October 14, 2011 at 03:49pm
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WORD FOR THE DAY – “blanket” (noun) “1. A large, rectangular piece of soft fabric, often with bound edges, used especially for warmth as a bed covering. 2. The chief garment traditionally worn by some American Indians. 3. Any extended covering or layer, e.g. a blanket of snow. Synonym. Bedding, cover. (verb) “1. to cover with or as with a blanket; 2. To obscure or obstruct; interfere with; overpower; 3. to toss (someone) in a blanket, as in fraternity hazing: Synonym. Cloud, conceal, mask. (adjective) “covering, or intended to cover, a large group or class of things, conditions, situations, as in: a blanket proposal, a blanket indictment. Synonym. Absolute, sweeping, wide-ranging. Idiom: born on the wrong side of the blanket, born out of wedlock” (dictionary dot com)
Point blanket makes blanket statement
A simple blanket can transport the human spirit, covering years of a family legacy.
When I picked up that Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket at Gypsy Lea’s in Sauk Rapids today, my breath caught, suspended between the moment and decades past. The sale was sure. “HBC” is woven into the plaid of my family’s story as surely as the threads of our tartan. I had to have that blanket. (“Gypsy” Lea was happy to oblige.)
Hudson’s Bay Company 100% wool point blankets were first traded for beaver pelts with the native population of Canada around 1780.1. (The term "point" comes from the French word empointer, which means "to make threaded stitches on cloth.")2. Many Canadian and American First Nations’ people used Hudson’s Bay Company blankets as wraps and as clothing.3. (Link below for a listing of tribes.) French and Scottish voyageurs and traders continued their trade with native people from HBC company outposts throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.4.
Our family tree sprang from those seeds planted by Ontario Scots and le Francais from Quebec. The MacDonells and MacDonalds of Glengerry County, Ontario, emigrated to Minnesota in the late 1800’s. Then, they moved on to Duluth. Around the same time, the St. Germains and Jolecoeurs emigrated from Three Rivers and Montreal to the Port City. In 1920 my grandfather, Randolph MacDonell, married Loretto St. Germain, the girl next door.
Grandpa MacDonell used his Hudson’s Bay blanket at the cabin. The redwood log cabin was built in 1927 on Pokegama Lake, just five miles from the Grand Rapids city limits. Grandpa died in 1969; the blanket is also gone. The cabin is now the great room of my sister Margaret Ann Armstrong’s summer home, which looks across Poole’s Bay to the inlet and onward to the Mississippi River’s thoroughfare.
This summer home sits on the site of yet another, older cabin. Its wooden foundation has long since crumbled to dust. (During the summers as kids we’d try to excavate the area to find artifacts, with no luck.) We wondered who lived there before us. Perhaps, it was the Metis Joseph Sayes and his wife whose names appear first on the Abstract of Title. Sayes was given 1,000 acres of land as part of the Chippawa Scrip of 1858. My grandfather’s tract, purchased decades later, was only a small part of that treaty with the first people of the area.
However, we’re sure there was trade conducted on that spot. My father retrieved a rusted bucket from the clay muck of the lake one summer, thinking it could be valuable. After cleaning the brass, the initials “HBC” could be read on the inside lip of the old artifact. Yep. Hudson’s Bay Company goods had been traded along the banks of Pokegama, long before it became MacDonell and Armstrong land.
(Oh, to be a time traveler, to go back and see what came beforehand …)
Gypsy Lea’s is filled with all sort of furnishings and accessories from the past, refurbished and offered up to today’s “time travelers.” Folks who buy will be able to add their own memories to the story of their precious antique objects, and so, continue the human legacy through their stories.
I wonder what stories my Hudson Bay point blanket will share with those who come after me.
1. Hudson’s Bay Company website, http://www2.hbc.com/hbcheritage/history/blanket/history/
2. CBC Digital Archives, http://archives.cbc.ca/economy_business/consumer_goods/clips/16966/
4. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson%27s_Bay_Company
October 22, 2011 at 10:26am