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,