Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Métis leader not clapping about bell

'Thief' is trying to profit from it

  • Print
MMF president David Chartrand says he spent 15 years unsuccessfully negotiating to regain the Bell of Batoche.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

MMF president David Chartrand says he spent 15 years unsuccessfully negotiating to regain the Bell of Batoche.

Years of mistrust surrounding the Bell of Batoche have left the mysterious piece of Canadian history tarnished, says the head of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

MMF president David Chartrand was less than impressed with the news the famous silver bell is about to be unveiled later this summer. It was stolen from the Métis settlement of Batoche, Sask., by Canadian troops following the final battle of the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 and lifted once again from a Royal Canadian Legion hall in Millbrook, Ont., in 1991, only to be out of sight for the next 22 years.

Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba (UNMSJM) has scheduled a Friday press conference to reveal details of the bell. Details of the announcement remain scarce, but it's believed the organization has assumed informal custody of the artifact and it will be a part of a parish mass next month at Saint Antoine-de-Padoue, the Catholic church in Batoche from which it was stolen in 1885.

"We've got an announcement prepared as to the bell, what's going to happen to it and where it's going to go," said UNMSJM elder Guy Savoie, who added the group has been negotiating with the bell's keeper for a long time. "He's disposed to return the bell, and this is what the announcement is."

It stands to be an important moment for the Métis community: a piece of history taken at an important time in Canada's past, now returned to its place of origin. But for Chartrand, the bell represents little, due to his attempt to secure it after it mysteriously disappeared from the Millbrook legion.

'The people who have had it all this time are a bunch of thieves'

-- MMF president David Chartrand, who isn't celebrating the unveiling of the Bell of Batoche

"The people who have had it all this time are a bunch of thieves," Chartrand said, adding he knows who has held the bell for the last 22 years but cannot identify the person for fear of legal repercussions.

"It should have been handed over as soon as they had it. Any historic connection to the bell... they've robbed us of that, they've tarnished that. To me, the bell has really lost its lustre."

Chartrand said he was in talks with the bell's keeper for the last 15 years, trying to settle on a deal that would be fair for all parties involved. "They had no excuse not to part with it," he said, noting the legion, RCMP and representatives of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments were involved in the various stages of negotiations."

At one point, Chartrand reached an agreement for $17,000 with the bell's keeper. Whenever a deal was close, more money was demanded, he said.

"At one time, it was a true Robin Hood story: stolen from us, stolen back for the people," he said. "Years later, it's nothing but an attempt of someone trying to make a few bucks for being a thief. From my perspective, whoever has the bell... they can keep it."

Chartrand, who floated the idea that a duplicate bell could have been forged during the last two decades, wasn't sure how the UNMSJM brokered a deal to secure it.

While Chartrand may not feel a connection to the bell, there are some who do. Darren Prefontaine, an author and researcher with the Saskatoon-based Gabriel Dumont Institute, the education arm of the Métis nation in Saskatchewan, calls the return of the bell "a significant moment" for a community that was generally ostracized by the rest of the country.

"It became such a symbol of loss," he said. "It was not only taken from them, but the years following the battle were extremely difficult. (The 1885 battle) really hardened some negative positions in Anglo-Canada regarding the Métis community and First Nations people in general. Having the bell back won't erase what happened, but it will help move things forward."

Roland Bohr, an associate professor in the history department at the University of Winnipeg, suggests the return of the Bell of Batoche could be another bridge between Canada and the Métis community.

"We're all Canadians at this point, right? This is a part of Métis history, but it's also a part of Canadian history, too," he said.

"Events like this could be the start of more co-operative relations in the future."

 

-- with files from The Canadian Press

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Do you think the Bell of Batoche is a significant icon of Manitoba history? If not, what is? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 A4

History

Updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:29 AM CDT: replaces photos, adds questions for discussion

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart: NDP Self-Destruction

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / Jan 10  2011 ‚Äì WEB STDUP ‚Äì Frosty morning at -15 degrees C , in pic frost covers the the Nellie McClung statue  on the MB Legislature grounds at 7am
  • A young goose gobbles up grass at Fort Whyte Alive Monday morning- Young goslings are starting to show the markings of a adult geese-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 20– June 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Has the throne speech renewed your confidence in the provincial government?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google