Wife, mother, survivor, proud Chippewa elder. Born Aug. 28, 1922, at Lake Joseph, Ont., died March 28, 2013, at the Chippewas of Rama First Nation of natural causes, aged 90.
Born in a tent during a fishing trip with her family at Lake Joseph in Muskoka, Maureen spent the springs and summers of her childhood at the Indian Camp in Port Carling, Ont., where her father trapped muskrat and beaver and worked as a casual labourer and her mother sold handicraft to summer visitors.
Each year after Labour Day, the family returned to their home on what was then called the Rama Indian Reserve, travelling by canoe to Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst and onward by train to their final destination.
In later years, she would talk about one magical late-April night journeying alone with her father on Lake Muskoka en route to their shack at the Indian Camp. It was in the late 1920s and Maureen was no more than 6. Earlier that evening, they had attended a wake on the reserve for a member of the family who had passed away after a long illness. Her father had made a comfortable bed for her on the canoe floor, but she could not sleep for the stars were bright and the old Christian hymns sung in Chippewa around the coffin resonated over and over in her head.
She had never felt so alive as she did that night on the water in the heart of the traditional hunting and fishing grounds of her people.
Dirt poor, the object of prejudice by mainstream society and abused by her mother and grandmother, Maureen’s early years were brutal. This changed when she met and married, at the age of 14, Percy Bartleman, a young, happy-go-lucky Orillia man who had spent the Depression years riding the rails across Canada.
Percy’s wonderful parents, Oracy and Bill, and his brother and sisters, embraced Maureen as one of their own, and gave her the love she had been denied as a child.
Maureen and Percy, with their small children Jim, Bob, Janet and Mary, moved in 1946 to Port Carling. Life was hard, as Percy was a poorly paid day labourer with a Grade 4 education.
Maureen held the family together, reining in her exuberant husband, who liked nothing better than to spend his time making and drinking homemade raisin wine. She lavished love and attention on her children, insisting that we go as far as we could in school and instilling in us a pride in our native heritage.
After finding work as a cleaning lady, she pulled the family out of a life of poverty, purchased a home and made many friends in the village, particularly at the Port Carling United Church.
Maureen was proud of the accomplishments of her children and grandchildren, who included in their number a marine mechanic, lumber saleswoman, tax inspector, social worker, high-school teacher, nurse, accountant, lawyer, physician and foreign service officer. Her son Jim was the 27th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario from 2002 to 2007. In later years, Maureen travelled frequently to visit him and his family in places as diverse as Israel and Belgium. She was a frequent visitor to his suite at Queen’s Park.
But she was happiest at her home in Port Carling, baking butter tarts for the dozens of people she had befriended when they were children, who looked upon her as a surrogate mother.
Maureen passed away at the Getsidjig Endaawaad extended-care facility at the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, surrounded by family and caregivers who spoke her native language. Percy had died in 2003. They were married for 66 years.
James Bartleman is Maureen’s son.