Past comes back to life at lakeside park
HISTORY: Actor portrays Etienne Brule, Orillia's original European tourist,who came to the region 400 years ago
By JENNIFER BURDEN, THE PACKET & TIMES
Monday October 19, 2010
Orillia's original European tourist made his first appearance in 400 years at the foot of the Samuel de Champlain monument in Couchiching Beach Park on Saturday.
Etienne Brule, the French adventurer and indentured servant of Champlain, first arrived on the shores of Lake Couchiching in the fall of 1610 with the Algonquin Chief Iroquet and his people from the Ottawa Valley.
The character of Brule, played by actor Hugh Barnett, was interviewed by Kevin Hammond, the artistic director of the Humber River Shakespeare company, about his experience in our area four centuries ago in front of an audience of approximately 20 people.
"It was far more marvellous than I ever anticipated," Barnett, as Brule, said. "Life was difficult, but at the same time peaceful."
It was the custom of the Iroquet's people to travel to Huronia and spend the winter with the Rock Nation of the Wendat, who were part of the Huron Confederac y that lived between lakes Couchching and Simcoe to the east and the Coldwater River to the west.
Brule also spoke of his experiences wintering in Quebec, learning the languages and customs of the indigenous people, the relationship he had with the First Nations and his impressions of Champlain.
In order to get into character, Barnett said he scoured a lot of primary source materials written by Champlain and the Jesuits about Brule. From there, he said he filled in the pieces of what kind of character he thought Brule would have been.
"I look at Etienne as a symbol of the first Canadian. He very quickly seemed to be able to cut off that idea of himself being a European. It's that blending of the cultures," Barnett said. "I really appreciate that Etienne took the time to learn the language, learn the customs and become a part of their community."
The interview skit came after a presentation of five flags -- Canadian, Province of Ontario, City of Orillia, Metis and Franco-Ontarian -- secured at the base of the Champlain monument recognizing Orillia as the original meeting place of nations.
John Raynor, the president of the Huronia Chapter of Ontario's Archaeological Society, presided over the ceremony, which also included musical performances by his wife, Marg Raynor.
"History soon gets overwritten and forgotten just like the archaeological sites in the earth. Every time we tell (stories) if we don't touch base with the primary source the stories get expanded," Raynor said.
He organized Brule's return visit to Orillia as a precursor to a larger celebration slated for 2015, the 400th anniversary of Champlain's inaugural visit to Orillia in 1615.
Raynor hopes that Saturday's event encouraged Orillians to "look to the past, not just ignore it" and to become more involved in their heritage community.
With 30 native sites in Orillia and 600 more in between Orillia and Midland, including villages and ossuaries, Raynor said we need to do more to preserve our rich history.
"We are losing these sites through the development of subdivisions, condominiums and even single family homes," he said. "It doesn't mean we have to save every one, but if we had the chance to examine them at least we can learn from them."
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