My earliest ethnic impressions were that I was simply Irish-Canadian. My father had told us his ancestors came from Ireland during the Potato Famine and that explanation was good enough for me. We were not Irish Catholics, but I assumed all Irish were roughly equal. As a consequence I felt entitled to the “wearing of the green” and “member status” in any St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Later on, I found out my Rainey ancestors were Presbyterian Orangemen from Ulster, more often than not in bitter conflict with native Irish Catholics. Further research indicated that my Rainey ancestors were originally planters from Scotland. In Scotland, they were not descendants of the Celtic Dalriada Scots from Ireland, but rather were from the preceding Pict culture. So Pictish became my defining ethnicity, the real root of the “Rainey” surname I bear.
Further complications became apparent. It turns out I bear my great-great grandmother Margaret Rainey’s surname because she left for Canada in 1847 unwed, but pregnant. Her suitor, John (Black Jack) O’Neil, a native Irishman, was rejected by her staunch Presbyterian family and they also had disowned their daughter for that association. John and Margaret decided on a new beginning in Canada and he sent her on ahead while he sorted out remaining personal affairs. But he never showed up in Canada. Did he die of typhus, rampant during the famine period, or was he killed in patriot resistance to English rule, as one version of the legend suggests? In any case “Black Jack” O’Neil vindicates my claim to true native “Niall of the Nine Hostages” Irish heritage.
But what of my mother’s side of the family, the French Canadian “Pilons”. That trail led back to Antoine Pilon, who emigrated from Bayeux, in Normandy, France, in 1687 to become the first settler in Pointe-Claire, on the “West Island” of Montreal. His immediate descendants, over several generations, were “coureurs des bois” and “voyageurs” involved in the fur trade, as well as farmers, stone cutters, masons, and others.
My Rainey and Pilon ancestors both ended up in Grenville Township, in the latter part of the 19th century and my father married my mother in 1939.
My emotions are still conditioned to feel mostly of Irish origin, but logically I now know I’m also Pictish with a heavy dose of Norman French. But what else is there to reveal? In the 1950s, Mamère (my grandmother Célina Pilon) often told me I was part Algonquin, but she didn’t explain “who” or “how,” and I was too young to think it mattered much. It was just one of many fuzzy family legends.
Recently, almost 60 years later, I shouldered the challenge to try to verify these stories. But how could there be any records, when the natives were nomadic and effectively illiterate. And did I really want to prove I was Métis, or were some stones better left unturned? What was to be gained (or lost)? Was this something I would rather deny or was it a truth that would set me free? With some trepidation, I forged ahead.It turns out, the keepers of my secret were the "Black Robes." Yes, the Jesuits came to the rescue. That's the same organization that established Notre Dame sur le Lac University at South Bend, Indiana, back in 1842. They were among the best educated men of their time and they kept meticulous records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths, including for native converts. Those nearly 400 year-old records exist today and have been researched by Louise Pilon, a not-too-distant cousin. Records show that, through my mother’s Pilon line, I am a descendant of Marie Metiwameghwahkwe (written MITE8AMEG8K8E in the Algonquin alphabet and pronounced: mee-tee-wa-mee-gou-kwee), which translates to "swamp medicine". She is my 11th generation grandmother. Hers was the Weskarini band of the Algonquin Nation, which once made the Laurentians their home. At the time of the French arrival, the Weskarini occupied the lower Ottawa Valley, particularly the basins of the Lièvre, Petit Nation, Rouge and North Rivers. Later, some Weskarini Christian converts chose to establish themselves closer to the French missions at Ville Marie and Trois-Rivières. This gave them protection from hostile, marauding Iroquois.
During a major Iroquois offensive in 1652, the main band of Weskarini fled north from the Ottawa River, up their familiar mountain tributaries. In an uneven conflict, the lightly armed Weskarini made a last desperate stand, between the upper valleys of the Petit Nation and the Rouge River, on the shores of Petit Lac Nominingue. Near their sacred Mont Tremblant, deep inside their ancestral territory, they were massacred without mercy. Few managed to escape.
Fortunately Marie Metiwameghwahkwe was not with the main band. Her clan of Christian Weskarini had, several years before, established themselves near the Catholic Mission (and the protection of the French garrison and fort) at Trois-Rivières.
But during that Iroquois campaign, Ville Marie and Trois-Rivières also came under attack. Defending the village and fort with the French at Trois-Rivières, Marie Metiwameghwahkwe’s husband Assababich was killed and their two children were abducted and carried off with a larger group of French and Weskarini captives. Also among the captives was Wahwahsekona and teen-ager Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Wahwahsekona (otherwise know by her Iroquois name, Kahenta), became the mother of the venerated Kateri Tekakwitha and is thought to have been a cousin of Metiwameghwahkwe. Pierre-Esprit Radisson was to become a famous explorer and fur trader.
One of the French defenders and survivors of the Iroquois attack at Trois-Riveres was Pierre Couc (dit La Fleur), a peasant farmer from Cognac, France, who came to New France as a colonist, soldier and farmer. Back in Cognac, he left his parents, Nicolas and Elizabeth (Templair) Couc, of the La Fleur branch of the Couc family.
Pierre Couc would later marry the widowed Marie Metiwameghwahkwe, in 1657, and together they would raise nine children:
Jeanne, b. 1657, who was raped and murdered in 1679. Three perpetrators were convicted, but Jean Rattier-Du Buisson, who committed the actual murder, agreed to become the “bourreau royale” (Royal Executioner) in Quebec (a position very hard to fill), to save himself from the gallows. The other two used their political connections to buy pardons; Louis, b. 1659, who in his adult life assumed the surname Montour, spent much of his life as a voyageur, guide, interpreter and “go-between” in the fur trade, dealing with the French, English, Iroquois and many other tribes. In 1709 he was in the pay of the British, trying to coax the Seneca into the English camp. That spring, Sieur de Joncaire, a lieutenant in the French army, was sent to the Seneca villages on a similar mission. While there, he encountered Montour attempting to turn the Senecas against the French. Joncaire ordered his men to kill Montour, although he would have preferred to hang him as a traitor at Quebec; Angelique, b. 1661, who married a man named St.Corney in 1692; Marie, b. 1663; Marguerite, b. Jun 1, 1664, who married Jean Masse-Lafart (1657-1756), also a famous coureur-des-bois who finally settled at Detroit, where he died at the age of ninety-nine; Pierre, b. Apr 5, 1665, who was the father of Pierre Conc III, founder of Pierreville, Quebec; Elizabeth, b. 1667; Madeleine, b. 1669, who married Maurice Lafontaine-Ménard, and who would become my 10th generation grandmother. Maurice Menard, dit Lafontaine: (b. c.1666) was the son of Jacques Menard dit Lafontaine and Catherine Fortier, born at Trois-Rivières on June 7, 1664. Maurice married Madeleine Couc in 1692 at Michilimackinac and they had a son, Antoine, born at Michillimakinac, April 28, 1695. He a voyageur and an important interpreter at Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Michigan); Jean-Baptiste, b. 1673, who married Anne Sauvagesse and had a son, Jean-Baptiste Conc II, b. November 27, 1706 at Lachine, now a suburb of Montreal.
The short version of a subsequent, tumultuous, almost 400-year history, is the following ancestor list:
Pierre Couc-La Fleur (1624-1690) & Marie Metiwameghwahkwe (1631-1699)
Maurice Ménard-Fontaine (1664-1741) & Madelaine Couc-La Fleur (1669-1763)
Pierre Boisleau (1676- 1730) & Margurite Ménard-Fontaine(1683-1763)
Pierre Boisleau (1716-1768) & Madeleine M. Lahaye (1701- 1754)
Nicolas Claude (1727-1794) & Geneviève Boisleau (1728-1793)
Eustache A. Rouleau (1754 - ) & Elisabeth Claude (1753-1820)
Francois Brisebois (1780- ) & Marie A. Rouleau (1788- )
Lambert Pilon (1807- ) & Marie Clémence Brisbois (1813- )
Albert Norbert Pilon (1854-1935) & Angeline Larose-Deguire (1854- )
Philias Pilon (1880-1918) & Célina Pilon (1883-1966)
Russell Rainey (1911-1990) & Gertrude Violet Pilon (1919-1997)
Gordon Rainey (1942- ) & Marie-Thérèse Therrien (1944- )
Now I can claim to be Algonquin, as well as Irish, Scottish/Pictish and Noman French. I guess the next step is to apply for my Métis Nation membership card, to make it official. That’s what being Canadian is all about.
Norm Léveillée, also a descendant of Marie Metiwameghwahkwe and Pierre Counc-La Fleur, did considerable research on their lineage and wrote the following in 2001:
“Metiwameghwahkwe lived a full life with dignity, respect and love. A courageous and loving Algonquin woman who had realized Samuel de Champlain's dream of "our sons will marry with your daughters and we will be a single people" is remembered in history by a simple Christian record, written in 1699 by Elisée Crey, Recollet Priest, Pastor of Trois-Rivières, on her burial certificate as a ‘sauvagesse’ – ‘a female native or savage’.”