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First Light

Vince Bucarelli

Dec 16, 2022

Sainte Marie on the Hurons

The air was crisp with anticipation as I approached the front doors of Sainte Marie among the Hurons. Candles lit the way, a meandering snow path guiding the past with the present.

First Light has been a tradition for the past 22-years bridging the gap between past and present. My own experience transcends your typical “go and see” to a more existential and spiritual journey. The Orenda (an Iroquois name for a particular spiritual energy) of the Indigenous ancestors permeate throughout my walk, speaking their Truth. The candles light the way to a historical past which was full of promise and horror…

Sainte Marie among the Hurons was one of the first French settlements in Ontario. Dating back to 1639, the Jesuits had established a community along the shores of Georgian Bay in the present town of Midland Ontario.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge that Sainte Marie among the Hurons is located on land which is the traditional and treaty territory of the Anishinabek people, now known as the Chippewa Tri-Council comprised of Beausoleil First Nation, Rama First Nation and the Georgina Island First Nation. I would also like to recognize that it is also the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat and historic homeland of the Metis.

Following the lit path through the gates of the fort, the past comes alive! The Jesuit presence can be felt as traditional Christmas decorations envelop the dwellings. Branches of Cedar intertwined with vines, pines and candles create a warming ambiance that soothes the soul.

The Lit Pathway. All photos by Vince Bucarelli.

Each dwelling housed different exhibits showcasing local talent. The echoes of song resonate in the air as you walk from pavilion to pavilion. Entering one of the candle lit dwellings you can hear Doug Feaver entertaining us with his energetic rendition of old Christmas classics as well as original compositions.

The night is young and many more venues beckon me onwards. As I exit one pavilion, paths are lit, manifesting venues of exploration. Bonfires lit along the way provide comfort from the night’s cool breath. Approaching the Chapel, the warm melody of a harp entices me towards it.

As I set foot into the Chapel, warm candles softly illuminating the inside. Cedar bows and a crackling fireplace enhanced the ambiance as Ruth Sutherland strums her enchanting harp. A melodic symphony echoing in the space mesmerizes the audience.

Numerous venues await this curious traveller. Strolling outside again, I follow the alluring candles, beckoning me towards the beating of a distant drum beat. The rhythmic resonations reverberating louder and louder in that frosty air are calling.

Hauntingly familiar booms draw me closer to the traditional longhouses. Reverently, I step inside the smoke-filled longhouse. The fire crackles as Chris Walser (“Little Wolf”) creates the heartbeat of Mother Earth. His song echoes warmly as the on-lookers feel the presence of a nurturing spirit that soothes the soul.


As Chris describes it; a familiar heartbeat that reminds us of our first song. The song of our mother’s heartbeat caressing us as we are nurtured in her womb.

The song ends and we begin to file out of the Longhouse, others clambering to enter the sacred space. Lights continue to guide me in the brisk darkness. In the shadows of the light another longhouse emerges with the voices of storytellers. Once again, I am at the entrance of a longhouse.

Like a portal beckoning me to enter, I sense the ancestors enticing me and calling with a warm welcome. Deferentially, I enter and follow the unfolding voices and narrative. I was blessed to bear witness to the Legends of the Longhouse. The sacred story of the sky woman was being recounted by Emilia.

As I sat on that wooden bench, the mesmerizing fire crackled as it lit the story teller's face. Rising smoke created a mystical aura enhancing the narrative that was unfolding. I was drawn into the story as it permeated throughout my senses. I can see the sky woman falling onto turtle island and gathering the land that Muskrat had bravely brought up from the depths of the ocean. It was spreading across the back of the turtle and planting the seeds from the tree of life that she had brought from her realm. Thus, life emerged on Turtle Island.

Snap! The trance is broken.

I am back in the longhouse as Emilia concludes her story. With thanks and gratitude, I exit the longhouse and limber my way towards the sound of fireworks. Looking up, the sky explodes with vibrant colours of red, green, white and yellow. Brilliant flashes illuminate the cool crisp air as the thunderous explosions radiate into wonderous displays. The children huddled close to their parents in amazement. The display is so close that the explosions can be felt.


The final crescendo resounded throughout the air with the cacophony of explosions captivating the audience. Adults and Children cheered at its marvelous conclusion.

With that I would like to make some concluding remarks. Yes, there were definitely numerous other venues to explore much too long for this quick exposition. As I walked through this hallowed area, I could not but feel the Orenda of the land and its ancestral peoples. The place where two cultures met which would forever change the nature of the landscape and indigenous culture.

This event could be easily utilized as a means towards Truth and Reconciliation. It is a wonderful event which caters to young children as well as adults. It highlights past events but somehow falls short of addressing the clash of two cultures.

With some research, individuals would gain a deeper appreciation for the meeting of these two cultures and the injustices that occurred. Nonetheless it is a stepping stone on a path that sets the stage for a discussion on the Truth, the guardians of this land and the Reconciliation which needs to occur.

Candle Lit Walkway.

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