Walking in Métis-sur-Mer, as a resident or a visitor, if you tear your eyes away from the magnificent views you are sure to remark upon the number of elegant houses, tidy lawns and manicured hedges. The fascinating stories of the people who live, or lived, behind those hedges tend to stay within the confines of the family, key puzzle pieces of Metis history locked behind freshly painted doors.
You may know about or even be familiar with the Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence (HLSL) archives collection containing deeds, registers, articles, photographs and records relating to the English-speaking communities of the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, with special attention paid to Métis-sur-Mer. HLSL has been meticulously building the collection for more than a decade, building a collection not only to preserve the information contained within but also to allow the community access to their, your, history. Drawers of files, shelves of binders and piles of books ready to share their knowledge at any given moment – but where to start? And what about the people behind the names? We at HLSL realised that the comprehensive collection was missing something, something that is hard to capture on paper: the soul of the community.
At the start of last summer, we began to put into motion a project to capture the voices of the community: their personal histories told in their own words, portraying the soul of the community as much as the development of Métis-sur-Mer from an isolated English-speaking settlement, to summer resort, to the vibrant village that exists today.
So much physical Metis history has been destroyed, either by fire or by falling so far into disrepair that it was torn down; new buildings stand in their place but in many cases it is the land that holds the ties to the families. To best share the personal histories that, when woven together, depict life in this unique community, we decided to create a walking tour.
Starting with Rue Principale/Beach Road, key community milestones will be represented by a physical space and the voice of a community member. While each account is linked to a physical landmark, the point of interest is the story.
For example, the community milestone of the shift in settlement area from (what we now call) Grand-Métis to Métis-sur-Mer was a reason for the Little Metis Presbyterian Church, the physical landmark, being built. The point of interest in this case is the story of the people who, as children, scratched their initials in the pews during a service, but were unable to keep their wrongdoing a secret and were sent back later the same day, by their parents, with sandpaper to repair the damage.
You will hear about how Professor Dawson from McGill University encouraged the development of Metis as a summer resort, because Montreal was too unhealthy in the heat. You will hear how you didn’t need a car because all the weekly groceries, meat, fish and baked goods would be delivered by a man in an old truck or with a horse and cart. You will hear about the games children played on the beach and the war work that was undertaken in the hotels. You will hear about the fathers who worked in Montreal during the week and travelled by train to spend their summer weekends with their wives and children in Metis. All told by those who lived the experience or their direct descendents.
As ways of life change, the small details can get lost between the pages of birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates. Oral histories may not be as reliable for dates or precise details but they capture the feeling of life at that time, whether it was the 1870s or the 1950s. They capture the emotion linked to personal events and give history a voice.
The walking tour will be available as a leaflet and audio guide, available from the HLSL offices and as a free web app, downloadable from the HLSL website. The HLSL website will also include a section dedicated to the Walk My Heritage Project that will feature more in-depth interviews and a greater selection of archive photographs. We hope that this project will open the archives up to a wider audience, celebrating the culture and heritage of the community.