THIS month, Manitobans mark the 200th anniversary of the Selkirk Treaty, which was signed on July 18, 1817, between Thomas Douglas, fifth Earl of Selkirk, and Chief Peguis, along with four other Indigenous chiefs. Later, Lord Selkirk designated land to establish Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. St. John’s Anglican Cathedral was constructed on the west side of the Red River, near Point Douglas, and St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church was established on a large land grant on the east side across from The Forks.

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THIS month, Manitobans mark the 200th anniversary of the Selkirk Treaty, which was signed on July 18, 1817, between Thomas Douglas, fifth Earl of Selkirk, and Chief Peguis, along with four other Indigenous chiefs. Later, Lord Selkirk designated land to establish Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. St. John’s Anglican Cathedral was constructed on the west side of the Red River, near Point Douglas, and St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church was established on a large land grant on the east side across from The Forks.

Brenda Suderman visited both cathedrals to understand the challenges and concerns of these two faith communities two centuries later.

Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Catholics will commemorate the anniversary with an ecumenical prayer service Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. Boniface Cathedral. For more information, visit peguisselkirk200.ca.

After two centuries in St. Boniface, the shape and mission of the city’s oldest Roman Catholic church is still a work in progress.

Many changes flow from spending nearly $7 million for renovations and improvements to the "new" St. Boniface Roman Catholic Cathedral, built in 1972 within the ruins of the 1908 basilica.

Recent renovations include replacing the original metal roof and repairing walkways in the ruins and cemetery. Crews are constructing four meeting spaces in the cathedral’s basement and building new staff offices on the mezzanine level, freeing up the former adjacent rectory for rental space.

"How can we be a more welcoming community, whether it is to tourists or to worshippers or to people who want to take time to meditate?" asks Rev. Marcel Carrière of the mission of the nearly 200-year-old parish, now more diverse thanks to recent immigration from French-speaking African countries. "How can we be open to others and yet faithful to who we are as a church?"

The presence of Roman Catholics east of the Red River dates back 200 years to July 1817, when Lord Selkirk set aside 13,000 acres for a parish and mission. Protestants received a smaller land grant on the west side of the Red, which led to the establishment of St. John’s Cathedral, the first Anglican parish in Western Canada.

That anniversary will be marked by a 3 p.m. ecumenical prayer service at St. Boniface Cathedral on Sunday.

Hosted by the city’s Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic churches, the 90-minute service includes a smudging ceremony within the stone wall of the ruins, prayers in English, Ojibway, French, Cree and Gaelic, a message by St. Boniface Archbishop Albert LeGatt, and an explanation of the treaty between Chief Peguis and Lord Selkirk by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair.

"We’re recognizing all the good things out of the treaty," LeGatt says. "The more important focus is how do we live that out today and in the future?"

For Catholics, one answer to that question involved opening space occupied for two centuries by monks, seminarians and previous archbishops. Recently, the archdiocese’s office staff moved from the former seminary dormitory at 622 Taché Ave., to the archbishop’s residence, freeing up space to house newcomers to Winnipeg.

About 50 people at a time stay for up to 30 days in the top floor of the three-storey building now rented by Accueil francophone du Manitoba, says Daniel Boucher, executive director of the Franco-Manitoban Society, which runs the refugee and immigrant resettlement program.

The same organization also rents the cathedral’s former rectory for its administrative offices.

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"Taking care of the poor and people in need is part of our mission," says Carrière of why the parish chose to rent to a refugee resettlement agency. "There’s no direct link (with Accueil francophone) to our parish, but the building still serves people in need."

That commitment to service also underlies the conversion of the private grounds of the archbishop’s house into a public park with interpretative panels explaining the history of Catholic missionary work. An estimated 100,000 people visit the ruins and cemetery annually, and are welcome to cross the street to wander the grounds around the archbishop’s house.

"We’re saying we’re a cathedral open to the city, open to the world, a church open to the city, and open to the world," LeGatt says.

Whatever changes occur, the parish remains committed to its long history of providing French language masses for parishioners and visitors to the cathedral, Carrière says.

"We are a French-speaking parish. That aspect will remain," he says of the eight weekly masses.

brenda@suderman.com

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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