Friday, March 28, 2008

Mission Island Marsh

Today, after teaching my 7 am yoga class, I picked up my sister and we drove out to Mission Island Marsh, which is a conservation area on the delta of the Mission River (the southern most branch) and the McKellar River, (the middle branch) of the commanding Kaministiqua River that flows into Lake Superior. It's in the southern part of Thunder Bay harbour.

We hadn't even driven to the end of Island Drive when we saw a white-tailed deer standing stock still on the railway tracks. The deer had a thick mangy brownish-gray winter coat, like a scruffy mule, that blended well with the winter landscape. It did look like a mule, with large ears, too. Could it have been a mule deer and not a white-tailed deer?

On the beach beyond the boardwalk where last year we saw the pelicans fly in across the water, we saw large deer hoof prints on the pebbly sand.

We also saw some deer hoof prints in the snow, leading back into the bush.

The dried grasses were rustling and susurating in the wind, which was biting cold although the sun was fabulously warm.

Even the willows attest to the warmth breaking through, the tips of their topmost branches dappling with pussywillows, like a praise of popcorn.

An old crow's nest hides among the tangle of poplars and shrubs. Can you imagine how invisible it is when the leaves fill in? The crows were calling out to us, warning us to get on our way!

Yellow twig dogwood stands out against the barren palette of late winter. By May it will be covered in white blossoms.

The wind from the north can be cruel. Oh horrors! this windswept tree seems to say. Does it know something I can only guess at? Where does the name Mission Island come from? Was there a mission on or by the island in the colonial days of settlers? A mission to convert 'the Indians' to Christianity? Well, I found this on Wikipedia:

"In 1849 French-speaking Jesuits established the Mission de l'Immaculée-Conception (Mission of the Immaculate Conception) on the Kaministiquia to evangelize the Ojibwe."

I went to search on my book shelves for the book that Jean Morrison edited, Lake Superior to Rainy Lake: Three Centuries of Fur Trade History, and on page 40 of the chapter written by Victor P. Lytwyn "The Anishinabeg and the Fur Trade", there is an old black and white photo (scroll down) of the Mission of the Immaculate Conception, which Lytwyn writes was founded by 2 Jesuit missionaries, Fremiot and Chone:

"the Fort William Mission offered religious instruction and material comforts to its adherents. The Anishinabeg who converted to Catholicism blended traditional spiritual beliefs with the new religion. The missionaries opposed the Superior-Robinson Treaty of 1850 in which millions of acres of land were surrendered to the British Crown and petitioned on behalf of the Fort William Anishinabeg for better terms under the treaty. TMHMS, 981.39.154."

Earlier he writes that "the move by the NWC [North West Company fur trade empire] to the mouth of the Kaministiquia River [from Grand Portage] was resisted by the local Anishinabeg who viewed this development as an intrusion into their territory" (p.33). The NWC abandoned Grand Portage because after the American Revolution it was on land America claimed.

On page 16, in a chapter by Ian T. Stuart, there is a sketch of the islands at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River drawn by Capt. R.H. Bruyere in 1802. The sketch shows the 2 old French posts, and the proposed site for the NWC. Before the Mission. The book provides information on the incursion of traders, settlers and colonial overlords onto the Anishnawbe territory on the mouth of the Kaministiquia River. I've got some reading to do...

On the way home we drove slowly, watching for deer. We didn't see any more deer, but we did see evidence of a beaver having passed through the bush.

The giant metal fish who guides you over the Kaministiquia River bridge.

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