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Legion refuses to give up bell of Batoche

The Story


In the legion hall in Millbrook, Ont., an unremarkable silver church bell sits as a mute testament to a faraway victory. After the battle at Batoche ended the North-West Rebellion, Canadian soldiers removed the bell as a war trophy. Now, 105 years later, Métis in Batoche want the stolen heirloom returned. But CBC reporter Dan Bjarnason finds the legion is unwilling to part with it. "You tried to wreck the country and we stopped you," says one member. "Now we've got the bell. It's ours." 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 16, 1990
Guests: Gilbert Goulet, Lyle Nattrass, Arthur Thorn
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Dan Bjarnason
Duration: 3:12

Did You know?


• Some time over the weekend of Oct. 19-20, 1991, the Bell of Batoche was stolen from the legion in Millbrook. Some veterans' war medals were also taken.
• The theft took place just a week after several Métis activists visited the legion in Millbrook.
• In 2000 the Saskatchewan government promised there would be no charges laid if the bell was surrendered. Rumours said the bell would emerge at Back to Batoche Days that year, but it never materialized.
• Taking the bell was not the only thing Canadian soldiers did to celebrate their victory at Batoche. A reporter for the Toronto Mail newspaper wrote of soldiers plundering Métis homes: "stoves, clocks, bedsteads, tables etc. were all mercilessly destroyed by these raving maniacs. the soldiers have robbed and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on in that region, leaving the residents in the most destitute conditions."
• After Louis Riel surrendered, he and other Métis and native prisoners were held in an army encampment. According to Maggie Siggins's Louis Riel: A Life of Revolution, Maj.-Gen. Middleton found in Riel "a cultured gentleman. rather than the ranting savage he had expected."
• A young army captain named George Holmes Young was appointed to accompany Riel on the nine-day journey to Regina to face trial. By coincidence, Riel had known Young's father back in Red River.
• After the Battle of Batoche, Gabriel Dumont took refuge in the woods and then fled to the United States. He had hoped to rescue Riel from imprisonment, but Riel's captors kept a close eye on him.
• In the United States Dumont worked as a marksman with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In 1888, after an amnesty had been declared for combatants in the North-West Rebellion, he returned to Canada and to Batoche in 1893. He died there in 1906.
• Historians attribute much of the animosity between the Canadian military and Métis to religious tensions. The Métis were French-speaking Catholics; many police, military and political leaders in Ontario were members or sympathizers of the Orange Order, a Protestant secret society that despised Catholics and their religion.
• Thomas Scott, the man executed by Riel's provisional government at Red River, was an Orangeman. Many Ontario soldiers in both 1870 and 1885 were keen to avenge his death.


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