon River did we have to make a ford because the water was so high and Brother Bowes had to swim across the river to connect the cable.
We arrived at the St.Albert bridge on the eleventh of October. Unfortunately the water was so high that it had washed out the bridge that we were to cross and we had to ford the river which was most difficult as there was thick and sticky mid on the bottom of the river. We were able to make it through, thanks to our horses.
While we were crossing the Sturgeon River one of us noticed the missions where all of the Fathers and Brothers had gathered to greet us in osculo sancto and gave us a welcoming embrace.
Monsignor Grandin himself wanted to be there at our arrival to greet us and his benediction.
What a change for me! For four years I had lived alone, far away from my fellow priests and here I was all of a sudden in a very large community. There were at that moment at St.Albert, beside the bishop, seven or eight priests. Fathers Fourmond, Scollen, Doucet, Dupin, Chapeliere, Brunet. Touze (novices) and Paquet (student).
And the Brothers Lalican, Perreard, Bowes, Piquet, Leriche, Boone, Letourneur (four novices).
Monsignor gave me a very warm reception in his friendly and paternal manner and showed me the cathedral and rectory, the convent and school. The day after my arrival he appointed me Father Superior of the house and mas5ter of the novices. There were three or four Fathers and possibly as many Brothers in the novitiate.
So here I was with a new position! Although I did not have the title of vicar, I was still able to fulfill almost all functions. Outside of the administration of the house and care of the novitiate, I listened to the confessions of the Sisters, and inspected the school from time to item. As long as Monsignor was there, everything seemed to run smoothly. It was so good for me and I felt so comfortable with him!. We go along so well.
Soon after my arrival it was also necessary to say mass at Fort Saskatchewan at on of the MM (?) Lamoureux, Joseph or Frank. In these tow places there was quite a turnout for mass. We always went to Fort Saskatchewan by carriage.
Sometimes I also went to say mass out on the Assiniboine Prairie at the lodge of an Indian.
My first winter St.Albert was quite sad due to the death of many a horned beast. The summer and winter had not been very favorable to the animal breeders and they were not able to do much haying and the little hay that they were able to cut was of a very poor quality. All of the inhabitants there lost some animals. The mission lost about twelve, I believe.
Before my arrival at the Mission of St. Albert the wheat had still not been sown. I was assured that the wheat would not ripen in this country. By and by the wheat was sown and it did not ripen.
Despite these less than encouraging claims, I promised to try it myself, as soon as it was spring, if I could find seed. That was important.
The buffalo would soon disappear, I knew this by experience.
What shall we eat if we do not harvest wheat? Wheat at Winnipeg was selling for twenty piastes for one-hundred livres and in Edmonton barley flour was selling for ten piastre.
I believe that it was in the winter of 1876 that Monsignor gave MM Majeau (Brothers) and Harnois the task of making a bridge on the Sturgeon River, in front of the cathedral, for the sum of four thousand piastres ($1300). For many years it had been a toll bridge. A few years ago the government purchased the bridge and there was no longer a toll to pay.
After having found some wheat seed, I began to sow it in the spring. This wheat was almost ripe by the autumn. Far from this discouraging me, I decided to plant more in the spring of 1875 with much more confidence so that the field was much larger by the summer of 1875. I had sewn many barrels of seed the field had the appearance of giving a bountiful harvest when on the 30th of July, 1876 a hailstorm ravaged the countryside about 4:40 p.m. and flattened all the fields within a vicinity of twenty and twenty-five miles.
Wheat, barley, potatoes, hay, everything was destroyed.
All of the wild ducks which had been nesting near our lakes and rivers were killed. Countless windows were shattered.
What a catastrophe! In the winter of 1874-1875 there had been an astronomical mortality rate among the livestock and in the summer of 1876 the destruction of the entire harvest!
There was only one hope left for our poor Metis. There were still buffalo left in the country and hunting and fishing was the salvation of the people.
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