Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Had my first kiss at 13 years old.
Late by today’s standards, I’m thinking, and even more so that I was smack in the middle of the 1850s, when by all intensive purposes, I should’ve already been married.
In fact our family was most likely born 140 years too late. My father, Tom, worked as a blacksmith and costumed interpreter at the local historical site, Lower Fort Garry of Parks Canada. My brother would go on to take his place there, cutting his blacksmith teeth as it were, and my sister was a guide in a fetching Parks brown uniform….actually I can hear her voice ringing out ‘it’s Khaki!’ but in any case, luckily she can rock anything she wears.
I was the baker and baked bread to sell to visitors as well as gave a history of the bake house and its ovens. The words, “Is that a real fire” will be forever etched in my memory.
I basically grew up there. One foot in the 1980’s one in the 1850’s. We attended each year as a re-enactment family, to what was then, the highlight of the year: Rendezvous!
We had nailed glamping long before it became a ‘thing’. Dad had made a futon bed for him & Mom, and us kids curled up in buffulo robes or if it was too hot, outside under the tree canopy. We dressed in clothing appropriate for the time that The Fort depicted, and lived a long weekend as the pioneer settlers of the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) Fur Trading Co.
Tipi sleeping Cleaning candles Laundry
I’m reminded of this through the smells of my walk today as the canal between Newbold and Clifton is packed with boats, all with their fires lit, making coffee and breakfast. The fires mixed with the falling foliage and the dampness of the morning took me back to waking up to those exact smells wafting from outside through in to our tent or if I could score it, the Parks’ tipi. A cheerful and uber-friendly, ‘Morning!’ rings out from the darkened entrance of each boat I pass which is also reminiscent of each tent I used to pass on the way through the encampment.
Our reenactment encampment
The rising sun was hazy, climbing over the Fort’s white, limestone walls, as it was August, but the coolness of the Canadian autumn was slipping in on those early morning hours.
Mom and Dad would already be up. Dad had the fire lit for bacon and eggs, and his precious pot of beans. Gawd did he love making baked beans! He even had a special pot and a song:
Pork and beans
are good for the heart.
The more you eat, the more you… well you get the idea.
Mom would be at her flour board rolling out the bannock and organising the meals for the rest of the day. She worked so hard for this long weekend. So hard. And it’s only as a parent yourself, do you realise the work that went into it all. I’m not entirely sure she really enjoyed it, if I’m honest. In any case, she did it for my Dad who loved it and for us, to give us an unforgettable experience.
Thanks Mom! I really appreciated it.
The days would be filled with talking to tourists, learning and creating crafts of a by-gone time. A weekend to suspend disbelief and totally immerse yourself in the truest sense of ‘make believe’.
Gathered for a workshop
Each encampment seemed to have its heritage speciality and we would give workshops to each other throughout the weekend. Pat, the fire starter was always a firm favourite and could get a blaze going in under 12 seconds flat with her trusty flint & steel.
Leather beading, campfire cooking, tatting and weaving, wool spinning, blacksmithing, knife throwing, candle making, hide stretching, you name it, someone there knew how to do it. They were days of sharing knowledge, making new friends and times of a general ‘eat, drink and be merry’ nature.
The Siblings Jennifer (sitting - white & flowered head scarf), Matt (beard) and
Me (drinking…of course!)
And the Games! Oh the Games!
The Jenkins Clan was never known to shy away from a contest or friendly competition. I believe we still are the reigning Tug-o-War champions, in skirts and all! And I, the Inuit Leg Wrestling champ (not so easy in a skirt may I add).
Mom will go down in the Rendezvous history books for the axe throwing contest. She didn’t hit the bullseye but with her own wit & skill cut the ropes holding one of the legs to the target stand which then bounced off to slice the other cords to the other leg, collapsing the whole target in a ceremony of comic splendour.
Nothing of the kind has been seen since.
A firm attempt to outshine everyone, really, an honourary mention is needed at the very least. Brava Mom!
Me, my brother Matt and Dad (Tom)
pulling for all we’re worth!
It’s Oct now and according to my beliefs, the veil, between our world and the Summerlands, is thinning - when our ancestors can come and play, visit with us and if we quiet our minds enough and listen, they are still teaching us, giving us advice from lessons they have learned and are still learning on the other side.
I can feel family of the past making their way to me. A journey of reconnection. I wish I could go back to the Fort at this time of year and soak it all in, now that I know how to listen as an adult and open that door of innate understanding I had as a child, running around trees playing tag, and along side the Red River, collecting stones, flowers and twigs for crafting, with skirts flowing and aprons flying, clutching a head scarf that refused to stay on my head. Speaking with ‘imaginary’ friends who spoke to me on the wind, in the grasses, in the crunch of the gravel paths and the ‘tang tang’ sound of my Dad’s hammer on the anvil.
Lower Fort Garry Blacksmith shop and Frazer's Cottage with ox carts
And speaking of lessons learned, bet you’re still wondering about that first kiss. Well that ‘Prince’ hopped to the next tent over, the very next day for another first kiss with another fair maiden.
As my dejected self sat by the fire, my Dad came up with his pot and asked if I wanted any.
‘Nah Dad, thanks. I’m not really in mood for baked beans”
He smiled that mischievous grin that always told you there’s something more to it.
“It’s not beans, kiddo,” he said. “It’s frogs legs.”
Me & Dad - Bakers of Bread & Beans (& Frog's Legs)
(Miss you x)