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This article was published 20/9/2019 (769 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hundreds gathered last Friday in St Jean Baptiste for the unveiling of a sculpture symbolizing the convergence of Metis and French-Canadian cultures that birthed the riverside community.
Located on the parish grounds, the life-size bronze work by Woodmore-based artist Débora Cardaci was commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first permanent settlers to St Jean.
Based on a 1928 photograph, it depicts two foundational figures, Metis pioneer Antoine Vandal and young French-Canadian Raymond Rajotte, seated together reading a book open to a map of the Red River Valley.
Descendants of Vandal and Rajotte were on hand for the occasion, including Dan Vandal, a Winnipeg MP and former city councillor.
"The statue is highly evocative of the strength and compassion of my great-grandfather," Vandal said. "It is very touching, it is very moving."
Antoine was a renowned hunter and community leader visited by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont during their travels along the Red River corridor, Vandal told a packed Centennial Hall.
Paulette and Danielle Vermette, fifth and seventh generation descendants of Antoine Vandal, recited the story of how Metis settlers assisted Francophone families arriving from Quebec and the northern United States.
In 1869, one year before Manitoba entered Confederation, Antoine Vandal, his wife, Scholastique Frobisher, and their six children left St Norbert and headed south, becoming the first Metis family to settle permanently in an area already crisscrossed by Red River carts.
In 1874, a government settlement committee formed to encourage French-speaking Catholics to populate the area. Two years later, Vandal and Frobisher began welcoming the first Francophone families immigrating to the area.
As the two groups bonded over their shared language and faith, one settlement committee member, Father David Fillion, began establishing parishes along the river at St Jean, Letellier, St Joseph, and Ste Elizabeth.
His descendant, Father Charles Fillion of St Norbert, parish priest in St Jean from 2002-2008, read a blessing at the statue after it was unveiled.
Placed atop a pedestal of Manitoba stone, the sculpture is the focal point of a community-led heritage project completed in phases over the past three years.
Fundraising coordinator Mona Lavallée said stone work, flower beds, flagpoles, and benches were added first, followed by two interpretive panels. The resulting heritage site recalls the "courage and tenacity" of the community’s early pioneers, Lavalée said.
Heritage Canada supplied a $58,000 grant. Donations were also made by the provincial government, RM of Montcalm, LUD of St Jean, and various local businesses and organizations.
Labouring for three months in her Woodmore studio, Cardaci created the sculpture’s armature, or frame, from wood, Styrofoam, paper, and modelling clay, then sent it to a foundry in Pense, Sask., near Regina, for casting.
Cardaci researched period clothing and hairstyles, but said the hands were the hardest to get right.
"This is my kind of subject: human, spiritual, with soul in it," she told The Carillon.
Creating the sculpture was "emotional," she added, as it reminded her of her own journey to Canada from Argentina 14 years ago.
Cardaci chose to depict Rajotte looking up at Vandal, rather than at the book, to convey the message that cooperation is needed to survive.
"They’re figures that represent the courage, the vision, and the persistence of so many who had to leave their native land to create a new life somewhere else," she said.