BRIEF Chronology of Modern Indigenous Presence in Metis Area (1700s to 2021)
Absent from almost all Metis historical accounts, notes historian Alexander Reford, are First Nation stories, although archeological digs in 1996 near the Mitis River Falls confirm a significant First Nations presence in the region before European contact. Also, while many local place names are derived from First Nation words, when First Nation peoples are mentioned, it is usually in passing and accounts are at best miserly. Census data only occasionally mentions Indigenous residents of the villages in the McNider seigneurie. Below is a list of what we know so far – please e-mail Pam Andersson if you have further information to share.
Denis Jean¹ documented the presence of Mi’gmaq families in many parishes of the Mitis River area: “For a start, church records in Rimouski, and later, those of local parishes such as Ste-Luce, Sainte-Flavie, and eventually Saint-Octave-de-Métis and Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici, to name but a few, tell us of a consistent Native presence in the area. These records begin in the early eighteenth century in the case of Rimouski (2005:26).” Jean also reports First Nation families, one at l’Anse-des-Morts and the other at Grand-Remous, in the Mitis watershed hinterland. One passage of Jean’s report for the Rimouski-Matane area is notable, as it confirms both the Mi’gmaq presence in the area and one cause of their partial disappearance. Saint-Germain-de-Rimouski church records, covering the territory from Rimouski to Matane, reveal that First Nationss of the area experienced something like a cataclysm at the end of the 18th century when from 1794 to 1798 25 individuals died, with most deaths occurring in the winter of 1794–1795: 18 deaths between September and July.
Eleven of the death certificates were made out in Matane, demonstrating the persistence of an First Nation community there, and other records of the area mention the presence of Indigenous people. Two individuals died at Metis and another one at l’Anse-aux-Coques (Sainte-Luce). The mystery as to the cause of most deaths is apparent from one certificate mentioning the cause of death as picotte, a word used in the day to refer to smallpox. This epidemic must have taken an incredible toll on the First Nation community of the Metis River Basin. The majority of the surnames of the deceased are Mi’gmaq, data suggesting a reasonably-sized Mi’gmaq community in the area at the time: 45 individuals. Jean’s report provides the text of a letter showing that the First Nations of the Mitis River Basin were active in defending their traditional rights. Finally, for the Mitis River area, Jean concludes:”
“So we gather that the Aboriginals (overwhelmingly Mi’gmaq) had at least one settlement (Grand-Remous) in the Mitis River Basin, if not two (with l’Anse-des-Morts). They had several seasonal encampments along the tributaries of the Mitis River and used the natural resources available as far inland as Mitis Lake and even reached their other navigable routes, the Patapedia and Kedgwick Rivers and, eventually, the Restigouche River. They were also involved in commercial fisheries. They took care of their political affairs. Their presence persisted through adverse situations such as an epidemic. They used the Mitis River Basin as a base (and perhaps as a sedentary settlement) and their profound knowledge of the hinterland of the area has been imprinted in the toponymy. Their presence persisted through the European occupation of their territory and their descendants still inhabit the region. (49)”
George Heriot, in his 1807 publication, Travels Through Canada, describes the route that would become the path for the Intercolonial Railway from the Matapedia River to the St. Lawrence, “along an Indian path, to the river Mitis, flowing into the Saint Lawrence”. ²
² George Heriot, Travels Through the Canadas, 1807, reprinted M.G. Hurtig, Edmonton, p.41.
In her 1822 diary, Angélique Macnider, the educated Quebec City widow who married John Macnider in 1811, described encounters she had with tenants and others in the Macnider Seigneury between June 24 through August 1. The Macniders lived in a house at the mouth of the Mitis River (in Grand Metis), where her husband showed his skill at catching trout and where tenants and servants would bring them pigeon, bread and strawberries. Macnider was supervising the construction of a flour mill on the river, a kilometre away from the river mouth, so was gone on most days. Left alone, Angélique went several times via the seigneur’s ‘calash’ [calèche] to what she called the “Mansion House” in neighbouring Little Metis (on Lighthouse Point) and she kept a very detailed and often entertaining diary. She mentioned Indigenous people on four occasions during the diary for this period, although less frequently than that of the tenants and other visitors:
- “a good many Savages passing, a great Loup Marin [could be a seal or Atlantic Wolffish] with them”
- “our Men presented us with a most beautiful large Salmon, which some Savages had lost as they went along”
- “Friday, raining morning, 5 weeks from home, bought a large Salmon from Savages, got Eels and trouts”
- “Saturday – got up early, a most charming morning. No fish on our lines, the Savages having stolen them.” [Note: Indigenous people were hardly the only suspects. When Angélique returned to the Mansion House in Little Metis, she found, on doing an inventory of the wine, “a great many bottles missing, and some filled with water, very honest people that we gave the charge of our things to. Port Wine at Little Metis all drank in Winter, none kept for Mr. Macnider, tea and Sugar in the trunk all gone”.³]
³ “Metis in 1822”, in Le Bulletin des recherches historiques, Novembre 1947, Vol. 53, No. 11
George Jehoshaphat Mountain, who had become Archdeacon of Lower Canada in 1821, visited the Lower Saint Lawrence extensively, undergoing some very rough conditions. He relied on local guides, and ‘Indians’ were hired as porters and canoemen. He noted that his First Nation companions had successfully killed two young partridge that were added to his “sea-stock” to enrich an otherwise dull meal. The First Nation people ate apart from his party and enjoyed a different diet: “the Indians had no bread, and supped upon fish alone”, Mountain wrote. They travelled together, but walked some distance from his party, consisting of himself and François, a French-Canadian guide. Nearing the St. Lawrence at the end of a long trek across the peninsula, the First Nation people left Mountain to complete his walk alone: he gave them a good reference.
Mountain followed the Tartigou River east from the Metis lakes to the Little Metis River and to the community of ‘Scotch’ settlers at Metis. The terrain was so difficult that walking was the most efficient form of travel. Mountain described his own appearance in less than flattering terms. Carrying “a long staff made out of an old canoe paddle in my hand” he was “Lame… and tattered,” and did not have the appearance of a visiting “dignitary”. “The scratches of my skin seen through the holes in my trowsers (sic) and stockings, without a neckcloth, my clothes soiled by the march, my shoes tied with twine, and my trowsers (sic) confined at the ancle (sic) to prevent their catching in the branches, with pins and strips of cedar bark. To this equipment was afterwards added a colored handkerchief round the knee, to prevent the enlargement of a very serious solution of continuity to which pins had been repeatedly applied with little effect”. This is period language that translates that Mountain’s pants were falling down!
To return to Quebec City up the St. Lawrence (where his father was the Bishop), Mountain found locals to help him cross the Metis River at Grand Metis. “A scotch Settler occupying a log hut furnished us with a boat gaping with leaks, in which he and his son, a lad of 18 who had built it, pulled us. I believe about a league (…), across to the Point of Little Metis, on which Mr. McNiders (sic) fishing establishment is situated. This lad, when the family lived at Quebec, had been put by me to the National School. The Indians got a canoe to bring our baggage”.
4 Mountain later became the third Anglican Bishop of Quebec (first born in what became Canada), as well as first principal of McGill University (and professor of divinity), and founder of the Bishop’s College and the Grammar School.
5 G.J. Mountain, “A Journey from Restigouche to Quebec in 1824”, Archives de Québec, p. 320.
6 The Church, Toronto, October 24, 1850; The Students’ Monthly, Volume 1, no. 6, June, 1867
7 Ibid, p. 320.
Census information for Canada before Confederation is sporadic and uneven. The 1852 census for the government of Lower Canada published information on the Indigenous found in Rimouski County. The census indicated there were 103 “sauvages”. Historian Serge Goudreau suggests there were 158 First Nation people, or 0.3% of a total population of 47,278. Of this First Nation population, several Mi’gmaq are identified by name: Geneviève Corneau in Metis and Charles Montagnais in Sainte-Flavie.
8 Serge Goudreau, « Les Micmacs au Bas-Saint-Laurent du 16e au 19e siècle », L’Estuaire, numéro 75, mai 2015; Recensement du Canada-Est, sous-district de Sainte-Flavie (331), fo 27, sous-district de Métis 332; fo 1, page 58.
In his 1859 publication, On the Natural History of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Robert Bell repeatedly mentions the hunting practices of the Indigenous peoples in his inventory of the fauna of the region. Without mentioning the locations of the nations identified, Bell’s inventory illustrates a respect for First Nation knowledge of the region’s fauna. He distinguishes between ‘Indians’ and ‘the hunters’, assumed to be white settlers. Bell’s scientific inventory also documents the hunting abilities of the First Nations associated with the following species:
“ Sorex Forsteri (Forster’s Shrew mouse): Procured two specimens; said by the Indians to be very abundant.
- Musted Marten (Pine Marten): The Indians bring home from their winter hunts more of the skins of these animals than of any other.
- M. vison (Mink): Ranks next to the marten in its importance to the Indian hunter.
- M. Canadensis (Fisher): Does not seem to be very abundant, but the Indians always bring to market a few of their skins when they return from their hunts.
- Latra Canadensis (Canada Otter): Very abundant along every stream. One of our Indians told me that he once secured three otters of large size with one shot. He said, that after watching for them some time, they all came up together through a hole in the ice, which he aimed at the middle one and killed it on the spot, only a few grains of shot striking the other two, who immediately set on one another, as though mutually supposing each other to be the cause of their pain, and during the combat he dispatched them both with his tomahawk.”
9 Robert Bell, On the Natural History of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Distribution of the Mollusca of Eastern Canada, John Lovell, 1859.
An 1860 newspaper article describes how Richard Nettle had interrupted a band of poachers on the Mitis River who had been catching salmon, “speared by two or three of the Indians and sold to storekeepers …. punished the offenders in the full penalty of the law”. Nettle began patrolling the rivers along the St. Lawrence and prosecuting those caught netting salmon at river mouths after Quebec had introduced, in 1855, a new fishery law that regulated fishing and created an administrative structure to enforce the legislation. This was contrary to what the King’s 1763 Proclamation and then late 1700s Peace and Friendship Treaties set out. The Governments of both Quebec and New Brunswick also appropriated the right to lease exclusive fishing rights for rivers adjacent to land as yet un-granted by the Crown. By 1869, the inspector for Marine and Fisheries wrote of the progress that had been made: “…spearing has been stopped therein, several successful prosecutions have been brought, and the river kept clean. A larger number of salmon were seen spawning in Metis river last fall than for several years past. It is not reported who, if anyone, had been responsible for the reported decline in spawning salmon numbers, or even if it was man-made.
10 The Globe (Toronto), 27 July, 1860, quoting the Quebec Chronicle.
11 Bill Parenteau, A ‘Very Determined Opposition to the Law’: Conservation, Angling Leases and Social Conflict in the Canadian Atlantic Salmon Fishery, 1867-1914”, Environmental History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jul. 2004), p. 440.
12 Remarks on the fisheries of the south shore of the River St. Lawrence, from Point Lévis to Matane (Appendix No. 3), Canada, Marine and Fisheries, 1869.
Metis, Oct. 5, 1861
We the Indians, from here to above Montréal on both sides of the River St. Lawrence have made a petition to be presented before the House of Assembly at the next Siting (sic) Complaining of the hardships that we suffer owing to the [illegible] prohibiting the Indians from Fishing and Hunting, therefore we wants to get the Signature of all the /Indians in and about Ristigoush, so that we can all be put into one petition, you will please write your petition in English, I have a letter now before me, from the Indian Governor Residing at Green Island, his name is (Louis Toma, Indian). Sir, you will please forward your letter as quick as possible and direct it to me Peter Mitchel, Indian Grand Métis, and then I can forward it to Green Island.
I have no more to say at present but remain your &,
1863: The journalist (and later member of Parliament) Joseph-Charles Tâché published a story “Le Passeur de Métis” in 1863 that he intimated he had learned from conversations with the chief of the Micmac peoples. Tâché was a physician with a practice in Rimouski. Known as “the Iroquois,” Tâché is described by his biographer as “having a strong affinity for Indians and an interest in their ways”. He “collected cultural information and both legends and true stories, which he would later use in his literary writings.”
1878: By the 1850s, a number of scientists began to visit the region in the footsteps of William Logan, collecting material and adding to the inventory of flora, fauna and geology of the region. Although the guides are sometimes mentioned as an afterthought, Thomas Chesmer Weston mentions reaching Little Metis at the end of his explorations in 1878, “where we struck camp for the last time. I paid off my Indian, John, saw his money safely sewn up inside his vest, and started him off to his wigwam at Gaspé”. Weston’s comments on his native guides and encounters with Indigenous people in his memoirs, published in 1899, are generally favourable.
1884: Sandford Fleming, engineer in chief of the Intercolonial Railway (completed in 1876), worked with First Nations peoples when exploring the region and surveying its line. In his 1884 book, England and Canada, A Summer Tour Between Old and New Westminster With Historical Notes, Fleming wrote of his native partners in mostly glowing terms:
“At the station I met some of my old Micmac Indian friends, some of whom I have known for twenty years, and who accompanied me in my various wanderings in the wilds of New Brunswick. I have a strong and kindly feeling for these children of the forest. Personally, I have found their simplicity of character not the sham which many claim it to be. There are exceptions, but, as a rule, in their relations to me, they have proved honest and faithful. Although perfectly undemonstrative, they never forget a kind act or word. Such is my experience, and I have had much to do with Indians of nearly every tribe between the Atlantic and the Pacific. It has been my invariable good fortune to come in contact with those among them to whom I could at any time have trusted my life. We shook hands all round. Breakfast, however, has only left time for a few words. The train starts, and as it leaves the station I receive from my dusky friends a hearty bò jou! bò jou!”
13 Jean-Guy Nadeau, Joseph-Charles Tâché
14 Thomas Chemser Weston, Reminiscences Among the Rocks In Connection with The Geological Survey of Canada, 1899, p 119.
15 Ibid, p. 95.
16 Sandford Fleming, England and Canada, A Summer Tour Between Old and New Westminster With Historical Notes, 1884. Scottish-born-and-raised Fleming was an engineer and inventor who emigrated to Canada at 18 who is remembered for promoting worldwide standard time zones, a prime meridian, and use of the 24-hour clock to avoid confusion; designing Canada’s first postage stamp; land surveying and mapmaking; and engineering much of the Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific Railways. He was a contemporary of geologists Sir William Edmond Logan, of Mount Logan fame (1798-1875, Canadian-born geologist), Sir John William Dawson (1820-1899), Canadian geologist and university administrator, and Dawson’s son, George Mercer Dawson (1849-1901, Canadian geologist and surveyor). The latter two summered in Metis and all published widely at the time.
A journalist, writing in L’Électeur, wrote of the large resident community of natives because of the large numbers selling their wares among the summer residents: “… many families of savages are camping there, and last year, you would think yourself near Batoche [Note: Made famous by the 1885 Métis and First Nations rebellion there in 1885], so much was the Indian language spoken. We hear that during the summer, they were as many as 2,000 in August. It goes without saying that their harvest was excellent, resulting from the sale of all sorts of elegant and useful goods”.
18 L’Électeur, Journal du Matin, Lundi 13 août 1888. « …plusieurs familles sauvages y campent, et l’an dernier, on serait cru dans le voisinage de Batoche, tand l’idiome indien prévalait ; on prétend que durant l’été, ils étaient au nombre de 2,000; va sans dire que leur récolte est bonne, provenant de la vente de toute espèce de choses élégantes et utiles ».
A December letter from Quebec City businessman John Thomson to John Ferguson on Presbyterian Church affairs added, in unchristian-like fashion, instructions to route an ‘Indian’ from one of his properties under Ferguson’s management in Metis: “I hope you have told the Indian that I will on no account allow him to remain one day after Friday next on my land and if he does not do so leave then I will take legal measures to compel him to do so.”
19 John Thomson to John Ferguson, 4 December, 1894.
Mary Ann St. Denis, called Annie and sometimes referred to as ‘Indian Annie’, camped near the Cascade Brook for several months each year for many years. She and others sold handicrafts (likely those referred to by the L’Electeur journalist) to many summer residents.
Quite a number of people living or summering in Metis are proud to show the crafts – unusual and practical (although some have lost parts through years of use) – that their parents or grandparents bought from skilled native craftsmen and women that came to the area every year well into the first half of the 20th century. The crafts, also called ‘applied arts’, from a number of homes include: birchbark and ash wood holder/carriers, waste baskets, mats for hot dishes or cold drinks, napkin rings, boxes – many surrounded by sweetgrass and some beautifully accented with dyed porcupine quills, beadwork and toys.
‘Indian Annie’ and other Indigenous people camped on what is now Beach Road, at Cascade Brook. Here is the one known photo of the summer home (middle), taken from the southeast looking northwest to the first property northwest of the bridge.
Student journalist W.A.R. Kerry, in a long (and often snide) ‘on my summer vacation’ article for the University of Toronto newspaper, The Varsity, related a story he had heard anecdotally the previous summer in Metis:
“…there are older inhabitants in Little Metis than the Frenchman. A poor remnant of the Red Man still struggles feebly against the doom of his race. Where they put in the winter I do not know, but in summer-time there is always a settlement of them about the “Lover’s Walk,” or at the top of Inggeys (sic, likely Tuggey’s, now Grier’s] hill, at the west end of the village…”
20 W.A.R. Kerr, “Little Metis: A Lower St. Lawrence Watering-Place”, The Varsity, January 25, 1899.
Mrs. James Peck and a volunteer committee held an exhibition of locally made francophone, anglophone and Indigenous handiwork. Mme. Marie Dennis, believed to be Mary Ann St. Denis (aka ‘Indian Annie’) won an award for her porcupine-quill design on birch bark work – this photo is a sample of such work in Metis, but not the winning piece.
Through a combination of misfortune and misinformation, Archie Belaney (Grey Owl) and Gertrude Bernard (Anahareo) came to Metis Beach – he to work as a guide and she to earn money either to prospect for gold that winter or help finance a beaver refuge. Archie could not find guiding work, but summer residents Mrs. Peck, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid Bovey and others heard Archie Belaney speak and encouraged him to continue, promising some help getting speaking engagements in Montreal. Also, after seeing the couple’s evident poverty and learning that Belaney had served in the Black Watch in World War 1, Bovey wrote later that year to the Department of Pensions to request an increase in Belaney’s disability pension (Belaney had been wounded in the foot and it continued to trouble him). Ultimately, the Metis Beach speaking engagement presented Archie and Anahareo with an unexpected path to greater riches than they could have believed – however, the money was largely reinvested in projects to deliver Anaharaeo’s and later Belaney’s conservation message. See Anahareo and Archie Belaney in Metis Beach and Anahareo – A woman ahead of her time.
Through 1935, the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, co-founded by Alice Peck and May Phillips, exhibited the work of the First Nations at what is now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which at least initially must have caused consternation for the majority of Canadians who continued to think of art, at the time, as that of Old World masters. Metis summer resident Lt.-Col. Bovey (McGill’s first director of Extramural Relations and Extension (1923-1948)) was named president of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild between 1930 and 1936. During this period, the Guild’s Indian Committee, struck in 1933, was “…openly critical of assimilation, emphasizing that settlers must take responsibility for perpetuating the “official attitude towards [First Nations, which] was a desire to turn them into imitation Whites.”
There are still people in the Metis area who remember summer sojourns of indigenous people. Diane Turriff Ratté’s recalls her father lending ‘Indians’ who came up from New Brunswick a canvas tent every year up on Station Road. She played with some of the visiting families’ children, and saw the ash baskets they made for sale.
As interest in the area’s Indigenous past grew, a local tourist accommodation owner sought to take advantage of this by creating a wigwam village at what is now the Petit Miami at 508 Beach. This does not exist anymore.
Artist and historian Alice Sharples Baldwin mentions, in her book, First Nation peoples in both historic and contemporary contexts. Her account describes the trajectory of First Nation people in the region and their habits once established on the shore. More interesting, she recorded anecdotal evidence that locals mid-century were aware of earlier First Nations occupation, if rarely if ever mentioned in the academic literature: “Traces of Indian encampments have been found in the bay at Leggatt’s Point where the first fisheries were established and also by Turriff’s Bay when excavating the foundations of summer cottages.” Unfortunately, vestiges of any such traces have since disappeared.
21 Alice Sharples Baldwin, Metis – Wee Scotland of the Gaspé, 1960.
While the first Métis, people having mixed European and Indigenous blood, were the result of relationships in what is now Eastern Canada and Quebec, western Métis and governments dispute they are covered under the Indian Act. The Métis Bedeque (Bedekwe) community in Mont-Joli was founded in 1988, and has 200 resident members in Mont-Joli and beyond. Bedeque community members gather medicinal plants, and hunt and trap under the same rules as non-Indigenous people during permitted periods, while the rules regarding First Nations differ. In 2009, the Bedeques were in the early stages of documenting their claim to rights to hunt, trap and fish for personal consumption. To do so, they had first to prove that they are a “historic community” (i.e., they had contact with Europeans before 1850 and this contact was perpetuated). At the time, according to then Bedeque Chief Ginette Racette, it was not easy for a Métis community in Quebec to have their rights recognized because neither the Métis National Council (umbrella group for Métis communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and small parts of adjacent territory), which sees ‘official’ Métis as having links with the Louis Riel (Métis) rebellion), nor the federal or Quebec governments at the time, recognized the status of Métis communities in Quebec.
22 Aboriginal and Métis communities, forests and forest certification in the Lower St-Lawrence: Background information document for certificate managers (Feb. 2009), prepared by CertificAction BSL
As part of a project co-ordinated by Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence to create paths or trails by which we can learn more about our past, recognition of the area’s earliest history was essential. We have been working, and hope, to connect with Wolastoqey and Mi’gmaq elders and other community members to learn so much more. Please email email@example.com if you have any additional information that you can share about Indigenous culture, history, and life in the area, to create as full and accurate a record as possible.
Woliwon komac! Thank you very much (Wolastoqey)
Wela’lin! – I thank you, I do well by you (Mi’gmaq)
- Alexander Reford, Jardins de Métis
- Nta’tugwaqanminen: OUR STORY – The Evolution of the Gespe’gewa’gi Mi’gmaq, Gespe’gewa’gi Mi’gmawei Mawiomi, Fernwood Publishing, 2016, pp. 82-84
- Université de Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue has created a website based on Traditional use of medicinal plants in the boreal forest of Canada: review and perspectives. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 8: 7, Uprety, Y., Asselin, H., Dhakal, A. & Julien, N. 2012