When I learnt that the old Catholic Church had been burnt down a lot of memories from my past surfaced. It had been a long time since I had thought of that particular part of my life.
The church and its impact on the community really started before I was even born. My grandfather visited Mistissini somewhere around 1941. He left for about a year but was drawn back. In about 1942 he established a fur trading post giving the Hudson’s Bay Company a little competition. By around 1948, grandpa made a deal, a 99-year lease on the point.
In the fifties grandpa gave the Catholic Church use of part of the land he leased. Father Alain, of the Oblate fathers, became sort of a fixture at that time, at least to me as he was always there in my early memories.
Perhaps what I remember him most for was his movies. Father Alain had this old oil/ diesel powered contraption to deliver electricity in the days when there wasn’t any electricity in Mistissini. The old beast had these wide bands of rubber that turned something. The closest analogy I can think of is to imagine a skidoo belt system and add a few of those only about a foot wide and over five feet long. It was a dirty dark place of mystery to us kids who would watch the Father every time he would fix it, which seemed to be a regular occurrence. The Oblate Fathers were famous for coming to the north and being prepared for it. They were trained as plumbers, carpenters and builders.
The wait to see the beast repaired was worth it though because Father Alain had the only show in town. Of course the good father carefully previewed these films in private. Then he would have us kids run around town letting people know what time to come to see the show. Our reward for this was usually a bag of chips or we wouldn’t have to pay the $0.25 entry fee. The little place would be filled to the rafters. Then Father Alain would start the movie. Anytime a kissing scene came on Father Alain in his role as protector of our innocence would turn the focusing lens and blur the scene. For the potentially more risquU parts a card would go in front of the lens. I along with others used try to see what was on the card but the Father was too crafty for us and managed to hide the scene. I think he was amused by our attempts as much as we were disappointed.
Originally the Father came to minister to the needs of the nurses and occasional Hudson Bay clerks who were Catholic. He made only a few converts among the Mistissini population as the Anglican Church had gained a stronghold by that time. When I was born he blessed me according to my mother. The Father always asked after me as he asked after anyone that he had blessed.
In short the church burning brought back memories of a past I remember fondly. As Public Safety Officer Matthew Gunner said “it was a sore sight to see, a piece of history went up in flames.”
The fire is suspected to have been set by young children. At least three attempts had been made earlier according to Gunner. He told me that two pieces from the church were saved, a real church bell and an iron cross that were part of the church. These pieces of Mistissini history will go to the local school.
As for my memories while they may occasionally seem forgotten they will always be there as a part of the life I lived. They are some of the things that made me what I am today. I do regret the loss of what was one of the first churches in Mistissini but part of the memories will live on in the local school for others to learn about.
And if there are any morals to this stroll down memory lane it is two things; perhapssometimes we take things for granted until they are gone and we have not taught childrennot to play with fire well enough.