Videos show French Ontario's historical ties with Aboriginal culture

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

French Studies research assistants Sarah Reilly and Monika Sosnowski are currently filming and starring in a new series of videos that help to disseminate research from L’Ontario français et ses premiers textes (Early Ontario French Narratives), a SSHRC-funded project led by Professor François Paré (French Studies). The videos are intended to deepen understanding of French Ontario history and its inseparable connection with aboriginal history.

The three year project, L'Ontario Français et ses premiers textes, focuses on the writings of French voyageurs and missionaries in the Great Lakes Region (Ontario, New York, Michigan) between 1636 and 1760. These fascinating texts constitute the earliest form of literature written in French in what is now the Canadian province of Ontario.

“It’s easy to dismiss this part of our collective memory,” says Prof. Paré. “Yet the voyageurs were the first witnesses and participants in an era of contacts with indigenous peoples. That alone continues to define what we are today”.

To develop the video series, Reilly and Sosnowski began by researching elements of 17th and 18th century Ontario history, including 

  • Early dictionaries of Ontario’s indigenous languages by Gabriel Sagard and Jean de Brébeuf
  • La Salle’s extensive commercial trade on the Great Lakes 
  • Pastedechouan, an aboriginal boy sent to France by Champlain
  • ​French and Aboriginal conceptions of dreams
  • Cartography of the Great Lakes and the lower Grand River by René de Galinée 

students filming by a river
The research assistants have managed a successful Facebook page, but their foray into YouTube has been the most rewarding. “The ability to be able to share this information to a wider audience is exciting,” says Reilly. “It is also a wonderful opportunity to spread history that is often overlooked.” 

Reilly graduated from Waterloo with a French Honours degree and completed a year at Queen's University's Faculty of Education. She will be continuing her studies this fall in Waterloo's MA in French Studies program.

Sosnowski, a Kitchener native, completed her studies in the French Teaching Specialization program at Waterloo this past year. She will be attending the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University this fall. 

The videos are filmed around Kitchener-Waterloo with locations that include the Huron Natural Area and St. Jacobs Mill Race Trail, the Toronto Carrying Place, along the Grand River (called La Rapide in 17thcentury Ontario) and on Lake Erie by the Dollier and Galinée wintering site of 1669 in Port Dover. 

With six videos already posted and many more to come, there’s something on this channel for everyone, from local history buffs to educators.

This story is adapted from a news release written by Sarah Reilly and Monika Sosnowski which was first published in the Daily Bulletin.