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Monday, 16 October 2017 04:24

New video tells historical story of a Métis family in southwest Saskatchewan

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The history of the Métis in southwest Saskatchewan is the focus of a new video in the Swift Current Museum’s ongoing documentary series Stories of the Great Southwest.

This video was produced through a collaborative initiative between the Swift Current Museum and the Art Gallery of Swift Current. The first screening of the documentary took place during a Culture Days event at the museum, Sept. 30.
The history of the Métis in the area is told through the story of Barb Parchman’s family, who lived at Lac Pelletier and transported freight with Red River carts on the historic Battleford Trail from Swift Current to Battleford.
Parchman is a Métis historian and she works as a curatorial and operations assistant at the Art Gallery of Swift Current.
“The video is important because it’s something that I can take to presentations for a variety of groups, for school kids or adults,” she said. “It’s personal for me, as it’s the history of my Métis family, but it’s also relevant to the history of the Métis in southwest Saskatchewan and I think it gives a good insight into a Métis family and how they lived in the early years in Saskatchewan.”
Her great great grandmother, Rose McGillis, was married to Jean Baptiste Trottier. They left the Red River settlement in Manitoba and eventually settled at Lac Pelletier, where they hunted buffalo, fished from the lake, gathered berries off the land, and raised a family.
Parchman’s great grandmother Ursula Trottier was born in 1877.
Her father hauled freight with Red River carts on different trails. She helped to drive carts during her childhood years and according to one handwritten family story, Ursula drove a cart from Havre, Montana to Battleford when she was 12 years old.
Parchman has been learning more about her Métis heritage through her historical research. The production of the video was part of a three-phase project that she worked on during the past summer. The Art Gallery of Swift Current commissioned a full-size replica of a Red River cart, which was built by Armand Jerome, a Métis master cart builder in Manitoba.
The cart will become part of the art gallery's permanent collection as an example of a handmade, culturally authentic, traditional Red River cart. Parchman had an opportunity to reflect on her family’s history when she travelled to Manitoba to collect the cart.
“I went by myself and driving down there, passing by the signs for St. Francois Xavier, and thinking about my great grandparents and their trip from Manitoba to Saskatchewan,” she recalled. “I had a van and a 30 foot trailer pulling the cart. They came in the cart.”
The cart was used during a special event in Swift Current on Aug. 3, when the art gallery and museum hosted a Métis culture camp during which participants learned about Métis culture and heritage.
On the same day, a group of walkers departed from Swift Current on an 18-day excursion to retrace the historic trade route between Swift Current and Battleford.
This Red River cart was present at a departure ceremony for these walkers in Swift Current and it accompanied them for a few kilometres along their journey. It provided Parchman with the unique opportunity to ride on an authentic Red River cart.
“So to wheel that cart out here in Saskatchewan in Swift Current and then to be actually in that cart, riding on the prairies, was almost surreal,” she said. “It really kind of took me back a hundred years to that time when my great grandmother would have been riding around in that cart. … I felt my family with me that day and I was definitely conscious of their story and their history, and having the carts there and the music and the dancing all brought it together.”
Images from that day’s event are included in this new documentary. The art gallery is currently keeping this cart in storage, but her goal is to have the cart installed at the Battleford Trail Ruts municipal heritage site in Swift Current.
“I think it’s going to be significant, when the cart is on the site, to know that it rode part of that trail,” she said. “Before we put it on the site I’ll have to have a secure building and design something that’s got interpretative panels to talk about the history.”
As part of this project a half-size replica of a Red River cart was also made for the art gallery by George Fayant, a Métis cart builder from Regina. Parchman will be using this smaller cart and the video for her educational presentations.
“That’s another reason I wanted to make the video and to have a cart on hand is to have that tangible cultural heritage that we can tell the intangible cultural history with,” she said. “For many years, the history of the Métis and First Nations wasn’t taught in school, or if it was they weren’t reflected in a very good light. So I hope that with my video and with having a tangible piece of heritage with the Red River carts that school kids can learn more about the real history of Saskatchewan and that this history took place more than 150 years ago. So as we celebrate Canada’s 150th in confederation, we need to be aware that there was history before them.”
This video is the ninth in the Stories of the Great Southwest documentary series. Previous videos are about the history of the Swift Current Fire Department, the historic Healy Hotel, the history of the Royal Air Force aerodrome at the Swift Current Airport during the Second World War, a Remembrance Day video about the contributions of Swift Current residents to armed conflicts during the past 100 years, the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Swift Current, the legacy of the Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers, the history of hockey in Swift Current from 1900 to 1967, and a documentary about the history of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in southwest Saskatchewan.

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Matthew Liebenberg