A quote taken from “The Nor’Westers” by Marjorie Wilkins Campbell: (Book used in the Gr.8 History course)
“From the moment each new-comer left Grand Portage he heard about the initiation ceremony. Indeed, he had likely heard about it from old hands back in his mother’s kitchen at home. By the time the moment arrived he felt like a young Indian about to face the fearful rites of manhood.
Hat off and on his knees, the voyageur would bend his head. The oldest guide would thoroughly drench him with a wet cedar bough. Then he made the two-fold promise, repeating the words after the guide. He promised, on his honour, never to permit another new-comer to pass over the Height of Land without a similar ceremony. And he swore never to kiss a voyageur’s wife without her consent. The cheer would go up, a quick burst of shot would break the air.
The toast was the real reason for the ceremony, everyone said. But the voyageurs knew there was more to it. Only a few hundred men made the long, dangerous trip west from Montreal to Grand Portage each year. And back in the little houses along the St. Lawrence or Ottawa rivers every boy listened raptly when told tales of wintering in the Indian country.
“ Je suis un homme du nord!”
It was a swaggering boast. Everyone hearing it knew that it meant rigorous portages and long journeys, visits to strange lands and perilous encounters with storms and wild animals and other countless dangers of that fierce and rugged country.”
The St. John’s schools incorporated this tradition (adding one more promise – that of loyalty to the company) on their canoe trips, in an attempt to create in the students a sense of the past. Our hope was that each boy will feel this history and pass it on to others.
What are your memories of the ‘Homme du Nord” ceremony. Send them to us. (Click on the title and scroll to the bottom to submit your memory. Click on the photo to see larger version)