The Medicine Man

By Willa Wick in Arts & Music, People

Most towns have had their colorful characters over the years, and Harriston is no exception. I use the word ‘colorful’ because most of us can only know Levi Wesley by the stories we’ve heard, plus the wonderful artifacts the Harriston Historical Society has recently acquired. To date there is only one known picture of the man; he is posing in a beautiful leather jacket with intricate beadwork.

Chief Wesley

Chief Wesley

We are fortunate to have this jacket along with his beaded and fringed leather gloves, along with his vest, which has beadwork covering the entire front. One of the more astounding articles is the cane he carved himself. It is a very complex and intricate design with a latticework hollow encompassing a floating wooden marble.

Levi Wesley's beaded leather jacket currently on display with the Harriston Historical Society (Willa Wick photo)

Levi Wesley’s beaded leather jacket currently on display with the Harriston Historical Society (Willa Wick photo)

Levi Wesley's hand beaded gloves (Willa Wick photo)

Levi Wesley’s hand beaded gloves (Willa Wick photo)

According to collected information, Levi Wesley was born on an Alberta Indian Reserve. He migrated to Ontario around 1900, and settled at Chippewa Hill on the Saugeen Reserve near Southampton. His dream was to become a doctor and incorporate his forefathers’ traditional herbal medicine. In 1920 he left the reserve, purchased a home in Harriston, and a year later married Mabel Nichol of Saugeen Township. Becoming a doctor was beyond him, but he did manage to achieve notoriety in the herbal remedy field. He collected wild herbs and greenery, and also had neighborhood children gather plants for him. Tinctures are herbs extracted with alcohol or glycerin, he purchased these plus some powders from the local pharmacy. The mixing was done in a big drum known as a medicine wheel; Wesley’s wheel is currently on loan to the Historical Society.

Wesley’s successful herbal practice was known as “Nature’s Own”. It was recognized throughout southern Ontario by his personal deliveries, as well as mail order.

Ironically enough, at the same time as the Harriston Society acquired these artifacts, the Wellington County Museum and Archives were in receipt of similar clothing – a beautiful leather jacket and moccasins were on display earlier this year. Rene Lefevre (1942-2014) was born in Timmins, to a French Canadian mother and French Algonquin father. He spent his childhood learning many traditional crafts and discovered a love for beading. Rene moved to Wellington County in the 1970s and lived in west Garafraxa, Nichol Township, and Elora. He worked for over two decades as a volunteer and part-time staff member at the Wellington County Museum and Archives. Wellington Museum’s beaded jacket and moccasins were handmade by Rene in the 1990s.