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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 4 page 07


So anyway: it was late 1901. Tekahionwake and her new stage partner, Walter McRaye, were taking their show through small-town Ontario. McRaye was a second-stringer. His particular shtick was to recite William Henry Drummond’s broken-English “habitant poems” which were popular at that time. Actually, if you look at the line-up, you can see that Tekahionwak's show in this period — with the “Indian”, the “French”, and then the “English” poems — was presenting a vision of three founding peoples. Leaving aside her blind spot on the Hurons, on the intellectual level she was pursuing national unity.

The week before Christmas, Tekahionwake and McRaye were booked for a pair of performances at the Opera House in Orillia. As they neared the town, Tekahionwake began to feel fatigued, headachy, nauseous.

Orillia is in Huronia. It sits at a Narrows on that very same Lake Simcoe shore where the Huron pitched their “wigwams” according to “As a Red Man Dies” and where the Mohawk would have passed on their way to obliterate the Huron homeland. Tekahionwake had visited this area previously and was fully aware of the heritage.

image of Huron ghosts in opera hall
Tekahionwake was due to perform in Huron ghost territory

She checked in to her hotel. The next morning, which was the day of the first show, she discovered red blisters spreading across her face. It was a streptococcal infection — the same disease that had killed her father. Tekahionwake herself had been susceptible since childhood, but never before had it hit her so hard. Soon came chills and sweats, pain and fever. She collapsed on the bed. McRaye had to cancel the shows. The infection, migrating either thru the bloodstream or more directly via the sinuses, reached her brain. By Christmas Day she was delirious. The local doctor could do nothing more than administer morphine. He told McRaye that Tekahionwake might die.

Then her hair fell out.

The official cause was cerebral thrombophlebitis, also known as “brain fever.”