Monthly Archives: December 2020

Mon Journal Fr. Leon Doucet, OMI

This book published by the Alberta Historical Society in 2018 is a fascinating read. It tells the first hand story of what it was like to live among the Metis, Cree and Blackfoot peoples in late 19th century Alberta. Fr. Leon Doucet was just one of the hundreds of Oblates of Mary Immaculate who left family and home to minister to First Nations in Western Canada, starting at Red River in 1843. With few exceptions their work is not well known as the Oblates do not blow their own horn. Hence this is a remarkable story. Disclosure, I am an Oblate Associate – a lay member of the Lacombe Canada Province. I became aware of this book when previous Superior Fr. Ken Forster, OMI sent us short excerpts for reflection. Being a lover of history, I could hardly wait to get my hands on it.

Click on the image above for a clearer view if needed
The book helps destroy the myth that Christian missionaries were agents of cultural change and the First Nations people were passive recipients. There was a cooperative relationship between the Oblates and the Metis, Cree and Blackfoot as well as with the Piagen, Blood and Sarcee. Fr. Doucet and his colleagues were admired by First Nations people for their steadfastness of purpose. Even when they did not show much interest in the newcomers’ religion, they showed respect and would often permit their children to be baptized. For his part, Fr. Doucet provided comfort and caring for the sick, dying and their families. He would journey for hours in deep snow and cold to offer baptism and administer last rights. There was a particularly close relationship between the great Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot and the Oblates. In the early 1880s when the Canadian Pacific railroad was being constructed across Blackfoot land, the Oblates were instrumental in working with Crowfoot to get the Blackfeet to accept reservation lands in compensation. In 1885 during the North West rebellion, the Oblates were instrumental in helping convince the Blackfeet not to join with the Metis and Cree in violent battles with Canadian forces. These negotiations were led by the legendary Fr. Albert Lacombe, OMI. Fr. Doucet was personally present at Crowfoot’s death and baptized the chief with his permission before he died. Chiefs of First Nations peoples benefited from this cooperation as it helped them to maintain social order in their tribes and gave them increased status because of their relationship with Oblate missionaries. Hence there was mutual cooperation. Nevertheless, there was often not much interest shown on the part of the natives in Christian religion (nor of the Oblates in theirs).  The Blackfeet continued their annual Sun Dance or Okan which Fr. Doucet describes in detail. A Metis mission had been established at St. Albert (near Edmonton) in 1861 by Fr. Albert Lacombe, OMI. It was there that Fr. Doucet was ordained in 1870. He then practiced la mission ambulante – he would go where the plains indians were rather than set up a chapel somewhere and hope that they would come. He describes many harrowing trips on foot or horse where they would lose their way in snow and only by the grace of God, find there way out. Later he was sent to Blackfoot Crossing and also helped out at the Oblates St Joseph Industrial School near High River. Typically Fr. Doucet would baptize children, hold catachesis classes, offer Mass for converts and administer last rights. Fr Doucet reports that there were 3144 Oblate baptisms of Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan and Sarcee from March 1865 to October 1890.
I liked this book because it is written in a matter of fact personal voice e.g., we went there, the weather was cold, then we did…my horse ran away, etc. There are many names of people and a short biography of each is provided at the back. There is a good index. Fr. Leon does not much judge, condemn or show any jealousy or anger in his writings. There is the odd bit of humour about competition with Protestant missionaries. He sometimes praises others but usually just reports the facts. A fabulous read for those who enjoy minutiae but also the broader lines of western Canadian history. I would read it again for sure – 4.5 out of 5 stars. (Apparently Part 2 and 3 may be coming in future.) Note. I will place this book in the Oblate Reading Room at Martha House at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior, Ontario If any one wants to borrow it locally, please drop me a line.


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1966 Trans-Continental Music Tour

Concluding our story about the Woodroffe High School Band… I was very lucky to be included in this monster trip as I had been a member of the junior band for only a year when moved up to the senior band. We were going on this tour to further our musical education and give us a greater appreciation of our Canadian citizenship. How honoured and excited we were to participate in this, led by our great band leader Mr. Peter F. Manley.

Preparations for the month long trip included raising $15,000 to cover transportation and other costs. Profits included bottle drives, bake sales, Christmas card drives, concerts, dances and selling light bulbs. A very active parents committee helped with all the work. We even made the Ottawa Journal newspaper. Then it was off to the west by train.

We boarded the train in the old downtown Ottawa train station after hugging our parents goodbye. I remember being so excited that I could not sleep. We hurtled through northern Ontario and on to north of Superior. What an immense land of lakes and trees! Finally we arrived in Winnipeg about 40 hours later totally exhausted. I was sent to the YMCA, some others were billeted or in hotels. The next day we played our first concert in front of 500 people in Central Park. It was a big success! We had a day trip to the International Peace Gardens on the North Dakota border. Phew, now it was on to Saskatoon.
We continued on our way by train from Saskatoon to Edmonton, Peace River, New Westminster (Vancouver) BC, Banff, Calgary, Regina and back through Winnipeg. The Rockies were spectacular. I remember playing at the Kitsilano Showboat in Vancouver, a trip to the beach in White Rock, BC, going to the Calgary Stampede and climbing the Legislative Building tower in Regina to see the prairie in the distance on all four sides. We were rained out in Edmonton and had a very long 500 KM bus trip to Peace River.
In addition to Mr. Manley, there were 3 other chaperones on the trip – Joe Nuth who looked after the finances, Arthur Very equipment and Joy Kingsbury who looked after the girls. We were closely watched but with 50 plus students and all those logistics to manage, we found lots of time to party freely. It’s safe to say that the senior members taught us junior members a thing or two other than music lol. All in all the trip was a great success and we arrived back in Ottawa with quite a swagger.

Mayor Don Reid wrote: “The Woodroffe High School Band is one of the leading high school bands in the Province of Ontario. Ottawa is proud of its high school bands, and this particular group of musicians has brought great credit and honour to our city. In their travels across Canada in the summer of 1966 these ambassadors represented not only the Collegiate Institute Board of Ottawa, but also the Nation’s Capital. I have much pleasure in commending to you the efforts and talents of these young people.” Wow!

1966-67 Wyvern
I remember us playing Bobby Gimbi’s “Canada” song throughout 1967 including in front of Prince Philip on Parliament Hill. In Grade 12 I decided to take up the tenor saxophone and gave up my flute position in the band. In Grade 13 I took a full slate of maths and sciences and dropped music completely. It had been a great educational and life experience. I am forever indepted to Mr. Manley and the other music teachers I had for instilling in me a life long love of music, and travelling! My favorite piece remains the finale from Dmitri Shostakovich’s 5th symphony Allegro non troppo, which we played sometimes with great difficulty.

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Woodroffe High School Band – 1

I was a member of the Woodroffe High School (Ottawa, Canada) Band for 3 years way back. I played the flute which happens to figure prominently in the recent concert above. The reason I played flute goes back further. In Grade 6 my mom decided to enroll me in music lessons. I was given an aptitude test and found out I had good aptitude. The results are shown below complete with Mom’s scribbles. It was recommended that I take up the violin. For some reason I abhorred the violin and instead chose the 2nd recommendation, the flute.

The flute is a relatively easy to play wind instrument (you need to develop your ombouchure) and relatively inexpensive. The one above is what I think I had – it currently retails for $129CDN. So I began music lessons on the flute after school. However in those days, that was a lot of money!

Armstrong Beginners Flute

This is the 52 bus route I took every Wednesday after school. I had to go to Elmdale School for the lessons as they were not offered at D. Roy Kennedy or Woodroffe public schools. It was fun taking the bus and walking a few blocks – rain or shine. It was my first experience at solo travel.

A Mr. Guibault was my flute teacher. He frowned a lot when I played meaning I had not likely done my lessons nor practiced sufficiently in his eyes. I was not a natural for sure. I remember practicing at home. Gradually I made progress, learned to read music and my embouchure, the way in which you apply your mouth to the mouthpiece, strengthened. I remember being in a concert once as a Scout. We all had no idea how to play our instruments but our parents clapped anyways. This reminds me that Miles Davis once told a bandmate “to play that instrument like you don’t know how to play it.” It all paid off though when I got to high school.

1965-66 Wyvern (Woodroffe High) yearbook photo

In Grade 9 I took Music and continued to practice and learn how to play the flute. The next year I made the Junior Band pictured above. We were a concert band that played in the auditorium occasionally but mostly practiced in preparation for individually moving up to the Senior Band. We did enter band competitions and placed well. In the spring of 1966, the Senior Band lost a large number of it’s senior members due to graduation. So I was moved up to the Senior Band, flute in hand by the end of Grade 10 in the spring of 1966.

Me 2nd Row 4th from left, Mr. Manley centre, (photo 1965-66 Wyvern)

Mr. Peter Manley was our very talented conductor. He had built this band up in only a few years to be among the best in Ottawa. It had tied in the A class competition with Ottawa Tech and got invited to play at the World’s Fair in NYC in 1965 before I joined. It was indeed an honour to become a member. It was an extra-curricular activity and we practiced at 8AM sharp every Thursday morning. I remember waking up at 7:40, throwing my clothes on and literally running the 4 blocks to school. You did not want to be late – Mr. Manley was a great ribber. In front of the whole band he would say something like – “Ah Mr. Morgan, late again. Perhaps we should all change our time to suit your schedule, eh?” as I slunk into my place.

We played a lot of marches, some orchestral overtures adapted for concert band and selections from musicals such as Gigi. Our set piece was Colonel Bogey on Parade which figured prominently in the Bridge Over the River Quai movie if you remember it.

I have 2 records they made in the mid 1960’s just before I joined, but no record player on which to play them lol. Here are the numbers recorded as listed on the 1964 recording:

  • On the Quarter Deck (Alford)
  • Mannin Veen (Haydn-Wood)
  • Chorale and Alleluia (Hanson)
  • Academic Festival Overture (Brahms)

And on the 1965 recording:

  • “Finale” New World Symphony (Dvorak)
  • 2nd American Folk Rhapsody (Grundman)
  • Colonel Bogey on Parade (Alford)
  • Selection “Mr. Lucky” (Mancini)
Record Cover

Wow, pretty cool! An awesome band experience was in store.


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