LaSalle’s Rendezvous Voyageur Festival brings history to life

by Max De Liberato

Strip the bark from the willow tree; dry it then crush it into tea. This is an ancient remedy for pain relief used by the natives in LaSalle around 350-years ago.

  This one just one piece of history learned at Gil Maure Park in LaSalle on Saturday as the Rendezvous Voyageur Festival was hosted as a way to bring history alive. Patrons enjoyed music, re-enactments, and visiting vendor booths where items – from soap to fresh foods and jewelry – were available for sale.

  “The history is not just for LaSalle,” Julie Columbus, an organizer of the event, said. “It’s for the region, Southwestern Ontario, and it actually shaped all of Canada. The history of the 1600s and 1700s and the arrival of the French is a big part of how we became a nation today.”

  The legend of the voyageurs has scarce mention in history, but made a big impact. The Voyager tale is one passed down through stories of folklore, due to the fact that many of them could not read or write. This was the world of the Rendezvous Voyagers.

  Native populations were trading amongst each other before Europeans ever came to their land. When the Europeans came, they used wampum as currency for trading.

  At this weekend’s Rendezvous Voyagers Festival, emcee Jay Bailey held a wampum bead belt, made of white and black beads, with two horizontal black lines on a white canvas. He said these types of belts were used as a peace offering between the two neighbouring tribes as the black lines represent two tribes travelling in harmony, never crossing into each other’s affairs.

  The voyageurs used the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair to travel through to the Great Lakes, delivering furs, mostly from beavers, as it was in fashion at the time.

  Along the way, the voyageurs interacted with many of the native tribes, the natives befriended and became valuable trade partners with the French settlers.

  During the opening ceremony, Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain said, the voyagers showed determination, will, and how to work as a team.

The rest of the ceremony had a heavy focus on Louisville, Kentucky being LaSalle’s new sister city. All members of the Louisville Council, in addition to Bain, incumbent Tracey Ramsey, LaSalle Mayor Marc Bondy, and others showed their respect to the history that happened here by partaking in the first smudging ceremony of the day.

  Representatives from Walpole Island were in attendance, the natives from Walpole are commonly Potawatomi, Odawa, or Ojibwe.

  Legend has it, that aboriginals would play games of lacrosse to settle disputes rather than go to war. Naturally, a demonstration of the traditional sport was held at the event.

The game was a great spectacle, however, the ceremony before the match created a powerful recreation of what the people were able to accomplish, mutual respect amongst each other.

  The two teams begin by cleansing and purifying their bodies during a smudge ceremony. They asked the crowd not to photograph the ceremony and every person obliged. After the ceremony, they began pounding a drum, the beat to your heart filled with an overwhelming passion for victory.

The school boards, ACFO (Association of French-Canadians of Ontario), and the French Community Centre, partnered to host the event. 

“It’s been a phenomenal on-taking, cooperation, and collaboration with our French partners.” Columbus said.

© 2021 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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