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Our Past, Celebrated in the Present


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. .

  • At the altar with Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones at Half Moon Bay.

    At the altar with Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones at Half Moon Bay.

  • Canoes with all flags flying near Spectacles Lighthouse.

    Canoes with all flags flying near Spectacles Lighthouse.

  •  “Bridal couple” leaving Half Moon Bay

    “Bridal couple” leaving Half Moon Bay

  • Flags aflying-the new flag of Gananoque and the old Union Jack.

    Flags aflying-the new flag of Gananoque and the old Union Jack.

  • Cliffe Edwards and Bishop Michael rockin’ on.

    Cliffe Edwards and Bishop Michael rockin’ on.

 

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Comments

Pat and Bill Colby
Comment by: Pat and Bill Colby
Left at: 9:57 AM Monday, December 15, 2014
This was a magical retelling of a unique celebration between two exceptional people who so generously share their love and history of the islands with all who know them. Such a delight to read. Congratulations and thank you Gretchen and Terry for this beautifully written memoir.
Pat and Bill Colby
Bud Andress
Comment by: Bud Andress
Left at: 2:07 PM Monday, December 15, 2014
I loved the picture with the three canoes together and the three flags...the Royal Union flag (flown correctly, ie. right-side up), Gananoque's historical flag, and the Canadian Red Ensign (version circa 1922 - 1957) - well done! Something I would like to add about this couple is their kindness and generosity in the past while several research scientists and biologists from Canada and the United States and myself were allowed to conduct bald eagle research and habitat management for several years on a family island. Terry, Gretchen, Gretchen's brother Jim Gurney and the Gurney family are true islanders! Congratulations Terry and Gretchen on your special day.
Debbie Boland
Comment by: Debbie Boland
Left at: 5:08 PM Monday, December 15, 2014
Gretchen and Terry,
In refernce to your wonderful spirit of "our River", (and how truly special it is) - I just wanted to share a story my maternal grandmother (Dorothea Smith Yehle, a 3rd generation summer resident of 1000 Island Park, Wellesley Island) once told me. A well-traveled good friend of hers, while sitting on the porch of a hotel on the French Riveria, overheard two women conversing, one woman commenting on the beauty of the Mediterranean. Her friend quickly retorted, "Yes, but it's not 'The River'." Piqued by curiosity, Grandma's friend asked what river she might be referring to. The woman said, "Why the St. Lawrence River, of course!"
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle
Left at: 6:43 PM Monday, December 15, 2014
We can never forget our past! History is a key to past and the door to the future.
Lisa St. Jean
Comment by: Lisa St. Jean
Left at: 5:12 PM Tuesday, December 16, 2014
My family and I were very fortunate to be able to participate in this special, special occasion. It was a wonderful weekend spent on the river with many so many great people. My husband is Terry & Gretchen's nephew and we are lucky that every summer we get to visit them at their summer home They are such great ambassadors for the St. Lawrence River and we enjoy hearing the many stories they have to share.
Gretchen Bambrick
Comment by: Gretchen Bambrick
Left at: 9:58 PM Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Susie,
I’m overwhelmed with the beautiful responses to our article. It is very heart warming indeed and it’s a great testament to the depth and breadth of the “bond” of the river, is it not? What a great service you do to nurture that bond!! Thank you!!
Susan Dar
Comment by: Susan Dar
Left at: 4:12 PM Friday, December 19, 2014
Received this on my I-phone, but could not retrieve it. Am back from L.A. and am on my desk top. Thank you for sharing this time and event, made more special for me because I have actually seen that lovely river and have been hosted by the gracious couple. I feel honored and privileged to have been included here. Sorry I didn't mention it when I talked with you in L.A., but, as I say, I couldn't retrieve it and didn't know what it was. Apologies. Best wishes. Enjoy the holidays.

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