Christmas Bazaar returns to church hall in Kanesatake

Kanehsata’kehró:non of all ages have memories at the United Church Hall, the humble building that has been home to fundraisers, birthdays, funeral receptions, and countless other community gatherings.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, one of the hall’s most beloved get-togethers has been absent. The Christmas Bazaar is not only a hallmark of the holiday season in Kanesatake, but also a fundraiser to help pay for the hall’s repairs, maintenance, and bills.

But the bazaar is returning this Saturday, with a new generation of women taking the lead.

“I’m very happy that my daughter is following in my footsteps,” said 86-year-old Kay Gaspe Oke, who remembers attending the Christmas Bazaar as a teenager. For decades, she has helped organize the market and a range of other events and gatherings.

“I’m very happy that the new group wants to take over where we left off because it’s been a while nobody took over,” she said.

Her daughter, Lorrie Ann Oke, is working with several other Kanehsata’kehró:non women to reprise some of the hall’s community functions since the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with many of them, including the bazaar.

“They’ve passed on the opportunity for us to step in and to put it on, so that’s what we did,” said Lorrie Ann. “It’s daughters of the grandmothers who had it up and running and thriving so positively who felt the loss.”

Other women contributing to the effort so far include Maria Canatonquin, Barbara Bonspille, Shirley Bonspille, Donna Bonspille, Caira Nicholas, and Valerie Bonspille. Lorrie Ann said she is hoping to start a committee for the church hall.

The Kanesatake Health Center (KHC) helped with mailers to alert the community to this weekend’s event. So far, the news of the bazaar’s return has been greeted warmly, according to Lorrie Ann.

“It feels great. It’s time consuming, but it’s heart-warming as well,” she said. “You get to talk to people, and you get to hear how grateful they are that they’re going to be able to get to the church hall and be able to put their wares on the tables.”

The bazaar is expected to host around 15 vendors selling all kinds of gifts, such as ornaments, earrings, miniature gardens, clothes celebrating land defenders, art, games, and other merchandise. Food like apple bread and meat pies will also be on offer.

“It's a great place to meet up with the community,” said local artist Jasmin Gunn, who will be selling stickers, ornaments, and other items on Saturday. She has had a table at the bazaar many times in the past. She said the bazaar has a more homespun feel than last weekend’s large Indigenous winter market at Oka Park, which she helped organize.

“I would like to wish everyone a good time, and I want everyone to come on out and support local artists and catch up with friends and family, and have a lunch too,” she said.

Susan Gabriel, who has been deeply involved in the United Church Hall’s activities for years, plans to sell copies of Ohiatonhseratokénti: The Holy Bible in Mohawk, translated by her husband Harvey Satewas Gabriel.

“I was doing the Bazaar there for almost 20 years. During COVID we didn’t. It gives people an opportunity to sell their homemade things. That’s why I’m there,” she said. She believes it is important to support the hall.

“The church hall operates a lot of things for the community. We don’t have the infrastructure in our community to have a place the public can use.”

Canatonquin has rich memories of the event’s history and is pleased to be a part of bringing it back for the first time since the pandemic.

“The bazaar was a big deal,” Canatonquin said. “Everyone used to come out even if it was just to socialize. We didn’t have much, but the building was alive. I remember everyone would be working at the hall preparing for the Christmas Bazaar.

“I remember cutting up clean rags for stuffing for cushions and toys, and wrapping small toys for the fishpond for the kids. The small kitchen was busy with aunties and Tótas cutting cakes and pies. It was a beautiful time.”

The Christmas Bazaar takes place at the United Church Hall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, December 9. Lunch is $12 per plate with drinks for a dollar, with takeout available.

Admission is free, and there will be raffles and prizes.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door