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St. Ambroise, Manitoba

St. Ambroise, Manitoba

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The historic Metis community of Saint Ambroise, Manitoba is profiled.
The historic Metis community of Saint Ambroise, Manitoba is profiled.

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Published by: Lawrence J. Barkwell on Oct 01, 2013
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01/28/2014

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St. Ambroise, Manitoba
St. Ambroise is located on the southeast tip of Lake Manitoba; it is a small Métiscommunity. The St. Ambroise Community Centre hosts a number of events throughoutthe year, beginning in July with the Annual Saskatoon Berry Festival, later the AnnualMétis Festival takes place in October.Nicole St. Onge
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has reported on Donald Gunns observations of the Metis on the southend of Lake Manitoba in his 1867 report to the Smithsonian Institute:In this region there are at present three small villages; one at Oak Point,containing 10 to 15 dwellings, called houses of the most primitive kind; another atwhat is called the Bay [Saint-Laurent] consisting of seven or eight houses, andfavored as the residence of the Catholic priest. A third village is rising two orthree miles to the south of the latter [Isle de Pierre—the future Saint-Ambroise].He describes these Metis as mixed-blood Indians:The population of these villages is composed of Indians, of half, three-quarter,and of seven-eight Indians, with a very few aged French-Canadians.After 1870, many Métis who still resided in the old parishes along the Forks of the Redand Assiniboine rivers decided to relocate. The search for new homelands led to areasspurned by Ontarians and immigrant groups in search of prime agricultural lands. TheseMétis founded new communities such as Richer, Ste. Genevieve, St. Ambroise, Ste.Amelie, Toutes-Aides and Ste. Madeleine. Mostly located on “scrub land,” the farmsprovided only a basic livelihood but offered independence and self-sufficiency. Lake sidecommunities such as St. Ambroise relied on fishing since the October run of whitefishinto the shallow gravel shoals to spawn yielded good cathches. Cattle and horses wereraised by a few of the more prosperous Métis ranchers, but most eked out a living asfarmhands for white settlers, or they hauled cordwood, trapped furs and dug seneca rootfor a small cash income.
St. Ambroise Dakota Entrenchment, Historic Site
Designation Date: December 7, 1954Although there is no clear evidence that the St. Ambroise Entrenchment was ever useddefensively, it may have been. Historical documentation indicates that a group of Dakota,led by a man called “The Leaf,” moved onto Lake Manitoba in February of 1864 to fish.Early one morning during the last week of April or the first week of May, their camp wasattacked by a group of Chippewa (Anishinabe) bounty hunters from Minnesota. SixDakota were killed outright and several succumbed to serious wounds shortly thereafter.The May 10, 1864 issue of The Nor’Wester reported this raid and noted that the Dakota
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St. Onge,
Saint-Laurent, Manitoba: Evolving Metis Identities 1850-1914.
Regina, Canadian PlainsResearch Centre and University of Regina, 2004: 24.
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were “busily engaged in fortifying their present encampment by digging rude earthworksand rifle pits.” Although it is not known if the St. Ambroise fortification was built in thespring of 1864, it did exist in 1873, when a “stone mound of Indians” was recorded at thislocation by William Wagner during his land survey of the shoreline of Lake Manitoba.The St. Ambroise Entrenchment is a continuous circle, 114 metres in diameter,containing several interior pits and an earthen embankment around its outer edge. Twocircular pits are located outside the entrenchment—a larger one, 64 metres to thenorthwest, and a smaller one 20 metres to the east. The purpose of these pits is unclear;some have suggested that they were wells or, perhaps, observation posts.The eastern Dakota (Sioux) of Minnesota traditionally built ćunkaśke (pronounced“choonkashkay”)—wooden palisades, piles of stones and earthen entrenchments—aroundtheir camps and villages for protection against the elements, wild animals, and potentialenemies. One group was even referred to as the Cunkasketonwan: Nation of the Forts.2
 
Flee Island Entrenchments
(2010)In the summer of 1862, many Dakota openly rebelled against the intolerable treatmentthey had received from American authorities. As a result, several hundred moved north tothe relative safety of the Red River Settlement. In the spring of 1864, following an attackby Chippewa bounty hunters from Minnesota, the Dakota constructed fortified camps inthe Portage la Prairie district. Each camp was enclosed by a circular trench andembankment behind which armed defenders could position themselves. Inside this circlewas a ring of pits where the women and children could take refuge in the event of anattack. The remnants of one such ćunkaśke, known as the Flee Island Entrenchment, arelocated in the area near a marker at this siteSource: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/fleeislandentrenchments.shtml3

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