Continuing Tom Jeffery's Indian Country journal of a June 1974 plane trip into Northern Ontario: The Webeque visit.
NIPIGON MUSEUM ARCHIVES
"What a pleasant surprise to see the whole community out to welcome us to this very active little village. It did take three stops to prove Bill and Dennis' statements, but there must have been at least three hundred people crowed right down onto the dock to meet us. School was out for noon, and I saw more children at that time than any other part of the trip. We really had to force our way through the crowd on the dock to get to the Band office building. The most impressive sight were three Indian women with their babies in tikanogins. These Tikanogins are comparable to our baby carriages, except that these were decorated in the most beautiful and colourful Indian beadwork that I had ever seen. They were carried on their backs, or would stand upright and it seemed that the babies were almost standing in them. These Indian women were very proud and happy because of us directing so much attention to them and I took several pictures, which turned out very good, even though it was raining considerably.
"My wife and I had met a chap from Webeque while we were at a craft show in Thunder Bay and after spending four days with him, I learned quite a lot about his village. He was more than surprised to see me and we went up to his Gift Store, had a good chat, and met his wife and some of his family. His first name was Alex. He had a large number of people in Webeque making Indian crafts and then he marketed them for the whole village, keeping each transaction separate so the person doing the most and the best work would have the best sales.
"I took a tour of the area and found a small sawmill operating, with a planer nearby. They were cutting very good lumber, and even though the logs were not very large, I was told that they cut all the lumber required for the village. The logs were brought about ten miles by water.
" They also had a lovely large school, which looked quite neat and well kept. I also looked over a new housing project in a completely new area, and the ten or twelve houses were real nice, with big picture windows, and aluminium siding. Except for not having a basement, they were comparable to most of our housing projects. A complete new wooden sidewalk ran the full length of the housing project, right down the centre of what would be our street, and extended to each house.
" I went back to the dock and found that the ice had drifted in and completely surrounded our plane, so we had no chance of moving out. We were the first plane to land in this year, and it sort of looked as though we were too early.
"I again met Bill and Dennis, and we walked over to the Hudson's Bay Store where we met the manager who had been there for five years. His name was Joe Gambin and he originally came from Southern Harbour in Newfoundland. We watched one of the store staff packing furs for shipment, which consisted of beaver, otter, muskrat, and mink. I took down some prices for comparison - eggs $1.30 (dozen medium), butter $1.10 (one pound), small pink salmon $1.07, bread $0.80, sugar $4.55 (ten pounds).
" We then went to one of several "coffee shops" and had a cup of very good coffee. Apparently these are the night-life places of the community, with only a stove, tables and benches, and not much except tea, coffee, and some Hudson's Bay cookies.
"Mr. Weiben came in and joined us, as there was still no sign of the ice going out to let us move on.
" I walked around some more and discovered two churches and the generating plant. There was also a picket fence around all of the village, with quite a few houses on the outside. Upon enquiring, I found that at one time, anyone violating any of the band laws or bedded down with someone else's wife were immediately kicked outside the fence, and could not get back in. However, they said it was getting so there were more outside the fence than inside, so they tor part of it down.
" Dennis and I then went back up to Alex's Gift Store, where Dennis bought a good variety of gifts. At this time , Alex said he would take me on a fishing trip that evening if we had to stay over. After I told him I did not bring my fishing gear, he said not to worry about that, we would use his "square hook", which in fisherman's language is nothing but a darn good net. He said it was only about twenty minutes travel by boat and we should catch a nice net full of pickerel. By this time, I was beginning to get fishing fever.
" We went back to the plane, had a sandwich and a beer, and Bill removed his teeth and put them in his pocket.
" I almost forgot to mention the main character in the welcoming group when we landed at Webeque. The normal procedure we adopted each time we landed was to allow "His Lordship" Bill to get out of the plane door first, go down the short ladder to the float and then onto the dock. He said he was the most important person on this trip and sure looked impressive with his "Briefcase" and no teeth. Well he no sooner stepped onto the dock, when a short, little fat Indian (about Bill's age), with a runny nose, all white around his eyes, and no teeth, came pushing through the crowd, gave Bill a big hug, which Bill returned, then they shook hands and both grinned at each other. It was a touching scene, neither one with any teeth and both so happy to see each other. Dennis said they were old friends from the last Election trip, and although no words were spoken, I presumed the Band Chief had delegated this chap to officially welcome "His Worship" to Webeque. After, while taking some notes in my book, I asked Bill about this, but he just called me a bad name. Some time I hope maybe I can become a District Returning Officer.
"At five o'clock, the wind had driven the ice away from the plane and had allowed us enough room for a take-off, so at five-ten, we were in the air again, (good-bye fishing trip), and we were on our way to Kasabonika. The sun was now shining and still quite high in the sky. After thirty-five minutes, we again landed, and there was quite a group down to see us come in.
To be concluded in the next Post.