Cross Lake, Manitoba June 8 - June 15 /2009

1. Cross Lake Community 2. High Water 3. Roman Catholic Church

This was my first trip to the Cree Indian Reserve of Cross Lake and also my first trip northward by bus in 8 years. The community, called Pimicikamak, lies along the Nelson River where it enters Cross Lake, hence the name. It rivals Norway House for its pure scenic beauty. Residents live in 7 main districts for a total population of approximately 7000 people. I was invited by Ron Beardy, (Band Councillor) and his wife, Elaine Beardy, (School Councillor) to visit. During my stay I planned to meet and photograph several elders and give a presentation in the Middle School. I ended up staying the entire week, had much fun and spent time with some very interesting individuals.

June 8/Mon.
I left on the Greyhound bus from Winnipeg at 9:00am. Several stops later I met a young fellow named, Leron Monias who was also heading to Cross Lake. He told me a little about the history of the community.
I picked up a few copies of North Roots Magazine at Lundar. I had not seen the latest issue.
After a bus change at Waboden we soon crossed the imposing Jenpeg Generating Station which has had an enormous impact on the lives of the people of Cross Lake and other communities.
When I arrived in Cross Lake that evening I discovered that Ron's son, Michael, along with his girlfriend, Laura, had been on the bus the entire trip. Ron & Elaine picked us up and after a brief tour through town we arrived at their home on the outskirts.
Now sooner was I seated than Elaine offered me a unique drink, Birch water. It had a mild, sweet taste that was quite pleasant.
Elaine made my supper and we talked until 1:00am while I drank a copious amount of tea.
It became apparent during the week that Elaine often fed people who arrived at her doorstep at all hours of the day or night.
During the evening a long list (about 60 names) of individuals was compiled, primarily elders, to see in the community. It was a daunting task and I would do my best with the time I had.

June 9/Tues.
Introduced myself to, Greg, the Principal at the Middle School where I would be doing a presentation. We agreed upon Thursday at 1:00pm.
After lunch Elaine drove me to the High School where I met the Principal. Unfortunately the art teacher was not in that day.
I decided to walk back home which took about 2 hours with short stops for photographs. The worst part was the clouds of dust that arose with each passing vehicle.
After supper Ron drove me to the home of Helen Jane Scott. Helen is a wonderful little lady of 93. Both Ron and I photographed her outside while she sat on her chair. Helen lost both parents at a very early age during the Spanish Influenza epidemic. She was raised by her paternal grandmother, Mariah.
I found my way to Kenneth Scott's house. I photographed this 82 year old fellow with cap on and off.

4. Elaine With Birch Water 5. Gerald & Helen J. Ross 6. Kenneth Scott

June 10/Wed.
That morning Ron drove me to Gideon McKay’s home for a brief introduction. We couldn’t stay because Ron had a meeting to attend. He dropped me off at the High School where I met the Art teacher. I talked to her students until their class ended.
As I was leaving the school grounds in Ron's truck, I noticed a photogenic fellow picking up garbage on the side of the road. I took some photos of Joe Hamilton, alias, ‘Joe-Babe.’ Unfortunately the sun was shy during those minutes.
I drove to the center of town and took photos of band office and surrounding area. Cross Lake is certainly a beautiful community. The water is quite high, though; some said 4 feet higher than normal.
I spent the afternoon interviewing Helen Jane Ross. Her son-in-law, Phillip, arrived and helped facilitate the interview and afterwards, son, Daniel, who lives next door took over.
Immediately afterwards I hurried to Donald McKay’s home. Following my photographs I conducted a short, 25 min., interview because I was rushed for time.
Ron had left for Winnipeg for Band purposes.
Supper was breaded pickerel. It and the conversation was excellent. We were up late because Elaine and I talk too much.

June 11/Thurs.
Walked to the Middle School and discovered Shaneen Robinson was presenting today too.
I presented to approximately 50 Grade 8 kids in the library. They squeezed in and were well behaved making it an enjoyable hour.
That evening Mike drove us all out of town to a spot where Elaine and Ron had tapped birch trees. We walked into the bush a few minutes to an area where spigots had been put into 5 birch trees three days earlier. Two cans were dry but three yielded several litres of liquid all together. This activity is done in the spring before the leaves appear. Spigots are put in for 3 days to over 2 weeks depending on the conditions. The liquid is put through a cloth strainer to eliminate bugs, twigs etc. and drunk.
Ron returned from Winnipeg later that evening.

7. Ron Holding Pike He Threw Back 8. Sunset on Cross Lake 9. Gerald, Elaine & Ron Beardy

June 12/Fri.
At noon Ron drove us to the home of Raymond McKay. Raymond is blind and has a strong religious faith. He spoke about how the traditional way of life around Cross Lake has been destroyed due to the flooding. He said the muskrats would build to a certain height and then when the water level is raised, they are flooded out of their homes. Many perish as a result. Afterwards the conversation turned to religion and then towards the end of our visit, Raymond prayed with us. Ron and I took some photographs of Raymond indoors.
The sun disappeared for the day as clouds rolled in.
Ron dropped in at the Band office for a short visit then we walked to the community hall next door. Food was being served for volunteers who were involved the community clean up. Everyone was welcome.
Helen Ross was present along with several other elders. Ron give little bowls of finely shaved caribou meat to the elders who loved it. I was introduced to Lilian McKay who said little but kissed both Ron and me on the cheek.
It had begun to rain. Ron and I spent an hour with Howard Beardy, Ron’s older brother. He is friendly and quite talkative; his home directly overlooks the lake.
Later I met Bernadette Beardy, Ron’s mother. She had a stroke a few years ago but seems quite sharp. Certainly her recollection of her past is very good.
Ron and I made lasagna while watching the Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Redwings. Had a memorable evening especially since Pittsburgh won the cup that night!!

June 13/Sat.
That morning Ron and Elaine drove me to the bus depot. After they left I discovered the bus doesn’t travel to Winnipeg on Saturday. An hour and a half later Ron picked me up and we had a big laugh about the entire episode.
I headed off for a walk in a different part of town and ended up watching a local youth softball game.
Mike and I cut up a moose femur bone for a soup Elaine was preparing. I was looking forward to a taste later.
Everyone was working when the sun came out in the afternoon. Mike hoeing, Laura cutting potatoes and Elaine peeling we-case. Ron and his youngest brother were busy repairing the Honda.
Ron was hoping we would get on the lake that evening so we drove off to pick up the boat motor from the repair shop. By the time we put the boat in the water by Bernadette’s house, an hour and a half had passed. It was close to 9:00pm when headed across Cross Lake.
We all tried a hand at fishing but it was Elaine who caught 2 Jack fish. We kept the second one at about 7 pounds. Ron threw his Jack back although it was a decent size.
The sunset on the lake was magnificent and made for some excellent photographs.
Before midnight we were home eating freshly cooked Jack fish and moose bone soup. Both were superb! It had been a terrific evening.

June 14/Sun.
That morning a friend of Elaine, named Roseanne came to visit. One hour later we jumped in her truck and headed to the bus terminal. They joked about ensuring I was on the bus before departing.
The bus trip gave me ample time to not only finish my book but read numerous articles in magazines.
Arrived in Winnipeg by 9:30pm to a warm summer night.
Thanks Ron and Elaine for your hospitality. (Also, thanks Ron for the pointers on photography)
The week went by very quickly due to good company, great food and stimulating conversation.

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