Bell of Batoche

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The church and rectory of Saint Antoine de Padoue in Batoche (built in 1883-84)

The Bell of Batoche is a 20-pound silver plated church bell believed to have been seized in 1885 as spoils of war from the Métis community of Batoche (now in Saskatchewan) by soldiers from Ontario, following their victory in the Battle of Batoche over the North-West Rebellion.[1][2] The bell was kept in Millbrook, Ontario until 1991, when it was stolen from the Royal Canadian Legion hall. It resurfaced in 2013 in Métis hands. However, evidence suggesting the bell's actual origin was from Frog Lake, Alberta emerged soon after.[3]

Questions about its authenticity as the Bell of Batoche ensued until April 2014 when Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum director acknowledged that there was enough evidence to conclude that the "Bell of Batoche" which is in the possession of the museum was actually the Bell of Frog Lake taken from the Frog Lake Mission in 1885.[4]

Installation in Batoche[edit]

The bell was purchased in 1884 for the parish church of Saint Antoine de Padoue in Batoche at the request of Father Julien Moulin. As was customary, the bell was "baptized" by Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin of the Diocese of St. Albert on 2 September 1884 with the name "Marie-Antoinette", and was given the inscription "Vital-Justin Grandin, évêque de St. Albert" (French: "Vital-Justin Grandin, Bishop of St. Albert"). A steeple was added to the church after 1885.[5]

Seizure[edit]

During the North-West Rebellion, the community of Batoche served as the ad hoc capital of the Louis Riel's Provisional Government of Saskatchewan. Following a succession of losses to the Métis and their aboriginal allies at Duck Lake, Fort Pitt, Fish Creek, and Cut Knife, the Canadian militia serving under British officer Middleton finally succeeded in defeating the Métis resistance at Batoche on May 12, 1885. Louis Riel later turned himself in to the North West Field Force on May 15, 1885.

The bell of Batoche was taken as a war trophy by two soldiers and back to Ontario. Beginning in 1930, it hung for several decades in the fire hall of Millbrook, Ontario, the home of several of the soldiers who had taken it. The building was destroyed by fire, and the bell was cracked in the blaze.[6] By 1991, it was kept in the hall of Millbrook branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Political controversy[edit]

The Métis of Saskatchewan had attempted a number of times since 1885 to recover the bell. In 1990, they sent another request for its return.

A CBC report covering the reaction of the Millbrook legion members quoted one member as saying, "We got it. You tried to wreck the country and we stopped you... and we've got the bell. It's ours."[7]

In October 1991, Yvon Dumont, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, visited the Legion hall where the bell was kept, accompanied by several other Manitoba Métis. They were photographed standing in front of the bell.

Theft[edit]

A week later, the bell was stolen in the night. Taken along with the bell were several medals belonging to Sergeant Ed McCorry, a soldier from Millbrook who had been present at the Battle of Batoche.[8] A group of Metis men was responsible for the theft, describing it as a "gentleman's dare".[9]

The whereabouts of the bell from that time forward are not publicly known. Yvon Dumont disclaimed any knowledge of the identity of the burglars, though he later said that "if it's a Métis person that has it, I would consider that person a hero, not a criminal." [10]

Negotiations were begun to secure the official transfer of ownership of the bell to the Métis Nation, and Dumont offered to pay for the damage caused by the break-in. However, the Ontario legion hall initially refused to negotiate until the McCorry medals were returned.[8]

In 2000, Saskatchewan Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jack Hillson issued a statement promising no charges would be laid if the bell was returned. It was hoped this would lead to the bell's return in time for Saskatchewan's millennium celebrations, but it did not appear.[10]

In August 2005, Gabriel Dufault, leader of the Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph, stated, "I've heard it's in Winnipeg. I've heard it's in a garage in the North End... I have a pretty good idea who the people that know more... are." [10]

In a Globe and Mail story from 8 October 2005, Gary Floyd Guiboche, a Manitoba Métis who visited the bell with Dumont in 1991, confessed to stealing the bell. He refused to identify his partner in the theft, who he said "has kept the bell hidden too long for no reason." He said his partner had taken the McCorry medals, in addition to the bell, as "payback".[8][11]

In 2009, the bell was rumored to be in Saskatchewan, in Métis hands, but never materialized.

Reappearance[edit]

On June 20, 2013, it was announced that the bell would be given to the bishop of the diocese of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan on July 20, 2013. Photos of the bell were also released, including one of its crack being repaired.[12] The bell was publicly displayed on July 20, during the Back to Batoche Days festival. Billyjo Delaronde, one of the Metis men who took the bell from Millbrook in 1991, was present during the unveiling and described his involvement. The bell is now the property of the Union Nationale Metisse St-Joseph du Manitoba, a Metis organization founded in 1887. The bell will not be reinstalled in the Batoche church steeple, but will initially be displayed at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum in Winnipeg.[9]

Questioned authenticity[edit]

An Ontario playwright raised doubts that the bell kept in Millbrook ever was the bell from Batoche. Robert Winslow, whose ancestor was the captain of the Millbrook soldiers, claims to have evidence that the bell had actually been taken from a church in Frog Lake, Alberta following the Frog Lake Massacre.[13][14]

Evidence that appears to corroborate the bell's Frog Lake origin was discovered by the CBC in 2014. The Frog Lake bell was misidentified as being from Batoche in a centennial yearbook published by a local historical society.[15] A series of handwritten certificates and notes indicate that the original Batoche bell was donated in 1937 to another Catholic mission in St. Laurent de Grandin, about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from Batoche. That church burned down in 1990, destroying the bell except its clapper and a few pieces of copper. The church was rebuilt, and the bell's fragments are kept in the new church's shrine in a locked glass case.[3]

The director of Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum was convinced that the bell in their possession is from Frog Lake. He believe its fate is something that will have to be determined by the Frog Lake area's Roman Catholic diocese.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Where is the bell of Batoche?". CBC News. 1991-10-24. Archived from the original on 11 August 2006. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  2. ^ "History of the Bell of Batoche". Métis Resource Centre. Archived from the original on 2006-05-19. Retrieved 2006-09-17. 
  3. ^ a b "What really happened to the Bell of Batoche". CBC News. 2014-04-10. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  4. ^ "Bell of Batoche really the Bell of Frog Lake". Alexandra Paul (Winnipeg Free Press). 2014-04-21. Retrieved 2014-04-21. 
  5. ^ Panet, Charles Eugène (1886). Report upon the suppression of the rebellion in the North-West Territories and matters in connection therewith, in 1885: Presented to Parliament. Ottawa: Department of Militia and Defence. pp. 27–35. 
  6. ^ "Bell of Batoche returning to the Métis of Manitoba". Toronto Star. 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  7. ^ "War trophy stays put". CBC News. 1990-06-16. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  8. ^ a b c "Ontario Legion happy Métis have Bell of Batoche but wants medals back". Toronto Star. 2013-08-05. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  9. ^ a b "Stolen Metis bell of Batoche returned to Saskatchewan". CBC News. Canadian Press. 2013-07-20. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  10. ^ a b c "Métis want Bell of Batoche to sound again". CBC News. 2005-08-01. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  11. ^ Harding, Katherine; Walton, Dawn (2005-10-12). "Police take new look at Bell of Batoche case". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  12. ^ "Long-missing bell of Batoche to be returned". CBC News. 2013-06-21. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  13. ^ Charlton, Jonathan (2013-07-18). "Playwright says Bell of Batoche bogus". The StarPhoenix (Postmedia Network). Retrieved 2013-07-18. 
  14. ^ Wedley, Brendan (2013-06-20). "Bell of Batoche church bell, stolen from the Royal Canadian Legion in Millbrook in 1991, to be unveiled in Batoche, Sask. next month — but is it the Riel thing?". Peterborough Examiner (Sun Media). Retrieved 2013-07-18. 
  15. ^ "Bell of Batoche may not be from Batoche, CBC documentary reveals". CBC News. 2014-04-10. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  16. ^ Paul, Alexandra (2014-04-14). "Bell of Batoche really the Bell of Frog Lake". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2014-04-14. 

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