Hope that many of you were able to enjoy the Heritage Day holiday. It still feels like a surprise, a pleasant surprise. And furthermore, I think it is wise to change the theme every year because we love novelty and are not noted for long attention spans.
This year`s theme, Mi’kmaq Heritage, got me thinking about how little we heard about the regional First Nation when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s. Chief Membertou helping Champlain have Good Cheer and Glooscap messing with the Bay of Fundy are what I recall. For an authentic taste of my childhood experience look at Glooscap Country, the 1958 short film produced by the province, that was shown over and over again in school (great soundtrack).
For years, baskets made of black ash splints by Mi’kmaq families were my only tangible connection with that community. I remember carrying a Mi’kmaq-made basket to the bakery in Bridgetown every summer in the 1950s. It was low and flat, perfect for pie. That basket is still around and now is taken into our garden in the cove when gathering vegetables for supper or flowers for bouquets. A carrier of memories, made to be used and made to last.
In the 1950s a Mi’kmaq family would camp every summer at the base of the North Mountain above Bridgetown. They came to make baskets, close to a black ash source, and we would see them on our drive over the mountain to get an ice cream cone at Hampton. At some point they would walk into town with a large bundle of brightly coloured baskets for sale and spread them out on the lawn if you wanted to examine the different shapes.
A photo from a 1960 tourism booklet shows what the wares looked like. This Mi’kmaq family is dressed up in special gear because they were at a celebration on the Louisbourg site (still years away from the reconstruction).
Relatively recently I realized the Easter baskets I grew up with were Mi’kmaq-made.
In a world filled with favourite objects a couple of truly favourite objects are large baskets that came from Mi’kmaq roadside shops in the 1980s and 90s. They fit under a coffee table and conceal magazines and Sheila’s crossword puzzles. The elegance of their design and craftsmanship is breathtaking.
Over a lifetime there have been many changes in my understanding and appreciation of Mi’kmaq culture. I’m enriched by hearing contemporary Mi’kmaq voices telling their own stories. And fittingly the last basket we acquired, a few years ago, was sold in an art gallery, because that is where it belonged. And the creator was no longer anonymous (like the makers of the rest of these baskets). This was made by the late Chief Greg McEwen from the Bear River First Nation.
- Stick your head into the Champlain Building on Duke Street in Halifax to see a large mosaic panel depicting (in a particularly period fashion) Champlain and De Monts buying furs from Chief Membertou.
- In Halifax each spring, for over 200 years Mayflowers were sold in the street. In the late 1970s I remember seeing a Mi’kmaq gentleman on Barrington Street with exquisitely presented bouquets of Mayflowers, each tightly wrapped with spruce root and placed in precisely folded, waxed paper wrappers. Wonder when this tradition stopped.
- Every summer Saturday in the 1950s we took our basket to the Bridgetown Bakery to get the special: a loaf of bread (white or brown), a dozen cookies (lots of choice) and a pie (more decisions). All for one dollar. Sometimes we would get two specials.