"The Métis look to new future after 150 years of building St. Albert"
Home. As much as I can claim any place as my childhood home, St. Albert is it. Growing up, I lived more years in St. Albert than any other place. I lived in there for a number of years I can't really remember during my elementary school years and about a year in junior high. (I'd have to get my sisters together to compare memories and dates to be certain.)
St. Albert has always had an important place in my memories. I had my first paper route there. I saved up for and bought a mountain bike. I took my first gymnastics classes there and my cousins and brother and sisters and I walked along the railroad line to Lion's Park. I took my first long, meandering bike rides away from home on my own there. I skated on the Sturgeon River in the winter and walked to the public library in summer. St. Albert looms large in my creative work: I've written fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry set in St. Albert, this place I lived and loved and left.
And was always traveling back to. Even when we didn't live there, St. Albert was always an important place. My mother's sister and our cousins lived there so we were always driving to St. Albert for the holidays or for the weekend.
Like most kids in elementary school when I grew up, we learned something about a Father Albert Lacombe and how he founded St. Albert, but we didn't learn that it was actually the Métis who built St. Albert.
The Métis had already settled in the area before Father Lacombe showed up. About 45 families, according to the story (that quotes Sharon Morin, director of programming at the Michif Institute). Construction of the early community buildings and infrastructure, such as the chapel and the bridge, was completed by the Métis workers in the community. Streets were named after prominent Métis families, such as Bellerose and Cunningham. I recognize those street names, but I didn't know they were Métis names. But: “They were the elected officials, they were the freighters that were bringing supplies in, they were writing the bylaws.”
These excerpts of the news story were especially interesting to me and the questions I am asking for this personal blog project:
FORGOTTEN PEOPLE: "Yet for many decades the Métis were known as “the forgotten people,” forced off their land by European settlers and subject to harassment, discrimination, and in some cases sterilization. Now, after 150 years of legal struggles and advocacy, their place as one of the founding peoples of Canada is starting to be recognized.... “They could work in both worlds, but not always be accepted in both worlds,” Morin says.“They had to forge their own way.”
NO PLACE TO CALL HOME: "Others moved from place to place in search of work, says James Atkinson, Region 4 vice-president of the Métis Nation of Alberta. They were “the road allowance people,” a reference to the only land upon which they could live. “There was no place to really call home.”
Today, I have questions for my mother and my aunt. They didn't talk about St. Albert's history. Did they know they were living in a community created and shaped by Métis people? Or was this the part of the long-term legacy of Métis dislocation and forced removal: this disconnection from the place in which we were currently living? Or maybe people just weren't telling these stories openly, or the media just wasn't reporting them? This journey of mine, this Métis reading project, will answer some of those questions.
My mother still tells story after story about our Métis history, our ancestors, and our relatives. It is so exciting to me now to read and become part of the resurgence of Métis consciousness across the country, among Métis academics, writers, poets, artists, journalists, storytellers, and historians. This project is no longer only my own personal journey, my way of asking who I am and what it means to the places I've lived and the people whose paths I've crossed. This journey is part of the journey of my people, part of the journey we are all walking.
NOTE ON THE PICTURE: From the St. Albert Gazette story, the photo shows some students from Leo Nickerson and Sir George Simpson schools. I went to Sir George Simpson for at least a couple of years. There were no Métis sashes then, I can tell you that. This picture makes me so happy.