Revelations on Bell of Batoche fuel new debate

The findings of a CBC documentary program concerning the provenance of the Bell of Batoche have generated a new debate about the history of artifact.

Documentary suggests Batoche bell was not stolen

The makers of a documentary say these fragments are all that remain of the Bell of Batoche. The pieces came from a church in St. Laurent. The documentary suggests the Batoche Bell was donated to the church. (CBC )

The findings of a CBC documentary program concerning the provenance of the Bell of Batoche have generated a new debate about the history of the artifact.

In the CBC program, producers traced the Bell of Batoche not to a legion hall in Ontario — the presumed location of the bell until it went missing a number of years ago and resurfaced last summer to be returned to Batoche — but to a few fragments of a bell salvaged from a church that burned down in the 1990s not far from Batoche. The Ontario bell, the producers said, was actually from a church in Alberta.

It's going to be one of those mysteries that will continue for many years to come.- Historian Celine Perillat

The producers found records showing the real Bell of Batoche was donated to a small church in St. Laurent, north of Duck Lake, Sask., and had been there for decades until the log building was destroyed by fire.

But the president of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan said the revised story doesn't ring true because church officials have provided official authentication regarding the bell that was in Ontario, taken there a hundred years ago as a prize from one of the battles of the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

"[The bell from Ontario had] the checking of the church on whether or not that was the bell [of Batoche]," Doucette told CBC News after viewing the documentary program.  "They confirmed that it was. So, on that basis everybody believed that it was. And I still believe that it is the bell."

Not far from Batoche, at the museum in Duck Lake, Sask., a local historian said the evidence presented in the documentary was persuasive but not necessarily conclusive.

"In my position as a curator and a historian, I tend to look for the paper trail," Celine Perillat said. "The documentary brought a lot of documents that lead you to believe that the 'Marie Antoinette' was not stolen."

Bells of the era were traditionally given names and the bell for the Batoche church was believed to have been dubbed the Marie Antoinette.

"In truth, people will believe one [version] or the other, and I say it's going to be one of those mysteries that will continue for many years to come," Perillat added.

Bell a symbol of Métis struggle

CBC News also spoke to residents of the area, who are Métis.

For some, the significance of the Bell of Batoche is more connected to its symbolism relating to the history of the Métis in Canada.

"Whether it's the actual, physical bell that was there or was moved or whatever, it doesn't matter," Marjorie Beaucage, an artist, told CBC News. "It's the act of taking your place back. It's the act of standing up. I think that's what's important."

With files from CBC's David Shield

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