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Marking the legacy of Cuthbert Grant

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A North End resident is hoping to give one of Manitoba’s revered Métis leaders a proper resting place.

Sandra Horyski has been quietly, and quickly, fundraising for the $1,500 needed to place a black granite memorial marker for Cuthbert Grant in the cemetery of the St. François Xavier Roman Catholic Parish, located on Highway 26 just outside of Winnipeg.

"We’ll probably never know where his body is and we can’t start digging up a town," said Horyski, herself a Grant descendant.

"It just sort of seems disheartening. There doesn’t seem to be that many records, or a certainty (where he is buried). You go to different sources and they quote different things. We want something stable.

"We don’t even have somewhere where we can place a flower."

Grant is seen as one of the founding fathers of SFX, originally named Grantown in his honour. He was born to a Scottish father and Métis mother in 1793 and, after a career with both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, served as a sheriff and magistrate of Assiniboia before his death on July 15, 1854.

Though there is no record of where he is buried, there is plenty of myth — including being buried somewhere underneath Highway 26, a serene stretch of road that snakes through SFX alongside the Assiniboine River. Another assumes he was buried under the second parish building, built in 1832 and which was demolished in 1900. However, there is no record of where that church might have been located.

Horyski has so far raised $1,000 for the headstone, mainly from Grant descendants from across Canada and the world, receiving donations from as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia, and London, England.

The marker will cost around $1,500, and will feature a laser-etched portrait of his likeness and inscription about his life.

It will be placed in the cemetery next to the headstones of his daughter, Maria, and her husband, Pascal Breland.

For another $600, Horyski can have a French inscription placed on the back side of the marker.

"We would like to have it because he did speak French," she said, adding she wanted to place the marker without asking for government money.

"We want to make sure everybody will be happy."

The parish, and no doubt the community, is well-versed in the history of Grant and the foundation he built for SFX (pop. 1,240), said Odile Thibert, who has been documenting the church’s history for eight years.

Grant settled in SFX in 1821 after Hudson’s Bay Co. Governor George Simpson gave him 23,000 acres of land along the Assiniboine 30 kilometres west of The Forks. Grant divided the land into river lots for each family that followed him north after migrating from the United States shortly after the creation of the Canada-U.S. border in the early 1800s.

Grant, originally baptized as a Protestant, converted to Catholicism when he married his third wife, Marie McGillis, in 1823. Grant established a mission in the town that same year with Bishop Provencher, holding the first services from his own home.

The first church was built in 1828, a small 30-foot by 20-foot room the congregation had outgrown by 1832. The second church, built that same year and where some figure Grant was buried beneath, lasted nearly 70 years before being demolished and replaced in 1900.That third building still stands today.

"We have no idea where those two churches were built before — they’re gone. We don’t even know where they were built," Thibert said.

It didn’t take much for Horyski to convince the parish to have the marker placed in its cemetery, which include countless unmarked graves.

"We feel Cuthbert Grant is very much part of the church," Thibert said.

"It’s a very high honour, there’s no other way to say it. I’m glad that it is finally being done."

Horyski hopes to unveil the marker before the first snowfall. She’s already planning for a celebration at the cemetery for next July to mark the 160th year of Grant’s death, and is expecting descendants from across the country, along with local politicians, to come to mark the occasion.

"We’re going to gear for something quite huge," she said.

"Once we have the marker, every year on July 15 we want to do a little ceremony there," she said.

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Twitter: @timesWPG

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