VERNON – History is all around, but often out of focus and hidden from us by time and distance.
Jane Cooper, an Osgoode Township Museum member and local historian, brought part of Osgoode’s local history to life Sat., Nov. 16 with a presentation about an Indigenous family who lived in the area.
She noticed that different functions she attended were prefaced by something called a land acknowledgement. This is a historically accurate way to recognize the traditional First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit territories.
The particular acknowledgement Cooper heard was, “We acknowledge that we are standing on unceded Algonquin, Anishinabek territory.”
On one occasion, Cooper wondered who exactly were these people that lived on the land before us.
Her presentation focused on the lives of one Algonquin couple, Pierre Kekekons and Marie Louise.
They were married in 1837, when Louise was 19 and Pierre was 21, at Oka. They had 10 children.
“In 1890, 53 years later, they were still together with their youngest son and daughter, plus one grandson, in south Renfrew,” said Cooper.
All Cooper needed to begin her search, for a connection to the past in Osgoode, was a name.
She knew the area had a large Algonquin population in the latter half of the 19th century.
She found newspaper clippings from the late 1890s that referred to native camps at Osgoode Station and canoes going down the Castor River.
“I wanted to be able to name the people who lived here,” she said. “Who were they and what were their names.”
Cooper knew the Algonquin people who lived in the area were predominantly followers of the Catholic faith so she began looking for clues close to home at St. Catherine of Sienna Roman Catholic Parish in Metcalfe.
In the church’s baptismal records, from 1854, she found the baptism certificate of William Kekekons. His parents were Pierre and Marie Louise.
“This is how I found out the names, “ said Cooper. “The wife takes the husband’s name so we do not know Marie Louise’s maiden name.”
Using that information, she was able to begin to create a picture of who the family was.
She discovered the couple were Anishinaabe, from Nippissing, and they used the Anishinaabe pronunciation of their names. Pierre was really Pien and Marie was really Mani.
Cooper discovered that Marie Louise’s father was a chief for the Nippissing and in that role he often sent petitions to the government asking for help for his community. In 1829, in one letter, he said the land has been rendered useless and has destroyed their hunting grounds because of tree cutting by settlers. Now their hunting grounds are 200 to 300 kilometres away.
“You can see the history of what happened to the whole Algonquin people in the Ottawa Valley,” said Cooper.
They would have lived according to where the best hunting was, and in the case of the Osgoode area and the increasing arrival of settlers and tree clearing for farms, they would have found themselves moving further north. The family would have had to live off the land and have appropriate hunting skills to survive.
“By 1828 the first settlers were arriving in Osgoode Township. This is the story of this one family, but also of the bigger community,” she said.
In the summer they would have migrated to Oka to fish at the Lake of the Two Mountains and come back to the Ottawa Valley in the winter. They would have lived in different locations in the Ottawa Valley. The family lived off the land, and traded furs for consumer goods, and probably had to do day labour for farmers and lumbermen later in life.
“Louise may have been a gardener,” said Cooper. “Her name Wadjaonen means ‘little Iroquois girl’ and her mother’s name Wadjaun means ‘Iroquois woman,’ so she was probably of Iroquois descent on her mother’s side. The Iroquois were agriculturalists, growing the three sisters – corn, beans and squash,” Cooper said.
Louise was close with her sister Angelique who was two years older
“Angelique was godmother to her first daughter in 1840,” she added. “The two sisters were living near each other at Golden Lake in 1881. They were pious Catholics and all of their children were baptised. Their son William was listed in the 1901 census as a hunting guide, living south of Algonquin Park. Another son Thomas was listed in Rod and Gun in Canada 1905, as an accredited hunting guide, living north of Algonquin Park, in Mattawa. Their great-great-grandson Gary Cotnam is teaching his daughter these hunting skills in the Sudbury area now.”
Cooper believes Pierre and Marie Louise were not the only people who came through here.
“They are just the only ones we have been able to name so far,” she said.