A Family Tradition Helping Others
This article is made possible by the memoirs of Violet Lalonde, my first cousin 2x removed. She wrote about our common ancestor, Marie Louise Riel McGregor. Through her memoirs, I was able to gain a deeper insight into my 4th great grandmother. Thank you, Violet Lalonde, although you have now also passed on—for preserving some of our family history for the rest of us to discover also. Historian, Pierre-Louis Lapointe, with Violet’s permission has filed these memoirs in the research centre of the Societe de Genealogie de l’Outaouais, Quebec.
Have you ever stopped to look at who and where your family comes from? Although there might be characters in your family past everyone would rather not be recognized with, what about the hidden gems?
Recently, I’ve made such a hidden gem discovery in my own family history. For those not aware, I’ve begun a family ancestry search. It is progressing very well and I’m finding all of the ancestral documents I need to locate.
Along this search I came across a memoir which was written by my first cousin (2 times removed), Violet Lalonde around 1985. In this memoir she was focusing on my 4th great grandmother—Marie Louise Riel McGregor. Dispelling the myths, while uncovering the heart behind this hidden gem of Canadian Metis history and our family.
Discovering Who She Was
Violet’s memoir is written so that you get a deeper glimpse into the heart, mind, and spiritual belief of Marie Louise Riel McGregor.
What I discovered in this memoir is a common soul mate and a deeper understanding into myself. An understanding of why I feel so passionately about things and feel the strong urge to do something. My distant Grandmother was not only Metis—she was a helper of the poor.
Marie Louise Riel McGregor was a multi-talented woman who was an important and cherished member of her community.
Her Beginnings In I’le a la Crosse, NWT (Saskatchewan)
Marie Louise Riel was born in 1811 to Jean Baptiste Riel l’Irlande and Marguerite Boucher (Metis) at I’le a la Crosse reserve. For those interested in Metis history, it is my 5th great grandmother, Marguerite who is the 1st Metis in my family line.
Marguerite’s parents were Louis Boucher and a North American Indian Princess—the daughter of a Chippewyan Chief. This Princess was the pure native link. By having children with Louis Boucher, she gave birth to first generation Metis. Marguerite Boucher was one of those first generation Metis.
Marie Louise’s dad, Jean Baptiste Riel was a peaceful man. In 1820, when the two competing fur companies became in constant conflict with each other, Jean Baptiste packed up his family and returned to his birth place, Quebec. Those 2 fur companies of course were:
- Hudson Bay Company
- North West Fur Trading Company
By 1821 these two companies were amalgamted into the Hudson Bay Company. This just confirmed Jean Baptiste Riel’s decision to return to Quebec with his family.
Many Metis families, including the Riel family of the famous Louis David Riel, began to settle into Quebec, becoming a distinct Indigenous Nation. Although different in some ways from their western Metis cousins, yet very much the same in customs, faith, and way of life.
Quebec Became Her Community
It was in Oka, Quebec that Marie Louise Riel met and married the blonde haired, blued eyed Canadian of Scottish descent. He was a fur trader voyageur named—Robert Richard Joseph McGregor. Although she married young, age 15, Marie Louise and Robert had a love that was long and true. In their 35 years together they had 10 children before his death in 1861.
Throughout the bulk of her adult years, Marie Louise Riel McGregor resided within the Buckingham and Val des Bois areas of the Outaouais region. So, although in true Metis fashion, Marie Louise would often move, she stayed for the most part within the Outaousais region. This became her community—an area where she was lovingly nicknamed “Guardian Angel Of The River”.
Her humanitarian aid efforts were known far and wide throughout the region. If you needed help—you sought out the assistance of Marie Louise Riel McGregor. In true nomadic Metis style, she made the entire region her mission field.
Humanitarian Services Included–
Marie Louise had a heart for the poor and needy in her region. She was known to travel by canoe for days up and down the river in order to bring aid to people. Marie Louise’s skills were varied and many.
Whether you needed assistance with:
- giving birth to a baby—she was the local midwife to send for.
- doctor—doctors were few and far between, Marie Louise was the woman with the “knowledge of the bones”, “healer” with natural herb resources, and even her faith based “laying on of the hands”.
- Marie Louise would often go on week long journeys of what she called her “errands of mercy”
- feeding the hungry
- clothing the cold
- maker of clothing and footwear
- builder and repairer of canoes
- finder of lost children in the woods
- prayer warrior and prophetess
- interpreter—she could speak 5 languages (French, English, Gaelic, Chipewyan, Cree) –and any combination thereof, also known as the Metis language Michif
- hunter—very skilled with bow, arrow and her hatchet
- and overall general protector and defender of the poor
Babies—A Gift From God
Not only did Marie Louise give birth to 10 of her own children, she assisted in delivering literally hundreds of children into the world. She was the trusted midwife that you called. Even in her old age, she helped deliver a baby just six months before her own death.
She helped with the births of many of her own grandchildren and even some of her great-grandchildren—my ancestors.
In fact, my own great grandmother, Marie Louise McGregor, named in Marie Louise Riel McGregor’s honor, grew up around her. In fact my great grandmother was 14 years of age, when this precious family icon passed away.
Babies were very important to Marie Louise Riel McGregor. She looked upon them as precious extensions of life and God’s promises. Marie Louise felt so strongly about the connection between the birth of a baby and God, that she baptised every child moments after birth.
She never lost the fascination for the miracle of birth and the rightful Creator who should receive the honor and glory.
Marie Louise continued to care about the well being of these children long past their birth. She felt that the children were the next precious generation that needed to be shown and taught how to be self reliant and to carry on the humanitarian work as well.
Just as important, she knew the children needed to learn about and to love God as well. She spent an hour every night praying and teaching the children to do so likewise.
Often she would have children with her while she went on her “errands of mercy”. Marie Louise used opportunities daily to teach and train up the children in the way they should go….
Local Herbal Doctor
There is no mystic mystery here. By using family herbal remedies, Marie Louise’s knowledge proved invaluable many times. With limited modern day medical interventions, Marie Louise was able to use tried and true methods passed down the generations to help save countless lives. The Metis called her a “healer”.
Whether you were suffering from asthma, or a badly broken bone, Marie Louise had the hands and skills necessary to bring relief and healing.
And when healing was needed beyond the ordinary—Marie Louise was also a mighty Prayer Warrior and had the “gift of laying on of hands”. She didn’t hesitate to call upon God Himself to assist in a medical emergency when more than an herbal cure was needed.
Her faith in God was huge!
Because of this, again people didn’t hesitate to send for her when a medical emergency arose. She was the “doctor” to call.
Feeding The Hungry
It was a common occurrence to find Marie Louise traveling up and down the river or walking for miles through the woods bringing food to the needy. She would carry pots of homemade soups to less fortunate and/or sick families. Knowing that the sick must keep their strength up, she would bring nutritious meals to families as they recovered.
Marie Louise also grew her own turkeys. In the fall she would slaughter them and then distribute them among large poor families in her community. She desired that they be able to enjoy the festival of Thanksgiving, even in their struggles. To bring them HOPE and a FUTURE.
Marie Louise was a very capable hunter as well. She took the time to train others how to hunt and provide for their families too. Marie Louise passed on her knowledge and skills to others as she knew that she could not do everything or be everywhere she was needed in her community.
She believed in training and raising up others to carry on the work of caring for the poor.
Gift Of Prophecy
As a defender of the poor—Marie Louise found the inconsiderate people in her community to be truly an irritation. There are reports of her prophetic words being spoken against these greedy and inconsiderate people.
One such story that Violet Lalonde recounts in her memoirs is:
“There were three brothers who lived on a farm near one of the local villages. They fished a lot, for times were hard. The three men caught enough fish to feed themselves, to sell to the villagers, and what was left overs they gave to the pigs instead of the poor. When Mary Louise heard this she was furious.
“People are hungry and you are giving the fish to the pigs? If you continue to do this you will not catch any more. Listen to my warning!”
The men laughed at her and continued to feed the fish to the pigs. But when they went fishing again they barely caught enough for themselves. Finally, very discouraged, they decided to go to Mary Louise and they promised that they would never waste the fish again. Soon afterwards, as the story goes, they caught fish in plenty.”
There are other instances of when she spoke words of prophecy over her community, but this one brought a grin to my face when I read it.
Being in similar ministry with my husband—I can relate to her irritation. Wasteful, greedy people in her community that were not thinking of the less fortunate made her greatly annoyed. Just as I get similarly annoyed by those who have the means to help the needy, or to come along and assist those who are helping the needy, and don’t.
Way to go—grandma!!
Clothing The Cold
Another of Marie Louise’s skills included the knowledge and ability to make her own clothes, including footwear. In true Metis form, her clothing attire was a combination of European style with the practical Indigenous use of furs and moccassins.
Marie Louise would weave her own cotton blend of cloth and sew her own dresses. Also, she would skin, tan, and use furs and hides to make coats, hats, and even moccassins.
In Metis fashion, she would wear any and all combinations of these clothing items at once. When she would depart on her “errands of mercy” she would look down right eccentric with her multlple layers of clothing.
To me, she was a Metis woman full of purpose and resourcefulness.
By wearing multiple layers of dresses, aprons, and other clothing articles, she was always prepared. As well, she was carrying the load literally on her body. In this way, whenever Marie Louise came across someone in need of clothing, she could literally just strip a layer off of her body. When removed, she would then give the “dress right off her back” to anyone in need.
So, although peculiar looking, she was a woman of intended purpose and intent. Her heart was to help anyone along her journey—even with a homemade dress.
Although at first glance her attire might appear more European, her footwear of choice were moccassins. This is where the uniqueness of the Indigenous Metis comes through. They are able to combine their European side with their Indigenous side, and become a distinct unique culture.
The moccassins allowed Marie Louise to move quickly, and quietly through the forests. A skill that was useful whether she was:
- searching for lost children,
- or just trying to get to her next destination.
Maker Of Canoes
Any Metis with voyageur heritage better know how to not only repair a canoe, but to make one as well. Marie Louise was no exception. She used her Metis heritage knowledge to provide her own transportation or to repair the canoes of others.
A Metis ingrained belief system also includes learning to become self dependent and self reliant. But Marie Louise knew that it was more than just for her to use her skills for her own personal use or gain. Like I mentioned earlier, she was a willing teacher as well. She took the time to teach others to:
- weave cloth
- prepare furs and skins
- sew clothes and footwear
- harvest plants for herbal cures and food
- pray and depend on God too
A Family Tradition Helping Others Continues
So although, I myself, never personally got to know this 4th great grandmother of mine, I feel like she is deep within me. My heritage and her heart have been passed down to me, even though I was born 65 years after her death.
Marie Louise Riel McGregor had a heart of caring and compassion for those around her, and so do I.
I can only hope that I am doing fair justice to the memory of this great ancestor of mine as I humbly try to also assist and teach others in my community.
A family tradition helping others continues….