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Entering the workshop, the scene is as one would expect. In the middle of the space are various sized pieces of lumber waiting to be assembled into a full-scale Red River cart. Under the work table are smaller pieces to assemble a single wheel. In a corner sits the other wheel measuring approximately five feet across. Lumber is stacked against the back wall with a set of doors, and lining the shelves are milk crates, boxes and tools of different colors. Wood shavings cover the floor and rock music competes with the propane space heater loudly rumbling. And tinkering on the side with his tools is George Fayant, in his winter jacket, bringing some organization to the chaos around him.

George Fayant is a Métis man from the Qu'Appelle Valley and is the only Red River cart builder in Regina, possibly in all of Saskatchewan.

 

He grew up in Abernethy, a large Métis community north of the Qu'Appelle Valley, in a family of ten kids and he lived with his grandparents until he was fourteen. Fayant remembers learning Métis traditions such as the dances, foods, music and beadwork. But the Red River cart was never an image he associated with his culture. That's until the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Batoche and reenactement of the execution of Louis Riel in 1985. That, according to Fayant, was when the image of the cart resurged.

 

Approximately 20 years ago, someone asked if he knew anyone who built these carts. That single inquiry marks the beginning of his journey as a builder of Red River carts.

 

Fayant started making calls inquiring about a cart builder until one day he told his brother, who was also a woodworker, about his search and asked him if he knew anyone. His brother pointed out that they were both woodworkers and suggested that they could try building one. It may have been a first try for the brothers but it was also their first commission to build a cart for the Métis Farm in Lebret.

Their first cart was modeled after the one at the RCMP Heritage Museum where they got permission from the curator to take measurements and drawings. "We got a good look at how the joints and tendons were and how offset the wheels were because that's the very distinct feature of a Red River cart," Fayant explains.

 

"The first cart we built, the only tools we really had were a skill saw, a jigsaw, a power hand planer. But the majority of it, you can say it was built by hand," he recalls. "We definitely finished it all with hands tools: planers, hand sanders, files, etc. " However, he now uses a variety of power tools for efficiency and accuracy.

 

He builds a variety of sized carts: full-scale, half-scale, quarter-scale and a sixteenth-scale. And he is currently working on drawings for an eighth-scale cart. All of his carts have either made their way to Métis organizations or educational institutions like the Gabriel Dumont Institution (GDI), which have commissioned a number of carts from Fayant and are proudly displaying his workmanship.

 

"George Fayant is keeping an important part of Métis history alive with his skills in building Red River carts," explains Karon Shmon, Director of Publishing at the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research in Saskatoon. "He is helping people realize the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Métis who were able to use materials at hand to facilitate work and travel. One can appreciate the work that goes into a full-sized cart and how well-built it had to be to carry such a large amount of freight."

 

Not only does Fayant dedicate his time to building these carts, he also takes the time to do class demonstrations about carts and presentations about Métis culture. He shares with the kids a brief history of this type of cart which is unique to the Métis, of its build as well as its use.

 

His aunt Erma Taylor, who works for the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP), says it's important that her nephew shares this knowledge in the schools: "The cart is a cultural artifact that symbolizes how the Michif lived in our early days.  They were not crude, but very well put together and without nails or screws of any kind.  They were necessary for moving, hauling and taking pelts to market."

 

During his demonstrations, he shows the kids the different antique tools, as well as the process of assembling and disassembling a half-scale cart and full-size wheel. "The students put these carts together by themselves and take them out to their classrooms to show the history along with the trails they drove them on," describes Taylor.

 

Fayant admits that his favorite part of his demonstrations is when the kids are done putting the wheel back together and he stands it up: "Of course, it's usually taller than them. The reaction from them, I love it every time. Sometimes, it's twice their height, and I get comments like 'WOW!' "

 

He chuckles thinking back on those moments, he says that his goal is to preserve the history, the stories and a part of his culture, especially with the kids, in the hope that they will remember, even the slightest piece of information about Red River carts and Métis history, traditions and culture.

 

For George Fayant, the Red River cart is very symbolic: "It's a strong symbol of Métis nationalism." Eventually, he hopes to see one in every Métis community in Saskatchewan.