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On the boardwalk

BY Will Nicholls Sep 27, 2019

In Mistissini there’s a boardwalk that links Hudson’s Bay Point to MacLeod Point. For many, it’s a shortcut to get from one side of the community to the other. It’s also a place with a lot of history, but the present has many residents concerned. Apparently, a lot of young people now go there to drink at night. With no garbage cans available, litter from those parties abounds. The litter and unsavoury reputation have some people saying the boardwalk should be demolished.

I somehow doubt that this solution will stop the parties. Young people from every generation find a way to engage in unsupervised hijinks. All that this would do is destroy a part of Mistissini’s past. The boardwalk was around before many community members were even born.

Near the boardwalk was where the people of Nemaska lived. In the past, Indian Affairs moved them into Mistissini to make their jobs easier. People used it every day and especially on Sundays to go to church. During the week they would use it to visit or go to the Hudson’s Bay store. Many a man, or in my case a boy, would take his sweetheart for a stroll along the boardwalk in the evening. Many a kiss was exchanged and no doubt a few marriages were proposed there.

One resident, Edward “Wabinkew” Gunner, got his nickname from his boardwalk shenanigans. It used to be a place where people would gather as there was once a beach. They would swim, picnic, gossip, watch each other’s kids and more.

It was the first place I ever played war canoes. This game consisted of standing, clothed, on a plank placed across the bow of the canoe while holding a mop. Another person in the back would paddle you towards another war canoe. Balance was incredibly important. When you got close enough you would swing your mop at the person standing in the other canoe and try to knock them into the water. It wasn’t unusual for both canoes to tip over at this point. In either case the people watching on the shore and along the boardwalk always had a good laugh.

The boardwalk played a part in showing leadership and community spirit. This was never more evident than when a former chief, seeing the boardwalk needed repairs, simply started the job himself. The word went out and other community members came down and joined him. This kind of leading by example is not often seen these days but was a measure of how important the boardwalk was to the community.

Along the boardwalk are tons of gooseberry and raspberry bushes. Some of the fruits of the land right in the community itself.

Instead of destroying the boardwalk we should put up a plaque explaining its history and importance to the community. Make it something to be proud of – and while we’re at it, install a garbage can or two.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.