After 22 years of secrecy surrounding its whereabouts, an important piece of Metis history is ready to go public again.
The Winnipeg Free Press is reporting the Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba will announce this week its plan to unveil the repaired bell.
A source tells the Free Press the unveiling will take place during a special July 20 mass at the Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue Church in Batoche, Sask., about 80 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
A spokesman for Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba wouldn’t confirm Tuesday whether they have possession of the bell.
The Manitoba Métis Federation wasn’t ready to issue an official statement but an official with the organization did express some delight in the bell being returned to the community.
The bell of Batoche has been through a lot since being installed in the church’s steeple in 1884.
After the final battle of the Northwest Rebellion between the Métis and Canadian troops at Batoche in 1885, Canadian troops took artifacts including the bell as “war trophies” and headed back east.
The bell didn’t resurface publicly again until 1930, finding a home in a fire station in Millbrook, Ont.
In somewhat of an ironic twist, the Millbrook fire hall burned to the ground a year later and the bell was cracked in the process. The artifact ended up in a display case in a Royal Canadian Legion in Millbrook and sat there until 1991, the year it mysteriously went underground.
St. Boniface Museum director Philippe Mailhot doesn’t like to use the term “stolen” when discussing the removal of the bell from the legion.
“I hesitate to say that because it had been stolen in the first place,” he said Tuesday. “If somebody steals your car and you go back and take it, you’re not stealing it. You’re taking it back.”
Mr. Mailhot wouldn’t discuss rumours as to where the bell has been in the intervening years.
“It’s been an open secret within the Métis community as to where the bell is and who has it, but I won’t say,” he said, adding a reason for the mystery could stem from the fear of criminal charges against those who have the bell under wraps. “It will come to light soon enough.”
Mr. Mailhot said it’s his understanding that officials in Millbrook are ready to let go possession of the bell without any legal action.
“The idea being that here’s a symbol of how a country that once could be divided can come together over 100 years later,” he said. “The bell being back out west, back in Métis hands, is a wonderful thing.”
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