Mattawa and Black History
It being Black History Month, I am still reading a little in this area, particularly Canadian Black history. I just stumbled on this story of Canada's first Black mayor, Dr Firmin Monestime, who became the mayor of Mattawa, Ontario, a couple of hour drive from here on the Ottawa River.
Even today, one would be startled to see a black person on the street in Mattawa which is largely a French Canadian town with a history in logging (It is 125 years old this year) and even a more ancient history as the confluence of the Mattawa River and the Ottawa River. This was the place where the early explorers and fur traders travelling west from Montreal would turn west onto the "little river", the Mattawa, to canoe deep into the nation's wilderness.
The Monestime Family
Dr. Monestime came to live in Mattawa out of a series of lucky events for him and the town. He was from Haiti, where he had been a prominent doctor. Under the Duvalier regime in Haiti he decided to leave his homeland and chose to come to Quebec City, as he only spoke French. He requalified as a Canadian doctor there.
He was on his way to Timmins, north of here, with another doctor with the idea of opening a practice in this gold mining region. They stopped off at Mattawa for lunch and a resident recognized him. He had been his doctor in Quebec city. The town had just lost it's doctor and this fellow convinced Dr Monestime to stay and open a practice in Mattawa.
To make a longer story short he married an interesting woman who was a Russian refugee from Nazi Europe . They had four children. Dr. Monestime had a successful practice caring for the medical needs of this small town. He also founded a Nursing Home in the town, which he wife ran and his daughter administers today.
Dr. Monestime was elected and served several terms as mayor of Mattawa.
You can read a longer version of this story in this article from the North Bay Nugget newspaper,
The Main Street of Mattawa
I have been to Mattawa a few times. It is a small community in a very picturesque setting. If, years ago, I had come here I might have settled in the Mattawa area. While the town is only 125 years old Europeans have passed through here on the historic fur trade route for nearly 400 years. From the Ottawa River paddlers on this ancient "trans Canada highway" turned left into the Mattawa River to travel to Lake Nipissing, at the site of North Bay and then down the French River to the upper Great Lakes on the way west and north. Nearly every year some paddling groups retraces this ancient route, some going as far as the Rockie Mountains or even north to the Arctic Ocean.
One of the things to see in Mattawa is the studeo of the artist Clermont Duval. I am very found of his paintings of the north land.
Canoe on the Mattawa
This painting of a red canoe I love. I really should go and purchase a print of it. This is the same type and colour of canoe I own. It used to be in as good a shape as this one. I bought it brand new when I was 17 for $150. They now cost you at least that amount per linear foot. This is the prospector model, 16 feet, cedar strip canvas covered. It is a classic.
The Black Three Legged Wolf "The Admirable Violent"
I love Duval's painting based on a tale. Quite often they are mystical in nature involving animals, quite often the noble wolf.
Here is the written explanation of the painting:
" A boy, lost in dense bush during sub-zero temperatures, is found the next day, to everyone's astonishment, alive and well. All he can get across is “A black dog...missing a leg.”
Months later, while poaching, the boy's father shoots a black wolf at the stroke of midnight. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the wolf had only three legs, in addition to a gold chain with the medallion bearing the initials 'R.B.' and an inscription: Nature Holds Man's Life.
Could this animal be his child's saviour? Who is R.B.?
The truth shall remain a mystery, but tonight an ex-hunter gently rocks his child to sleep, fingering the gold medallion around the child's neck, and with both sorrow and respect, remembers this “Admirable Violent”"