PASSION & HISTOIRE BLOG – A conversation with Dr. Phil

Kenza Zaoui - Translated by Thea Wortley

There are limitless online resources for learning about the francophone history of Saint-Boniface. I’ve already introduced you to a couple: At the Heart of Manitoba’s Francophone Community documentary, Léon et sa maison, and now here’s a new one: A Visit with Dr. Phil.

The Saint-Boniface Museum offers a one-hour, documentary-style interview with Dr. Philippe Mailhot.  


The Creation of the Documentary

While the museum was closed, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Winnipeg was longing for the opportunity to bring his students for a guided tour of the Museum. From here, a system of questions and answers was born.

Philippe Mailhot is in charge of responding to the students’ questions. On top of his extensive knowledge of the time period, he’s also a prominent figure in the world of the Museum. He worked there from 1986 to 2014, first as assistant conservator and then as executive director.

15 questions serve to satisfy the audience’s curiosity on the history, culture, and society of the Red River Colony and its most famous spokesperson, Louis Riel.

L’entrée de l’exposition Louis Riel au Musée de Saint-Boniface 


What I Learned with Dr. Phil

  1. Storytelling leads to the creation of more stories. 
    The Saint-Boniface Museum has in its collection a reproduction of a statuette of Saint-Joseph, the patron saint of the Métis, the head of which is separated from the body. The Riel House in Saint-Vital also has a reproduction of the statuette. However, the stories behind how it was damaged differ drastically from one museum to the next! No less than four different stories exist, and all are accounted for in the documentary.
  2. The difference between a Treaty and an Act.
    Politically speaking, the two concepts don’t concern the same people. A Treaty is an agreement between sovereigns, like Treaty 1 on which Winnipeg is situated today. On the other hand, an Act is a parliamentary matter. It’s for this reason that it was an Act that founded the province of Manitoba in 1870: the Canadian government didn’t recognize Louis Riel’s provisional government as sovereign of the land.
  3. One single object can be symbolic of multiple things.
    The Saint-Boniface Museum had a moccasin that had belonged to Louis Riel. The other half of this pair of moccasins was in the Military Museum in Ontario as a trophy of war. The pair have since been reunited to celebrate its original owner as a part of the biggest collection of Riel’s possessions (notably his suitcase and ceinture fléchée). La paire maintenant réunie célèbre son illustre propriétaire, dans la plus grande collection d’objets lui ayant appartenu (la valise et la ceinture fléchée notamment). One shoe, two perspectives!
  4. Riel suffered racism. 
    Louis Riel himself was a target of racism throughout his life while pursuing his studies in Montreal, and when he was rejected by the family of the woman he wanted to marry because of his Métis identity (Riel’s father was Métis and his mother French-Canadian). These experiences likely contributed to reinforcing his sense of identity and fueling his future battles.


I then had the chance to ask Dr. Phil some questions of my own: if we invented the time machine and he could be a fly on the wall for any historical event, he’d choose to see the negotiations between Ritchot, Cartier, and MacDonald.

If you’re interested in francophone and Manitoban history, I strongly recommend watching this documentary. You can rent it for $8.00 online in English or French on the Saint-Boniface Museum’s website, and if you’re wanting to view it for educational purposes, contact the Museum.

To top it all off, you can see the mentioned objects for yourself: the Saint-Boniface Museum is offering free admission all year to celebrate Manitoba 150!