|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
It is possible that if I had been reinvested with the authority of administrator. the consequences would have been the same and there is nothing left for us to do but to thank divine providence for having granted Riel the freedom to carry out his resistance to Ottawa by removing Monsignor from his diocese and putting me in his place without proper authority.
As Monsignor had just returned, I had no other choice but to obey and fulfill my duties which have been confided unto me by His Excellency be they at St. Boniface or be they at places where we have missions.
Under the provisionary government peace returned to the country. Negotiations between the government of Ottawa and the three delegates of Manitoba (the Reverend N. Ritchot, Judge Black and Mr. Alfred Scott concluded amicably.
The arrival of troops on the 24th of August stirred up trouble and spread a feeling of unease everywhere. These brave volunteers from Ottawa wanted blood, Catholic blood and two or three murders immediately signaled their presence here. With what speed would these enraged Orangists have massacred a certain priest!
Although I practically had no part in these political affairs except for three or four times for the preservation of the peace and the union, I was more or less the administrator of the diocese and I was the scourge of these fanatics from Ottawa I was continually exposed to dangerous surprise.
In the face of affairs such as they were and considering that there was an over abundance of priests at St. Boniface, I thought that the good of the Faith demanded my temporary removal from the Red River. I related to Monsignor that my presence at St. Boniface could bring serious disagreements and that my presence was not entirely necessary here anyway especially since Father Decorby at Qu'Appelle had been alone for a long time and was confronted with serious circumstances being as he was surrounded by smallpox victims. I
requested to transferred to the mission at Qu'Appelle. Monsignor agreed with my reasoning and the Council of Vicars granted the transfer. My departure was imminent. The preparations for the journey were quickly accomplished. I wanted to leave in style, however.I wanted to Fort Garry where the Orange volunteers were stationed. I wanted to salute the Lieutenant Governor. If there were accusations against me, they would have an opportunity to stop me. Monsignor granted my departure. I went to the fort and passed under the noses of the Orange soldiers and no one insulted me. The Lieutenant Governor had only nice things to say to me. Before leaving St. Boniface, it would be good to think about the 15 years that I spent there. Except for the two years that I was pastor of St. Norbert, I was the "superior" at the rectory after the departure of Father Bermond. I say "superior" because I was the oldest oblate and because the Reverend Visiting Father (Florent van den Berghe) officially titled me "superior" but in reality I was "superior" in name only.
As for the parish, I was not even officially the pastor. Monsignor was the only priest from the cathedral as he was the only superior of the community. When he was absent and he was absent quite often, he left the are of the house and the parish to me. I had, however,
neither official title nor direction. He did leave me with two recommendations, though. The first was to make a budget because I had no idea how I was to pay bills. The second was to never refuse the Sister anything.
No one pushed me to study languages and no one helped me at St.Boniface in this regard either.
It was evident that the use of English would be necessary and indeed was becoming more necessary with each passing day.After having looked around, I found a French-English dictionary and an English Grammar. With these resources I set out to read the Bible in English. My progress was slow, as I did not have a teacher. It did not matter. Little by little I acquired a good stock of words which helped me more then once. Because I was never sure about my pronunciation, I only used my English when absolutely necessary. I excused myself by saying that I did not know this language until I received the compliment: :You know English!" to which I replied: "I know only a few words".
If Monsignor would have wanted, he could have made me learn English within a year's time at St. Boniface. It was the same for the Santeux (Santee) language. He did not give e us any direction, nor any advice. He did not even bother to inform himself as to whether or not we were studying these languages or not. He supplied neither a teacher, nor any books. After my mission at Lake Manitoba in 1861 where I was Father-Confessor to almost one-hundred Metis Santeux without knowing a single word of the language, I tried to learn this Santee language which I thought was quite pretty. Unfortunately we did not have any books.
From time to time Monsignor sent me on a mission to the Maskegons(?) below Fort de Pierre or even Fort Alexandre. Once I wintered at Fort Alexandre and spent the whole spring and summer in the Santee country (Lacy La Plo, Lacy Seul). Due to all of these circumstances, I acquired a proficiency in the Santee language so that I might carry out my ministry. Since the departure of Mr.Lafleche (1856), it was I who heard the confessions of the English and Irish Catholics. I went to visit these nice families sometimes. How many times they asked me to give the sermon, instead of letting them be preached to by some other brother!
"We would prefer ten words from your mouth than a long sermon from the brother" they said. As I was beginning to speak English with some ease, I felt bold enough to propose something to Monsignor. Here was the plan:
I would first write a little sermon in French or in English and then a sister would translate or correct it. Finally she would read it in front of me so that I could hear the pronunciation. After she had read the sermon, I would read it to her so that she could correct me if I made mistakes. Instead of encouraging me, Monsignor refused me the permission to carry out my plan.
If he had just left me to my plan, I would have learned English better in a few months than I had in the fifteen years that I had spent at St. Boniface.
Accidents and Danger
One time, on my way to Fort Alexandre, I almost drowned. Madame Boulanger returned to the same fort where her husband was stationed. She had a very large canoe, whereas mime was one of the smallest. There was just enough room for three people. My luggage, that is to say my things for chapel and my bed, were in Madame Boulanger's canoe which was traveling in front. Two very robust Santee women were steering it. My canoe was being navigated by a young Metis-Santee couple who I had married at St.Boniface. At the mouth of the Red River there was a big bay on Lake Winnipeg. Madame Boulanger's canoe, instead of crossing the bay in a straight line, began to circle the bay by hugging the right shore. My man wanted to follow the big canoe. Because I wanted to discuss this matter fully, I pointed out to him the huge rock that would have to pass. Well, here is the big rock that we were heading toward! "Why aren't you steering your canoe straight?" My plan was to get to talk a little. It had been such a long time since I had spoken or heard the Santee language. I thought that he would answer me, that he would tell me that he was afraid to make such a crossing with his little canoe.
There was no answer, however . The poor little man, being too timid, did not dare to say anything and took my gesticulating for an order and began the crossing. Seeing that he wasn't talking, I took out a book in Santee and began to go over my old sermons. Absorbed in my book while floating over the perfectly tranquil lake, I no longer paid any attention to my young guide or the canoe and did not realize that we were in the middle of the bay, far away from the big canoe. All of a sudden here comes the wind and the waves start crashing. I saw that my young guides were afraid. We were far from the shores and the lake is already very stormy. I the wind continues and if the wind takes eight or ten hours, if it continued to grow stronger instead of weaker, if the wind continues like this we are lost. And it will be my fault! If I had left my guide in peace, he would have followed the big canoe along the beach and we would not be in danger now.
I put my salvation in the Lord. I admitted the I, involuntarily, was the reason why we were presently in the danger that was tormenting us and I made promise to the souls in purgatory in the name of Our Holy Mother and St. Joseph, my angle. I had scarcely finished my prayer when the wind ceased and the lake grew as even as the floor. We had been saved by a miracle! Madame Boulanger arrived a long time after us at the big boulder. After joining us she cried: "Oh, we were so frighten for you! For a long time we could not see your canoe, we thought you had drowned. It is the will of God that our little canoe escaped being wrecked. Praise be to Mary! Praise be to St. Joseph, to my guardian angel and to the souls of purgatory!
There was also another time when I almost drowned. I was going from Fort Francis (Lacy Lapluie) to Lacy Seul. I had employed a young Santee and a young Metis (Joe Bruyere). I didn't even know the distance between the two places, but I did think that we were not going fast enough and our provisions were running out. One afternoon, dark clouds were circling above our heads and my Santee guide wanted to stop and let the storm pass. I told him that we were mot made of sugar and that we certainly would not melt. We were at that moment in the shelter of bulrushes along a very pretty river. We were just entering a lake surrounded on all sides by hills and it is there where the thunder sounded with an indescribable boom. Our canoe would not move from the center of this little lake, as if in a force of a very strong eddy, which was caused no doubt by the stirring of the wind. For a few minutes we were unable to move the canoe in any way. At that point I felt completely lost and this time it was my fault. I promised myself that I would never again force my Indian guided to put themselves in such danger.
The good Lord had pity on us and after a few moments we were once again able to feel solid ground under our feet
Another time, in the spring, before the ice had completely melted in the rivers, I was coming back from the mountain of St.Joseph (Pembina) with Father van den Berghe. While crossing the plum River, the underside of our wagon was lifted by water in the road and we dumped in the river for a surprise bath. As soon as I felt the wagon falling, I threw myself into the water and quickly reached the bank.
The visiting Father, however, did not know how to swim and I had to come to his aide. We were now completely soaked through and it was getting cold. By chance we found a warm shelter where Mr. Edouard Marion attempted to dry our clothes and gave us much hostility.
What good fortune for us! We had no way of making a fire and if there had not been some shelter there for us we would certainly have frozen before arriving at our camp, that is at the house where we though6t we would spend the night. (I think this was in 1862).
Once during the absence of Monsignor, I had to come to the aide of Father Andre at St. Joseph de Pembina in the middle of winter because of a very urgent matter. I hired Elzear Goulet to take me there with his team of sled dogs.
We left St.Boniface on the 7th of January. The weather was nice and the roads were quite clear and dog sled seemed to fly rather than glide over the snow. We arrived at the Grattias River to eat our supper. We wanted to camp at the home of Mr. Charles Grant and we thought we would arrive there at a decent hour. In order to lighten our load ,we left behind some of our blankets, and we were on the road again. Everything was going along wonderfully. The weather was so calm that I was able to say my prayers without my gloves while sitting on the sled. All of a sudden everything changed! The sky darkened, the wind began to stir up and it was snowing. Bit by bit the road was covered by snow. A veritable blizzard descended upon us. The dogs were no longer able to pull me along. We knew that we were not far from Mr. Grant but we could not see twenty feet in front of us through all the wind and snow. There we were on the open prairie in a veritable ocean of mow, blinded by the billowing snow. We knew that we were not far from Mr. Grant but we could not see twenty feet in front us through all the wind and snow.
There we were clearing away the snow for our camp with our feet so that we could have a clean place to put down hay for our beds.
The wind was fighting with us, however, and covered up the hole we were digging as soon as we dug it We needed a shelter from the wind and cold. We succeeded in making a bed for ourselves for better or worse. Because we had left behind a portion of our blankets to lighten the load on the sled, we had the dogs sleep at our feet to keep us warm.
We heard the wind howling all night but we were able to sleep in the snow nonetheless. What was I really afraid of was that the storm would not last long. Thankfully the next morning it was a little windy and it had stopped snowing , but it was cold. Under the snow we were warm , almost to warm to the point of sweating. I suppose our breath trapped under the covers had melted some of the snow to the point that our clothes were damp and clung to us. In this condition with the air that extremely cold, a person can freeze within a few minutes. Fortunately, my good man was able to quickly hitch up the sled dogs and we were at Mr. Grant's in no time where we found a warm fire, and good food and charming hospitality. We had been encamped at the most only three miles from his place the previous night. Mr. Grant loaned me a good wagon and horse to travel on the mission.
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