Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2015 (515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Driving along Highway 26 in the RM of St. Francois Xavier with farms, homes and businesses situated on either side, it’s hard to relate the present-day surroundings to the area’s intriguing past.
However, if you look more closely, you can spot a few signs of SFX’s rich history. These include the Grey Nuns’ convent (1033 Hwy. 26), St. Francois Xavier Roman Catholic Church (1053 Hwy. 26), the Breland log house in Medicine Rock Heritage Park, and a marker commemorating Métis leader and village founder Cuthbert Grant in front of the municipal office (1060 Hwy. 26).
A sheriff and magistrate, Grant moved from the Red River Colony into the Assiniboia area under orders from Hudson’s Bay Company governor Sir George Simpson, and founded a community called Grantown in 1824. While his actual burial site is unknown, his descendant Sandra Horyski led a project to have a memorial marker erected in his name in the St. Francois Xavier Roman Catholic Church’s cemetery in 2013.
Grant’s daughter Maria married fur trader Pascal Breland and it is their home that’s preserved in a park next to Highway 26. Their son Patrice was MLA for SFX from 1879 to 1883 and the municipality’s reeve in 1891 and ‘92. The municipality was incorporated in 1880.
The municipality’s second reeve was Joseph-Azarie Senecal who farmed and ran a general store. He later moved to St. Boniface where he served as mayor. He was also responsible for designing and constructing the Roman Catholic Church in Ste. Anne, Man., St. Boniface Normal School (210 rue Masson) and convents in St. Jean Baptiste and St-Pierre-Jolys, Man.
Religion and education formed community
The Parish of St. Francois Xavier, established as a mission in 1823 by Bishop Provencher, is the second oldest Roman Catholic parish between Lake Superior and the Pacific Ocean. The bishop also requested the Grey Nuns of Montreal to send members to St. Francois Xavier to teach local children. Three sisters arrived in 1850 and the convent, which first also served as a school, was used until 1968.
A number of one-room schools also served the French, English and Mennonite families in the area. Allarie School was named after a local ferry operator, one of five ferries that once ran across the Assiniboine River lying within the municipality.
Fr. Georges Antoine Belcourt established a mission on the north side of the Assiniboine River near Highway 26 and PR 248 and opened the Baie St. Paul East School. There was also a Belcourt School in the Baie St. Paul area for Protestant students. These and other small schools closed in the early 1960s as part of a province-wide drive to consolidate schools and have rural students attend schools located in larger communities.
SFX Historical Society member and lifelong resident Rudy Friesen displayed a bronze plaque containing the names of local schools that won annual athletic competitions held in the 1930s. This and other historic artifacts and archived items are kept on the upper level of the municipal public works building, with records of the items filed in the society’s one-room office within the municipal office.
The area’s history is of vital importance to Friesen and Leslie Tsai, another historical society member. Friesen was one of the society’s founding members who worked on a history book in 1980 marking the municipality’s centennial. Tsai said she joined the society in 1997.
Historical items can still be discovered
Tsai and Friesen believe that the past should be relevant to current residents and wish more people shared their passion. They were among those participating in a search held in the summer of 2014 through wooded land along the Assiniboine River, looking for unmarked graves. Friesen told Tsai about recently visiting the remains of a log cabin in the Belcourt area.
Tsai and other SFX Historical Society members have attended Association of Manitoba Museums workshops to learn how to properly catalogue and preserve artifacts. They put this knowledge into practice when they stored an antique quilt donated by Laurette Allard.
"We have a quilt over 100 years old that was stored folded, and that was very inappropriate," Tsai said.
The quilt was carefully unfolded, rolled inside protective layers and hung on a dowel.
"That is kind of our goal right now — to preserve fragile items," Tsai said.
In other hands-on work, Friesen and other volunteers are working to preserve Breland’s log house. They tried whitewashing the poplar logs that replaced the original logs, and are now considering applying for a grant to help pay for treatment to extend the logs’ life. Tsai said the Breland House still has its original roof frame and wall joists.
Friesen enjoys making wooden boxes to store more delicate historic items such as a ledger-type file containing handwritten letters dating back to 1880.
History on display in municipal office
The Historical Society exhibits some of its collection in three glass display cases in the municipal office. In recognition of Remembrance Day, one case contains an accordion that a local soldier purchased with cases of cigarettes while serving overseas in the Second World War.
The society organizes the annual Remembrance Day service, and Friesen said over 200 people attended this year.
Tsai and Friesen invite local residents to join the society and help celebrate SFX’s history.
For more information on the SFX Historical Society, contact Friesen at 204-864-2285.