Amid the scattered showers Saturday morning, seven canoes meant to imitate a 17th-century flotilla made their way across Onondaga Lake to the marina outside the Salt Museum. The landing commemorated a similar trek made by Jesuit priests from France coming to set up a mission on the shores of the lake and kicked of Ste. Marie’s celebration of its inception 350 years ago.
The occasion was the culmination of months of work designed to memorialize the arrival of the Jesuits among the Onondaga in 1656.
We’ve been working on this celebration since October or November of last year, Linda Woodrow, marketing director for Ste. Marie, said. We all divided into teams which were coordinated by Gordon Davis, our special events chair.
The weekend opened with the arrival of the canoes, which were built by students from the Huntington Family Center in Syracuse and staffed by Boy Scout Troops as well as other community volunteers. The commemorative flotilla was followed by an opening prayer from Father Daniel Mulhauser of LeMoyne. Mulhauser, who served as a missionary in Guam for 20 years, lauded the faith of the Jesuits who came to Lake Gannentaha that day three and a half centuries ago.
It was not only a celebration of the Christian missionaries, however. The historic role of the Iroquois was also noted on Saturday. John Painted Arm Campbell, a Mohawk who volunteers at Ste. Marie, offered the traditional Iroquois thanksgiving address, spoken whenever the six nations gather together. The prayer thanked the Creator, the Earth, the sun, moon and stars and gave listeners the opportunity to remember the Onondagas who once lived on the shores where they now stood.
[A history lesson]
Saturday was also a time to learn about the past from Ste. Marie’s volunteers. Paul Finocchio, an interpreter at the site, told of the journey from Quebec to the shores of the lake made by Jesuit priests and their interpreters.
According to the historical record, they landed on July 11, 1656 amid a heavy downpour, Finocchio said. The congruity of the weather on Saturday with that of the original landing elicited laughter from the crowd.
Ste. Marie guide Lee Miller, dressed as one of the French priests, Father Pierre-Joseph Chaumonot, told the audience of the purpose of the mission. It was not only a Christianizing mission; the French were interested in the beaver trade, as well as in the pursuit of peace.
Davis took the opportunity to tell people of the upcoming events at Ste. Marie, including a summer camp for kids, an illustrated lecture on Iroquois agriculture and a book signing by a local author.
We have a motto, Davis said. ‘Once is not enough.’ I talk to people and tell them where I work, and they say, ‘Oh, I went there once in fourth grade.’ We say once is not enough. You have to come more than once to see all that we have to offer.
Ste. Marie was open to the public this weekend, offering a Native American craft fair, food and music, as well as guided tours. It will remain open until October 8.
[The past celebrated]
The event served not only as a celebration of the center’s history, but also of its reopening thanks to a legion of volunteers. Woodrow is glad to see the former mission’s doors open again.
This facility has always been special, she said. When it closed, it was personally unsatisfying for me. It’s a gem of the community. It needs to be open.
Volunteer coordinator Mike Sutton was especially appreciative of the efforts of the volunteers in not only reopening the site, but putting on Saturday’s celebration.
This is a picture of what can be accomplished when people pull together and dedicate themselves to a mission, he said of the observance.
Woodrow noted that the event was significant because in the U.S. a 350th anniversary is rare for anything, especially in this area, which was really wilderness back then, really uncharted territory. The invitation from the Onondagas to the French to work with them and trade with them is really a significant event, especially for this community.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.