Students at Saskatoon school get first-hand look at Métis history

The bell was stolen by Canadian soldiers as a trophy of war after the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Bell was stolen by Canadian soldiers after Battle of Batoche in 1885

A silver bell is on a table
A historic bell taken by Canadian soldiers in 1885 was at Fairhaven school in Saskatoon Thursday. (Chanss Lagaden)

Kids at Fairhaven School in Saskatoon had the chance to see a piece of history Thursday.

There is controversy over the bell's exact origin. It's either from Batoche, Sask., or Frog Lake, Alta., depending on whose historical account you believe.

Either way, its history is tied up with the birth of the Métis nation and the last battle of Louis Riel in the 19th century.

The bell was stolen by Canadian soldiers as a trophy of war after the Battle of Batoche in 1885. It remained in a legion hall in Millbrook, Ont., until 1991, when Billyjo DeLaRonde and four other Métis people took it back to Batoche, which is about 75 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

DeLaRonde came to the school on Thursday to talk about the history of the bell.

The bell is named Marie Antoinette, but it is not to be confused with the last Queen of France. In this case, Marie is a variation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Antoinette is referring to the patron saint Anthony.

Billyjo DeLaRonde is standing in a gym with long hair and sunglasses resting on his head.
Billyjo DeLaRonde took back the bell in 1991 with four other Métis people and brought it to Batoche. (Chanss Lagaden)

DeLaRonde insists it was from Batoche.

"They got the story wrong about the bell," said DeLaRonde. "There's certain things that they had asserted and they're not true. By way of examples, there's bullet marks on the bell."

DeLaRonde said Batoche is the only battle where a Gatling gun was used at that time and that the bullet marks are from a Gatling.

Shirley Isbister, president of the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI),  was the other guest speaker. Isbister is also a grandmother to three students at Fairhaven. She said when she heard they were learning about the Battle of Batoche in class, she decided to bring in the actual thing.

Isbister is standing in a gym.
Isbister was the one who blessed the bell when it was returned to Batoche and her family fought in the Battle of Batoche back in 1885. (Chanss Lagaden)

Isbister's connection to the historic bell goes back generations.

"My great grandfather Charles Trottier fought in the Battle of Batoche along with his brother Michael," said Isbister. "And his brother Michael is one of the seven buried in at Batoche in the grave of seven."

Isbister blessed the bell upon its arrival back in Batoche, and said it was "an overwhelming experience." To her the bell symbolizes hope.

"When you touch her, and you feel the power of the bell, I think that symbolizes how the Métis people, how we move forward and how we've always moved forward," said Isbister.

Beatty is standing in a gym
Student's gathered in the school gym at Fairhaven to see the bell of Batoche and were able to touch it afterwards. (Chanss Lagaden)

Grade 5 student Kal Beatty was one of the students in the assembly who was able to see the bell up close and learned about the Battle of Batoche in class before this presentation.

"I thought it was really cool, like, actually feeling the actual bell. I thought that was a once in a lifetime thing," said Beatty.


Liam O'Connor is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan based in Saskatoon. O'Connor graduated from the University of Regina journalism school. He covers general news for CBC. You can reach him at

With files from Karen Pauls