About an hour after my departure from Annapolis Royal after a beautiful drive along the shoreline of the Annapolis Basin and through the early fall colours of the Bear River Valley, (also known as “Little Switzerland”. I arrived at the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre. I was greeted by Wanda Joudry-Finigan and Robert (Robbie) McEwan, while Frederick Harlow was manning the cash register. All are members of the Bear River First Nation, and Wanda and Robbie proceeded to celebrate my arrival with a special welcome song.
Wanda explained that the song invites our mutual relatives, grandfathers and ancestors to join us at this occasion. The lobby of the Centre holds various artifacts and a Heritage Gallery that pays homage to current and former Chiefs and Elders of the Bear River First Nation. Wanda pointed out present Chief Frank Meuse native american jackets Junior who also operates a lodge for adults and youth alike who wish to learn about the Mi’kmaq culture. Another image was of Agnes Potter, a celebrated leader and respected Elder of the Bear River First Nation.
Then I was invited to view a brief movie about Willie Meuse, Frank’s grandfather, shown in footage from the 1930s on the Bear River. The film also highlighted the construction and launching of the first birch bark canoe built since 1927. The launching took place in 2004 and speaks to the importance of the ancestors.
We left the vestibule and entered a large multi-purpose room housing a variety of interpretive displays about the life and history of the Mi’kmaq First Nation. This room is also used for theatre productions, games of sports for the youth, community card parties, holiday feasts and presentations. Frederick joined me and gave me an overview of the birch bark canoe. He explained that the canoe weighs about 90 to 95 pounds and was constructed using authentic historical canoe-building methods used in the area. The canoe is a sea-going canoe, evidenced by the high rise in the middle. Fresh-water canoes do not feature a rise in the middle of the canoe.
The vessel is constructed of various types of wood including ash and birch and the outside is covered with birch bark. Any potential openings in the canoe’s skin are patched up with a mixture of spruce gum and bear grease. Canoes used to be the main form of transportation for the First Nations People and their navigation skills, fishing and hunting knowledge helped the French settlers when they first came to this area in the 1600s. This life-size canoe was made by Todd Labrador and Cory Ryan who is a seventh generation descendent of Malti Pictou, a well-known Bear River Mi’kmaq guide. Before Cory, he was the last person to make a birch bark canoe in the area.