After 22 years in hiding, the Bell of Batoche is finally heading back home.
Officials with Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba (UNMSJM) announced today they have struck a deal to retrieve the famous bell and will present it to its rightful owner — the Bishop of the Diocese of Prince Albert — at a parish mass in Batoche, Sask. July 20.
The mass is a part of the Back to Batoche Days, a national cultural celebration of the Métis people. The four-day celebration is scheduled for July 18-21 and typically attracts 5,000 people. Officials with the event anticipate upwards of 20,000 this year.
The bell was not present at the press conference.
Adding to the mystery of the last 22 years, UNMSJM wouldn’t reveal who currently has the bell, the process of how they acquired it or where exactly it was being stored. He did say the bell was being kept outside of Winnipeg.
The UNMSJM did issue this statement from the "keeper of the bell" in a press release:
"The time has come to bring hope to our Métis people, I want the Métis people to touch and ring this bell and let its sound reverberate into their strong spirit, to give them strength and courage to keep on fighting in what they believe in."
UNMSJM representative Guy Savoie confirmed his organization has been selected by the Catholic church as the guardians of the piece of Canadian history. He said the 12-kilogram bell, which has been repaired to fix a 15-20 centimetre crack, will be returned to UNMSJM following the mass with the intention of using it as an educational tool in schools.
Savoie also shot down a rumour the UNMSJM paid $40,000 for the rights to the bell — "not one red cent," he stated — and said the "keeper" is handing over the bell out of good faith.
The bell was last officially in Métis hands in 1885, the year Canadian troops defeated the Métis in the final battle of the Northwest Rebellion. Claiming "trophies of war" as they departed Batoche, troops took the bell from the Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue Church and brought it back east.
The bell didn't resurface publicly again until 1930, finding a home in a fire station in Millbrook, Ont. The hall burned to the ground the following year and it wound up sitting in a display case in a Royal Canadian Legion in Millbrook until 1991, when the bell mysteriously disappeared.