In the old days, we had Cree names for most of the places in our territory.
We have inhabited this land for a long time.
The Desjarlais name has also had a long and interesting history in the Yellowhead region. Some sources suggest that the name could be Ojibwa, as some Ojibwa people from northern Ontario did migrate to the Red River area in Manitoba and then out to the plains, eventually reaching the Rockies. When Abe Desjarlais was asked about this, he suggested that it was possible, but that his family always spoke Cree, which is an Algonkian language as is Ojibwa.
Abe Desjarlais was born on March 3, 1911 in Gunn, Alberta. His parents were William Desjarlais and Madeleine Laderoute. William was born at Slave Lake on December 9, 1888. He died on Easter Weekend in 1919 and is buried at Lac Ste. Anne. Madeleine was born in St. Albert in 1885 and died in Edmonton on April 13, 1919, where she is buried. They were married in 1908.
Abe’s grandfather on his father’s side was Olivier/Wapumun Desjarlais of Slave Lake, who was a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company. He was born in 1885 in Lac Ste. Anne. Olivier married Isabelle Gladue of Slave Lake (b. August 31, 1859 in Lac Ste. Anne) on May 2, 1876. Abe’s great grandfather was Antoine/Wapumun Desjarlais, who was born in 1820 at Lesser Slave Lake. He died on December 8, 1886. In 1850, he married Julie/Lucie/Marie Kaketta who was born in 1834 at Pigeon Lake. The marriage took place in Lac Ste. Anne. Julie died in 1877. The patriarch of the family was Antoine Desjarlais, who was born in 1791 and married a Cree woman named Napitch. This is probably the Old Antoine Desjarlais, who was said to be in Jasper in the first half of the nineteenth century. Sir George Simpson described him as a trapper who had been in the employ of the North West Company and was a resident of Lac La Biche when they met.
In 1947, Abe and Mary Plante were married. Mary was the daughter of Felix Plante and Caroline Moberly. Caroline was the daughter of John Henry Moberly and Mary Joachim who homesteaded southwest of Hinton. John Henry was the son of Henry John Moberly, the patriarch of the Moberly clan in Alberta. Mary and Abe had six children; Caroline (1950), Josephine (1952), James (1953), William (1955), Dale (1959) and Leon (1964). Leon was born in their log home at Muskeg.
Abe started working in logging camps when he was about twelve years of age. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, he was a cook in the bush camps. In 1942, he was working for CN Rail at Miette, near Jasper. In September of 1942, he volunteered to join the army. He trained in Grande Prairie before going on to Calgary, Val Cartier, Chicoutimi and Muir Lake, near Petawawa (Petawawa means "bring the eggs" in Cree). Abe was in a part of the forces that specialized in forestry. They trained to fight fires, build sawmills… At Muir Lake, in 1943-4, he remembered cutting green birch logs into six-foot lengths to be shipped out for firewood. His final posting was in the foothills, south west of Edson. He remembered stuffing turkeys during this posting. He was discharged on August 25, 1944. His outfit was to have been posted overseas, but something happened and the posting never took place. From 1944 to 1946, Abe went back to working for the railroad, but he also ran a small store at Obed, where he sold food and tobacco. The store also included a post office, for which he got $23 a month from the Federal Government. He recollected that stamps were three cents and that you could get three cans of sardines for two bits. At that point, the family moved to Marlboro, where Abe built a lean-to as their first residence. Abe worked in the bush around Marlboro cutting trees, skidding logs, driving a team and serving as a mechanic. From 1956 to 1962, he worked at Kennedy’s Camp at Polecat Creek, where they were cutting timbers for railway ties. In 1962, the family moved to Muskeg, as Abe got a job working for Forestry. He trained fire fighters, worked on fire prevention and at fire fighting. For fire prevention, Abe and his crew would follow seismic lines; piling and burning brush. They did the same job along the newly constructed road to Rock Lake. In 1970, Abe joined the Highways Department because Forestry was centralizing things in Hinton and he wanted to stay in Muskeg. He maintained the road in the summer and sanded it in the winter.
Abe retired in 1974 or 1976, but continued to live at Muskeg. In 1980-1 he started a trapline at Moberly Creek, which he worked until 1983. He trapped fox, coyote, squirrels, beaver, marten as well as the odd lynx or wolf. He walked the line with his dog, which sometimes carried a pack. The rest of the gear was pulled on a toboggan. One day, Abe had a near death experience as some hunters shot his dog and had him lined up in their sights. They backed off when Abe's son, Jim, came out of the cabin. Later, he moved to a senior citizens’ home in Gunn, before settling in Hinton, where he resided until his death in 2003.
Abe Desjarlais was really proud of two accomplishments. The first one involved the school at Muskeg, as Abe was instrumental in getting Northlands to construct a school at the site. Abe’s other major accomplishment involved working on the land claims for the local Aboriginal people. Abe got Lloyd Bossert to write letters to get the ball rolling. As a result, Phillip Ketchum was appointed to represent the local people. He was a lawyer and eventually negotiated a land settlement for the local co-ops, which gave the local Aboriginal people a modest land base, so that they could try to carry on with their traditional lifestyle if they wished.
Sam Desjarlais/Tozale/Dozale/Dojarlais lived at Sheep Creek, where it flows into the Smoky River. Some of the local people called him Desjarlais, while others pronounced his name Tozale or Dozale or Dojalais. The genealogical records indicate that Desjarlais and Tozale were different pronunciations of the same name. In addition, Abe Desjarlais said that he called Sam his uncle, although he had no proof that they were related. Unfortunately, the Macpherson database at the Musee Heritage in St. Albert has no record of Sam under any spelling of his last name. We do know that Sam’s mother was married to Gustave “Kusta” Wanyandie. She was his second wife. Sam had a brother and at least one sister. One sister is buried at Pipestone Creek, while his brother is buried under the highway on Joachim Flats, which was called Gustave’s Flats at the time. Apparently, he had an accident on the ice on the Smoky while trapping with Gustave Wanyandie. Sam, who was probably from the Peace River area originally, married Peggy Karakuntie, the sister of Solomon Karakuntie, who lived at Sheep Creek. They had a son named Felix Joachim, who is the father of Adelaide Joachim, the wife of Emil Moberly. We know that Sam was living at Sheep Creek in 1914 because the Prescott Fay Expedition, which went through Grande Cache, took a number of pictures of him and his family. We do not know what happened to Sam after that, but there are members of the family buried in one of the graveyards at Sheep Creek.