St. Norbert, Winnipeg
St. Norbert is a bilingual (French and English) neighbourhood in the southernmost part of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. While outside the Perimeter Highway, (the beltway that surrounds most of Winnipeg), it is still part of the city. The population is just over 5,000. Each summer, the community is home to the St. Norbert Farmers' Market, drawing large crowds from Winnipeg and the surrounding area. Other attractions include the St. Norbert Provincial Heritage Park, and the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre. St. Norbert is the closest community to the Red River Floodway gates.
St. Norbert is also the name of a much bigger city ward in Winnipeg, which includes much of the Fort Garry South neighbourhood cluster and a small part of St. Vital. It is represented by a member of Winnipeg City Council.
The original inhabitants of what is now St. Norbert were First Nations peoples, including the Assiniboine, the Cree and the Ojibwa, who were drawn to this region because of its hunting and fishing opportunities. The community bordered on two rivers - the Red and LaSalle - and a bison trail ran from the south bank of the La Salle River to bison hunting grounds nearly 50 kilometres away.
St. Norbert’s prime location along major trade and transportation routes proved advantageous. With the arrival of the French, the Scots, and other Europeans, and with the growth of the Métis population, St. Norbert developed into a permanent community. The Pembina Trail (now Pembina Highway) passed through St. Norbert as it routed travellers from Upper Fort Garry (present day downtown Winnipeg, and the primary southern outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company) to St. Paul, Minnesota – the nearest railhead.
The settlement was elevated to the status of parish in 1857 and given the name St. Norbert in honour of the first bishop of St. Boniface, Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher. The first parish priest, Father Jean-Marie Lestanc, was followed by Father Charles Mestre in 1860, then by Father Noël-Joseph Ritchot in 1862.
On October 19, 1869, a public meeting was held at St. Norbert Roman Catholic Church. At that meeting, the Comite national des Métis was formed, with Louis Riel as secretary. The first act of the Committee was an erection of a barrier across the Pembina Trail to keep out unwanted emissaries of the Canadian Government.
Visible from Pembina highway, one of the most recognizable landmarks in St. Norbert is a large three-story building marked by a huge centre dome. Begun in the 1870s, the first building on the site was the home of politician and businessman Monsieur Joseph Lemay. The building eventually came into the possession of the local church, and in 1903, Father Noël-Joseph Ritchot arranged the donation of the building and 80 acres (320,000 m2) of surrounding land to les Soeurs de Misericorde (Sisters of Mercy). The Sisters called the building Asile Ritchot and operated an orphanage there from 1904 to 1948. In 1911, a large expansion was begun. The new brick building was three stories tall, and featured the landmark centre dome. When Asile Ritchot closed its doors in 1948, the building was taken over by the Oblate Fathers, and used as a seminary. In 1970, the X-Kalay foundation (now called the Behavioral Health Foundation) took over the building and currently operates a successful halfway house for the support and rehabilitation of individuals with drug or alcohol issues.
Another architectural landmark in St. Norbert is the former Trappist monastery, now an arts and cultural centre. In 1891, the Abbot of Bellefontaine in France agreed to establish a Trappist monastery on a secluded piece of parish land along the La Salle River, and monks arrived in St. Norbert in 1892. The order was dedicated to a life of prayer and hard work, following the basic tenets of St. Benedict - charity, obedience, and humility. The monks succeeded in building a large and prosperous agricultural operation complete with a sawmill, forge, apiary, cheese house, bakery and greenhouses. Between 30 and 45 monks inhabited the monastery at any given time. By 1975, St. Norbert had become a much more urban area, and the Trappist monks relocated to a more protected and rural location in Holland, Manitoba. In 1983, vandals set fire to the vacant chapel and monastery, reducing the historic buildings to shells. The guesthouse, located some distance away, remained untouched. In 1988, the Province of Manitoba designated the location a provincial historic site. The guesthouse became the home of the St. Norbert Arts Centre  in 1991. In 2002, the provincial government announced the creation of the two-hectare Trappist Monastery Provincial Park, preserving the historic ruins and preventing future commercial development on the site.
Paroisse Catholique Saint-Norbert/St. Norbert Catholic Parish
The first church was built on the current site in 1857, and was made of logs. The newer building that replaced it in 1883 burned down in 1929. The current church was completed in 1937. The beautiful building has twin towers, and houses the body of Father Joseph Noël Ritchot, St. Norbert’s parish priest from 1862-1905. Father Ritchot was a supporter of the Métis people, and of Louis Riel. Richot was a member of a delegation that travelled to Ottawa to meet with representatives of the Canadian government regarding the 1870 transfer of land in the Red River Settlement from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Dominion of Canada. Across from the church is the tiny open-air Chapel of our Lady of Good Help (la Chapelle de Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours). Ritchot and his parishioners built the chapel in 1875, to commemorate the success of the Métis resistance of 1869-70. That dispute, eventually settled through negotiation, resulted in the inclusion of Métis land, language, and school rights in The Manitoba Act of 1870, the basis of the Red River Settlement’s entry into Confederation. In 1989, the chapel was declared a Manitoba provincial heritage site.
St. Norbert is the southern gateway into the city of Winnipeg. Located just south of the Perimeter Highway, the community consists of what is called St. Norbert Village (the original community) and several modern suburbs. The village is geographically bounded by the Red and LaSalle Rivers, and by the Perimeter Highway.
- Manitoba historic buildings - Asile Richot http://wbi.lib.umanitoba.ca/WinnipegBuildings/showBuilding.jsp?id=48
- Manitoba historic buildings - Our Lady of the Prairies monastery http://wbi.lib.umanitoba.ca/WinnipegBuildings/showBuilding.jsp?id=1169
- A day in the Life of a Trappist monk http://www.museevirtuel.ca/Exhibitions/Trappist/english/index.html
- St. Norbert Arts Centre home page http://www.snac.mb.ca
- Philippe R. Mailhot, "Ritchot, Noël-Joseph", Dictionary of Canadian Biography