For years I have been somewhat half-heartedly attempting to compile all the necessary documentation required to apply for my Metis Card, which formally accepts me as a member of the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan. Not gonna lie, it’s a lot of paperwork. There are requests for long form birth certificates, inter-provincial documentation, adoption forms, name change documents, and a plethora of other papers needed for me to request formal entrance to my heritage and my place as a Metis person in all its cardholding glory. That’s maybe a story for another time, though.
One amazing thing about all this searching and genealogical unearthing I’ve been doing is the stories I have been learning about my family tree. There’s some good stuff in here! Stuff I am insanely proud to know and things I would be honoured to share with my children (if I had any). So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to the Winder/Rivard family.
My maternal Great-Grandfather Dolphis was adopted in Willow Bunch by a Metis couple named Alexandre and Francoise Rivard (nee Delorme) who hailed from St. Norbert, Manitoba, which is a primarily French-Metis community located near the crux of the Red and LaSalle rivers. They moved during the time of the Metis exodus in 1890. They were childless, but they loved children and made a home for at least 18 orphaned children throughout their lives together. Their home was always open to any who needed food or shelter. My great grandfather Dolphis was one of these children, and he and his sister were raised by Alexandre and Frances as their own.
Madame Rivard. A woman of deep faith who never voted (by choice, even after it became possible), and whose husband was a highly successful farmer. Alexandre’s booming farm business went under shortly after he died, though some of their land still remained in the family with Dolphis.
My great grandfather Dolphis (or Jumbo, as he was better known) was a cowboy through and through. Growing up, large rodeos were hosted on the Rivard ranch, and Jumbo rode broncos. He was a bit of wild child. After his father’s death, someone had convinced Frances to purchase a Chrysler. She didn’t even get to drive it, as Jumbo promptly rolled it into a coulee and totalled it while getting driving lessons from a friend.
Jumbo married Victoria Dumais in 1927. Victoria was the daughter of Jean-Baptiste and Vitaline Dumais (nee Piche) who had also moved from Red River to farm in the Hart, SK area. They had also fled the Red River area shortly after the rebellion, in hope of finding land and promise elsewhere in the country.
Jean-Baptiste Dumais’ father captained a York boat for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, and his family lived in the same rural community as Louis Riel (Riel purchased land from our family). He grew up during a time of unsettle and outrage, and once he married, sometime before 1900, he and his wife Vitaline left for Saskatchewan.
This is a small, amazing sidenote story: My great-great grandfather’s cousin Michel Dumais was actually the secretary of Louis Riel’s governing council for a time, and was a Captain during the Red River Resistance. He was Gabriel Dumont’s right-hand man, and fled with Dumont to Montana after the battle of Batoche. There, he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and travelled to Paris where the Wild West Show was featured as part of the Paris World Fair in 1889. He remained, until his death, a man surveiled, because although he eventually succumbed to the effects of alcoholism, the American and Canadian governments watched him closely due to his enduring, vocal fervor to fight for Metis rights against the Canadian government.
Second historical sidenote: My Great-great grandmother’s sister’s name was Florestine Beaupre (nee Piche). She was the mother of Edouard Beaupre, who is otherwise known as the Willow Bunch Giant. Due to a tumor on his pituitary gland, Edouard reached the height of 7’1″ by the age of 17, and could lift an 800lb horse. At his peak height, Edouard measured 8’3″ at the age of 23 in 1904. He wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy, but sadly, life led him in a different and sad direction. He ended up joining a circus and performed as a side show attraction by lifting heavy objects to the awe and adulation of gawking crowds. Shortly after his life with the circus began, while on the road in St. Louis, Missouri, he succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of 23. After his death, his body was further exploited. His body had been embalmed and was meant to be sent home to his family in Willow Bunch, but the manager of the circus refused to pay the bill to send him home. When his father heard of his son’s death, he travelled to Winnipeg to bring the body home, but was told that he would have to pay double fare to get the body home. With many young children at home and times being difficult, he was not able to afford to bring his son home with him. He was assured that his son would be buried in St. Louis, but unbeknownst to him, Edouard’s body would be morbidly displayed in the business window of the undertaker who embalmed him. His body still belonged to the circus, and after the organization went bankrupt, his corpse was discovered abandoned in a hangar. The discoverers were from a museum in Montreal and they brought Edouard there where they continued to display his body for 6 months before the rabid crowds forced authorities to move him to a more private location. A professor from Montreal University had him mummified and kept in a glass shrine away from onlookers. It was not until 1970 that a nephew of Edouard (Ovila Lesperance) discovered that his body was in Montreal and wanted to find out how to finally bring him home. In Poplar Poles and Wagon Wheels, Lesperance writes, “The University finally granted (Edouard’s release) in September, 1989, providing the body be cremated…After 85 years of being on public display, naked, and mummified, he is finally at peace.” If you ever visit the museum in Willow Bunch, you will find a great deal of information and artifacts from Edouard, as well as his grave, where he is finally home.
Back to the main story:
Jumbo Rivard married Victoria Dumais in 1927. They ranched and farmed in the coulee near Harptree near what was left of the Rivard ranch. Those were tough times through the ’30s and ’40s. My great-grand parents had 14 children, and they did what they needed to to feed and clothe them all. From all accounts, there was a lot of hospitality in the home, and though there were bad times as well as good, there were a lot of memories created in the rolling hills of the ranch. The family left the ranch in 1950 when they moved into Willow Bunch, and then they ended up in Weyburn. Jumbo passed away in 1983, and Victoria died several years later in 1991. They are both buried in Medicine Hat Cemetery together.
My grandma’s family was large. She had 13 brothers and sisters, most of whom I knew. A few passed away young. My great uncle Jerry died at the age of 4 in Fort San from tuberculosis. My fortuitous namesakes are my great uncles Paul and Dan. Uncle Paul was a construction worker who died after falling down an elevator shaft. Two years later, my Uncle Dan was out hunting when he was accidentally shot. He died a few days later in the hospital from his wounds.
The family were all schooled in English at the convent in Willow Bunch, but spoke French and some Michif at home. By the time I was old enough to learn French, my grandma told me she had forgotten it all. But when I moved to Montreal for an exchange program in 2001, I would call her and speak to her and she understood everything I said. Even towards the end of her life, people who met grandma for the first time said she sounded like she had a bit of an accent. I never noticed it, but I’m sure she did have a bit of an accent, as one who was born speaking French and only moving to English later in life.
My Metis grandma Eva was a beautiful lady who had a streak of wild in her, which she must have got from her father. She was not much of a housekeeper, she wasn’t a seamstress or a knitter or a cook like most peoples’ grandmas. She was far from perfect. But she was a fighter. She wanted to learn and grow and to be better as she aged. She was more comfortable sunbathing nude on the farm than she was at any high-falutin function. She was the queen of comfy clothes, long underwear, and oversized tee shirts. But she had the most beautiful salt-and-pepper hair, which up until near the end of her life she had grown long and luxurious and we called it her kookum hair. She held herself elegantly, and she was a fierce spiritual warrior, she could pray harder and with more earnest than anyone I’ve ever met. Her faith was her saving grace. And she loved me a lot. Even if sometimes she didn’t really know how to show it, she loved us kids to the end of the earth.
It’s important to note, I think, that until my mom’s generation (and even then, to some extent), my entire family was raised and educated in industrial schools and convents. These places taught us that being Metis was wrong. It taught us to hate the brown in us, to cover it up, to make sure no one knew that we were brown. And this schooling really messed us all up. The generational trauma stemming from the Indian Act, the Metis Resistance, and the subsequent fallout from the government’s crushing of the rights of our people is devastating and long-lasting. It affected my family. It affected our relationships with one another. It affected our lives on a deep and traumatic level. But this today is a celebration. Yes, there is deep intergenerational trauma in my family. But there is also love. And there is pride. And I am so happy to share a bit about my family with you today. Look at all these beautiful brown faces, those French-Metis souls, and know that it’s because of them that I am able to sit here today and teach you about them.
I am so proud to be Metis. I love my heritage. I love my family. Thanks for taking this historical journey with me today.
Maarsi poor toon taan.
Moon faamii awa.