Mi’kmaq band plays pivotal role in restoration of war relic

Carol Hopkins
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A German trench mortar that once served as a landmark for the courthouse in St. George’s has been restored thanks in part to a St. George’s Mi’kmaq Band donation.

“We took it to our general meeting with the band and everyone agreed to donate the $5,000 to pay for the restoration. So we gladly did it,” said Chief Karen White.

The war relic is a rich part of the community’s history, a gift from the Newfoundland Militia in 1921.

The mortar was restored in St. John’s and returned to St. George’s this summer. It sits temporarily on concrete slabs that will soon be replaced by two granite blocks, according to Legionnaire Richard McDonnell.

In his welcoming speech at the rededication ceremony on Aug. 25, Mr. McDonnell spoke about the generous gesture of St. George’s Mi’kmaq Band in relation to the war trophy.

“The trench mortar stood in front of the court house in St. George’s until 2010 when the building was turned over to St. George’s Indian Band Council,” Mr. McDonnell said.

“Later, it was turned over to (Royal Canadian Legion) Branch 38. We’re here today to officially thank the St. George’s Indian Band for a contribution of $5,000 to help us to refurbish the old trench mortar.”

Over the many years the weapon became worn and damaged and in need of some serious work.

 “The mortar had been sitting in disrepair at the museum and we didn’t want to throw it away and we didn’t really want to restore it and have it sitting in front of the Mi’kmaq museum. We didn’t figure that was the real place for it,” said Chief White. “So we donated it to the Legion.”

Many hands were involved in the restoration of the mortar. There were many roadblocks such as the financial cost of restoration as well as the problem of locating crafts people capable of taking on the job.

Once these obstacles were overcome the issue of transporting the gun to St. John’s became another glitch in the plan to have the relic restored. All of these issues were resolved and all parties recognized at the rededication ceremony.

The president of Legion Branch 38, Robert Grenier, presented Chief White with a plaque of appreciation during the ceremony. Chief White said the plaque will be hung on the wall of the Mi’kmaq museum in St. George’s.

A second plaque adorns the base of the mortar recognizing the donation made by the band. Melvin White, a resident of the community, wrote the poem that is engraved into the plaque.

The St. George’s Mi’kmaq Band also played a key role in the rededication ceremony. Kenny Bennett, a member of the band, performed a native smudging ritual at the ceremony. Smudging is an important part of native spirituality, serving as a means of physical and spiritual cleansing and healing.

After the smudging ritual Mr. Bennett was joined by Alison White and Marlene Swyers to perform a traditional Mi’kmaq song accompanied by drumming.

Legionnaire Grant Hiscock noted the presence of two ospreys flying overhead during the ceremony.

“They were doing a sky dance about 300 feet above the Legion grounds,” Mr. Hiscock said, in an email. “Is that a good omen?”

Organizations: Indian Band Council, Legion Branch

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