Mary (Vaness) Dumont
Life and Work
Mary Dumont was born Cecile Marie Vaness, November 15, 1917, the second eldest of five children bom to Anna Dufresne and Daniel Vaness, who were language interpreters for the Department of Indian Affairs on the Onion Lake Reserve, Saskatchewan. Mary's early experiences included translating between Cree and English, for department officials, when her father was unavailable. Mary remembered her maternal grandmother, Catherine Dufresne, being a midwife and "doctoring" people with Indian medicine. Mary related that her grandmother wanted to pass this knowledge on to her, but as a young girl Mary's attitude was, "What am I going to do with that garbage?"
One of Mary's talents and greatest pleasures was dancing. As a young woman she won many "step-dancing" contests at Métis and Indian celebrations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. She was formally educated by an order of Catholic nuns in Onion Lake, and although she never attended church regularly, one religious event she never missed, was the Pilgrimage at Lac St. Anne, in Northern Alberta.
In 1937 Mary married Joseph Ambrose Dumont at St. Paul, Alberta and had 10 children. In 1943 Mary left Lac La Biche, Alberta, with several other Métis families, in search of work, "a whole truckload of us, moved in the back of a one-ton truck with what little belongings we had." When threshing season ended, the families set out for Sundre where they found work in the logging industry.
One of the early houses the Dumonts lived in was a "shack" bought from Mrs. Ferguson and hauled from the "coal camp", west of Sundre, to the South Road. The "shack" was moved by means of two wagons hooked together. Later on they purchased a schoolhouse to live in.
Life was never easy for Mary from 1949 to 1950, when living on the "South Road", three tragedies struck. Ambrose was diagnosed with tuberculois. Their 13-month-old daughter, Lorraine, died from spinal meningitis, and they had to send their son, Leo, to the Ontario School for the Blind, in Brantford, Ontario for four years.
By 1959 Mary and Ambrose had purchased a piece of land in town and moved their "schoolhouse" two blocks south of the United Church. Around this time that Mary went to work at Water Valley.
Mary continued to work outside the home, the rest of her life, either cooking or cleaning. Mary passed away in February 2000, predeceased by her husband Ambrose, her daughter Isabel and great-grandchild Chetwyn.
-by Marilyn Dumont
Letter of Appreciation by her Family
The good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of overtime when an angel appeared and said,
"You're doing a lot of fiddling around on this one." And the Lord said, "Have you read the spec on this one? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic; have 180 moveable parts, all replaceable; run on black coffee and leftovers; have a lap that disappears when she stands up; a kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair; and six pairs of hands." The angel shook her head slowly and said, "Six pairs of hands ... no way." "It's not the hands that are causing me problems," said the Lord.
"It's the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have." "That's on the standard model?" asked the angel. The Lord nodded.
"One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, " What are you kids doing in there?" when she already knows. Another here, in the back other head that sees what she shouldn't, but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, "I understand and I love you," without so much as uttering a word."
"Lord," said the angel, touching his sleeve gently, "Rest for now. Tomorrow ..." "I can't," said the Lord. "I'm so close to creating something close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick, can feed a family of 12 on one pound of hamburger and can get a nine year old to stand under a shower." The angel circled the model of the mother very slowly.
"She's too soft," she sighed. "But tough!" said the Lord excitedly. "You cannot imagine what the mother can do or endure." "Can she think?" "Not only think, but she can reason and compromise," said the Creator. Finally the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. "There's a leak," she pronounced.
"I told you, you were trying to put too much into this model." "It's not a leak," said the Lord. "It's a tear." "What's it for?"
"It's for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride." "You're a genius," said the angel. The lord looked somber, "I didn't put it there."
With love and appreciation for our Mother!
Your children and spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren
Memories of Mary Dumont by Marilyn Dumont
Reflections on Housing
Mary related, "We had no electricity, but we dug a well. I would heat water in a boiler on the wood, stove for washing. We had a little kitchen and one bedroom where there were bunk beds for the kids and some kids had to sleep on the floor. We lived off wild meat, prairie chickens, fish and rabbit. There was no freezer in those days, so we'd smoke deer, moose or elk meat in a little smoke house."
Schooling Her Children
In 1945 while living on the South Road, Mary undertook to send her three youngest children to school, but she noted, "We were told there was no room at the school for them and they (the school authorities) didn't want the kids on the school bus," So Marge and Isabelle walked to school for awhile. However, Mary's commitment to her children's education spurned her on to challenge the authorities, as she related, "But then I told them that I was going to report them if they didn't let my kids ride. They said there was no room, but it wasn't that; they just didn't want them." Eventually, all Mary's children attended school in Sundre.
Mary's affection for children and her compassion compelled her to assume the parenting of several children, other than her own. When Ambrose's sister, Dehlia, died, Mary "adopted" two of the three sons (Freddie and Willie Vaness) from the union of Dehlia Dumont and Mary's brother, Jim Vaness. Similarly, when Ambrose's sister, Rosie, died, Helen and Peter Piche were taken in along with Charlie and Louis, the sons of Fred Dumont, Ambrose's older brother. Then when Ambrose's aunt passed away, Mary cared for Ambrose's cousins, Cecile and Jim Swain.
Dumont Family Life
As the Dumont family grew, so did the need for larger living quarters. The Dumonts' next move was into the Rockwood Schoolhouse that Ambrose bought and moved onto land owned by Bigelows. The lot had no well and water was hauled from the Red Deer River. In the winter it was hauled by means of a sled. During "spring breakup" when Ambrose wasn't logging, he would poach beaver that he'd skin, stretch and scrape. Once they were dried Mary would comb them and Ambrose would sell them to a fur buyer in Edmonton.
Working At Walter Valley
"I cooked there for nine years, cooking for 27 men. I'd get up at 4 a.m. to heat the stove, cook the men breakfast - hotcakes, bacon and eggs. I'd make their lunch while they were eating breakfast. When they left for work, I'd do the dishes, make bread. I had to make all my own bread, pies and cakes. Then I'd make supper, wash supper dishes and sweep the floor. I'd work until 9 p.m."