PASSION & HISTOIRE BLOG: A Visit to the Saint-Boniface Museum

By Kenza Zaoui - Translated by Thea Wortley

I don’t know about you, but I love museums. At home or while travelling, I visit them regularly; they are extremely important in order to better understand history, culture, art, traditions and the place we’re in.

There are many ways to learn more about the history of Saint-Boniface: the documentary At the Heart of Manitoba’s Francophone Community, guided walking tours with Tourisme Riel and the Saint-Boniface Museum.

Today, I’m going to be talking about the museum! Even from the outside, it’s worth the detour; the Saint-Boniface Museum is, in fact, the oldest standing building in Winnipeg!

I had the opportunity to speak with the director, Vania Gagnon, and following her wise advice, I’m going to present to you the must-see pieces of the Saint-Boniface museum.

The Red River Ox Cart

The cart was used by the Métis during the bison hunt and quickly became a privileged means of transporting heavy loads long distances, before the steamboat and the train. Today it is a symbol of the Métis people, their strength and their knowledge.

The Mayor’s Livery Collar

Not so long ago, Saint-Boniface was its own city. The amalgamation with the city of Winnipeg took place in 1971 and the mayor’s livery collar became a historic artifact. It’s tempting, but no, you can’t try it on!

Andy Dejarlis’ Violin

Andy Dejarlis was a Métis violinist from Woodridge, Manitoba and his rich career took him from one ocean to the other. He composed more than 200 pieces and the Saint-Boniface museum now has his violin on display (middle).

Elzéar Goulet’s Ceinture Fléchée

Elzéar Goulet – you might recognize his name thanks to the park in Saint-Boniface – was a Métis leader, a supporter of Louis Riel in the Red River Rebellion. He was stoned to death while swimming across the river to find safety in Saint-Boniface.

The Statue of the Virgin Mary

This paper mâché statue of the Virgin Mary dates back to 1848! It has survived time and fires alike. It’s the first classical artwork in the west, created by Sister Lagrave, who learned the technique in Montreal.

Mathilde Carrière’s Leggings

These leggings are a rare piece since although moccasins can stand the test of time, few leggings have survived. Made completely by hand, they belonged to Mathilde Carrière, the wife of Joachim Perreault. Her brother, Damase Carrière, faced a tragic fate at Batoche.

Louis Riel’s Coffin

It’s impossible to visit the Saint-Boniface Museum without taking an interest in Louis Riel. A whole section is dedicated to him and a number of his belongings are on display. The most impressive (not recommended for young children) is his coffin, one of three that held his remains. Do you see the burnt corner? The coffin was on display in the basement of the Saint-Boniface Cathedral when it caught fire in 1968. Luckily, it was saved from the flames!

Practical Information

The Saint-Boniface Museum is open all summer, Tuesday to Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and admission fees are by donation. The museum has been reorganized by zone to guaranty social distancing and the protocols are clear and respected. The visit is completely safe!

After your visit, don’t forget to tour the boutique! The Belle Boutique Blanche offers beautiful items, delicacies and books on Manitoba and Métis people. You won’t leave emptyhanded.

You’ll find more information on the Saint-Boniface Museum website or by calling 204.237.4500 ext 400. Enjoy your visit!