Reconnecting and rejoicing at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum

Posted August 19, 2021 | Author Meaghen Fillion

Embarking on a walking tour at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum will have you feeling connected and proud of your Métis and Franco-Manitoban heritage. Maybe it will even inspire you to start your own journey of discovery and healing in this time of reconciliation.

As I called my mom and memère (grand-mother) to make plans to visit the museum, we had no idea it would be so special to us and our family.

A visit to Manitoba means travelling through Treaty 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Territory and through communities who are signatories to Treaties 6 and 10. It encompasses the original lands of the Anishinaabeg, Anish-Ininiwak, Dakota, Dene, Ininiwak and Nehethowuk and the homeland of the Métis. To learn more about Manitoba's Treaty areas, click here.

The Oldest Building in Winnipeg

Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum has been open to the public since 1967. The original Grey Nuns’ Convent had been home to many people for more than 100 years and served many purposes. It was Western Canada’s first hospital, orphanage and seniors’ home.

The building alone is fascinating and you can appreciate the work and skill that went into its construction (1846-1851). They used what was called the Red River construction method (or tongue and groove), which means the building uses no nails to hold it together. The Red River was used to transport the lumber to Saint-Boniface from south of the border. What fascinated me the most was learning that this building is the oldest in Winnipeg and guess of my great-great-great-grandfathers, Amable Nault, was the foreman who helped build it!

Upon arrival on the museum grounds, we were met by our tour guides Julie-Ann and Nathan. They supplied us with umbrellas to protect us from the sun and we were off on our walking tour. The Moccasin Walk is one of three walking tours offered by the museum this summer.

Walking Tours - The Moccasin Walk

This tour focused on the Métis “of the Red River”. It tells the stories that deepen our understanding of the Métis to help us celebrate their history, and stand in solidarity with them. From the notorious MacDoug, a tireless ferry operator, to the tragic fate of Elzéar Goulet. From self-governance during large buffalo hunts to the entrepreneurial spirit of dedicated millers. This tour shared stories that highlighted the complexity and resilience of the Métis Nation.

Having done my own research prior to our visit, I believed that I had a good foundation of knowledge in the history behind the “birth” of the Métis Nation, the Red River Settlement, and the Red River Resistance. I was more excited to learn this history through the eyes of my matriarchs. Being who they are, their facial expressions did not give away much as they intently listened to our tour guides.

We learned about the great Red River flood in 1950, how devastating this was for the people living in Southern Manitoba and how it affected the cemetery on the Cathedral grounds. They told us the story of how they had to use tombstones to reinforce the dike to protect Saint-Boniface and the reason behind the two Ambroise Lépine tombstones located at the north and south end of the cemetery.

As we made our way to the north section of the cemetery, I noticed we were approaching the Lagimodière family tomb. Our ancestors' tomb. Mary-Anne Gaboury and her husband Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière were both notable people who contributed to the growth and development of the Saint-Boniface community. Jean-Baptiste was a great voyageur who travelled West regularly as part of the fur trade. Mary-Anne Gaboury was the first woman of European descent to travel to and settle in what is now Western Canada. They were also grand-parents to the founder of Manitoba, Louis Riel.

The walking tour came to an end as we visited the St. Boniface Heritage Gardens, located at the intersection of Taché Avenue and Avenue de la Cathédrale, directly across the street from the Saint-Boniface Cathedral and its historic cemetery. These gardens officially opened in June 2018 as a monument to recognize and honour the Métis Nation. Here, Julie-Ann and Nathan ended the tour with the lovely story of a staged kidnapping as a desperate attempt to keep an influential and well-loved Sister Thérèse in the Red River Settlement.

Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum

After a tour loaded with stories, we made our way to the museum for a self-guided tour and saw family artifacts that date back over 100 years. As we entered the building, the floors cracked above and below us. It is amazing to think that after 170 years, it still stands...“They don’t make them like this anymore!” my dad would say.

From beautifully weaved Métis sashes to colourful, hand-beaded florals on pieces of clothing to Louis Riel’s first coffin...this museum has a lot to see. There are approximately 30,000 artifacts that make up the museum’s collections, which are divided into four main categories: historic, ethnological, archival, and fine arts. Only 10% of the collection is in the museum building itself. The remaining 90% of the collection is held in two separate warehouses, so you can rest assured that the staff is always curating and creating fresh exhibits to highlight Franco-Manitoban and Métis history.

La Cabane Casse-Croûte: Snack Shack

No outing is complete without a little treat. After getting an A+ for answering a question right, my mom got to spin the wheel and win a snack or drink of her choice at La Cabane Casse-Croûte. This sweet snack shack was filled with local yummy treats. "Hey, I remember these!" Mom said pointing at the familiar bags of Nutty Club candies. It was the perfect ending to a great afternoon!

Whether you have or have not visited Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum yet, you are guaranteed to learn something new. There is always more to see and so many more stories to hear. I left feeling more proud of who I am and where I come from. What makes it even more special is that the strong women in my life also left with a sense of connection and excited about our family history. "I loved it. It really piqued my interest!" said my mom as we walked back to the car. Mission accomplished.

Travel Manitoba staff was hosted by Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum, who did not review or approve this story.

About The Author

I'm Meaghen. I love being able to show off my home province to visiting media from around the world. In my spare time, I can usually be found driving through rural Manitoba and exploring the hidden gems.