The Bell of Batoche also known amongst Metis as “Marie Antoinette” sounds again in Saskatchewan during Back to Batoche Days in Batoche, SK on Saturday, July 20, 2013 in Batoche. Peter Mills/CBC
Researchers have unearthed a document trail that reveals what really happened to a historic Canadian artifact — the Bell of Batoche.
The CBC documentary unit has found evidence the bell that was ceremoniously returned to Batoche and the Métis Nation last summer, 128 years after being taken by Canadian soldiers, is not the real Bell of Batoche, but was in fact a bell that had been sent to Frog Lake, Alta. — 400 kilometres from Batoche, Sask.
They also discovered a series of handwritten certificates and notes that show the bell that was hanging in the Batoche chapel in the late 19th Century had been donated to another Catholic mission in nearby St. Laurent de Grandin, about 12 kilometres away.
That church was built by Father Jules Le Chevallier, and he needed a bell.
Historian Juliette Champagne combed through parish archives and discovered the baptismal certificate that came with the bell when it was donated to St. Laurent. It’s signed Vital G, bishop of St.Albert.
Sept. 2nd, 1884 - We, Bishop Vital G. Grandin, Bishop of St. Albert have blessed the bell for the Mission of St. Antoine de Padoux, Batoche . This bell having been blessed in honour of the very blessed virgin and of St. Anthony bears the name of Marie Antoinette.
That certificate is accompanied by a note signed by Father Le Chevallier.
This bell having ceased to serve the parish of Batoche after a considerably larger bell was purchased in 1892 has been given by the parish priest with the agreement of the parish synod and has been raised in the bell tower of the new chapel at St. Laurent during the summer of 1937.
“If you take that literally, this is Marie Antoinette,” said CelinePerillat, who runs the historical centre in nearby Duck Lake, and has access to the shrine now on the site.
Le Chevallier’s original church burned down in 1990. The bell burned with it. Only a few chunks of copper and the clapper survived. The shaft measures 29 centimetres in length and matches the Grandin bells cast in France.
The pieces are kept under lock and key in a glass case in the shrine.
“I think it’s in its proper place,” Perillat said.
“The bell if it was donated ... to St. Laurent from Batoche, then it became part and parcel of the history of the St. Laurent parish.”
Le Chevallier’s church has been rebuilt and pilgrims come every summer to pray at the shrine. Some of them have claimed miracles after their visit.
“I would say that it’s in its resting place because the true Bell of Batoche is the one that sits in the steeple now,” Perillat said, referring to the bell that is now in the National Historic Site at Batoche.
“It’s the one that the Métis people have used for all these years. It’s the one that you know has rung in the services, has brought in the baptisms, celebrated the weddings. It has sounded the funerals. It’s the bell of the people who lived and persevered and survived at Batoche."