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History to come alive at Grant Day celebrations
The original Red River cart may have its origins in the early 1800s, but it hasn’t gotten any easier to build.
If you want to build it right, that is.
For the last decade, Armand Jerome has been one of the province’s leading builders of the carts, which were developed by the Metis. They were the main method of transportation as Manitoba and the Prairies were settled in the early 1800s.
"There’s no metal parts, it’s all made by hand," said Jerome, who, along with his partner Kelly Pageot, build the carts in their workshop near Beausejour.
"It’s fairly complicated. There’s a lot of technology involved."
Jerome has built a few dozen carts since being part of a team that rebuilt one for the 2002 North American Indigenous Games. Each cart is crafted from ash or oak and takes up to 200 hours to build. Measurements must be precise — wheel spokes must be cut at a seven degree angle, for example.
Each cart costs around $3,500 to construct, he said.
"All the old technology I had to learn from articles and research," he said. "It was a long learning process of many breakdowns."
One of Jerome’s meticulously crafted carts will be put to use to introduce Lord Strathspey at the upcoming Cuthbert Grant Day celebrations, scheduled for July 14 at Grant’s Old Mill in St. James.
Strathspey, chief of the Grant clan in Scotland, has accepted an invitation to attend the event, which also marks the 2012 bicentennial of the Selkirk Settlers at the mill.
Descendants from across Canada are expected to attend, where Strathspey will officially declare them an official sect of the Grant clan.
"Everybody’s always interested in their roots. We want to know who we are," said Jerome, a descendent of Grant’s father. "There’s that curiosity of where we come from. It’s strong in me."
Grant, born in 1793 to a Scottish father and Metis mother, was a revered Metis leader in Manitoba and is considered one of the founding fathers of St. Francois Xavier, which was originally named Grantown in his honour. He also built a mill in the town in 1816, a replica of which sits on Sturgeon Creek north of Portage Avenue near Grace Hospital.
This year’s celebration is meant to give the celebration’s honorary visiting guests an authentic taste of what life was like in 1800s Manitoba.
"It’s important for Sir James to understand the scope of the struggles when Cuthbert Grant was there," said celebration organizer Sandra Horyski, a North End resident.
"He doesn’t know anything about Manitoba, the Red River or anything. He’s coming in and not knowing the time period."
Strathspey’s visit is a reminder that the mill is more than just a tool shed beside the creek — it’s also a museum, Horyski added.
"It really sets Grants Old Mill up a few notches. It’s recognition of where we’ve come from and how far we’ve made it," she said.
"It’s all about awareness of the culture and history that’s around (us)."
For more information, visit www.cuthbertgrant.ca.
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