|Donald and Ian White at Fox Lake Memorial Service|
As Chapleau Cree First Nation continues the process of restoring the St. John’s Indian Residential School Graveyard beside the Blue Heron Inn at Chapleau, assistance is needed in confirming the names of all those who are buried there.
Donna Byce, the economic development officer of CCFN contacted me asking if I may have information that may help, but although I am aware of the graveyard and was on Chapleau council when Tom Corston, now bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Moosonee, headed a restoration project in 1973, I do not know the names of students who attended the school..
However, after a delightful telephone chat with Donna, I told her I would help spread the word and hopefully someone will come forward who is more familiar with the school and its students from when it opened in 1921 until its closure in 1948.
Donna explained: "Currently we have a hand drawn map with most of the names of the deceased, I was wondering if you would happen to have any information on this as it is difficult to read the hand writing and we would like to have all the names put on a commemoration cairn."
She added that they have been working at this project for the past two months removing brush, raking, identifying graves and replacing old grave markers.
Although restoration of the Residential School burial ground located on the outskirts of Chapleau within the area of Chapleau Ojibwe First Nation is one of the project goals, "Raising awareness and educating everyone on the history of Residential Schools and securing a dignified resting place for the deceased is the main goal. A Commemorative Plaque will be created and displayed for visitors."
On August 16, a day before the CCFN Traditional Gathering and Pow-Wow is held on August 17 and 18, "Ceremonies... for the welfare of our elders and families affected by Residential Schools and to pay respect to the former Indian Residential School survivors and those who have passed" will be held.
While chatting with Donna, I could not help but ask her if she would extend my warmest regards to folks in Chapleau, but my list kept getting longer and longer, so I will say "HI" to everyone there, with special thoughts to my First Nation friends as they hold ceremonies in connection with the residential school and participate in their traditional gathering and pow-wow.
Thank you Donna for the kind invitation to attend, but I will be unable to do so this year.
If anyone can assist with the names, please contact Donna at e-mail: email@example.com
After receiving the email from Donna and chatting with her on the telephone, I thought about an email, among many that I have received from Ian White, whose older brother Donald lives on the Fox Lake reserve. Donald was one of the 1932 adventurers who made the canoe trip from Chapleau via Missanabie to Moose Factory.
Ian shares an anecdote regarding my mother, Muriel E. (Hunt) Morris, my grandmother, Edythe Hunt, and him which took place shortly after he was born in 1920.
Ian relates that his family lived in a flatroofed cottage at the corner of Grey and Birch streets where eventually Henry Pellow built a log house.
"When i was about four months old for some unknown reason I stopped taking food. This lasted for many days and caused my mother much anxiety. At wits end and very discouraged about her baby she decided to take me out into the cool Autumn air hoping it would create an appetite.
"While pushing the carriage and crying at the same time two little girls who were out walking and munching on oatmeal cookies stopped and asked why she was crying. So she explained what the cause was. One of the little girls asked if she could give the baby some of her cookie. My mother consented and the youngest girl (your mother) put a piece of her cookie in my mouth. The taste must have been good because it was the first piece of nourishment I had for many days and apparently I finished the rest of the cookie.
"My mother told me this story many times and insisted your mum saved my life because I started eating after that..." My mother would have been about nine years old at the time
Ian added that for about six years of the Great Depression he had an arrangement with my grandmother to bring her two rabbits every second week during the Winter for which she paid him 50 cents.
Although my father, Jim Morris was older than Ian, closer to Donald's age, they knew each other through the Youth Bible Class at St. John's Anglican Church. Ian told me that when he was in Toronto waiting to leave for overseas during World War II, my parents came to visit with him. At the time my Dad was a Flying Instructor with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan after having enlisted in the RCAF. Donald also served in the Canadian forces in World War II.
Every so often, I receive an email about something or other that I have written, and the person comments, referring to me, "You can take the boy out of Chapleau, but you can't take Chapleau out of the boy." As I write I have lived in British Columbia 24 years now, but I will do what I can to help with the Chapleau Cree First Nation project to restore the residential school graveyard.
And as Ian White tells us in his anecdotes, Chapleau friendships last a long, long time. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org