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Romantic Canada
Chapter XIX Indian Lorette

SLISH — squish!

Who is it comes so swiftly down the snowy highway? Who is it cuts "eights", eighty-eights" and Paisley patterns, among the snowbound trees of the northern Canadian forests? Who tames the wild, free, northern country into proper service? Who follows the fur-bearing animals to the death far in these same northern wilds? Who but the man on snow-shoes? And who makes snowshoes?

Dropping down for a week at Indian Lorette in the Province of Quebec we found "rooms" in a very quaint, steep-roofed, old house in the Indian village by the Falls of Lorette where dwell the last of the Hurons.

There we came and went — idling the mid-summer days — down the little lanes in slow and friendly fashion; coming upon children at their games; women in door-yards sewing or embroidering moccasins, ornamenting them with fancy designs in dyed moose-hair and porcupine quills; stepping into rooms where small groups of men, and occasionally a woman, were building canoes; chancing into still other rooms where men were at work making — snow-shoes.

"Oui, oui, m'sieu, madame, the Hurons of Indian Lorette 'tis they who make the snow-shoes."

And, who are these Hurons — makers of the moccasin, the canoe, the snow-shoe?

"Oh, m'sieu, madame, what will you in one leetle week?"

But at the same time, a week in Lorette is a long time if one gives every moment to it, as we did, scarcely stealing a moment for dejeuner or diner.

The Indian Village that proves itself only partly French, despite its French name, since it utterly refuses to follow one long street, is neither all French nor all Indian, but resembles some little escaped English garden romancing as the capital city of the Hurons — nine miles by the Lake St. John Road out of the city of Quebec.

The English lanes of Indian Lorette all seem to convene at the old church. And that too, strangely enough, gives one the impression of an English village church. Perhaps it is the green in front, with the old George III. cannon, that village tradition says "came here after the Crimea". At any rate "the English atmosphere" is there. But the resemblance blends into old Jesuit, once we cross the threshold. If Angleterre speaks in the cannon with- out, m 'sieu, the dulcet voice of France charms as sweetly within. First, we must see "the little house of the Angels", let into the wall, high above the altar. It is not very big but great significance attaches to it, for this little house was used as an object lesson by diplomatic missionary priests of the early days to drive home to the Indian mind the sanctity of the home and the value of the centralizing agency of a house as against the tepee.

"It is a little figure of the house of our Saviour and Mary, his mother," an elderly Huron woman told us in a half-whisper, "and some bad men stole it, one time, and the people prayed and prayed; and one morning, they got up. and the little house was back. The Angels had brought it in the night."

It is a dear little house in old dull blues; and somewhere about it, lines of ashes-of-roses melt in with the blue, and there's a little touch of real old gold to give values. A bit of art in its simplicity, is this little house from France, the "house of the Angels", that won a tribe to architecture and — higher things.

I think the Angels did bring it!

I think, too, they tempered the wind to the shorn lamb in sending "Louis D'Ailleboust, Chevalier, troisieme gouverneur de la Nouvelle France" to be, as the crested tablet on the opposite walls says, "Ami et protect cur des Hurons".

Born at Ancy in 1612, "the friend and protector of the Hurons'' died at Ville Marie "en la Noitvelle France, en mai, 1660". So reads the third Governor's life history as here quaintly but all too briefly written.

One could spend hours in this little church, so French within, so English without; weaving with its souvenirs pages of history! For there are many treasures locked up carefully in the sacristy— anciennes pieces of hand-wrought church-silver from France, and many rich embroideries and a priest-robe wrought by the hand of court ladies and presented by the queen of Louis Quatorze. "Ah, oui, oni, madame, e'est magnifique! In detail — but who cares for detail? It is sufficient that these valuable relics of olden days are here for our modern eyes to look upon on a summer day, greatly enriching our experience. Nevertheless, who would expect this sort of treasure in Indian Lorette?

To the left of the little "international" church lies the old burying ground where at dusk one parching summer evening we came upon the graceful figure of little Marie watering the precious flowers growing on her "family" graves — graves with the curious "wooden" head-stones — so popular all through rural Quebec — made by the local carpenter or some member of the family who is also something in the way of a woodcarver.

As all Lorette roads lead to I'eglise, so they ramble their lane- like ways away from it, wandering first by the little village grocery occupying a cottage — once an old homestead and neat as a new pin — picking a tree-lined way between little whitewashed maisons in yards, flower-filled, up to a grande maison with steep pretentious French roof, vine-covered porch and dormer windows —a house that was once an H. B. C. Post, according to village tradition. One can readily believe it. To speak briefly, it shows the "hall-mark". Nevertheless its pretentious dimensions are as much of a surprise here in Indian Lorette as the exquisite embroideries of I'eglise, to which all that this house suggests of frontier life, when this was the frontier, appears so entirely opposed, and yet, of course, was not.

For in the "olde days" a strange unity often existed between phases of life apparently wide apart, giving zest and ambition to adventure and investing commerce and the early church with the halo of a dramatic interest that still clings.

For in the "olde days" a strange unity often existed between phases of life apparently wide apart, giving zest and ambition to adventure and investing commerce and the early church with the halo of a dramatic interest that still clings.

All over the British Empire are nooks with these touches — the union of the truly great of time and circumstance with little places. Canada appears especially rich and happy in the possession of innumerable villages and towns of this description. One has but to follow "the trail" to discover them everywhere.

The atmosphere of Indian Lorette is not all of the dead and gone variety. "Kon, m'sieu, Lorette is still—a stage in the lime-light."

It is "a stage" that has moved forward its appointments in a truly marvellous and skilful fashion so as to link up "the Canada of all time". For nothing we could name so bespeaks the true spirit of Canada in one breath as do the things found here in Indian Lorette in the full swing of production — the snowshoe, the moccasin and — the canoe.

The canoe, especially is a motif — a giant pattern gliding powerfully through the very warp and woof of the land. To go back — modifications of the canoe were here long before the Norsemen or Cabot or Columbus. To go forward — who can foresee the canoeless day?

So, stepping up to a Lorette door and over the threshold, to happen upon a bright, berry-eyed, deft-fingered woman with sure and certain strokes tacking a canvas over the frame of a canoe, the boat that typifies Canada, was like coming unannounced upon the spirit personality of the land itself.

Ma'am'selle was all graciousness; at the same time artist enough not to lay down her tools but kept at work as she talked — tapping punctuations with her little hammer that had a character of its own, taken on by age and much use.

"Mais oui." Many years she had worked at the canoe-making "avec moil pere." "Mais certainemcnt" she liked it.

"Difficile? Mais non."

The canvas went on as we watched—then the stem-bands. Ma'am'selle worked quickly but without haste, after the manner of an old hand. The stem-bands in place ma'am'selle rested and began to talk again.

"Would we not see the beginnings?"

"Oui? Then upstairs, mesdames." This invitation was accompanied by a slight bow and a sweep with the hammer in hand towards a little pine-board stairs. And up we went to make the acquaintance of le bateau itself in its "beginnings".

Have you seen a canoe in the making—the swift manipulations, the decided, skilful movements, in which every stroke counts? Have you seen the surety of the French-Huron hand at work at this inherited trade, how fingers, guided as if by magic, lay the thin, slim boards in place; how the knives swish through the wood at the desired length; how the little plane disappears in the maze of shavings it has created? A tap here, a nail there and the last plank is on.—A moment ago, it was a board lying on a bench. Now, it is—a canoe!

If you have thus watched, then you know the sensation, as we do, of having beheld a clever trick performed without knowing how it is done. For to say the least, canoe-making at Indian Lorette is a fascinating bit of sleight of hand! Ma'am'selle says it takes two days to build a canoe. But the preparations—oh yes, that takes much longer.

We inquired as to the market, where they were sold. At this ma'am'selle contracted her shoulders in a French shrug, threw out her hands — still holding the hammer in the right — and cried, "Mais oui—all over Canada.''

Hand-and-glove with canoes and snowshoes goes the moccasin. The moccasin in Indian Lorette is an old, old story — as well as an elaborate one — real and flourishing to-day. It was a surprise to us to find that the Hurons still wear them, in lieu of shoes, about their daily business. Men and women pass silently up and down these little lanes, with no need of rubber heels, where the sole is like velvet.

The tannery lies across the bridge above the famous "Falls of Lorette". In the tannery yards moose-hides from the Canadian northland flap in the wind, side by side with "hides" from Singapore. (For moccasin making here is a business big enough to call for imported skins.) And yet "the factory" is small, because most of the moccasin making is done in the homes. The cutting, cutters and machines are at "the shop" but the artistic embroideries in coloured beads and porcupine quills grow under the skillful touch of women and girls sitting on their vine-clad, tree-shaded balconies or making purchases from the butcher's or baker's cart in the shady lanes, moccasin in hand.

In this way moccasins enter into the home life of this "remnant of the Hurons" in a most intimate fashion. Even in the days of their prosperity as a tribe the number of moccasins made never equalled the trade of to-day. Nor was the market so large or so far-flung. One hears half a million pairs spoken of with equanimity. One is surprised that so many moccasins find their way to the woods and boudoirs of Canada and the United States; surprised, too, that the Indians have made good to such an extent from the commercial angle, creating, as it were, their own market.

Followed through all its quills and fancies, it is a pretty, homely story. But after all it is a story that brings one back to the people themselves. The chief is Monsieur Picard, residing in the old Hudson's Bay Company house. He is a young man who saw service in France. The ex-grand chief — M. Maurice Bastien of maturer years — is actually the ruling power. Chief Bastien belongs to "the old school" is very dignified, quiet, stands on ceremony, is the real head of the moccasin industry and has the gift of entertaining. He has an exceedingly pleasing personality and can carry solemn functions through to a successful issue. All the responsibility of doing the honours of the tribe to distinguished visitors falls to him. It is he who owns the precious wampum and the invaluable silver medals, gifts of distinguished sovereigns to himself and predecessors in office — one medal from King George III, one from Louis Quinze of France, one from King George IV, two from the late Queen Victoria.

Monsieur Bastien lives in a fine house tastefully furnished. On the table in the parlour stands a photograph of Philippe, Comte de Paris, in a blue vellum frame, a simple gold fleur-de-lys at the top. The Comte presented his photograph to Chief Bastien's father who was the grandchief on the occasion of the Comte's visit to Lorette.

There are many other valuable souvenirs but we liked best an old oil painting of the pioneer days, showing Hurons approaching, as visitors, the Ursuline Convent in Quebec. As a work of art it is probably of little value, but its theme — its theme, m'sieu, il parte.

As Monsieur Bastien talks of the past while graciously showing his visitors all these souvenirs, including his own feathered head-dress and the blue coat with its time-faded brocade which he wears on state occasions, he has the true story-teller's art of making the times and occasions live again, so that through the ages you see the long procession of great families—Siouis, Vincents, Picards, Bastiens — from the earliest time down to the present — hunters, makers of the moccasin, the canoe, the snowshoe.

You see them off in the northern wilds of the Laurentides hunting the skins that enabled them to fill British Government contracts every fall for several years after 1759 for several thou- sand pairs of snowshoes, caribou moccasins and mittens for the English regiments garrisoning the citadel of Quebec.

A Sioui is still the central figure in the making of snowshoe frames. Siouis and Vincents are still keen on the chase. 'Tis they who in season guide the sportsman from over the border to the haunts of the moose and Iruite rouge, ensuring plenty of sport.

But at this season of the year the Huron of Indian Lorette is off on his homemade snowshoes far in the silences of the great fur country and the timber lands of Northern Quebec working for a living — "hunting the fur and the big log, m'sieu".

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