Recognition in 2002

The Federal Government recognizes Mattie's contribution. The following article appeared in The Western Star of Corner Brook NF on Tuesday, July 30, 2002, front page.

Mattie Mitchell: Finally, official recognition of his contribution to this province


After more than 30 years of trying to keep her grandfather's memory alive, Marie Sparkes' dream was finally realized recently, when he was named by the federal government as a person of national historic significance. Here, Sparkes shows off one of the few photos of her grandfather, Mattie Mitchell.

Star Staff Writer

When Marie Sparkes picked up the phone last Monday night, she had no idea that the person on the other end of the phone would tell her that after almost 30 years of work, her dream had finally come true.
Sparkes is the granddaughter of Mathieu Michel, or Mattie Mitchell as he was more commonly known, a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq who's become this province's version of Davy Crockett. And recently. the federal government designated Mitchell as a person of national historic significance.
"He could travel and hunt anywhere he wanted to go, because he knew the territory," she said. "He knew every nook and cranny on the island where he fished and hunted. He was a great hunter and guide."
For years now, Sparkes has been researching her grandfather's life, in conjunction with historian Robert Cuff, who prepared the application to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which is the group who honoured Mitchell. And she's petitioned government on both the municipal and federal levels to recognize her grandfather in the past. So the announcement was nothing short of a dream come true for her.
"Robert Cuff phoned ine Monday night, and I though, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm so happy'," he said. "So many years I've waited for this to happen. For the past 30 years, I've been trying to keep his memory alive."

Mitchell died in the fall of 1921 at the age of 77, 15 years before Sparkes was born. But her grandfather's legend lived on in the memories of her parents, Mitchell's youngest son John and his wife, Agnes. For the last five years of his life, Mitchell lived with the couple in a house in Corner Brook located where the Smallwood Federal Building now stands.
"My mother always liked him," Sparkes recalled. "She really thought a lot of him. He was a tall man, around 6'3, but my mother described him as a really a quiet, matter-of-fact sort of person. He did what he had to do, and only spoke when it was really important."
Sparkes grew up knowing some of her grandfather's achievements including his 1904 discovery of huge ore bodies surrounding Buchans. The ore bodies there yielded more than 16 million tonnes of zinc, lead, copper, gold and silver, worth about $3.6 billion American.
But it wasn~t really until she was in Grade 5 that she really understood what it was that her grandfather had done for the province. That year, she used a book about Newfoundland geography and history in school, which contained an entire chapter on his life.
"Of course, I knew he'd been involved in the discovery of the Buchans mines, and as a child, I heard stories and I heard my father talking about him," Sparkes said. "But you really don't understand what it all means. After I saw that book in school, it was always in the back of my mind. I got married at an early age and had a big family,
so I had to put it aside for a long time. But it was always there. My mind was always with him." After her children had grown up, Sparkes began learning more and more about her grandfather's life. One story in particular that fascinated her was Mitchell's reindeer trek in 1908.
Sir Wilfred Grenfell had purchased 300 of the animals from Greenland, along with several people from that country, with the intention of using the animals as meat for people in the area. The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company agreed to purchase 50 of the reindeer, and they sent Mitchell to bring, the animals, along with several of the people from Greenland, from Grenfell's base in St. Anthony to Millertown, in central Newfoundland.
"Mattie was employed to guide these people and 50 reindeer," Sparkes said. "It was a 58-day trek from St. Anthony to Millertown, over the most horrible conditions ? winter storms, hail, treacherous terrain. And he never lost an animal."
Sparkes is hoping this appointment will allow her to share her grandfather's history with people across Canada. She'd like to thank everyone who helped her in her efforts to remember Mitchell, especially Robert Cuff, the Conne River Mi'kmaq Band Council, Gerry Byrne, Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, Sheila Copps, minister of Canadian Heritage and the members of the selection committee for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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