Letter from Bishop Vital Grandin to his nephew and sister, January 30, 1879

Vital Justin Grandin was born on February 8, 1829 in Saint-Pierre-la Cour, France. In 1854, after studies in philosophy and theology, the newly ordained priest volunteered for missionary work in Canada. In 1871, Grandin was appointed bishop of Saint Albert.

Bishop Grandin was temporarily in France in 1879 when he wrote a letter to his nephew and his sister. Grandin told them about his plan to purchase bells for his missions in Canada’s North West.

This is a translation of part of his letter:

"…As for the purchases that you are proposing to me, certainly I am always in need of those, but while in Paris I purchased a considerable amount of cloth and merinos (wool fabric). I would still like to buy a printing press; this would cost me over 3,000 francs; I am having over twenty bells cast, all this will cost a lot, and I do not dare to purchase more than I have to spend.. “

On September 2, 1884, Bishop Grandin blessed the bell at St. Antoine de Padoue, the Roman Catholic church at Batoche, and named it “Marie Antoinette.”

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The Diary of Will Young

Will Young’s diary is the key document that refutes the notion that soldiers took the bell from the church at Batoche after the battle ended in 1885 Young’s diary is a first person, eye-witness account explaining how the bell that ended up in Millbrook was taken from Frog Lake.

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Letter from Bishop Grandin to the mother of Father R. Fafard, August 27, 1885

On April 2, 1885, a group of Cree warriors, led by Wandering Spirit, tried to seize food supplies withheld by local Indian agent Thomas Quinn. A confrontation occurred and the warriors murdered nine people, including two Catholic priests. In August 1885, Bishop Vital Grandin wrote a letter to the mother of one of the slain priests, Father Fafard. In it, he explained that the Frog Lake Mission was nothing but ashes and burnt metal:

On page 424 of the document:

“…there is not even the bell which was hanging in the blackened bell tower next to the church and which had been spared from the fire; it was still there on the 8th of June, some soldiers took it down and although we searched mightily for it, we have been unable to find it. As for the furnishings: vehicles, library, sacristy that the dear Father had been able to assemble nicely, thanks to your generous charity and that of his friends, absolutely everything has disappeared."

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Letter from James O’Loane to Bishop Vital Grandin, May 18, 1888

In 1888, Biship Vital Grandin received a letter from James O’Loane, who had heard reports of a Catholic church bell hanging in an Orange Lodge or a fire hall in Millbrook, Ontario.

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Letter from Bishop Vital Grandin to Militia Minister Adolphe Caron, May 19, 1888

In the Spring of 1888, Bishop Vital Grandin was in Ottawa and wrote this short note to Adolphe Caron, the Minister of Militia.

Translation of the note:

Ottawa 19 May 1888
Honourable Sir Adolphe Caron
Minister of Militia etc. etc.

Honourable Sir Adolphe,
I have recently arrived in Ottawa and plan to return to the N. W. on Wednesday. I would much like to see you before leaving but you are busy. Tomorrow I must sign the holy mass at the college, I have an audience with Sir Hector at 3 p.m. I would be very grateful if you could find me a moment in the evening or any other day before my departure.

Believe me, honourable and dear Sir Adolphe, your devoted
Vital J. Bishop of St. Albert

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Letter from H.A. Ward to Adolphe Caron, Minister of Militia, July 6, 1888

By the summer of 1888, the Minister of Militia – Adophe Caron, was actively trying to get the bell in Millbrook returned to Bishop Grandin. Caron sent local MP, H.A. Ward to Millbrook to negotiate a deal.

This is Ward’s letter to Caron.

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Newspaper Articles from 1888

H.A. Ward’s arrival in Millbrook to negotiate the return of the Frog Lake Bell to Bishop Grandin created quite a stir in the community. Here are two opposing views of whether Millbrook should keep the bell.

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Letter from Bishop Vital Grandin to Militia of Militia Adolphe Caron, August 15, 1888

The Minister of Militia’s emissary to Millbrook wasn’t getting anywhere in his negotiations to secure the Frog Lake Bell for the Catholic Church. By the middle of August 1888, Bishop Vital Grandin wrote this letter to the Minister of Militia, Adolphe Caron.

Translation as follows:

St. Albert 15 August 1888
To the Honourable Sir Adolphe Caron
Minister of Militia

I am very thankful that you are taking care of having the bell that I have claimed returned. I recognize that it must have been included in the losses of Frog Lake, but your honour understands the reasons that make me want to possess it again. There are losses that money does not compensate and since we have suffered many more grave ones at Frog Lake I count on your goodwill and ask you, honourable and dear Sir Adolphe, to count on the gratitude of your devoted.

Vital J. Bishop of St. Albert

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Certificate of Blessing of the bell at the chapel at St. Laurent

The document trail establishes that the bell returned to Batoche in July 2013 is the Frog Lake Bell. That leads to the question - where is the true Bell of Batoche?

The key to answering that question is found in this document, translated as follows:

September second, 1884, we Bishop Vital J. Grandin, bishop of the St. Albert, have blessed the bell for the Mission of Saint Antoine de Padoue (Batoche). Godfather: Xavier Letendre; Godmother Marie Champagne. Were present the Reverend Fathers André, Fournond, Moulin, Touze, Lecoq, as well as many parishioners. This bell, having been blessed in honor of the Very Blessed Virgin and of St. Anthony bears the name of Marie-Antoinette. Sign(ature).: Vital –J. Bishop of St.Albert.

The second part of the document is a note added to the first Birth, Marriage, Sepulchre register of the parish of St-Antoine de Padoue (second leaflet, verso), certified copy, J. Le Chevallier, o.m.i. archivist:

This bell having ceased to serve the parish of Batoche after a considerably larger bell was purchased in 1892, has been given by the parish priest, with the agreement of the parish synod, and has been raised in the bell tower of the new chapel at St. Laurent during the summer of 1937. Signed : J. Le Chevallier, o.m.i.

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The chapel at St. Laurent that Father Jules Le Chevallier built in 1937 burned down in a fire in August 1990. The fire also destroyed Marie Antoinette, the Bell of Batoche.

Before the fire, Marie Antoinette hung beside the church on a small scaffold, with a plaque that misidentified the bell as the “Clark(e) Bell.”

Lawrence Clarke was the factor for the Hudson Bay Company and he donated the bell in the 1870s that became known as the “Clarke Bell.”

This is the last piece of the puzzle.

What if the bell that burned in the fire of 1990 was the Clarke bell and not Marie Antoinette, the Bell of Batoche?

We found another document in the Parish Archives that proves that the bell lost in the fire at Saint Laurent in 1990 could not have been the Clarke Bell.

This document traces the history of the Clarke Bell and reports that the Clarke Bell was destroyed in a fire in 1926.

The following passages are the minutes from a meeting of the St. Laurent parish council in 1941:

On page 243

Item 6: On trouve la cloche actuelle de l’Église trop petite. On fait remarquer que l’ancienne cloche de la Mission de St. Laurent, plus grosse que celle d’aujourd’hui, don de M. Lawrence Clarke, a été transportée à l’École St Michel en 1897 lors de la démolition de l’église. Cette cloche passa au feu lors de l’incendie de l’École. Et aujourd’hui les Marguillers se demandent si l’École ne serait pas obligée de rembourser la paroisse St. Laurent la valeur de cette cloche. Le Père Curé étudiera la question.

The parish council minutes show that the Clarke bell was given to the St. Michel School in Duck Lake in 1897 after the church at St. Laurent was demolished in 1897.

On page 246

Item 3 : Si l’École St. Michel a hérité de la cloche de St. Laurent en 1897, lors de la démolition de l’église, laquelle cloche a disparu dans l’incendie de l’école en 1926, il est bon de noter que l’École St. Michel l’a repayée amplement lors de construction de la nouvelle chapelle en 1937….

The minutes from the meeting indicate that the Clarke bell was lost in the 1926 fire of St. Michael Residential School at Duck Lake, but the school has amply repaid the value of the bell in the donation of building materials, furniture and other items for the chapel which was built at St. Laurent in 1937.

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