Photo: Students at Land O'Lakes PS learn about the beaver fur trade
The Railway Heritage Park in Sharbot Lake was the setting for three days of intercultural festivities celebrating life in the area during the time of the War of 1812. The celebration, tilted "Living Our History-Together" was a project of the Northern Connections Adult Learning Centre, which was made possible through a grant from the Eastern Ontario Development Program through the Frontenac CFDC.
The event included heritage displays and activities put on by members of the Pioneer Gathering, a group of re-enactors who depict Canadian pioneer life, and members the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation.
Opening ceremonies took place on the evening of June 21 and included a procession of all the presenters, a musket volley, a bagpiper, traditional Aboriginal drumming and dancing, welcomes and prayers by Chief Doreen Davis and an address by pioneer re-enactor Mike Procter. The following day was dedicated to students from local area schools. They rotated through a number of Aboriginal and pioneer activities and educational displays where they learned first hand about the vast history of both pioneers and Aboriginal people in the area.
I visited with one group who were learning the ins and outs of the beaver trade from re-enactor James Dobson, who played the role of a factor at a typical trading post. He spoke to students about the beaver trade during that time, showing them the soft underfur of the beaver that was used to make felt beaver hats that were sold all over Europe. Dobson explained the process of trapping the beavers, then skinning them and plunging the skin into a mixture of boiling water, mercury sulphate and nitric acid. This broke down the waterproof carotene coating on the fur, enabling it to be made into felt.
Gordon Chisamore of Brockville was dressed as an artillery gunner from the War of 1812 and he greeted the students and marched them to their rotation sites throughout the day. Bob Miller and Ray Fletcher had a booth displaying a wide range of flintlock pistols, rifles and muskets along and an impressive collection of cow horn containers (the Tupperware of the day), and other metal implements, all hand made by Miller.
They demonstrated how to load the rifles using pre-packed paper cartridges, which the shooter had to tear with his teeth before emptying them into the barrel. Miller explained and demonstrated how the flintlock ignites a spark, which then explodes the powder inside the gun.
Meanwhile sitting outside a traditional teepee, Danka Brewer of the Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation taught students the Seven Grandfather Teachings: love, respect, courage, humility, honesty, wisdom and truth, which are the foundations for native spirituality. “Through these teachings we are striving to demonstrate and share native teachings and behavior codes to students, which can help them develop self esteem while learning about our culture," Danka explained. At the end of her teaching she handed out rocks written with one of each of the teachings and teachers were invited to continue the learning in the classroom.
Chief Doreen Davis, who greeted each busload of students as they arrived, said the purpose of the event was to show visitors that the First Nations shared their knowledge of the land with the early settlers.
“Part of the aim here to day is to show visitors how we and the pioneers worked together in unity to survive and live on the land and how they needed our help and how we shared with one other in order to do that.”
Mike Procter, who leads the Pioneer Group, said he had a similar aim. “Our group's aim is to show visitors how the early settlers actually lived rather then to continue the often false romantic notions that people often have about the early pioneer life. Death and disease killed most of the early settlers in the first year after they arrived and if it wasn't for the assistance given to them by the natives they would not have survived.” Organizers were thankful for three days of clear skies and said the event was well received by all of the visitors who attended.