weaving cultural signifiers to explore the passage of time, and the movement (as ever) from prairie to coast: begin with a red comment from Tramping Lake, Manitoba, then straight to St. Ann's Parish, the little mission church which was a great world for me, once upon a time. everything was significant! it was a year of amazing discoveries! i became aware of mortality, and also, about being dispensible, for the first time being left with people who didn't particularly like or care for me, as a type. the photo was taken as a memento, before we moved away.
a few years back, it finally occurred to me that i should stop by the church, as i held still so many vivid memories, of discovering and engaging with the world outside. it was quite a surprise to realize that this vast space was such a postage-stamp sized parking lot. i do remember the transformations, sunday full of vehicles and not a safe place to play, school days filled with children and amazing things for me to discover. one such discovery was a smashed chick, on a spring morning, probably having encountered a church-day vehicle. not a long time later, my own lunch, smashed under the feet of the children.
although i remember other, earlier things, this is my earliest memory of putting two and two together, and extrapolating: my science mind was quite active that year and this was a moment of philosophical insight: if it happened to the chick (car), and it happened to the lunch (children's feet), it could happen to me (forces unknown).
what caused the philosophical leap, or at least what made the whole day memorable, was that i was very hungry. when i realized that my lunch was not available, i suppose i spoke to my teacher, who called my sister from her class, or maybe i burst into tears and some other child called her, i'm not sure. but, she was called upon to take me outside, to find my lunch where i'd forgotten it, and we found it alright, but it had been thoroughly trampled, and was no longer edible. at that point, for sure, i began to cry, with the heartbreak of the hungry child. my sister was clearly uncomfortable, not with my tears, but with this responsibility, to somehow solve my problem for me. where were the big girls when we needed them?*
she decided to bring me to the nun's quarters, and she was clearly feeling very intimidated, so to this day i am very grateful for her courage. we could hear the nuns talking behind the closed door, the sound of a cheerful meal in progress. it took awhile, but eventually, either the door was opened or the word of permission heard. i felt a lift of amazement to see and smell the feast! i was so hungry! but, the expected wave of welcome did not occur.
perhaps this was my first real experience of running up against a completely foreign set of assumptions, and being received in a way that was entirely unexpected. i don't remember if i grabbed a chair or not, but, the nuns made it clear that i was not welcome at their table. one was quite happy to send me away without food. an object (abject?) lesson in responsibility. did my sister negotiate on my behalf? did a kinder adult heart intervene? somehow, the scene ended with permission to take a single orange from the table. i took this orange away from the feast, and while it mitigated the hunger somewhat, it did not alleviate all that i had learned about the world, in just a few impressive hours of being.
when i visited, many years later, the church was closed. at some point, home again, i googled the parish, and i found out that they were gearing up for a big celebration! 2008: 100 years of St. Ann's Parish! That is the significance of the red banner over the doors, in the second (street view) photo. I sent the news hither and yon, and i wanted to go but i could not go, as often occurs.
Eventually, though, I visited by email. I told of my interest, and asked, did they have any history written any where, that i might access? Sister Alice wrote to me, and said yes, send me your mailing address and I will put it in the mail. I sent her my address, along with the picture of my sister and i and the looming nuns. She commented that the garb of the nuns was from another era, though to me they looked quite normal. The history pages were sent, and i read them with interest. I decided that this was something to share with my family, so, i started scanning. It occurred to me to ask, would Sister Alice (or the Parish) like to have electronic copies of the history pages? She said, yes please! So, i sent them along. A few months later, when i sent round my winter greetings, the mail was returned: 2010: the end of an era.
There follows a map from the 1850s (?) covering the range of places where i lived, or at least, the region of my second sojourn in the lands of my birth. Landforms and flora are doted upon, and much as i like it, the second hand-paint or hand-ink entry, I guess i know why that is. I've been staying up late, researching diocese, and have learned something of interest: the diocese within which St. Ann's dwells covers one-third of the province, and the diocese where St. Casimir's dwells, the later photographs in the series, covers about a fifth of this province. The fault line between english-speaking and french-speaking Catholics is memorialized in the setting of boundaries, between the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and that of the elder statehood, St. Boniface.
The Oblate fathers were the driving force behind St. Mary's Parish, and St.Ann's, which began as a Mission of St. Mary's in 1908, and became a Parish unto itself in 1917. The wording is not clear (in "A History of St. Ann's"), whether the school evolved out of St. Joseph's Orphanage or as a separate endeavour, but it is clear that the Sisters of St. Joseph took on the running of the school in 1920, and persisted until 1971. At that juncture, the school was closed, and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, including Sister Alice, carried responsibility for Religious Education until 2010.
I am glad that I had the opportunity, to ask for Sister Alice to feed my mind, and to have a nourishing exchange with her before St. Ann's administration was folded into that of a neighbouring parish.
My story is far too long! How will I get through all of the photographs, at this pace of unveilment? Poetic is so much more efficient than prosaic, and still, sometimes the whole sentences want to flow and flow. Capitals suddenly assert themselves, and a less informal structuring occurs.
In terms of the flow of imagery, we have now arrived at Writing-on-stone, in what is now Alberta, the carved that is more muscular commentary and the painted which is tremendously bold and utterly bird. And, then, three happy Catholics who rose up in French Canada and set down on the west coast, 1850s again and a bit south of here. Oblate missionaries, that is Archbishop Blanchet in the middle, Bishop Blanchet on the left, and Bishop Demers on the right. Reaching backward in time, we find our muscular carved rock in distinct coastal voice, there on the ground in front of us. I hope you can see how this weaving works, strength from the past, forward and back, geographical precision. The map this time, while generously sharing the necessary river, is all focussed upon the Gold Rush, made in fact to foster it by the forces of capital. As a courtesy, there are a few local peoples' established presence noted.
Arrived on the coast we follow the same pattern backward, pausing to glimpse at my next church and school. Established in 1944, the remarkable moment for St. Casimir's Parish is not the future centennial, but the recent catastrophic plane crash, taking the life of the Polish president and many other people. That is a very fresh wound. Flower sacrifices to honour our losses, and to assist in the transitions from one world to the next.
The following photograph is archival, I am not one of those girls. I do somewhere have pictures of me in my white dress, playing around on the sidewalk by the side of the house, with a happy grin. Finding this photograph, instead, I am very pleasantly surprised to see the Blessed Virgin out and about, in beloved company, in East Vancouver. My grandmother too liked to take the air, and I loved how she took my arm to make our private processionals.
My parents practised a form of democracy in the home, and so, while I attended public school in grades two, three, and six, I attended St. Casimir's in grades four and five. (The deal was, the eldest child in elementary school chose on behalf of all of the elementary school-aged children, whether to attend private or public school, adding a stirring-it-up quality to our five year initial sojourn on the coast).
* our elder sisters, and the one between us in age, were all over at the public school for the year. St. Ann's Parish is in the part of Winnipeg known as St. James. My grandmother was born in the Northwest Territories, child of french settlers, and was placed with the nuns at the age of three, and collected again at thirteen, to help raise her brother. she did not recognize the man who came to take her away, her father. the boy she helped raise, an American, became a missionary priest in Burma, for thirty years. My grandmother's mother-in-law was an Irish Catholic, and so, that war over appropriate boundaries spilled right through my family.
The very first time i saw truly ancient words carved in stone i was standing on Vancouver Island, accompanied by my first mother-in-law, and i had a tiny infant strapped to my chest. It was a sunny day, and i stood for a long time, an ancient song singing me through the world. The first time i saw red words on stone, i was travelling with a pack of poets, making our way to the coast.
Giving the final comment to those who spoke first, by hand, in red words. To the Elders, who paused to speak in ways that endure.
Notes & sources:
everything has a source.
Tramping Lake “red words,” http://www.manitobaphotos.com/trampinglake.htm
St. Ann’s Centenary, http://maps.google.ca/maps?oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=St.+Ann%27s+Parish&fb=1&gl=ca&hq=St.+Ann%27s+Parish&hnear=0x54867599f4ef4d3d:0x6a5024adba02fab5,Richmond,+BC&cid=0,0,6883835245917468122&ei=P_ScT4PYMK7diAKpuvFF&sa=X&oi=local_result&ct=image&resnum=3&ved=0CAkQ_BIwAg
Map: Fort Garry to Fort Ellice, http://www.electricscotland.com/history/canada/ocean/chapter4.htm
Writing-on-stone images http://www.canadianarchaeology.com/caa/feature/painted-thunderbird
+ “Nothing is final” http://jaytalker.typepad.com/pigeon_forge_odyssey/2011/06/index.html
Bishops consult (1850), http://www.historylink.org/_content/printer_friendly/pf_output.cfm?file_id=9126
St. Casimir’s, “Local Polish community mourns,” http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/News/2010/04/12/13554956.html
Wspomnienia, Historia parafii św. Kazimierza http://www.stcasimirs.bc.ca/index.php?id=216&topic_list=18&cHash=00c3439ed6#
St. Casimir’s, http://www.stcasimirs.bc.ca/
Archdiocese of Winnipeg, http://www.archwinnipeg.ca/about.php
Archdiocese of Vancouver, http://www.rcav.org/About_Us/Default.aspx?id=636
River to sea/Coastal handiworks,