News Local

Retracing history

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

Retracing the historical fur-trading route of their ancestors, two Rama First Nation men will embark on the most "meaningful" canoe trip of their lives.

Keesic Douglas, 36, and Kory Snache, 26, will be leaving from the Atherley Narrows on May 28 to follow the watery path of their ancestors, which hasn't been travelled as a fur trade route since the late 1800s.

"It's the most meaningful trip that I've ever done because there's so much history in it and our families used to travel it," Snache said. "This trip used to mean life or death."

The journey is expected to take three days, ending at the Hudson's Bay Company's flagship store in Toronto.

Douglas will be attempting to trade a vintage Hudson's Bay blanket for his great-grandfather's beaver pelts.

The pair will be filming the trip for Douglas' final thesis to complete his masters of fine arts degree at the University of British Columbia.

"We're looking at the Hudson's Bay blanket as the symbol for colonization, turning back the fur trade," Douglas said. "We've kind of accepted what happened to native people in Canada, but just think of other possibilities; looking at how we can be self-sufficient, self-governing."

Though they're travelling along the same route as their ancestors, the pair will face a much different journey.

"Imagine 200 years ago if we ran into, say, a war party from an enemy tribe. It would have been life or death," Snache said. "It's a couple day trip and you never knew what was going to happen on it because none of it was developed."

To day, much of the land is developed, including a former native foot-path the men must portage, which is now Highway 9.

"The route's been developed," Snache said. "Everywhere we're going to camp there's development, so we don't even know if we can stay at these places essentially."

Bill Allen, an avocational archeologist from Burk's Falls, has helped Douglas locate the historical route.

The First Nations people would have traded furs, fish and other food for items like kettles and blankets, Snache said.

Known as "the carrying place route," it was the only access to the south for northern tribes.

Many nations passed through the Atherley Narrows on their trips, Snache said.

"Mnjikaning was always the spot to refuel and replenish because of the fishing weirs at The Narrows," Douglas said. "That's why Mnjikaning was so important for the whole country, basically."

After canoeing across Lake Simcoe, the men will spend the night on Snache (pronounced snake) Island near Georgina on the southern edge of the lake.

The island was named after the Snache family, he said.

"I've always wanted to go there," Snache said. "It's where my family's traditional burial ground is."

The island is now covered in cottages, he said.

"We're going to try to camp on it, but it's been developed," Snache said.

The following day, the pair will travel down the Holland River to Schomberg. A homemade canoe carrier will come in handy during the next phase of the trip as they men must travel on foot 20 kilometres from Schomberg to Kleinburg, where they will camp for the second night. From there, they can put their 14-foot canoe into the Humber River and paddle into Lake Ontario.

They will then walk to The Bay in the Toronto Eaton Centre, leaving the canoe at the front door, and head straight to customer service, Douglas said. He will then attempt to trade a Hudson's Bay blanket, which he purchased from eBay, for his great-grandfather's beaver pelts. Douglas's great-grandfather was a trapper, he said.

"We're going to ask, not in a demanding way, but in a nice polite way," he said. "Chief Yellowhead was known as being very diplomatic, so that's the kind of approach we are going to take. We don't know what's going to happen." Yellowhead was chief of the Deer tribe of the Chippewa (Ojibwa) Indians in the 1800s.

Douglas graduated from Park Street Collegiate Institute and went on to become a multidisciplinary artist. He will be filming the trip and submitting it to film festivals.

Douglas has little canoeing experience, and that's where Snache comes in.

The Twin Lakes Secondary School graduate completed a business diploma in adventure tourism at Algonquin College. He has led week-long water rafting and sea kayaking trips around the globe. Snache is also a youth worker at Rama First Nation.

Friends and family have mixed opinions on the trip, Snache said.

"They either think we're crazy or they think it's the greatest thing ever," he said.

While many at Rama First Nation have canoes, they have been left "rotting" outside their homes, Snache said.

"Nobody canoes anymore. It's a lost art," he said. "Paddling used to be second nature. It was our main mode of transportation."

Completing the trip is something the men now feel compelled to do.

"For those who think we can't do it, we will come back and prove them wrong," Snache said. "For those that think it's great, they will think we're even greater for finishing it."

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