Click to listen to: Norma General,
Cayuga Faith Keeper -
Sour Springs Longhouse at Oshweken, Ontario, Canada, guest of:
Indigenous Women's Initiatives (IWI) on the Crossroads Radio Show WJYE 96.1 and WBUF 92.9 FM.
Recorded on June 29, 2008.
The occupation of this precious island, located at the confluence of the rivière du Loup (Châteauguay) and lac Saint-Louis, probably goes back 4,000 years. Ideally suited for fishing, farming, and to some degree hunting, Ile Saint-Bernard attracted the Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) at different times, to varying degrees. With the arrival of European settlers, the area was divided, like much of New France, into seigneuries. The first seigneur was Charles Lemoyne of Longueuil (1673) and the last was Marguerite d’Youville (1765), founder of the Sœurs Grises de Montréal (Grey Nuns).
Well into the 19th century, conflict characterized the possession of the island. The Iroquois did not accept the French order to pay dues on the land or remain in their concessions, and there were frequent invasions by warring factions caught up in the territorial battles that occurred with the English and Americans during this period.
Far from being exempt from these troubles, the Grey Nun community was violently drawn into them. They frequently provided refuge to the peasants who had settled around them, and often had to abandon their homes to either hide in the woods with other women and children or distance themselves via canoes along the waterways.
For 200 years, the nuns assured the territory’s natural preservation through their creed: “Protéger la vie sous toutes ses formes.” During their tenure, they planted an orchard, established a dairy, and raised wheat, buckwheat, oats, barley, and vegetables, while the surrounding wilderness remained largely untouched. This careful management, continued in recent years by partners such as the City of Châteauguay, Ducks Unlimited, Héritage Saint-Bernard, and the provincial government, has successfully protected the wildlife sanctuary.
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