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Friday, October 9, 2009

My Very Best Museum Story: The Tale of Five-Sided Bastion Man

I worked for Huronia Historical Parks for four summers. The first two were during High School, and I worked at Discovery Harbour, a post 1812 British Naval Base. The second two years were during my first years of University and I worked at Saint Marie among the Hurons, which is a re-creation of the Jesuit Missionary Camp that was there from 1639-1649. Both topics tend to evoke emotion in a lot of people. At Discovery Harbour I once had a visitor who had been in the navy his whole life, and who claimed that his family had been in the navy at least since the time of Lord Nelson. At Saint Marie among the Hurons you get some even more interesting visitors, especially with the religious overtones of the site. During my two years there I developed quite a repertoire of stories. The people who had been working there for twenty years had even better ones, enough to fill a really interesting books. However, while I was there we had one visitor, whose story tops any that I had ever heard. When the story broke information came from a variety of sources, and the resulting tale comes from a collaboration of eye witness accounts and examination by several employees of the physical evidence left behind. This is the legend of five-sided bastion man.

At the end of every day at Saint Marie Among the Hurons each section of the site is closed down one at a time. First you close down the North courtyard, making sure all the visitors are out of the buildings and that all fires, particularly that in the cookhouse and blacksmith shop (different story) are put out. You close all the windows and doors and all the interpreters move into the South Courtyard where the process is repeated. Then you move through the Church and shut that down, and finally through to the Longhouse, where the employees in that area are usually chasing out a few scragglers. Everyone moves to the exit, but at least one person has to run down to the end of the site to the non-Christian longhouse and five-sided bastion, a place that doesn't ever have interpreters, just to make sure there are no visitors there.

The five-sided bastion is mirrored at the North End with another bastion, acknowledging that while the site was a mission, it was also a bit of a fortress, as the French had found themselves players in the war between the Hurons and the Iroquois. In the five-sided bastion there is really not much, mostly because it is not interpreted and is frankly less interesting than most of the other buildings. The bastions look out over the wooden palisade, and you can climb the stairs to the North Bastion, but the five sided bastion's stairs are blocked off with a piece of wood, again, mostly because the interpreters are not usually stationed in or near this building. The piece of wood clearly says, you are not supposed to go up here, but for someone who is determined to do so it won't really do that much to stop them. As we found out.

On the particular night in question the person who went to check the five-sided bastion, when they found out what had happened, swore that they could hear noises coming from upstairs. They say that they actually thought about checking, but then decided that that would be ridiculous. They are actually really glad now that they didn't.

The next morning when we all came in we could tell that something was definitely happening. The Team Leaders and more experienced members of staff had been called in fairly early, and had been all over the site all morning. We were all fairly confused, and certainly curious, but when we went out on to the site most of us went to go see the evidence that hadn't been cleared away yet, and by lunchtime we had all heard the story.

A man, we are not exactly sure how he got in, had been living on top of the five-sided bastion for at least two days. When the staff members went to investigate they commented that that was one of the creepier experiences of their life. Five-sided bastion man had made a clear bed, which he had been sleeping in, but all around the top of the bastion were tiny birch bark crosses, and there were also several bible pages laid out. On the night in question he decided to leave his makeshift home and venture out through the site. One of the first things he must have done was venture into the longhouse, where we keep some axes behind some of the reproduction artefacts. He then proceeded to cut his way into the Church, and this is a real church, containing the grave site of St. Jean de Brebeuf, visited by the pope. But it is made entirely of wood, and is designed to be something half way between a European style building and a longhouse. There he pulled out the first aid kit, as we were told later it was pretty evident that he had walked from his home in Toronto to Midland. Then he relit the fire in the church (which meant it was a close call that the whole thing didn't burn down) and seems to have torn pages from the bibles that were there and thrown them in the fire. We later deduced that the passages were concerning the Apocalypse.

From there he made his way into the South Courtyard, where he broke into one of the buildings to get a better axe and chopped some wood for us. From there he took the axe to the main visitor centre and tried to hack his way into one of the theatres. That door had to be replaced. This is about the time that the security guard was alerted. He promptly phoned he police. I can't quite remember whether or not he ever actually made it into the building, but from there we went out the front, to the walking path that leads to the historic site (or away from it), which was where he was picked up by police.

And that is my all time best museum story.

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