Project piecing together past generations

Peggy Revell

The photos, names, dates, and stories that line the basement walls of Our Lady of Lourdes Church mark the almost 20 years that Glenn Jourdain has dedicated to piecing together the history of the people of Couchiching First Nation.
Organized into church history, chiefs, community members, those who served as soldiers, the residential schools, and the Catholic Women’s League, it was on display during an open house last week—and will remain for years to come.
“It’s about the people, that’s what this program is about,” Jourdain stressed.
He said it all started when his interest in finding out who his great-grandfather was turned into a passion.
“In 1990 . . . I knew my grandfather’s name, but I didn’t know my great-grandfather,” he recalled, adding he also was interested in the origin of the Jourdain name since it’s one that originates from France.
It was a history that hadn’t been passed down from generation to generation.
“A lot of stuff when I was growing up . . . my dad didn’t say that much to us about anything,” he explained. “Understand that it had a lot do with the residential schools suppressing everything, starting with language.
“The history that was passed on orally wasn’t passed on at all,” he added.
While his father spoke their language fluently, it was never passed along to his nine children. His mother, as well, never spoke about past generations on her own side of the family.
“So looking for who was my grandfather’s dad, I start looking at the treaty pay list and doing that I found out that his name was Simon Jourdain Sr. and that his wife was named Archange Mainville, and I started from there.
“I got hooked on it.”
The next thing he knew, he was up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to do research and work on this hobby before starting work for the day at 8:30 as a fire officer.
“And then my wife, her grandfather, Henry Perreault, who was born around 1895 or so, he had a sort of a cloth bag with a bunch of old pictures in there. About half of them had their names on them, about half of them didn’t,” Jourdain noted.
“Then using those treaty pay lists, I start connecting up who was who. Who came from where.
“From that, I started doing family profiles of each person,” Jourdain continued, often using the band numbers assigned to status Indians to track people throughout the generations.
“You take an old man like Louie Jourdain, probably born in 1846 or something like that,” said Jourdain. “Who was he? He was born when? He died when? Who was his wife? Who were the kids? Who did they marry?
“I started doing that.”
Some 19 years later, he now has completed about 200 of these profiles. He also has catalogued photos that reach back to even before the treaty signing of 1873.
When he retired in 2007, subsidies from the Museum Assistance Program were secured and he went to work part-time as a community history researcher.
While he traced his own surname and connected it with families in Quebec, Jourdain also has been able to trace the Morrisseau name—person by person—back to France in the 1600s.
The cataloguing system for all this information was designed by an engineer at advisory services, Jourdain explained, and is divided into two separate binders: one that holds the profile of each person, and another that holds a catalogue of all the photos he has collected and people have brought in over the years.
Coincidently, when Jourdain travelled to the Manitoba archives to look for some more information and photos, he learned the system he uses is absolutely identical to the one the archive uses for cataloguing.
And from all this gathered information, he is able to build what he calls “family binders” for people within the community.
Each binder starts out with the youngest person in the family, usually the grandchild, he explained, with the first page holding a family tree tracing six generations.
The following page holds all the information about those names, information on generations even further back if available, as well as copies of any photos he may have of these people.
So far, Jourdain estimates he has assembled about 136 of these binders.
One recent binder request came from a grandmother for her great-grandchildren who, while registered as Indian, have hair as blonde as anyone you could see in town, he explained.
“What I’m trying to do there is, just so in the future, they can have a look at who they were. It’s in that binder,” he remarked. “They’re going to look at this old Indian lady, their great-grandmother, and that great-grandmother doesn’t nearly look like they do, but that is their flesh and blood great-grandmother.”
And while he is the one who gets the congratulations when people see what has been done, Jourdain stressed it takes a lot of people to make it all work.
“I get a lot of help,” he said. “A lot of people bring me stuff to help. You don’t do anything by yourself, I tell people, and I appreciate all the help that I get.”
For years Jourdain did all the work by writing everything out by hand—something that changed when Lavana Fox was hired to help put everything into digital format on the computer.
“They gave me the right girl to do this work, I’ll tell you that,” he enthused, lauding Fox’s work. “Because in the year, not quite a year-and-a-half, that she’s been with me, I can see our work even improving as she went along.
“I do what I do, but she makes it look better.”
Having it on computer also means back-ups can be made of all of the research—something that didn’t exist before—with copies now at the church, in the computer, and at the band office.
“All we’re doing there is what the Indian people, I guess, used to do orally,” Jourdain explained. “Where they’d hand it down, the keeper of the stories, the keeper of the histories, and all that are the ones that would tell them.”
It’s an important role Jourdain said he feels he was meant to fill for the community.
“When I was younger in the Indian school, I had to participate in killing pigs,” Jourdain noted. “After I saw the way pigs die, I said, ‘I’m never killing anything in my life. I’m not a hunter, I’m not a fishermen, nothing like that.’
“And so they used to say, ‘Boy, if this was the old days, whatever women who took up with you would be crazy because you’d starve to death.’
“I kind of believed that for a while until I read something that said, at the treaty signing time, it said the old Indian man said to the government man: ‘Everything you have said I’ve committed to my memory.’
“That was his job, to remember. He didn’t hunt or anything. His job was that.”
After reading this, Jourdain knew that was the role for him.
“That’s what I do now, I do that work, that’s what I’m known as, the historian in the community,” he stressed, adding that even when he is gone, all his work will remain for future generations.
“When people talk to me, I usually have stories to tell,” he added. “They said that my dad was a story-teller. Even . . . when I did my job as a fire officer, I usually had a story to tell about anything that I was doing.
“People talk to me now, and I now know why I was given that memory: I’m the keeper of the history now.”