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Fort Wall restoration underway 

File photo

For many in Kahnawake, the Fort St-Louis Wall is an important piece of the community’s history. To some, it’s a reminder of the painful legacy of colonization, and should be torn down. To others, it’s a marker not to forget the past, and should be restored as a physical way to teach future generations about Kahnawake’s story. 

The wall has been crumbling for years, with sections of the wall removed in 2016 and 2019 after collapsing. Now, with funding from Parks Canada, the section of the wall that collapsed is being restored, with work having started at the beginning of this week. 

“It’s about preservation, not necessarily updating it with modern materials but rather trying our best to keep it to what it would have been when it was built,” said Lance McComber, project manager at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK).  

The wall was originally erected by the French as a wooden structure in 1725 and was replaced with a stone fortification in 1747. It was designed to protect the French and their allies from potential attacks, as well as to protect the original Catholic Church building in Kahnawake. For that reason, it’s a grim reminder of the history of colonization.  

“Most people don’t know the full history of the wall, and that it was built not for us but to protect colonizer interests, and to protect the French soldiers from siege who occupied said area,” said community member Courtney Katt Montour.  

She said she’s against the restoration and preservation of the wall because of what it represents. 

“To me, it is a reminder of colonization, that outside religion was forced upon our community, and following that many were sent off to Catholic residential schools where they were abused, and families are left dealing with generational trauma caused by it,” she said. “I personally find it hard to support repairing a part of history that essentially divides our community between traditional spiritual values and Christianity.” 

The restoration itself will be entirely paid for by Parks Canada, meaning no MCK money is being used for the restoration, McComber said. Still, the wall takes up a large area that some community members have said could be used for parking for the Kahnawake Youth Center (KYC), or other community needs. 

Harley Delaronde, who taught in Kahnawake for 30 years and has a great interest in local history, said that preserving the wall is equivalent to preserving history. He is a tour guide at the Welcome Center and said that much of the wall’s history isn’t clear from books alone. The physical structure helps people understand the footprint of the French in the area. 

“It’s a symbol of our past, it’s a reminder of where we’ve come from,” he said. “It’s an important part of who we are and it’s a part of our history. We need to recognize where we’ve come from, and we weren’t living in a vacuum then or now. There are influences on us. And there’s importance to preserving our knowledge of history.” 

For others, the wall holds memories new as well as historic. Evelyn Jacobs said she wants to know more about the history of the site, but that the wall is still a part of her childhood, symbolizing how this piece of history has grown with the community that houses it. 

“That wall has been there since I was in elementary school, that I remember,” Jacobs said. “This is so important to our community because it’s part of our history. I think any heritage building in our community and anything that is history should be preserved.” 

Restoration on the Fort Wall is expected to last for eight to 12 weeks, with work taking place on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on April 5 in issue 33.14 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.