August 4, 2013: the day my husband Terry & I chose to honour our river heritage, pay homage to thirty-five years of wonderful marriage, by renewing our vows and celebrating our family ties, in the spiritual womb of the St Lawrence River at Half Moon Bay, a place steeped in river history.
The day broke with the sun teasing us in and out of high puffy grey-white clouds and a light wind that topped the waves with little foamy crests. The muted sun’s reflections on the water and the waves made a monochromatic kaleidoscope of shimmering silver and diamonds.
The early French Canadian voyageurs would have been intimately familiar with such a river day as they plied the waters of the St. Lawrence, their canoes laden with furs destined for the fur trade market in Montreal.
In honour of the renewal of our vows and Terry’s French Canadian and Algonquin roots, three majestic voyageur canoes were built by Terry’s nephew Rob Mellan, living on Manitoulin Island. These historical replicas were to transport the ‘wedding’ party to Half Moon Bay, for the much anticipated ceremony. Each canoe was guided by Terry’s nephews, Rob, Scott & Gary Mellan, who acted as the steersmen, also known as ‘gouvernails’ in voyageur parlance. They were garbed in traditional voyageur dress, beaver top hats, flowing hand-sewn beige shirts and scarves with waists wrapped with colourful ‘ceintures’. The building of these beautiful crafts is worthy of their own story and will be told in a future article.
All thirty-four family guests embarked the thirty-one foot long canoes, with paddle in hand. This was no free ride after all and every ‘voyageur’ that day was to bear his and her weight in crossing the river to Half Moon Bay. The exception was the “wedding couple”: We were borne like island royalty to the nuptial renewal.
As we glided into the Bay, now bathed in full sunlight and the tall pine trees reflected in the still waters, the steersmen’s songs pacing the paddlers’ strokes faded away as the melodic guitar and languorous voice of Cliff Edwards sang “My Island Queen” – a magical moment for us both – one of many that day. The blessing of Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones on our renewal of vows deepened the currents of our river and familial ties. Michael’s great grandfather and my great grandmother were brother and sister and we share four generations of island life on the St. Lawrence. Our families have worshipped in Half Moon Bay for over a century.
Michael so eloquently expressed our inextricable bonds to the river, its offering of refuge and its metaphor for our long and bountiful marriage. You could hear a pine needle drop when he asked us all to pause and listen to the water gently lapping the shoreline, the sound of one of the river’s endless moods, the river being a place of meaning, memory, and mystery; its constant flow and many moods a metaphor for life and marriage.
Bishop Michael’s blessing, Cliff’s musical affirmations of love, the presence of our family, the re-sharing of our vows in the “tallest cathedral in the world” reaffirmed the wholeness and the wonder of our life together. And, as in the early voyageur tradition, the end of the day was a spirited celebration that went late into the night.
Here’s to our River and its wondrous spirit. My it continue to give us all life, love and a peaceful refuge.
By Gretchen and Terry Bambrick
Gretchen Bambrick is a native of Gananoque and the islands. Her childhood summers were spent on Big White Calf island (Admiralty Group) where life was all about sailing, canoeing, motor boats and Canoe Club dances! She and her husband, Terry, lived and worked in Wisconsin for 33 years before retiring to spend summers back in Gananoque. They head to Vermont in the winter.
Terry Bambrick originally hales from Ottawa and worked in engineering management in the pulp and paper industry in Canada, USA and abroad. He is well known and popular in the Gananoque region for encouraging boating safety. Many a youngster (and adults) can officially become River Rats, if Terry finds them in a boat WEARING their life jackets. .