Manitoulin Lodge Nursing Home resident receives gift from “quilts for survivors”

GORE BAY—“Helen, May this quilt wrap you in joy and comfort.” This was the message three members of the Quilts for Survivors group wrote on the quilt they made and sent to Helen Crawford, a resident of the Manitoulin Lodge Nursing Home in Gore Bay, and an Indian residential school survivor.

“Please accept this quilt as a gift of love to honour your journey,” wrote Vanessa Genier, #quilts for survivors 2021 of Timmins in her letter to Ms. Crawford (who was born in Mindemoya and grew up in M’Chigeeng). “No child should have had to attend residential school. No child should have had to suffer what you suffered. This quilt is a symbol of support, respect and love that your fellow Canadians and other citizens of the world have for the Indigenous people of Canada.”

Ms. Crawford’s daughter, Gayle Payette of M’Chigeeng First Nation told The Expositor, “when the announcement was made about the discovery of the children’s graves at one of the residential schools in Kamloops, I had posted a picture of mom on Facebook, saying that this is my survivor from residential school. I received a lot of responses on that post. One of my friends, Barbara Burrows, messaged me, telling me that she is part of a group called Quilts for Survivors and explained what it was all about. Then she asked if it would be okay if she and her sisters (all part of the group) could make my mom a quilt. Of course, I said absolutely!”

“My mom Helen Crawford (Debassige) was sent to St. Joseph’s School for Girls at Spanish when she was 14,” explained Ms. Payette. “She said her brother Noel was sent to the boys’ school too. She reports that there was a year that she became very sick with appendicitis and was sent to the hospital in Blind River. After that she didn’t return to the school.”

“She shared that she was not allowed to speak Ojibwe and she didn’t see her brother much,” continued Ms. Payette. “She was sad about a cousin trying to get away, through an upstairs window and falling to her death. She said they weren’t allowed to talk about it.”

Ms. Payette said, “Mom was very delighted to receive the quilt. It brought some comfort to her, knowing that others were thinking of her.”  

“The Quilts for Survivors group started in June,” Ms. Genier told The Expositor. “My original goal was for us to make 18 quilts. But so far, we have made almost 1,100, and we have over 600 quilt requests to fulfill and more to go.”

Ms. Genier noted a studio had donated space for the group to meet. However, “the Quilts for Survivors has about 5,000 group members, with members from Canada, the US, Australia, Norway, Hawaii, Mexico and many more places.” 

“We have some blocks donated for the quilts, and we put them together, while other members have made quilts on their own,” said Ms. Genier. “And every quilt has a letter, a label, and a quote sent along with quilt.”

“My great grandparents, who I never had the privilege of knowing, went to residential schools,” said Ms. Genier. 

Ms. Genier explained in a letter to Ms. Crawford, “these quilts were made with love by quilters across this nation and the world. Some were made by one person; others were made by several people. Each block was chosen with great care and throughtfulness to, in some way, ease the burden which you have been carrying. It is our hope that by accepting this small token, your journey will be eased just a bit.”

In June of 2021, “I started the group on Facebook asking other quilters to join me to make quilt blocks to honour residential school survivors. These blocks have been sewn together to make our gifts of quilts. We wish to honour the lives of the children who are just now finding their way home as Turtle Island releases the children back to their nations across this land.” 

Ms. Genier “is an Indigenous mother from the Missianabie Cree First Nation located in Northern Ontario. I have a passion for quilting and believe that a quilt is love sewn together to bring people together. I am honoured to share with you, a quilt made with love,” her biography states. 

A poem was also sent to Ms. Crawford: 

Wrapped in Love 

Afghans, blankets, covers or quilts

The concept all the same,

The difference is being how they are made.

These quilts are special, made by many hands:

Some quite experienced, some new to the craft,

Each one unique.

As were the children we wish to honour.

(Not meant to take away your pain).

They were sewn with love and compassion

To wrap you in our warmth.

When you are chilled,

To surround you with our strength

When you feel weak,

To cover you with hope;

When you feel alone.

So please take comfort in knowing 

That there are many who care

And we are with you all the way!

Ms. Payette added, “I am very grateful to my friend Barbara and the Quilts for Survivors group, as they demonstrate empathy and compassion on the journey to truth and reconciliation and they provide an opportunity for some healing to take place, as we were able to discuss experiences and how she (Ms. Crawford) coped with what she endured at the school.”