OHSWEKEN – There was sun, but it wasn’t too hot. There was a breeze to keep it cool, but not strong enough to blow over displays and vendor tents. There was no rain. All of this was a recipe for one of the biggest turnouts for the Bread and Cheese (Victoria Day) celebrations at the Six Nations fairgrounds in years.
First Bread and Cheese has also become part of the tradition as young babies proudly carried by moms and dads made their way through the lines to get theirs and begin their own annual tradition.
SNEC ordered 2000 loaves of bread from Weston Bakery this year and 2000 kg of cheese from Jensen Cheese.
The tradition began shortly after the war of 1812 when Queen wanted to bless her Haudenosaunee allies by distributing blankets to all tribe members. That was done with great ceremony until it just became too expensive. At that point the Queen began sanctioning the dispersal of a loaf of bread and a large block of cheese annually.
The tradition stopped upon the death of the Queen in 1901. When the Elected Council was instated over the people of Six Nations in 1924, as an act of public relations and goodwill, the Elected Council resumed the Bread and Cheese tradition to commemorate the friendship with the British Crown and the life of Queen Victoria.
For the people of Six Nations today, “Bread and Cheese,” as it is commonly known, has become the one central and unifying event of the year that brings the entire community together as Haudenosaunee people both living on reserve and those who have moves away who treat it like a big family reunion. It has surpassed the Six Nations Fall Fair in attendance in recent years.
Following the annual parade led by the Six Nations Veterans and a Hamilton pipe band the flag carrying colour guard and pipes marched through the throngs of people and into the back door of the Gaylord Powless Arena where stations were set up to file the people through and hand out the bootie.
The lineup snaked from the back of the Arena all the way to Forth Line Road past the rides, food venders and information booths, but once the go ahead was given, the logistics of dealing with the vast numbers of men women children and elders, was highly efficient having had decades to fine tune the process.
Elected Chief Ava Hill brought attention to the dozens of volunteers it takes to make the annual event such a success. Among them she singled out elder Carl Johnson who has volunteered for Bread and Cheese Day for the past 39 years and counting.
She was followed at the podium by Liberal MPP Dave Levac, who said that Queen Victoria “got it right” when she began the tradition. “She wanted to thank you for being a good ally, and now it is up to us to be good friends.”
The Speaker of the House at Queens Park also made a personal commitment.
“I will commit to you that I will continue to do that as long as I am your representative at Queens Park,” he added.