Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Closing the Research Circle with Sylvia van Kirk

TO: Sylvia van Kirk
Dear Professor van Kirk:

I owe you a lot, and I'd like to pay up in like coin. We've spoken once on the phone via Jennifer Brown, but here's a reminder and update.

In 1988, I picked a character name out of "Many Tender Ties" to use for a canoe landing at the Mattawa River's designation as a Canadian Heritage River. Ten years later, Lisette Duval has been recognized with a national award as the "voyageur officielle" of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System and is listed in theiir forthcoming fact sheet, as well as in my book VOYAGES: Canada's Heitage Rivers. Moreover, as a result of a keynote speech on "Gender and Living History in the Fur Trade" for this year's North American Voyageur Council, there is a publisher and media interest for a full biography of Lisette, as the link to "Vermont's Lost Fur Trade Heritage," with a possible TV tie-in via Old Fort William and Duluth public TV.

Best of all, I found yesterday that the Bennington (VT) Museum collections include a quillwork shot bag made by Lisette for Daniel in 1810, in near-perfect condition. We've located the site of their homestead in Coventry, Vermont (90 minutes straight north from my house, near the Quebec border), and are planning a trip to Montreal to find her grave in Mount Royal Cemetery, Lot G.11 and hopefully their place of death in Sault aux Recollets (North Montreal).

There's a lot more, which I'd be delighted to share at your invitation. Meanwhile, I've become more focused on Lisette's origins as a "Snare (Snake?) Indian from the western Kootenays," and felt it important to consult the expert!

Has any of your research in "gender and race issues in the early settlement frontiers of Western Canada" involved or uncovered the Harmons? Specifically, can you suggest where we might look to find the location of Lisette's tribe, which does not seem to show up in Harmon's journal? I have been working from the later translations which do not include his appendix on the Indians, but have just gained access to an 1820 edition which may yield more data. We would be very curious to trace Lisette's ancestry through her native side.

I know you must be very busy with your own work. Still, we would welcome your interest and advice on this project, which is in its formative stages, and hope it might complement your research. There is a rich and untapped lode of archival materials dealing with the Harmons' Vermont years, and we look forward to shedding new light on the experiences of a femme du pays thrust into New England society, whose seventy years spanned a continent and the final days of the fur trade. Thank you for your attention.

Lynn Noel
Lynn E. Noel
Research Fellow, Institute of Arctic Studies
6214 Steele Hall, Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755-3577 USA

Tuesday, December 09, 1997

Finding Lisette's Shot Bag

TO: Eric Cline

Old Fort William Archives

NEWS FLASH! I went to the Bennington (VT) Museum yesterday to meet with Lisette's soon-to-be publisher and the museum archivists. There was a present waiting for me: a photo from the Museum's "Highlights of the Collection" catalogue. To wit:

"Figure 51. PA-TUS-SE-NON (SHOT BAG), 1810
Lizette Harmon, Cree Indian, 1790-1862
Porcupine quills, red floss, beads, leather
H: 11 in. W: 7 in
Gift of Mrs. Nelson Bradley Carter

"…This shot bag was made by Lizette for her husband and was decorated with naturally-dyed porcupine quills. Although shot bags do survive, few can be found with leather in such fine condition, with such vibrant colors still evident, or with such strong documentation and history.""

Just imagine. After ten years roleplaying this obscure Métis woman, to see a color photograph of something she made with her own hands. And such an artifact. I'm thunderstruck. I must see the actual thing itself asap, and of course I'm burning to try to copy it as it's gorgeous. Anybody up there teach quillwork?

We also discovered where she died—Sault au Recollet, now a suburb in North Montreal—and where she is buried–Lot G.11 at the Mount Royal Cemetery. From 1821 to 1843, she lived literally an hour and a half up the road from me, in Coventry, Vermont, founded by the Harmons and funded by Daniel's NWC earnings. She lived to the age of 70, having her first child at age 14 and her 14th at age 47. We've got the Harmon family genealogy waiting to be worked on, and best of all, I have her marriage date at your fort!

"Daniel Williams Harmon, b. in Bennington, February 19, 1788; m. Lizette (or Elisabeth) Laval (or Duval), in Fort William, Canada, August, 1819." (source: John Spargo, "Two Bennington-born Explorers and Makers of Modern Canada," 1950) Note: the other "Bennington-born Explorer is Simmon Fraser, as in River and University. He took Daniel's place as the leader of the Mandan Expedition of 1806.

So, we talked yesterday about mounting an exhibit and school program unit at the Bennington Museum on the Harmons and the Frasers, with the theme of "Vermont's Lost Fur Trade Heritage." I keep pinching myself to remind me that it's still an unfunded pipe dream, but hey……stranger things have happened. Like a book outline on a cruise ship in a hurricane……

Is there *any* chance you could forward this message to Shawn in the OFW library and ask if there's any way to trace this marriage certificate? Any idea who would have it? No source yet lists the date of her birth, so finding her marriage and/or death certificates would be a real key. I've also started to wonder if there are any other Harmon artifacts, as my dream of course is to make this an international traveling exhibit!

Just remember, you started all this. If you hadn't invited me to do that keynote, this canoe would never have left the bank. Now it's gearing up to run Lachine Rapids! Thank you SO much.

(Haven't forgotten about the canoe book either…)

Bon jour de Noel,


Monday, July 14, 1997

Finding Lisette's Grave

Yesterday we found Lisette’s grave. Helen Meredith had wanted to help me look from the beginning, and having a Montreal native along really smoothed the way. I had written to Mount Royal Cemetery before and gotten a location number, G-11, which as it turned out wasn’t much help. We went in to the office and asked for Elizabeth Harmon d. 1862 and Abby Maria Harmon d. 1904, and the woman at the desk went in the back and came back in five minutes with a Xerox of two index cards. Yes, she was there, all right, and so were Mary and Calvin and their son Andy and a few others as well. Calvin Ladd had purchased the plot, but didn’t appear to be buried there. She gave us a plot map of that section of the cemetery, marking it on the main map. So off we went to G-1, Lot number 11.

Helen had done this before with her friend Jill’s relatives, so she knew how hard it was going to be. And we walked all around the edges of the section, which joins G-2 with just a dotted line between them. We parked at the top of a long grassy strip and hunted for about 45 minutes with no success. I was sure by now that either the family had died too poor for a stone or that there was a flat marker that had been grassed over. Poor Lisette, buried in an unmarked grave.

I went back to the car to check the order people had been buried. The first was a little girl, aged 4, in 1854. Was this why Calvin had bought the plot? She would probably only have a tiny marker. Next was Mary, Calvin’s beloved wife, in September of 1861. Surely she would have a gravestone? He was a well-to-do blacksmith, and had had enough money and connections to petition the courts on Lisette’s behalf in the 1840s. Had he come down in the world in twenty years? Hardly, because his son was listed in the 1870s as buried here, “brought from New York.” If they had had money to transport a body, surely there would be a marker. And the last one in 1904, Abby Maria, her daughter a suicide by drowning? We could hardly expect much of a marker for her, even though I knew she’d been brought here from Hull for burial. Someone must have cared, but how much? We weren’t finding them. I lined up the north arrows on the two maps for about the fourth time and tried to see where we could be going wrong. Helen was by now convinced we were in the wrong section and was methodically quartering the neighboring areas.

“Let’s go back to the office before they close and get the names of the other plots around her,” I said. “At least that way we can narrow it down.” So back we tooled to the office, where she obligingly gave us the family names of every plot surrounding the Harmons/Ladds. This time we took a different route, and were certain we had found G-1. I determined to walk all the way around the section, looking for any name we’d now got. Helen worked across the road, finding some Hollands (one of the names we’d got) but not any other neighbors. Probably not the right Hollands, we agreed, and moved on.

The edges of the G-1 section were clearly mapped out, and it didn’t match the line of the road on the main map. Could the roads have changed? I found myself at the top of the grassy ride we’d parked at earlier. Was this a “road” on the map? It certainly fit the shape of the section better than the asphalt one. I decided to walk down its edge to hunt for names. Here was the convex, then the concave curve: and right where it was supposed to be was a large, sarcophagus-style monument sporting a turbaned wasp’s nest and the name Holland. There were Hollands to the right of the Harmon plot, all right. I looked to the left.

And glory be, there she was. “Yeeeeee-HOUP!” My whoop of triumph would have done justice to a canoe arrival, but probably shocked the cemetery. I was standing in front of a polished red granite marker “in memorial to Daniel Williams Harmon, died at Sault-au-Recollet, Que, ##, 1843, to his wife, Elizabeth Laval, ##, and to their daughter Abby Maria, d. ## 1904.”