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Monument to pay tribute to Metis settlers

By: Simon Fuller: Winnipeg Free Press Online Edition Posted: 05/13/2010 1:00 AM


Monument to pay tribute to Metis settlers By: Simon Fuller: Winnipeg Free Press Online Edition Posted:

This monument in a park next to St. Norbert Church will list the names of more than 1,200 Metis people whose grave locations were lost over the years.

Hundreds of Metis graves that were destroyed in St. Norbert due to years of flooding will be commemorated by a new monument and an upcoming ceremony on May 29.

Paul Bilodeau, a teacher from St. Norbert, has been an integral part of this campaign since it was initiated by the late local historian Jeanne Perreault several years ago.

"A Metis woman herself, she wanted to remember the Metis people that were settled in this area before the settlers came," Bilodeau said.

"Louis Riel had taken a stand against the government of the day to keep his land for his


people and many of his meetings were, in fact, held in St. Norbert," Bilodeau added "He quickly became a wanted man and many stories are now told about him hiding in the church and surrounding farms to avoid the authorities."

No one will be hiding May 29 at 1:30 p.m., when representatives of Metis groups, politicians and local officials will gather in the park next to St. Norbert Church to celebrate the unveiling of the monument, which is also open to the public.

The monument is made of fieldstone to symbolize the strength, tenacity and perseverance of the Metis people. The stones were collected from a farm in St. Labre, Man.

Bilodeau said the project was made possible thanks to the Knights of St. Columbus, St. Norbert Parrish-LaBarriere Metis Council and St. Norbert Heritage.

For his part, Bilodeau has been fundraising to help build the monument for years. This included a stint in the fall of 2008, when he carved people’s names into hundreds of pumpkins, upon request, for a few bucks a pop.

"A lot of the Metis people who lived in the area would take off for the buffalo hunt and be gone for weeks," Bilodeau said.

"Over the years, some of the cemeteries where they were buried were destroyed by flooding. Looking back, they were considered second class citizens. And Jeanne saw fit to remember these people by erecting a monument for them."

Bilodeau said that over the years, wooden crosses over many graves have deteriorated and headstones have been washed away.

"Or maybe the construction that took place over the years led to many burial places being affected. Some aging tombstones that were neglected for years, in the back of the cemetery, were broken up and carted away," Bilodeau said.

Intriguingly, Perreault did painstaking archival research and found the names of more than 1,200 Metis people buried in St. Norbert area between 1895 and 1905.

Plaques listing all of these names will be placed on the new monument, which will be blessed by Archbishop Albert LeGatt at the unveiling ceremony.

Brian Cyr, vice-chair of St. Norbert Parrish-LaBarriere Metis Council, said the impact of the monument in the local community will be "considerable."

"In 1950, when the big flood came, they had to plow lots of dirt to make a dike and, unfortunately, many of these graves were destroyed. But we don’t hold it against the church," Cyr said.

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