Tag Archives: Louis Riel

Louis Riel’s Three Coffins

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.  louis riel st. boniface musuemAfter 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?”

louis riel's coffinTurns 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. 
riel's coffinThe 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. 

louis riel at grey nun's museum

Louis Riel statue on the grounds of the St. Boniface Museum

Other posts……….

A Graphic Louis Riel

Manitoba is Metis

A Controversial Statue

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A Century is Only a Spoke

louis riel quoteDeeds are not accomplished in a few days, or in a few hours, a century is only a spoke in the wheel of everlasting time.  – Louis Riel

This quote in the shape of a wheel is displayed as a touchstone at the heart of a groundbreaking exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario called Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood. Louis_Riel public domainLouis Riel who spoke the words that make up the wheel design was a Metis leader who fought to preserve Metis culture and land rights. He was accused of high treason by Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald, convicted and hung. 

Entrance to the Every. Now. Then. exhibit -Art Gallery of Ontario

This year Canada celebrates its 150th birthday.  The Art Gallery of Ontario wanted to give voice to groups like the Metis in Canada who might feel they have little to celebrate.  The exhibit Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood gives Metis, First Nations, black, Asian, transgender and other marginalized Canadians a place to tell their story.  

Métis_and_Red_River_carts public domain

Metis men with a Red River Cart, a mode of transportation for the Canadian prairies invented by the Metis. Could this be the kind of wheel Louis Riel was envisioning when he talked about the spokes in the wheel of time?

I spent an enthralling afternoon in Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood and will be doing blog posts about what I saw and learned in the coming weeks. One hopes the exhibit and others like it will help to speed up Riel’s one wheel spoke forward a century pace towards greater inclusion and equality for all Canadians. 

Other posts………

A Controversial Statue

Treaty One Land

Manitoba is Metis

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Filed under Art, History, Toronto

Louis Riel- Are Two Statues Better Than One?

Destination Winnipeg

louis rielLouis Riel’s important role in the history of our city and province is recognized in a new music video by Winnipeg’s own Royal Canoe featuring Exodus of the Year- my favorite song by the band.exodus of the year video royal canoeThe video shows Riel’s statue on Broadway Avenue, his statue in St. Boniface and his grave.

LRpb.tifRiel’s contributions have been recognized in many ways- in an opera, in a terrific graphic novel by Chester Brown, in the name of a Winnipeg school division, and in the February provincial holiday named after him. Two statues of Louis Riel in Winnipeg- one in St. Boniface and one on the Manitoba Legislature grounds reflect the two sides of the man who is widely known as the Father of Manitoba but was hanged as a traitor. louis riel st. boniface statueI’ve blogged about one of the Riel statues already and thought it was time to write about the other. So I stopped at…

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A Graphic Louis Riel

On February 24th when we celebrated Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, I realized I had done any number of blog posts that involved Louis Riel, the founder of Manitoba.  When I visited the Grey Nuns’ Convent I found out Louis Riel was a student at a school run by the nuns and one of the sisters traveled to Montreal with him so he could attend college there. I have since learned as well that Louis Riel’s sister Sara joined the order of Grey Nuns in the 1860s and remained a serving sister till her death of tuberculosis in 1883.

When I wrote a post about James Ashdown who built the warehouse which houses my condo in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, I noted that Louis Riel had imprisoned Mr. Ashdown for 59 days because he voiced resistance to Louis’ take over of the Red River Settlement. 

I did a post about Joseph Royal and the park named after him at the foot of the Provencher Bridge.  I wrote about how Joseph had argued for Louis Riel’s amnesty and had defended two of Louis’ compatriots who were accused of the murder of Thomas Scott. 

I explored the life of A. G. Bannatyne in a post since I live on Bannatyne Avenue. Mr. Bannatyne acted as a mediator between Louis Riel’s provisional government and the Canadian government. I noted that Louis Riel even wrote a poem about Annie Bannatyne, A.G’s wife. 

In my post about the Provencher Bridge I said that the pedestrian walkway on the structure was called Esplanade Riel in honor of Louis Riel. 

I realized I had written quite a bit about Louis Riel, but how much did I actually know about him? My last Canadian history course was in high school and I had never read a book about Louis Riel. I decided it was time to remedy that. I didn’t have time however to read some thick tome about the founder of my province so I decided to get Chester Brown’s Louis Riel- A Comic Strip Biography from the library. 

Although I was a little disappointed that the book didn’t deal with Louis’ childhood it did provide a good overview of his life from the time just before the Riel Rebellion/ Resistance till Louis’ execution. The book was easy to read and I finished it in a day. I learned that Louis Riel was elected to Canada’s Parliament three times while he was a wanted criminal and in exile in the United States. 

I learned quite a bit more about the role Canadian prime minister Sir John A McDonald had in the resistance movements Louis was involved in both in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  Brown depicts Sir John A as mean-spirited, self -serving and willing to sacrifice anything to get his railway built across Canada. 

I learned quite a bit more about the relationship between Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Dumont was more of a pragmatist than Riel and more interested in violent resistance. 

I also learned what a deeply religious person Louis was and how that influenced his decisions. 

Chester Brown’s graphic comic gave a good overview of Louis’ life. Since Riel plays such a prominent role in the history of the province of Manitoba and in the history of Winnipeg it is good for me to know more about him.

What next? I am currently reading Louis Riel-Firebrand by Sharon Stewart to learn more about Riel’s childhood and personality. 

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A Controversial Statue

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Could I Have Been A Grey Nun?

grey nunThe Grey Nuns are a Canadian order of  Catholic sisters founded in 1738 in Montreal. Four women from this order came to Manitoba in 1844 to provide educational and medical services to the fledgling Red River Settlement, which would later become the city of Winnipeg. Could I have been one of them? I don’t think so. They were brave and courageous women, compassionate and daring, overcoming extreme hardship to carry out their divine mission of caring for those in need.
On Sunday I was out for a walk and went by the St. Boniface Museum. I noticed it was open and decided to go in and pay a visit. St. Boniface is a French suburb of Winnipeg.

The museum which tells the story of the Grey Nuns is located in their former convent, built in 1847. It is the oldest building in the city of Winnipeg. 

489px-youvilleYou might wonder why they were called Grey Nuns when their habits are clearly brown and black. Apparently originally the sisters did wear grey habits but their name comes from another association. The order was founded by this woman Marguerite d’Youville. She was a young widow. Her deceased husband, an abusive liar, who left his wife and two young children in debt when he died, had sold bootleg liquor for a living. Because of this, Marguerite and the three other women who helped start the order were called “les grises” – a phrase meaning both “the grey women” and “the drunken women”. The first description came from the color of their cloth habits, but the second, because Marguerite d’ Youville, the order’s founder, had been married to a man who sold illegal alcohol. 

 Sisters Valade, Lagrave, Coutlee and Lafrance were the four nuns who volunteered to come to Manitoba  from Montreal.  They left on April 24 in a canoe and their trip was no picnic. In their journals they talk about walking through endless bush as they portaged from one body of water to another. They describe the snakes in their camps, which scared them so much they could hardly sleep. They had to climb steep hills and it rained almost everyday. Sister Emily Lafrance twisted her foot and the voyageurs who were paddling the canoes wanted to leave her behind. She soldiered on and walked with a limp the rest of her life. 

statue grey nun's chapelSister Emily was very artistic. I took a photo of this paper mache’ Virgin Mary she made for the Grey Nuns’ first chapel. She also painted frescoes on the chapel ceiling and spun and wove beautiful altar cloths. 

The nuns traveled around to Indian and Metis settlements providing medical care and teaching the children. Metis are a cultural group in Manitoba. They are the children of First Nations women and French voyageur men. 

This statue of Louis Riel, Manitoba’s most famous Metis stands outside the Grey Nun’s convent. Many people say he was the founder of our province. Louis was one of the Grey Nuns’ students. When Sister Valade made a trip back to the order’s convent in Montreal she took Louis along and enrolled him in a college where he studied for seven years.

Sister Teresa McDonnell was a Grey Nun who came to Manitoba in 1855 and won the hearts of the Metis, because her herbal remedies cured many of their illnesses. She traveled anywhere, in any kind of weather if someone needed her help. She was affectionately called ‘Sister Doctor’. In 1859 she was to go back east to the central convent but the Metis actually kidnapped her and kept her in Manitoba.  An article on the Manitoba Historical Society website says Sister Teresa was the founder of Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, and St. Mary’s Academy, a well-known girls’ school. 

I have several personal connections with the St. Boniface Hospital. I lived on the hospital campus for a year when I was six years old, because my father was a medical resident there. There was a special apartment building near the hospital for residents and their families. My sister Kaaren was the chief nursing officer at the St. Boniface Hospital from 1997-2007.  Now I visit the hospital regularly because it is where my mother has received dialysis three mornings a week for the last four years. 

I asked the attendant at the museum if the Grey Nuns’ order was still active. She said there are a few Grey Nuns left but the youngest is 65.  The government has taken over most of the hospitals and care homes that were founded by the Grey Nuns. There is a plan underway to bring in young nuns from an African order to carry on the Grey Nuns’ legacy. Apparently there just aren’t enough North American women willing to dedicate themselves to a nun’s life anymore. 

Could I have been a Grey Nun? I’m not sure I could have lived the isolated, selfless life they did, ignoring physical discomfort to bring hope, literacy and healing to so many people. 

I am glad however that I visited the St. Boniface Museum and learned all about the Grey Nuns and the important contribution they made to Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. 

Other posts about St. Boniface……

A Controversial Statue

Entre chien et loup

The Promenade

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