The chief of Lennox Island First Nation says the Ice Walk that took place Monday is a way to honour and remember shared history.
Because the ice wasn't solid enough, the walk evolved to become a silent vigil across the bridge linking the community to the northwest shore of Prince Edward Island — to remember the dangerous journey across the ice the Mi'kmaq had to take until the bridge was built in 1973.
Chief Darlene Bernard said it's important to remember the lives that were lost and the impacts that are still felt by the community.
Band officials said it's hard to know exact numbers, but going by memories of current residents, at least 14 people died making the winter Malpeque Bay crossing. It's believed that many more lost their lives, however.
Unfortunately lives were lost. — Sen Brian Francis
"Right now, we have an opportunity to do better, to chart a new course together," said Bernard.
Sen. Brian Francis, who grew up on Lennox Island, said the event shed light on a relatively unknown part of history.
Lennox Island had a fishing boat that acted as a type of ferry service in the warmer months, but in the winter, residents had to cross the ice to access supplies or services on Prince Edward Island.
Francis said he remembered being a young boy scared that he would fall in and drown — walking the ice was always scary and harrowing.
"For a century, the Mi'kmaq of Lennox Island were kept physically and socially segregated from the mainland," said Francis, speaking after the event.
"Unfortunately lives were lost."
Asked about the genesis of the event, Bernard said: "I wanted to create awareness about what our people have been through.
"We were segregated here. Nobody really cared."
'Exercise in awareness'
Bernard said a documentary being done on this week's event will help educate many people about the history of the walks across the ice.
She said Islanders should be able to relate to the story, since in some ways it resembles the days before and after P.E.I. got its fixed link to mainland Canada, the Confederation Bridge.
The bridge to Lennox Island was "the baby link," Bernard said.
"When the bridge came it was a really good, good thing because it took away that risk to life, on the ice. It helped us to become more integrated," she said.
Bernard said the number of participants had to be limited to about 50 who were specifically invited \because of COVID-19 restrictions, but many more were interested.
"I think this whole exercise has been an exercise in awareness," she said.
Importance of history
Sen. Francis said the Ice Walk was a powerful event and he believes it will advance reconciliation.
"We have to understand what the true history is. We have to acknowledge the wrongs that happened in history," he said.
"I think today will make a huge difference."
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