The Adventure diaries – Part 1: the road to Gogama

Mattagami Lake, Indian reserve 

‘OK I’m just coming down Bay, I’ll be there in a few minutes!’ Laurie shouted into my cell.  I’d never met her before but already she’d told me she wasn’t good with directions and neither was I.  Boy was our eight hour drive to Northern Ontario going to be fun.

Twenty minutes later she arrived and I said hello to my second cousin for the first time.  As we sloppily manouvered our way out of Toronto, I quickly learned we had a lot in common: she was bright, bubbly and brutally honest.  We chatted non stop for the next eight hours.

I’d invited myself along on The Adventure – an outing with my great uncle and his three daughters to the spiritual haunts of our Ojibway ancestors.  The Millers recruited Leonard Neveau, former chief and all round popular guy at Mattagami Reserve, to take us to a sacred peak – Masawajo (Eagle Mountain ), to view pictograms that saved the Ojibway from a Mohawk invasion and to an ancient burial ground.  I was most excited about Masawajo.  Leonard told us that Ojibway men, including his grandfather, used to go up there with only a partridge to eat and nothing to drink for seven days – seeking visions and spiritual connection.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.

But already, on the road to Gogama I learned more about my Ojibway ancestry than in all my thirty years.  James Miller – our great, great grandfather – and factor for the Hudson’s Bay company, founded a fur trade post on Mattagami lake in the mid 19th century.  He married an Ojibway woman named Hannah Neveau and that’s about all I knew. 
Hudson Bay Company Store, Gogama
But my great uncle and cousins had been mining for knowledge about their history for years and Laurie’s stories added personality to the past. 

A local shop owner remembered Ojibway children coming into his store to buy candy.  James would give them pennies to buy treats while he charmed their mothers.  An early widower – Hannah died in her 40s – and the great white man on the reserve, he rarely wanted for female company. 

Laurie stuck a CD in the car stereo.  ‘Oh yes, I remember, at Christmas he (James) used to make a batch of homemade beer,’ a warm, scratchy voice said.  It was a distant cousin and the last of the Millers to be born at the old Mattagami fur trading post.  ‘We had a big party.  First all of the men, then all of the women, and the children even, came into the big house for a glass of beer and a tea biscuit.’ 

Laurie laughed and stopped the CD.  ‘Hear that?  Tea biscuit? More like bannock I think!’

The mixed ancestry of that generation and the next one (that of my grandmother) was often denied. 

But luckily for me I was with the Millers.  Of Cree and Ojibway descent they were just granted their First Nations status and they’ve openly embraced their ‘Nish’ side.

We rolled into my uncle’s cottage as dusk settled over Minisinakwa Lake.  Floating in its cold waters the next morning after a jog through town – I smiled.  I was bathing in the watery highway of my ancestors – their ice rink, laundry mat and watering hole for centuries.
 Minisinakwa Lake, Gogama, Ontario
I’ve looked for adventure in far flung places – in Japan and England, Saigon, Mumbai, Helsinki and Bali…  But little did I know that one of life’s greatest adventures was awaiting me here: in the tall pines, winding rivers and sandy white roads of Mattagami.

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12 Comments

Filed under Aboriginal, Metis, travel

12 responses to “The Adventure diaries – Part 1: the road to Gogama

  1. John Deering

    Hi,
    My grandmother was married to Alfred Blair, an official with the Ontario Lands & Forests. Her maiden name was Miller and her father was the Hudsons Bay factor in the Gogama area. I recall hearing the name “Neveau” as a child.
    Small world. ps. I’m a retired RCMP officer and live in BC.

  2. Hi John,

    Great to hear from you – so many long lost relatives out there! I’m going back to Mattagami this August, we’re doing a trip with Leonard and Linda again, this time to a special site on Ferris Lake that is said to have been a sacred place for female healers… and more rock paintings. I’ll write about it here.

    My grandmother’s cousin, Gordon Miller, is a Cree-Ojibway artist living in Oakville, you should check out his work: http://www.gordonmillerart.com/index.html. Gord’s Dad Wilfrid was James Miller’s and Hannah Neveau’s son. He’s doing research on the family history and I know he’d love to hear from you.
    p.s. I’m a fledgling writer living in Toronto.

  3. Lauren Landry

    I am currently looking for more information on my ancestors Hannah Neveau and James Miller so I may obtain my status card and this came up. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing!

    • Jane Deering Todd

      Hello…I am John’s sister Jane. Just love this family history. Am thrilled to see the HBC store in Gogama has been restored. Would love to get my children there and get a photo on the porch. I have a photo of James sitting on that very porch… Lauren…I received my Metis status card in Alberta 10 years ago…received valuable info from Gordon Miller who lives in Windsor. His mother was James Miller’s daughter…Lorena I believe? James and Hannah are my great grandparents too.

    • Hi Lauren,

      Great to hear from you and sorry for the late reply. You need a live birth certificate of your grandmother to apply for status – on it you should have the full records of her parents and that’s enough for the Metis Nation of Ontario I believe. Good luck and keep in touch!

  4. Les Lovell

    Hi Crystal:
    I enjoyed reading your recent article, my daughter sent it to us in Windsor. Your dad and I are cousins. When we were young, we use to hear some stories about the old days, but nothing about our native heritage because of the white back-lash. It was un fortunate because most of our Grandparents are gone and with them the real stories. All the best Les Lovell

  5. Hi Crystal! Here I am yet another long lost relative that has found you through the internet. My great grandfather was James Miller married to Hannah Neveau. Their son Wilfred was my grandfather and died in 1943. Do you know how Hannah died? Do you have any more info about her? My mother has a lot of info regarding James Miller and is going to mail it out to me. My husband and I left ON last year due to both if us being laid off. We are now in Calgary starting over. I hope to hear from you!

  6. The Gogama-Shiningtree area has always been special to me and to my family. My parents first came to Grassy Lake about 1953. We camped in the Grassy River watershed from that time right up to this year, 2010. Fourth generation now. We lived in the bush. I remember the Indian camp in Grassy Lake and visiting with the elderly man there. I also remember Roy Naveau. I have a birch bark moose call that he made for my Dad probably 30+ years ago. We appreciated that freindship very much. I saw the paintings on Ferris Lake as a young child. Ernie Moore and his wife also part of my memories. They owned the Post Office and store in Shiningtree.

  7. Linda (Robb) Poole

    Hi Crystal, I think we are also related. I just came across your story quite by accident. Hannah and James Miller are also my great-grandparents. My mother Irma (Rochon) Robb is Lorena (Miller) Rochon’s daughter (one of twelve children). I was at Gordon Miller’s 80th birthday party last year and met his family (my cousins). Spoke with Laurie in particular and really enjoyed her stories about him. She told me about the trips up north looking for Indian pictograms. This is all so wonderfully interesting, especially the notations from other relatives. I guess there must be many of them out there. I only remember visiting Gogama once when I was a young child, and we went by train because there was no road in. I do remember the old Hudson’s Bay store. I would love to read more of your adventures.

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