Across the river from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (or Human Misery as some might say) is Saint-Boniface. At one time Saint-Boniface was its own municipality but it has long been a ward of Winnipeg. Its population is about 55,000 and it remains the centre of the francophone
community in Manitoba.
|L'Hôtel de Ville de Saint-Boniface|
Saint-Boniface has a old world charm all its own, and features historical landmarks like l'Hôtel de Ville de Saint-Boniface, Université de Saint-Boniface and Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface.
|Université de Saint-Boniface|
The Université de Saint-Boniface is a French language post-secondary institution affiliated with the University of Manitoba. Its origins date back to 1818 and it is Western Canada's oldest post-secondary educational institution.
A stone's throw from the university is Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface, which also dates to the early 1800s when it actually took the shape and style of a log chapel. The first cathedral was built in 1832 and it was destroyed by fire in 1860. Rebuilt a few years later, it was replaced in 1906, and that building was largely destroyed by fire in 1968. Today only the façade, sacristy, and the walls of the old church remain.
Within the cemetery of the old church we found the tombstone of one of Canada's greatest politicians, Louis Riel. Riel was born in Saint-Boniface in 1844. It is a rather unassuming resting place for the founder of a Canadian province, indeed for one so much involved in the early history of our nation.
Louis David Riel was the political leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies and he led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands in the North-West came under Canadian influence.The provisional government established by Riel ultimately led to the terms by which Manitoba entered Confederation as a province. But there were complications, including the execution of an anglophone soldier, and Riel went into exile south of the border.
In 1884 Riel was called upon by Métis leaders in Saskatchewan to voice their grievances to the federal government in Ottawa. Instead he organised a resistance movement that escalated into a full scale military confrontation: the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Canada used the new Canadian Pacific rail lines to send in thousands of combat soldiers. The rebellion ended with Riel's arrest and conviction for high treason. Rejecting many protests and appeals, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald decided to execute Riel by hanging. The order was carried out on November 16, 1885, in Regina.
Riel was portrayed for years in history classes as a crazy religious fanatic and a traitor against the Canadian nation, but that view has changed over time. He is now seen as a heroic leader who fought to protect francophone rights from the unfair actions of an anglophone central government. Sometimes seen now as a Father of Confederation, he was in fact fiercely committed to Métis nationalism and political independence.
Fascinating stuff. And if ever you find yourself in Winnipeg, see the Museum, but also walk around Saint-Boniface and see all that it offers, including the amazing story of Louis Riel.
Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.