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How St. Vital got its name

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One of the most asked questions during the recent appearance of the Bell of Batoche at the St. Vital Museum was: what is the connection between the bell and St. Vital?
Well the answer was easy: the bell was commissioned by Bishop Grandin, then the Bishop of St. Albert, Alta.

Way back in 1860, members of the Métisse community, who’d settled on both sides of the Red River, went to Bishop Tache asking permission to name their parish after his patron saint: St. Alexander.

Tache is said to have suggested the community be named after the patron saint of young priest who did so much work in the Métisse community.  The priest was Justin Grandin whose patron saint was St. Vital hence the parish — which stretched from what is now Brady Road on the west to Lagimodiere Boulevard on the east — became known as St. Vital East and St. Vital West.

In 1883, the area became the Rural Municipality of St. Boniface with Victor Mager as the first reeve.

Mager had been appointed the first St. Boniface returning officer in 1870, a position he also held for the 1871 federal election. He became a justice of the peace in 1878, a position he held until 1920. Mager served as reeve, alderman or school trustee in St. Vital for over 30 years.

In 1903, to end confusion with the Town of St. Boniface, the Rural Municipality of St. Vital was formed but nine years later, its size shrank with the formation of the RM of Fort Garry which took over the land on the west side of the Red River, including St. Norbert West. Meanwhile, on the east side of the river, St. Vital lost all land north of Carriere Avenue and most of the land on the east side of the Seine River. To compensate for some of the loss, St. Vital assumed control of St. Norbert East.

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Did you know that the Riel family was always involved in the St. Vital community? While most people know Louis Riel as the father of Manitoba but few realize that his father, Louis Riel Sr., helped overturn the fur trade monopoly of the Hudson Bay Company and was responsible for having the first bilingual judge appointed in the area.

Meanwhile, the forgotten Riel, Joseph, was a St. Vital reeve, or councillor, for 32 years. He was also the man who built Riel House, which served as a post office until 1969.

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The St. Vital Historical Society will hold its annual general meeting at 2 p.m., Nov. 9 in the vestibule of 604 St. Mary’s Rd., the home of McElhoes and Duffy Insurance Brokers.

The St. Vital Museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Special tours can be arranged by e-mailing info@svhs.ca.

Bob Holliday is a community correspondent for St. Vital. Email him at docholliday90@me.com.

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