Riel House hosts historic Métis garden
BY KELSEY JAMES
The Manitoba Métis Federation, Parks Canada and Riel House National Historic Site joined forces this summer to host a student-driven historic garden filled with produce from the late 19th century.
This year, six Métis youth from local high schools in the Winnipeg area planted more than 40 varieties of historically significant heritage vegetables, fruits and herbs, including atomic red carrot, Pontiac potatoes, deep cylinder beet, Danvers carrot, Noche zucchini, trinity sweet corn, and more.
While some of the students already had a background in agriculture, others were simply interested in learning more about their Métis traditions and culture, said David Beaudin, minister of agriculture for the Manitoba Métis Federation.
“Our plan was to grow these heirloom varieties because it would be similar to what was there many years ago, in the mid-1880s,” Beaudin added. “The Métis are trying to preserve and expand upon the traditional way of growing. It’s important for our students and youth to understand those traditions, and the traditional foods we ate is a big part of who we are.”
The project also focused on the importance of Three Sisters Planting, commonly known as companion planting or interplanting, which is the historical Indigenous agricultural practice of growing corn, beans and squash in harmony. Countless generations of Red River Métis and other Indigenous peoples used the growing technique.
With this method, the corn supports the beans to climb up the cornstalk while the squash leaves provide shade for the soil to help control weeds and maintain moisture. Instead of single rows of a vegetable, also known as monoculture, the Three Sisters method of interplanting promotes biodiversity, encourages pollinators and beneficial insects, sustainable soil fertility and a healthy diet.
“It also allows us as a Métis nation to get back to our roots and back to our traditions,” Beaudin said. “These aren’t your grocery store variety vegetables; even though they’re both called a beet, they have their own unique taste. When you make your soups and stews, you get these tastes that are traditional to the Métis.”
An ongoing partnership with Parks Canada, what gets harvested from the Riel House gardens is distributed to Elders, community members in need and food banks (each year, the Manitoba Métis Federation distributes up to 500 pounds of food from over the 40 heirloom varieties).
“Parks Canada is honoured to support this historic garden project in collaboration with the Manitoba Métis Federation,” said Terrie Dionne, superintendent of Parks Canada’s Manitoba field unit. “Thanks to the hard work of Manitoba Métis Federation staff and Métis youth, visitors can learn about historic gardening practices on a traditional river lot farm. It has been an immense pleasure to watch the garden grow and take on a life of its own these past few months, and we look forward to celebrating the harvest at this year’s annual corn roast.”
Next year, the Manitoba Métis Federation is hoping to expand so all seven of its regions can host community garden programs, Beaudin said.
To learn more, visit the Riel House National Historic Site at 330 River Rd. or go to the Manitoba Métis Federation’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ManitobaMetisFederationOfficial
Kelsey James is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She graduated from Red River College’s creative communications program in 2018 as a journalism major and holds a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric, writing and communications from the University of Winnipeg. A lifelong Winnipegger who grew up in southwest Winnipeg, Kelsey is thrilled to be covering the neighbourhoods she still calls “home.”