In Search of Samuel Iserhoff – Part I
This is a genealogy story. The story starts back in the day, just after my completion of film school. Well, actually prior to that because the name “Iserhoff” was bantered around our household whenever my Mother was asked of our heritage on her side of the family. However, you see in the early days when my siblings and I were still kids, little of the our Iserhoff/ Russian connection was known, because my Mom was orphaned at a very young age. Thereafter, she was raised at Macintosh Residential School near Kenora, Ontario where she lost the connection to her Iserhoff family connection. So, this is an abbreviated story of my genealogical sleuthing for, “In Search of Samuel Iserhoff”, with a few of the pieces of the puzzle missing. That being said, it could very well serve as a basis as a documentary as I continue to piece together and find the missing pieces. To date it’s been very compelling and for a good part the final answers may be found in this picture. A picture that I found in the archives that identifies the man furthest right as Samuel Iserhoff.
Aside from the aforementioned rumblings in my youth of my Mother’s Russian heritage, my course was further solidified in the years that followed my completion of Film School. A journey that had more windings, twists and tributaries than both the Albany and Moose River where much of this story takes place.
Film School to Moose Factory – The Search Begins
I finished film school in Vancouver in 1991 and thus began my career in the Canadian Film and Television industry. Luckily, I was employed directly out of Film School and went on to work with National Film Board of Canada as they commenced to document the proceeding on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The proceedings took me throughout Canada and into many of the small reserves that dot this great expanse that we call home. In short, it was a great experience that would served to inform me of the history and plight of various Aboriginal communities. In short, when all was said and done, the experience served to shape me as to the kind of documentary filmmaker I wanted to be. Why is this important? I think it’s important to mention, because this infused me to better know my own history and that set me upon my journey to sleuth out my own heritage. As the old adage goes ” You can’t know your future, unless you know your history.” or words to that effect. With that, little did I suspect that fate would intervene and immerse me into a portion of Canadian history that is little known and certainly was never taught in the history books I learned from. Please accompany me as I explore.
Off To The Great White North
Well, after my gig with the NFB, I returned to Toronto. To be honest, I felt I really didn’t want to be there after having already lived there for seven years while working and attending Ryerson. In fact, I was still reeling from the stories I heard on the road with RCAP and was itching to do something pertinent to history of the Canadian Aboriginal experience! In part, that was satisfied by having opportunity to work with some documentary filmmakers who were of the same mind, but I wanted more. It was about this time, the jobs ran out and my saving were also dwindling fast. Moreover, the Christmas season was upon me and I was in desperate need of work…and fast! That’s when the call came through. A former colleague from NFC, informed me he was leaving his employment in Moose Factory and asked if I was interested in stepping up to bat. My initial thought was thinking if I could handle that isolation. My second thought was I needed the money. The latter ruled over. Like I said, I needed cash. My only consolation, is thinking this could be an opportunity to explore my heritage. Also, it may be important to note, that I knew of an Iserhoff that worked there back in the day as catechist for the Anglican church. Canon Samuel Iserhoff. The name I so often heard of as a kid. ” I’ll try it for a few months until they find someone permanent. Sign me up!” And with that I was off to Moose Factory. Canada’s No.1 Reserve by the way. A Hudson Bay Company post on near the shores where the Moose River flows into James Bay.
Arrival at Moose Factory and First Glimpse of Samuel Iserhoff
So off I went. With my stuff now in storage in Toronto, I ventured off to Moose Factory. I had my flights booked from Toronto via Timmins to Moosonee/ Moose Factory. It was early December and to be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about my destination with the exception that some of my history lie there. So off I flew. After about 4 hours of flying I arrived to greet a brisk Moosonee morning when I stepped off the AirCreebec Dash-8 onto the tarmac. From here I was on my own. I mean I had the address to my new employers, but that was about it.
So, I thought would I do what any urbanized Indian would do. I would simply collect up my belongings and go outside to “arrivals” and flag down a Cab. Yep, that’s what I’d do and all my problems would be solved! WRONG! Well, as it turns out, I stepped outside of the airport and looked about for a Cab. Not a single one to be found. Nothing! Nobody, just a Raven perched on a nearby tree cawing at me, and seemingly taunting me. With that, I went back inside and inquired to the ticket agent who informed be I needed to call for one. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes later that my ride arrived. There I was now. Off to the races! Once on my way, I engaged in pleasant talk with my driver about my big city life and how this was all new to me. He must have been totally enthralled, because he didn’t say much until we began to seen a hint of the Moosonee suburbs. I wasn’t until then that he asked were I was going. I told him the employer’s name and address. Things suddenly went silent and then he turned his head to me in the back seat – cause that’s where Urban Indians sit eh – and told me he couldn’t complete the trip. As you can imagine I was taken aback a little. My first thought was whether I had insulted him in some way. ” I got money.” I proclaimed. ” That’s not the problem Chum. It’s Freeze Up!” he replied. “Freeze up?’ I inquired “What’s that?” He went on to explain “Freeze up” referred to few weeks the Moose River takes to form ice in the river around Moose Factory. Thereafter, he explained it would safe to drive over to Moose Factory with vehicle via a winter road.
” So, what you’re implying is Moose Factory is an island?” I jested “Yep! you got it!” he teased. Dumbfounded, I asserted “Well I really need to get to work for my new job. Can you tell me how I might go about that?” His answered ” You know where I picked you up?’ “Uhuh.’ I acknowledged “Well you get on a helicopter right near there!” Excited by the prospect of my first ever helicopter, I instructed him to take me there ASAP! Upon arrival at the landing pad, he dropped me at a small makeshift shack that served as the ticket office for the company that provided the helicopter excursions. I paid the man and stepped inside the shed where a handful of people were waiting. One Elder First Nation gentleman must have detected I was and outsider by the what must have been evident by my confusion “Over there!” he pursed his lips, pointing to a guy behind a counter “Get your ticket.” With ticket in hand, it wasn’t too long thereafter that the helicopter arrived. It was a six-seater Ranger I was informed. Knowing it was my first ‘copter ride, ’cause I was sure to announce it, the locals let me take the copilot’s seat. Happily I climbed in as the rest of the patrons strapped themselves in the backseat. I can assure you, there is nothing as exciting as your first helicopter ride as being a “co-pilot” no matter what your age. Though the ride only lasted about five minutes, I can see we were headed directly to Moose Factory. However, something curiously went wrong. The community got bigger as we approached it, and then got smaller again as we flew passed it.
However, it wasn’t too long until we scooted on past a church nearby where we hovered above and landed where a small collection of cars that had gathered near the shores of the Moose River. Four cars to be exact. “Wait!” I thought and made a quick calculation whilst thinking to myself. “K, the pilot isn’t getting off. There’s four people in the back. Uhm…that means…” Before I had a chance to further contemplate, we landed. Within moments the four in the un-strapped, gathered their belongings and went to their respective vehicles. The helicopter pilot motioned for me to un-strap and be careful stepping down into the mud. With the door near slapping my ass on the way out, I felt my feet slosh in the mud as I made my way to higher ground. The helicopter lifted off. The cars departed and there I was! Abandoned, clueless and alone. “Whaa just happened here?” I stood sloshing about in runners, sorely under-dressed in what amounted to little more than a mere windbreaker. I peered about looking out onto the Moose River. Cold bleak nothingness was all I saw! I turned toward the road the cars departed. There I could see above the tree-tops was a steeple of a church. I gathered up my belongings and amble on down the road toward that church. A church, I was later to learn, would hold many clues as to who the real Samuel Iserhoff was!
To be continued…
In Part II we meet Samuel Iserhoff, but like I mentioned at the outset of this story, it has many twists and turns
Another Clue! – Excerpt from the book Land of the Moosoneek
Things start to get real peculiar in Part II. Thanks for the visit. Hope you enjoyed the journey so far….
This entry was posted on March 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm and is filed under Documentary Related, Other Musings. You can subscribe via RSS 2.0 feed to this post's comments. You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.