Louis Riel’s descendant a 12-year MHC volunteer
Louis Riel Day in February is a day for Misericordia volunteer Janet Calvez, 74, to think about her great-great-great uncle, Louis Riel. The Métis leader and founder of Manitoba was not someone people thought about, or even spoke about, when Janet was a young girl growing up among other Riel descendants along the Seine River in St. Vital.
“When I was younger and went to school, it was a French Catholic school, we never brought up Louis Riel…he was not brought up at all, not even my family,” she says, explaining that the history of Riel being executed for treason in 1885 made him a taboo subject.
Things have changed since then, and today Janet is happy to see schools teaching young people about Riel and Manitobans taking pride in his legacy.
“It’s about time. It took a long time before people realized…I’m glad I lived long enough to see it change.”
Janet’s earliest memories among her Métis family include parties in homes along the Seine River—big parties with music and dancing. All adults played an instrument, she says, and as soon as a fiddle was heard a party was not far behind.
“These parties they had were hundreds of people. It would extend from one house to another house to another house, whenever there was a reason there would be parties, and it was all Riels.
When her mother, Denise Riel, passed away, Janet and her sister organized a party and 400 people showed up.
“All just the Riels from my three uncles (families), and it was the best. It lasted three days.”
It could be said Janet inherited Riel’s ability to inspire. When she married her husband, Henry, he was an amputee, having lost a leg to a disease in childhood, and she was very athletic.
“I was into sports, I loved sports, and then, when we got married, I said, ‘there’s no reason why you can’t ski.’”
She went with him to get a skiing prosthesis and they ended up skiing at Banff together.
Janet joined Misericordia as a volunteer 12 years ago after she retired from an almost 40-year career as a hair stylist. She delivered and read mail and newspapers to residents in the Cornish building for most of her time here, but since the pandemic she has been an Entry Ambassador—greeting visitors and helping them find their way. It’s allowed her to continue being athletic, she says, having clocked 12,000 steps on a borrowed Fitbit during one shift.
Family is a source of pride for Janet and has always been a big part of her life. Today, as a Misericordia volunteer, the tradition continues.
“Misericordia is a family, like, that’s the only way to describe it…I love Misericordia.”