The area known as St. Vital has a long history, longer than most would expect. It was originally a parish, and as population grew the area retained the name. But where did the name come from?
The name was applied in 1860 by Archbishop Tache, in honour of his colleague, Father Vital-Justin Grandin. (Bishop Grandin Boulevard is also named for him). We’ll take a brief look at Grandin’s story in a minute but there is a small mystery here. I have consulted several lists of saints’ names, but none of them mention a "Vital": Grandin was declared venerable after the usual beatification process, but not until 1966. So it isn’t certain why Tache called it "Saint" Vital.
Grandin was born Feb. 8, 1829, in St.-Pierre-la-Cour, France. He wished to become a missionary in spite of poor health, and after several other orders turned him down, he entered the Oblates as a novice in 1851. He was ordained in 1854 by the founder of the order, Charles-Joseph-Eugene Mazenod. In the same year Mazenod decided to send him to North America.
Grandin arrived in St. Boniface that year and was posted to Fort Chipewyan in Alberta in 1855. In 1859 he was named coadjutor bishop of St. Boniface by Tache.
His career in North America was extensive and varied. He became deeply embroiled in the politics of religion— once treaties with the natives were signed and they were placed on reserves, Protestant missionaries had little hesitation in their own proselytizing efforts. Grandin also felt that government departments were favouring Protestants. He managed to get Prime Minister MacDonald’s assurance that the natives would be allowed freedom of choice in their religion.
Grandin had a great deal of sympathy for the Métis and did his best to ensure that they were treated properly, quite apart from his religious concerns. (He didn’t care at all for Louis Riel). He tried to protect them from alienating their land to unscrupulous hustlers, and encouraged them to settle in Father Lacombe’s colony at St-Paul-des-Metis in Alberta.
In later life his health deteriorated very badly to the point where he asked to be allowed to retire. He was refused and continued in his duties until his death in June of 1902.