Search for kin subject of film

Reunion caps story of wartime couple

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It's the kind of love story that draws film lovers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/03/2014 (3182 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s the kind of love story that draws film lovers.

The plot line is pure Manitoba, its elements rooted in native and non-native cultures.

Finding Sgt. Partridge is the story of a British woman who traces her roots to Canada and finds her grandfather buried in The Pas.

Submitted photo Family and friends at the gravesite of Sgt. Peter Partridge.

Peter Partridge was a Cree soldier in the Second World War, and during a long-ago leave in England, he fell in love with Peggy, an English girl, who loved him back.

The pair grabbed moments to be together in wartime England for 18 months over 1943-44; they had a baby named Peter Ian.

Inevitably they separated; Partridge’s unit shipped him off to Normandy and Peggy’s village was bombed. They never met again.

Seventy years would pass before hands would cross the Atlantic again.

By then, both lovers had raised separate families, each convinced the other was dead.

For a long time, it seemed as if their story would die with them; in England, the Cree roots fell fallow in family stories until granddaughter Shannon Saise-Marshall dug them up in papers left behind when her grandmother, Peggy, died. “All I really knew was that my dad, who died in 1975 from renal failure, was native Canadian… I did ask my nana Peggy for information but she couldn’t really remember; she didn’t even have a photograph of Peter,” Shannon Saise-Marshall said in a lengthy email exchange.

With little to go on, Saise-Marshall still pursued her roots to discover the Cree connection and enlisted genealogists with the federal archives in Ottawa to help track the connection down to a family at Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

One dogged genealogist phoned every Partridge listing in The Pas phone directory to narrow down Peter’s descendants before Saise-Marshall was sure she’d found her family.

In The Pas, over the intervening decades, Partridge had married and raised three children but before he died, he’d often told his family about his wartime love and the baby they had.

‘It was a heartbreaking call… to my auntie Georgina. I was letting her know her brother (Saise-Marshall’s dad) had died and we had so much to say’ — Shannon Saise-Marshall

“They’d always known they had a brother and they were waiting for him to come,” said Saise-Marshall, who made her first phone call two years ago. “It was a heartbreaking call… to my auntie Georgina. I was letting her know her brother (Saise-Marshall’s dad) had died and we had so much to say.”

In 2012, Saise-Marshall crossed the Atlantic and travelled to Winnipeg.

And when she got to The Pas, the welcome from her long-lost extended family was so warm, it would turn into something extraordinary: a film about lost family roots.

The film’s producer, Gabriel Constant, was a reporter with the OCN paper, then a weekly, when he caught the story as an assignment. The initial emotional family reunion had already taken place.

It was Saise-Marshall’s tenacity in tracking down her roots that drew the reporter-filmmaker in; here was a woman who’d never given up and against all odds found her family.

Constant wrote about a much larger community celebration with the chief and community leaders, the granddaughter’s pilgrimage to Peter Partridge’s grave and an outpouring that embraced the British woman.

With so many children lost to the Sixties Scoop, when children were adopted out, and now coming home, Saise-Marshall’s story is an inspiration, Constant said.

“They accepted her like she was part of the family,” recalled Constant, himself a distant cousin.

When Constant learned he had a chance to make a film, he knew the Partridge saga was the story he had to tell.

Submitted photo Sgt. Peter Partridge

“The way things came together, it was meant to be,” Constant said. “I’d regret not doing it. There was lots of good stuff in that story and it was hard to shrink it down to 14 minutes.”

Later this week, Saise-Marshall, a councillor with the Borough of Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, flies again to Winnipeg, this time for the screening of a film called Finding Sgt. Partridge.

The National Screen Institute aboriginal documentary program accepted the story for a feature film, dispatching a crew and documentary filmmaker north to The Pas to work with Constant.

“Gabriel applied for the program in late 2012 and he had this outline of a story and we just thought it sounded like a beautiful story,” said Ursula Lawson, the screen institute’s manager of programs and development.

Finding Sgt. Partridge plays Friday at the 6th annual Gimme Some Truth Documentary Film Festival. It’s one of four films playing at Cinemateque, 100 Arthur St., at 5 p.m.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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