The Anishnabeg or "first people" is a self-designation common to many North American aboriginal tribal groups. Remains of their camps and artefacts have been discovered widely throughout this area.
Bits of pottery, tools and implements with their distinctive markings provide evidence of a communications and trade in the Bancroft area, more than 400 years ago. Most native groups are identified on the basis of stories handed down through generations and the style of their pottery vessels and decorations.
While different groups carried out hunting and gathering expeditions in the Bancroft area, many journals and diaries refer to a trade route through the Ottawa Valley, which followed the St Lawrence, ascending the Bonnechere River to Round Lake, through Kamaniskeg into the Madawaska and its streams, the Little Mississippi and York (Shawashkong) Rivers and a tributary of the Ottawa River, the Mattawa, the source of the French River, which rises at Trout Lake near Lake Nipissing and drains into Lake Huron.
Records of the Seminary of St. Sulpice at Lac Des Deux-Montagnes (Lake of Two Mountains) indicate that the Algonkians were the primary territorial organization defending the waterways. They set out in groups, each having their own captain or "Okima" meaning Chief. Many of them traveled by canoe for 150 miles or more from Lake of Two Mountains (where they spent a few months each summer) to Kijicho Manitou (or Long Lake, later to be named Baptiste Lake). Archaeological evidence has revealed this was an ancient gathering place and spiritual area for the Algonquins.
Church records as far back as the late 16th century note a settlement of "Algonkians" at the shore of Kijicho Manitou near where the Village of Baptiste now stands. Much has to be considered when we speak of our early history- information was frequently recorded into church records weeks and months after the event and may not be entirely reliable. Genealogy is, at best, a jigsaw puzzle but the native peoples had an oral tradition and many of the earliest expeditions included French missionaries their interpreters whose cultural differences may have further complicated the understanding. The phonetic spelling of native names, poorly written in early French documents that are barely legible is yet another challenge- as are dit names and baptismal names that were also used as early means of identification. Other issues arise from the custom of plural marriages and country wives, rampant adoption and the friendly tradition of acknowledging dear friends and loved ones, although not related via bloodline, as brother or sister.
Several books on the area, mention a settlement of Algonquins and Nippissing living in the vicinity of Baptiste Lake in the late 19th century, under the direction of Nippissing Grand Chief "Jean Baptiste Kijicho Manitou" (Kijicho Manitou meaning "gentle spirit"). In 1853, Surveyor/Geologist Alexander Murray described an encounter he had on the York River, near the hamlet of Purdy, with an Algonquin leader by the name of "Kaijick Manitou" who explained that his people lived around a lake that they had named after him.
The 1891 Canadian Census for the Monteagle & Herschel in Hastings County shows a family of Baptiste headed by widow Madeline aged 75 and including a single male, Denis Baptiste, aged 28 and a widowed female, Louise Baptiste, aged 30. It aslo indicates the family of farmer John Baptiste (1842-1920) and his wife Madeline nee Benoit (born 1861) together with their children: Susan 14, Mary 13, Ceclilia 12, Maggie 6 and Samuel 5. (Note: Chief Katherine Cannon's office reminds us that daughter Annie is missing from this census). Neighbouring families included the Yateman, Bernard, Lavallee, Stoughton, Benoit and Hunter families- most of whom also had ties to Lac des Deux-Montagnes.
On April 20th 1900, a Mrs. John Baptiste's death was recorded at Monteagle & Herschel. She was listed as the wife of a farmer and 88 years of age. On April 7th 1920, widowed farmer John Baptiste aged 78 died in Herschel Township. The record shows the informant as his daughter- May L. Lavalley. This John Baptiste is said to have paddled to the Bancroft area, from Lake of Two Mountains, in the early 1800s.
Both Samuel and Mary Baptiste were well-known and well-loved members of the community. There are many stories about Samuel and his wife, Rosie Sucie (sometimes spelled Soucie). Samuel was a hunting and fishing guide, friendly with all of the early cottagers, the builder of birch bark canoes, a musician and captain of the steamboat The Beaver.
Mary, the female subject of this photograph was also beloved by the community. She is known for crafting moccasins from deer hide and birch bark containers that she decorated with porcupine quills. Some of her work is on display at the Bancroft Pioneer Museum. Mary was famous for her berry pies and she would often be seen out on the lake, in her canoe, delivering them to eager cottagers.
In Bancroft, on June 15th 1904, Mary Baptiste married Xavier Francois (Frank) Lavallee who is also shown in this photograph. He was the son of Louis Lavallee and Madeline Dufond (also recorded in some sources as Dufoe, Desfond, Dafoe or Defoe). Mary and Frank adopted a son, Bill. They farmed on their property on Baptiste Lake. Frank is said to have harvested the marsh grasses out of Grassy Bay to feed his livestock. Mary passed away on July 6, 1948 and Frank perished in a fire, on June 28th, 1954- the result of a fall down some stairs while carrying a lantern- he was 94 years old.