By Shannon Boklaschuk
A University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher plans to use a technique known as deep mapping to shed new light on urban Métis experiences in 20th-century Saskatoon.
Dr. Cheryl Troupe (PhD), a faculty member in the Department of History in USask’s College of Arts and Science, will begin the research project this summer, in collaboration with Métis Elders in Saskatoon and Gabriel Dumont Local #11.
Gabriel Dumont Local #11 is part of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S), a government that represents Métis in the province. Troupe is a member of the MN-S and Local #11. She wanted to work in collaboration with members of her community to create a resource for the community.
“It’s continuing with some research that I began a number of years ago on Métis women’s social and political activism in Saskatoon,” she said. “I started this particular project because one of the Elders that is involved in this has a personal archival collection and is interested in sharing.”
Deep-mapping techniques highlight the connections between geographical places and people’s memories and personal identities. Deep mapping aims to bring another dimension to writing and talking about history, creating a layered sense of place that is interlinked with personal narratives and recollections.
Troupe has previously used deep mapping in her research, noting the process involves combining artifacts, photos, stories and other types of material culture into a map. The resulting map provides more than a spatial understanding, as it is “actually embedded with all of those stories,” she said.
“I will interview Métis people at different places in the city that they determine are important to them, and we’ll talk about the stories that are connected to those places,” Troupe explained.
“For instance, one of the places is the exhibition grounds, because Saskatoon Métis families used the exhibition as an opportunity to camp together and visit. This was a gathering place for families, so we’ll visit that spot and talk about that.”
Another place Troupe will visit is Aden Bowman Collegiate, where the Métis community used to have community gardens, she said. She will ask Elders to visit the site and talk about their memories.
“We’ll use being in those places as a way to drive stories. The land will act as a mnemonic device for people to tell their stories.”
Although Troupe and her collaborators plan to take photos of the sites as they look today, they are more interested in locating historical records and archival photos from the past. Troupe will then compile the data to create maps, “so that their stories can be represented in a spatial way that demonstrates how Métis have used and occupied the city since the city’s founding,” she said.
“Really, it’s about creating maps for the community to have access,” she said.
Troupe’s research project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Explore grant. The grants support small-scale research projects within the scope of SSHRC’s Insight program and foster research-based knowledge creation in the social sciences and humanities.
In addition to being a USask faculty member, Troupe is also a USask alumna—earning all of her degrees in the College of Arts and Science. She received her Bachelor of Arts and her Master of Arts degrees in Indigenous studies—in 2001 and 2010, respectively—before receiving her PhD in history in 2019.
Troupe said many of the Métis who moved to Saskatoon were living in the city by the 1930s, so her research will focus on community recollections from the 1930s to the 1980s.
“There was a lot of Métis social and political activism in the city in the 1960s and ’70s, so I would like to capture that as well,” she said.
Troupe has already mapped some of the areas of the city where Métis people gathered and lived in clustered neighbourhoods. She’s now looking for “more detailed stories” around some of the key moments in urban Métis history, such as the creation of the Saskatoon Indian & Métis Friendship Centre and the founding of Gabriel Dumont Local #11.
“The Friendship Centre wasn’t at its current location, so we will visit places where political meetings were taking place and discuss what families were organizing around and what was happening at those meetings. Being in these locations, I think, is really important to telling those stories.”
In recent years, there’s been “a renewed interest” in Métis history, particularly in Saskatoon, said Troupe.
“The Local and members of the Métis community—myself included—have been approached by many different institutions or organizations that are interested in knowing more about Saskatoon Métis history,” she said. “In conversations with people from the Local, it just seemed like this was the right time and it was the right opportunity to do some of this work.”