My journey as the Saskatchewanderer, and my return to my home province has rejuvenated the dynamic between me and my family - a relationship that I never even realized had a disconnect. In literal terms: I currently live in my childhood home for the first time since I was eighteen. Although my nights spent domestically are few and far between, it’s oddly nostalgic waking up to the company of parents (who I affectionately refer to as “my roommates”). At the very least, I get to see family far more often than I did when I lived out of province, as my visits were limited to holidays or special occasions. Even so, the family bond I’m mainly referring to is much broader than that. As an adult (so to speak), it’s fascinating to explore the land that my ancestors settled on so long ago. I now have the opportunity and privilege to be able to walk in the footsteps of my predecessors and learn more about where I came from.
People often misconstrue one's heritage as being a visual trait. My voyage has taken me out of this mindset. About a month ago I was up north along the Saskatchewan River Delta, the homeland of the Cree and Metis. Even with my blue eyes, flaxen hair and chronically sunburned complexion, the locals could pinpoint mannerisms of mine that are derivative of my Metis lineage. These observations were made without me giving any pretext regarding my family history. This spawned a newfound curiosity in regards to the many cultures I see daily, but don’t acknowledge due to their subtleties.
I’ve always been somewhat familiar with the cliff notes of my family tree. My dad’s side is Scottish as blatantly indicated by my last name, Buchanan. Whenever I have questions that go beyond that, there are countless resources that I can reach out to. My maternal ancestry poses a bit more of a mystery. My mom's father (my grandpa) passed away when I was an infant and although her mother (my grandma) was around until about a year ago, she was hearing impaired for the duration of her life, making in-depth conversation difficult. What is known is that her mother and father, both of metis descents, migrated from Ontario and Quebec (respectively) during the great depression to start a new life in the French speaking town of Willowbunch, Saskatchewan.
This past weekend, Willowbunch hosted their annual summer Farm Fest, also referred to as “Terre Ferme”. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to acquaint myself with this area, my family history and the Fransaskois community. I brought my mother on the journey, who has distant memories of visiting her strictly French speaking grandparents in Willowbunch when she was a young child. She also grew up hearing stories from her mother about the convent where she attended her primary education. As we drove into Willowbunch we could see said convent towering like a beacon over the rest of the small town. As we got closer we quickly realized that the monumental building had been repurposed as a heritage museum. This warranted a pitstop, which soon evolved into a two-hour tour.
With my mom's help, I dug through extensive archives encompassed by almost exclusively french names. We saw many sepia-toned portraits of family members that I never had the privilege of meeting as well as pictures of my late grandmother as a young woman. My mom also learned things about our background that she had never known due to this language barrier.
What I found fascinating was that in a community that was saturated with Metis ancestry, many people were discreet about their background up until recent years. I only learned about my true heritage about a decade ago and it was through DNA testing - not word of mouth. I’m so grateful for the recent cultural shift that allows me to be proud and vocal about this integral piece of my genetic makeup. As I learned in Cumberland House, it’s something that I inherently wear on my sleeve.
While we were at the museum I also took a picture with this 8’3” life sized replica of Édouard Beaupré, also know as “The Willowbunch Giant” who was, at the time, the tallest man in recorded history.
With an enlightened understanding of who we are (and how comparably short we are), my mom and I ventured to the Willowbunch Farm Fest or “Terre Ferme”. There a vibrant Saskfrancois community was gathered enjoying traditional french folk music and authentic french fair. Hosted on the Campagne Family Farm about 13km outside of the city, it was an intimate atmosphere - even with the large turnout. Along with the “de la belle musique” there were workshops, site seeing rides, an old-time dance and available onsite camping.
The sense of community was very palpable as soon as we entered the area. Willowbunch is one of the few remaining Fransaskois areas in the province and you can tell it is a great point of pride for its citizens. As we wandered around taking in the local artisans and scenic landscape, we met many locals whose families have lived in the community for as long as it existed and were able to answer questions that we had about our lineage. It was an incredible opportunity to embrace our heritage in a celebratory environment built on doing just that.
This year's Terre Ferme ran from July 26th - 28th but is an annual event. To learn more go to: https://www.farmfesterreferme.ca/index.html
To learn more about the Willowbunch Museum go to: