Monday, May 23, 2011

13 - Tunes

 I am in my concert season for the next few weeks, so my research will have to wait for a bit. I thought I would share a few clips that I enjoy of Lee Cremo, the famous Mi'kmaq fiddler from Nova Scotia. Like the wonderful Denny singers, he also comes from Eskasoni. He seems to have been quite a character and very quick witted by the clips I have seen. The following quote was taken from his obituary in the chronicle herald:

    Credited for his natural humour and charm, Cremo was often a fixture at public events like Treaty Day celebrations or Maritime Oldtime Fiddling Contests, where he was rarely at a loss for words. "When it comes to talking, I never stop," he once said. "If I run out of words in English, I continue in Mi'kmaq. If they can't understand, that's their problem."

Lee Cremo was born at what is today Chapel Island in 1938 and moved to Eskasoni at age 4. He started playing fiddle and guitar at the age of 7, often accompanying his father, Simon Cremo. His style shows influence of not only his Mi'kmaq heritage but also the influence of  well known Scottish fiddlers from Nova Scotia.

           Besides his father, Cremo also learned from Wilfred Prosper  and Neil Francis MacLellan, and soaked up the music of Cape Breton fiddling legends like Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald and Dan Hughie MacEachern at local dances. "If I had the money, I'd go in," Cremo once told composer/historian Allister MacGillivrey. "If not, I'd sit outside by the window and listen and learn."  
     He learned, and he passed his knowledge along. Today's Cape Breton musical stars like Creignish fiddlers Ashley and Lisa MacIsaac and Troy's Natalie MacMaster all picked up tips from him. But nobody played quite like him.                                                                                         (Halifax Herald)

He has played everywhere from the Expo '67 for Queen Elizabeth, to the Hollywood Bowl. In a competition in Nashville, he was awarded "Best Bow Arm in the World," and was the subject of a documentary called "Arm of Gold" in 1986.  I thought this was a good name, because the word Bras d'Or,  actually means Arm of Gold. He also won the Dartmouth old Time Fiddling Competition six times. Sadly, he died in 1999 at the age of 60.

I hope you enjoy these clips from You Tube. The first one shows a bit of his wit. The others are from the movie "Arm of Gold" and give a nice glimpse into his world. I love the stories and tradition that they show from Mi'kmaq culture. When I see these things, they make me sad, because these are the parts of my own history that I have missed. I will have to be content to learn what I can from others. Enjoy!

Arm of Gold:
Part 1

Part 2

There are two more parts of this documentary, which can be found on You Tube.   I hope you enjoyed these ones. The film "Arm of Gold" was made by Robert Doan and Robert Petch.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

12 - Refuge

I have been thinking a lot about the political climate of the Little Bras d'Or area in the mid 1700's. I have been trying to piece together some of the history from the limited resources that I have available to me. After a little bit more research, I learned that some of the settlers in Bras d'Or also came from an area in Nova Scotia called Pisquit, which is present day Windsor and Falmouth, Nova Scotia. It appears that some who were living in Cape Sable and LaHave left those areas and some settled here for a time. All of this occurs between 1748 and 1752. The same time frame as the infamous scalping proclamations. The following quote comes from Charlene MacKenzie in the book" Lejeune and Young's, An Acadian Mi'kmaq Family", by Lark Blackburn Szick, 1997:

"The matriarch of the Lejeune and Roy family was Edmee Joseph Lejeune, seventy eight year old widow of Charles Chauvet dit La Gerne. The Chauvet family had lived at the St. John River, and at LaHave and had moved on to Pisquit for safety." pg. 1

Chapel Island, Nova Scotia
Photo by Verne Equinox Source: Wikimedia Commons
 Pisquit, was a Mi'kmaq word meaning "Junctions of the Waters." It was the largest Acadian settlement and was closest to Halifax. Given that the British stepped up their efforts against the Acadians and Mi'kmaq in 1749, Pisquit would not have been a safe haven by any means. In 1750, the British erected a fort in Pisquit, known as Fort Edward and the first commander was none other than Captain Gorham, of the infamous rangers, who were responsible for so many atrocities. It was definitely not a safe place for our ancestors from Bras d'Or to be. Shortly afterwards, in 1755, the Acadians would be deported to Louisiana with some Mi'kmaq among them.

Cape Breton Island (then known as Ile Royale), had been returned to French authority with the signing of a treaty known as "Aix-la-Chapelle" in 1748. Their close connection to the French was the main reason Mi'kmaq populations looked to Cape Breton as a haven from British Authority.  In addition, The Bras d'Or lakes region holds special spiritual significance to the Mi'kmaq people. This area in Cape Breton was the birthplace of the Mi'kmaq God, Glooscap (Kluscap), and the area of Chapel Island in Cape Breton, is considered to be the capitol of the Mi'kmaq nation. It was known as Mniku, which means island, and has been a meeting place for the Mi'kmaq people for as long is as known in the culture. In the early 1750's, a Roman Catholic missionary named Father Malliard, erected a chapel on the island. There is an annual gathering on the island every year which celebrates Saint Anne, the patron saint of the Mi'kmaq. There is a wonderful video by Mi'kmaq film maker Catherine Anne Martin, which documents one of these visits to Chapel island. Here is a link:

According to Lark Blackburn Szick's book by 1752, "a small group had settled at the little entrance to the Bras d'Or under the protection of Sieur de LaBoularderie. It was around this time that the extended family of Lejeunes, Guedry, Benoits, Chauvets and others left Pisquit and settled at Little Bras d'Or and Baie des Espagnols which extended from the little entrance of Bras d'Or eastward to Sydney Harbour. At Sydney Mines, called La Mine by the French, they settled at Indian Cove at the site of future Greener's Mine and at Lloyd Cove near Cranberry. " pg. 1

The French stronghold in the area was the Fortress of Louisbourg and was located only about 35 miles from the Bras D'or area. It was the capitol of the Island and was returned to the French with the treaty in 1748 offering more security to the displaced Mi'kmaq. The fortress had been the most extensive European fortification in North America. It was the third busiest port, behind only Boston and Philadelphia. It was an important investment to the French because the fishing industry in North America was at the time more lucrative than the fur trade. Louisbourg was situated in an area close to the Grand Banks and over 400 fishing boats and 60 schooners sailed daily to and from the port at its height of activity. In 1752, by the time settlement at Bras d'Or had been established by my Mi'kmaq ancestors, the French population in Louisbourg had grown to 4,174 people. You can visit the fortress today. It is currently the largest reconstruction project in North America. Here is a link:

So, I will continue my search. I have been asking people in the Bras d'Or area for help as well, but it appears that much of the history of the area is held by various people and not gathered in one place. I hope I can help dig some of it up. For now, in my search, the people who settled at Little Bras d'Or have refuge for a short time.

Sources: Wikipedia, (Pisquit, Chapel Island, Fortress of Louisbourg)
               LeJeune and Youngs - An Acadian Mi'kmaq Family, Lark Blacburn Szick, 1997