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Keeper of the Bell of Batoche hid artifact in the oven

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The man who's kept the Bell of Batoche under wraps for the past 22 years has finally opened up.

Speaking under the condition of anonymity in an exclusive interview with La Libert©, the keeper of the bell provided a few details and some answers to the mysterious story of the bell and its whereabouts.

Last week, Union Nationale M©tisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba (UNMSJM) revealed it worked out a deal to deliver the M©tis artifact back to the bishop of the Diocese of Prince Albert for a special parish mass at the Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue Church in Batoche, Sask., July 20.

The history of the bell is a long and complicated one. Installed in the steeple of the church in 1884, the bell was removed and taken as a trophy of war by Canadian troops following the final battle of the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. After decades of being unaccounted for, the bell resurfaced in a fire station in Millbrook, Ont., in 1930, only to sustain serious damage in a fire a year later.

The Royal Canadian Legion in Millbrook took over ownership of the bell after the fire and it remained in a display case until 1991, the year it vanished from the public eye.

Now, the man who claims responsibility for the bell getting back to its place of origin sheds some light on how the bell ended up in, of all places, his oven.

That's where he hid the 12-kilogram bell when he retrieved it, worried he would be found out.

"When I managed to track it down, I talked about it with other people, especially when I was drinking, but never did anything," the man told La Libert©. "But one night, I decided to give it a shot. When I was there (Millbrook) I almost turned back, because I didn't know what to do with (the bell).

"When I brought it back (to Manitoba) I didn't know what to do with it, so I put it in the oven for the first week."

That wasn't a viable hiding place for long, the man said, as his son would ask strangers if they wanted to come by the house and see the bell. His wife asked him to move it to a new location, just outside of Winnipeg.

At one point, the burden of holding the bell became so much he considered just "throwing it into the lake." A cooler head prevailed, though, and the man hung onto the artifact.

How the bell ended up in the hands of the UNMSJM was a stroke of fate, the man told La Libert©.

"Once upon a time, I was set to give it to the M©tis National Council, but all they were doing was squabbling between themselves, so I decided not to give it to them," the man said.

He later met Paul Desrosiers, an official with the UNMSJM, and instantly felt a connection with the organization. "After the research, I decided to give it to them because it was a non-political organization," he said.

The conversation for the bell between the man and the UNMSJM was facilitated by Bernard Bocquel, who convinced the UNMSJM to pursue getting the bell back into the public scope.

As for the possible payment received for the bell -- an issue that was vehemently denied by UNMSJM elder Guy Savoie: "not one red cent," he told reporters last week -- the man made similar assurances.

No money was exchanged for the bell, he said, as he did not want to be looked upon as a thief in the M©tis community.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 A9

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