Last week the education staff from the Winnipeg Art Gallery had an opportunity to visit the St. Boniface Museum. Our animated guide Bailey led us on an interesting and informative stroll through the galleries. After introducing us to Manitoba’s founder Louis Riel she showed us Louis Riel’s coffin. If you’re like me the first thing you’re thinking is, “Why is his coffin here? Wasn’t he buried in it?”
Turns out Louis had three coffins. Coffin number one is this pine box. It was how his body was transported back to Winnipeg from Regina where he died by the hangman’s noose. Coffin number two was made of metal and had a window so mourners could view him as they came to pay their respects during the two days Louis Riel lay in state at his mother’s home. The third coffin was made of rosewood and it is the coffin in which he is buried on the grounds of the St. Boniface Cathedral.
The pine coffin was kept in the Riel family home and filled with papers and photographs about his life. Later the family gave it to the St. Boniface Historical Society and it was on display in the basement of the St. Boniface Cathedral. When the cathedral burned in 1968 the coffin was charred but saved intact which is why visitors to the St. Boniface museum are able to still see it today.