Wendake and its Huron-Wendat Museum

Wendake and its Huron-Wendat Museum

Article and photos by Job Patstone

In a small town just north of Quebec City that goes by the name of Wendake, lies a treasure of history of one of Canada’s native people known as the Wendat or Huron First Nations. The little village is surrounded by “suburbia” and city traffic, but taking the narrow road to the left of the Church from the main road leads you to a quiet and peaceful area, nestled in the woods, full of examples of early “American” native dwellings, artifacts and specifically, the Huron-Wendat museum.

“Kwe” is the local greeting meaning welcome or simply hello from the Iroquois language spoken by the Wendat Nation, which is one of two Aboriginal languages spoken by North American natives, the other being the Algonquin language used more in western Canada.

There are some other definitions that I think are useful if and when you visit the site, and I highly recommend you do. Words like the name of the town Wendake, which means Great Island, consequently making the “Wendat” the description of the Island Inhabitants. Wendat is the aboriginal name for Huron, which comes from the French word “hure” and there is a story behind it all involving the Great Chiefs daughter who fell to earth from the sky, landing on the back of a turtle in the middle of an ocean, when the world was covered with water. It’s a long story told to me by Jason Picard, a local resident whose history goes way back to his ancestors, but it all comes together in the end to form the Huron territory known as Nionwentsïo which stretches from the Saguenay River to the Mauricie and way down into the State of Vermont.

Huron-Wendat_Museum_2It’s interesting to note that from 1650 to 1760 the Huron nation in Canada went from around 30,000 down to approximately 3,000 because of bloody battles between them and the Iroquois. At the time, the Iroquois sided with the British and the Huron had favoured the French. It was the Huron who helped Jacques Cartier survive through his first winter in Quebec. In 1760 the Huron-British Treaty was established, but unfortunately never made it through the Supreme Court until 230 years later in 1990.

I have briefly described the history and stories of the Wendat People as related to me through conversations with the residents, but if you really want to learn the details and the hard facts, the thing to do is to visit that newly constructed museum I mentioned above, which stands above the grounds of the “Great Meeting Place” looking like a giant unfinished Tee-Pee. There are authentic remnants of everything aboriginal with the emphasis on local artifacts all displayed in a tent-like environment with computerized explanations and local handcrafted items dating back to the 1600’s. Some of the displays have been lent to the museum from other establishments in Ontario and Quebec. There is also an Art museum displaying some of the local artist’s works, including paintings and sculptures.

Huron-Wendat_Museum_5In addition to the museum itself, there is a reconstructed “longhouse” (living quarters) where you can experience how the natives lived at the time before the white-man arrived. Built of logs and birch bark it is an impressive structure showing the living habits and daily routines of the village people. I heard them say that soon you will be able to spend the night sleeping there warmed by real pit fires tended to by a “fire-watcher”; a true outdoor experience.

I also had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Marc Sioui, one of the village’s artisans, who is in the process of building a birch bark canoe from scratch. He doesn’t use any power tools and or computers, just the technique handed down to him from generation to generation. Marc himself is one of the descendants of the oldest family from the area. “Tiawenhk” Marc, and thank you also Jason & Michel for your historic knowledge.

Huron-Wendat_Museum_6The town of Wendake also hosts an annual Pow-Wow, which includes dance competitions with ceremonial costumes and various other activities, usually scheduled around the last weekend in June. It is a very colorful and entertaining experience full of traditional folklore and music, and after having seen the museum up close, I can only imagine the spectacle it must be.

For more information, and to locate the Huron-Wendat Museum, you can visit their website at; www.tourismewendake.ca.

All displays and presentations are in French and English.

Categories: Arts & Culture, News, Opinion

About Author

Job Patstone

Job Patstone was born in Hamilton, ON. and has lived in Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer AB. He is presently living in Quebec City, with his wife. He worked for Xerox for 26 years and was an ESL teacher for another ten.

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