This is the story of the Parade of Nations - The history passing from personal experience of a small family, the lessons learned until the realization of a dream that continues...
To understand why Marie Morrell, the founder Parade of Nations, came to establish the organization, you will be transported back a century to May 23, 1902, in Neguac, New Brunswick, the day Léandre Robichaud, Marie's father, was born. His experience will illuminate several pieces of this mystery because as he said much later, "There is always a reason for everything, be patient and one day you will have the answer."
Aleandra, Léandre's grandmother, a gypsy from Romania, shared the task of looking after him and his four siblings; at her death, Léandre was nine years old. He had a deep admiration and affection for his grandmother, a kind of unusual spiritual attachment that was reciprocated. An indescribable relationship seemed to link them deeply. Aleandra had noted his sixth sense, predicting things in life that had not yet materialized. The Creator had bequeathed to the child she loved dearly part of herself, and a part of her nomadic people living an unconventional life and freely traveling from one place to another.
A year after the death of Aleandra, Léandre's mother, Marie, a native of the Tobique First Nation, suffered a nervous breakdown, and was placed in an asylum to spend the rest of her life without her children knowing she was still alive. When the children awoke, their father - an Acadian - informed them that their mother had died in a drowning accident while they were sleeping. Léandre was devastated, his mother was his idol. Since the departure of his grandmother, his mother was the only person protecting him and teaching him the mysteries of the Earth and the Creator.
A few days later, the father told the children they would all go for a long trip in the buggy with "Jal", their horse, a name meaning wanderer in Gypsy. Arriving at their destination of Halifax, the father told the children to get off the buggy while he would seek a space to park. Léandre's father never returned. After several hours of waiting, the children finally knocked on the door of an orphanage near where their father had abandoned them and faced the reality of their destiny.
A few days later, Léandre had been given to work for a local farmer in exchange for food, and the farmer would beat him if he was taking a break. Léandre, whose body could not endure the pain any longer, escaped. He walked for several hours through the night and part of the next day to finally stop and knock on the door of the Halifax prison, pleading for the Warden to give him shelter and food for a few hours, although his instinct seemed to give him a different message.
The prison warden, seeing an opportunity to make some coin, sold Léandre that same day to the crew of the Morning Star, a Tall Ship harboured in Halifax for a few weeks. It was a ship with tall masts powered by the wind, from Liverpool, England, which docked at the port in Halifax every 18 months. The crew delivered its cargo and picked up the new cargo. Léandre, hands bound, was dragged to the ship, scared of what the future held. In the meantime, having bought a slave, the boat owners tattooed an image of the ship on his left arm, as they did with all their slaves, to ensure they did not escape. Léandre, heartbroken, sailed away, hoping to escape again, and this time, hoping he would succeed. He learned he could not trust anyone and should rely on his instinct.
Aboard the ship, when the crew realized that Léandre was not intimidated by heights, part of his job became to climb the tall masts for 'Watch duty' and minor repairs. Eighteen long months went by till the ship finally returned to Halifax.
In the early hours of the day, an unusual noise came from the road opposite the pier, and Léandre awoke from a very light sleep like a watchdog constantly on alert. Making sure not to wake anyone, and having the portent this was an opportunity for freedom from the ship, he silently grabbed a rag and wrapped it around his arm. Damning the darkness, he managed to get near the vessel's access ramp, grabbed a rope without anyone seeing him, and cautiously hoisted up to the base of the dock.
A few pedestrians had already gathered and were milling in the streets near the cars of a circus coming to town. The crowd grew and everyone was trying to get the best view of the excitement. All the commotion and focus on the circus gave Léandre cover to hide here and there among the crowd until he spotted the provisions wagon. He approached the driver who luckily was also the cook. After he briefly recounted his story, Léandre convinced the cook to keep him on as an apprentice in exchange for food. The cook could certainly use this free help and finally accepted his offer. Once again, Léandre was on the road to freedom.
In the commotion and inattention caused by the curiosity of the crew dazzled by the circus show, other slaves tried to escape. Some of them succeeded, briefly, but their ship tattoos ultimately identified them as property of the ship and they were forced to return. Fortunately for Léandre, when the security team of the ship's crew arrived at the door of the circus asking permission to take a look, the chef had devised a signal to let Léandre know to hide. He began to sing, and Léandre knew to hide in a bag of potatoes on the food wagon. A few days later the circus was leaving town. Léandre could not read or write, and had no idea he had just joined 'The Barnum & Bailey Circus’ one of the most famous in the world.
Hired by the circus, Léandre had to work boldly for sustenance. Fortunately for him, even at that young age, he was extremely talented - he was already a gifted carver and painter. Léandre approached the circus management and asked if he could also serve as apprentice to the sign painter. Within weeks he became one of their official artists.
While palling around with a circus performer one autumn morning, Léandre mentioned that he had once worked on the masts and rigging of the Morning Star. The leader of the trapeze troupe heard this, and asked Léandre if he would consider joining his trapeze troupe. Well, Léandre thought he had died and gone to heaven; he loved learning and trapeze was an awesome thing to be learning. He’d faced much more danger running the masts of a Tall Ship on the Atlantic and the thought of the cheering crowds, the circus family - how could he resist?
Léandre spent the next 25 years with the circus as a trapeze artist, acrobat, juggler and sign artist. He loved and enjoyed his life, its challenges, his circus family and traveling in places often described by his grandmother.
The circus had several dialects, constantly changing, resulting from the various languages ??of the people regularly arriving from countries across the globe. Léandre's popularity grew rapidly as an interpreter as he continually strived to learn as many languages ??as possible. He loved to chat with the people of his new family, listen to their stories and see that all is connected.
The members of Barnum & Bailey Circus became Léandre's new family. In those days, people afflicted with disabilities (physical deformity at birth) joined the circus and were displayed to the public. It was one of the few ways they could make a living. The circus also included different kinds of visual artists and merchants who followed the circus to sell their works and products. Léandre liked each individual within his new family and always did everything he could to protect them and help them. Often, he said he loved the members of his new family because he had not heard those words since the death of his mother. He treated all people the way he wanted to be treated and continually thanked the Creator for his extraordinary life, although sometimes she brought him distress and pain. Facing his torments, he said "I have something to learn, I humbly accept this lesson of wisdom. I understand, everything happens for a reason.''
Already in his mid-forties and his reflexes as trapeze artist somewhat worn, Léandre decided to retire. An architect friend, named Delvenne, hired him on the spot to paint ceilings and gigantic frescos during the construction of the Saint Joseph Oratory in Montreal, Quebec. At the end of the project, he had acquired a reputation as an artist that allowed him to broaden his horizons, taking commissions from priests' villages southwest of the province of Quebec and various states southeast of the US border.
In 1947, Léandre married a woman 12 years his junior. He was recruited by the parish priest of Saint George of Henryville, who wanted to help this young woman escape an abusive family. The couple had one child, a daughter they named Mary, after Léandre’s mother.
Marie's mother had a passion for the theatre, writing and crafts. Consequently, at an early age, Marie starred in plays performed at the parish hall of the village of Saint George Henryville until it was destroyed by a fire. Marie also loved writing poetry under the pen name Jonathan Seagull and was registered in the Roller and Ice Skating Artistic program.
Later, Marie developed a personal hobby - counted cross stitch. Replicating patterns reminding her of the good times with her father, riding around on a carousel, going places. She liked to embroider pictures replicating dragons. For some inexplicable reason, something inside her heart triggered an obsessive attraction for symbols and reproductions patterns related to dragons. Her father often reminded her "Do not worry, there's a reason for everything. Be very patient and one day you will have your answer."
Léandre doted on his daughter, teaching her oil painting, wood carving and playing the violin (mostly gypsy tunes since Marie refused to play anything else). Léandre also taught her to tap dance, tightrope walk with an umbrella on a stretched wire 15 feet off the ground, and perform other acrobatic movements and somersaults. Every Sunday in the church parking lot adjacent to their home, Marie and her father entertained the villagers and made a collection at the end of the show.
Her father also conveyed his passion for history - the story from the beginning of time - the source of the fascination Marie developed for anthropology; particularly indigenous peoples of the world and especially those of the Arctic Circle. Léandre also gave her the knowledge of his own beliefs passed on by his mother and her people, and that became the roadmap for Marie during her life, which she now shares with you. These beliefs underline the principles of embodied by the Parade of Nations.
Because her father meant everything to her, at age 12, Marie promised to build a museum to exhibit his art work as well as other artists from the community and surrounding area where she lived. She promised to teach people the nuances of diversity of our planet through their ancestral origins so that people appreciate each other and celebrate all that diversity.
The day came in June 2006 at the end of a career in government and private consultancy, Marie moved to Cornwall to realize her promise and construct a collectors' museum and a multicultural art centre.
A year after arriving in Cornwall, Marie, like many others, wanted to contribute to Cornwall and the surrounding area by putting them on the map as well as helping to recognize people for what they do for their community. The only thing with which Marie was familiar was multiculturalism and the arts, which she felt she could use to introduce and celebrate the ancestral origins of the surrounding areas and at the same time provide a forum to help small businesses. It was right up her alley and a challenge she coveted forward.
Subsequently, on April 22, 2007, Parade of Nations was created to promote culture and multiculturalism in our region. Marie hired local artist, Tracy-Lynn Chisholm, to create the logo of the Parade of Nations. It is an incredible work of art that accurately reflects the theme of the organization.
In 2008, 65 flags were deployed during the parade and several floats represented various groups and local companies.
In 2009, the Parade of Nations launched the "A Light in the Tunnel," to help people afflicted with developmental disabilities in the regions of Akwesasne, Cornwall and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. It’s aim was to educate the public and ensure that this disadvantaged group was understood, respected and included in the community. In addition, several organizations were already helping groups with special needs attracted to sports.
In 2009, the annual parade became a Festival at the request of food vendors, artists, craftsmen, small businesses and various organizations who preferred to participate in a two-day event.
Each year, the Nation's Parade fundraising events continued through the efforts of private companies, individuals, monetary donations and in-kind donations from the City of Cornwall, in addition to a cash donation from the Seaway Lighthouse Third Rail Modular Club owner Rudy Tabak (who, according to the Chinese horoscope, was born the year of the "Dragon" and is also the life-partner of Marie). The gift from the "Seaway Train Show" is used for the annual payment of the liability and civil insurance.
In 2011, Parade of Nations became a Registered Charity with the Canada Revenue Agency, and therefore had to include in its title the name of its beneficiaries, those afflicted by developmental disabilities. Thus, the official name became "Parades of Nations for the Developmentally Challenged". In recent years, the term ‘Developmentally Challenged’ has evolved to "Special Needs".
In January 2016, Marie asked the board to update the name of the group for people to better understand what Parade of Nations was trying to accomplish. We wanted an acronym, meaningful on its own and at the same time reflecting artistic culture. Alcide Prévost suggested the term "Different Abilities" and Krisztina Soos, a Hungarian, added, "Of Talented Artists", becoming the acronym DATA, meaning in French, "Capacities Différentes d'Artistes Talentueux (CDAT). A well known local artist, Sandra Taylor-Hedges, who has that cause at heart, offered her services for free to create a logo for the program.
Parade of Nations will always use culture and diversity for its fundraising campaign themes to help people with special needs, particularly those artistically inclined, residing in Akwesasne, Cornwall and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. Funds raised in each region are returned to that region to help our heroes of different skills.