Contact:bl.gif (1311 octets)Michel.Lopez@univ-lemans.fr


Another pioneer who has left his mark on Willow Bunch history was Treffle Bonneau. Native of Ste. Brigitte d’Iberville, P.Q., in 1864 he followed his family to the West. In 1879, his family arrives at St. Boniface, Manitoba. Three years later, Treffle is at Regina, accompanying his father, Pascal, who was building a section of the Canadian Pacific railway. The family remained in the young capital and the father was one of the first to open a commerce building in that city. Treffle, during that time, was peregrinating father west as the building of the C.P.R. was progressing. It was during the clearing away of the railroad in British Columbia that he was wounded by a falling tree and had to have his right arm amputated. Upon his return to Regina, after his operation, he worked in his father’s company for the construction of the first street in the city. He hired several half-breeds from Willow Bunch to work for him. It is also at this time that he began the business of canning buffalo meat. He was at Regina during the Insurrection of 1885 and at Riel’s trial. It has been said that a plot had been fomented to prevent Riel from going up the scaffold. Some people, in Regina, believed that the death penalty pronounced upon Riel was too severe. During the night before Riel was to be hanged, an officer from the Mounted Police came to Pascal’s home with a message from Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney. The letter asked for an interview with Pascal Bonneau. The meeting took place and Pascal was to organize, and in fact did it, a plot to free Riel from prison. Swift running horses were to be posted at every ten miles between Regina and the American frontier in order to help Riel in his flight. The Metis leader was to be helped to evade and with half an hour of start, no fast runner would have caught up with him. He would have crossed the American frontier as a political refugee. In the performance of his plan, Pascal Bonneau hired a certain number of Metis from Willow Bunch. A certain well-meaning half breed quite innocently spoke of the plan to someone who had not so friendly feeling towards Riel and the plot failed. The last hope to save Riel was gone.

On November 16, 1885, Louis Riel was hanged. His body was entrusted to the care of Pascal Bonneau. It was a dangerous responsibility, for Riel’s enemies had sworn that his body would be treated as the one of a base murderer. Pascal and Treffle Bonneau buried the body under the floor of a Catholic chapel in Regina and kept watch on him continually. It was not a useless precaution, for many a time after dark, they noticed prowlers who sneaked in through the chapel’s windows and tried to force the doors open. There were no violent attacks but the Bonneau’s were prepared for all eventualities. After a few week of careful watch, one day, Governor Dewdney sent a message to Pascal Bonneau that a railroad wagon was stationed at the city’s limits to receive Riel’s corpse and transport it to Manitoba. The Bonneau took advantage of the blizzard and of darkness to dig up the body, transport it to a nearby cart and then to the railroad wagon. Treffle Bonneau traveled with the corpse to St.Boniface and proudly handed it over to Riel’s family. In 1887, Treffle Bonneau came to settle at Willow Bunch where his first occupations were: stock raising trading and ranching. At the same time, he erected a store at Bonneauville; he was store manager for some years and then sold his business to Wilson-Scott Company. For two years he was the village postmaster. Later, he became owner of a large number of farms, perhaps the most important owner in the province at that time. In 1930, when the drought ruined farming, he lost much by giving seedlings and providing his tenants with food and forage, and endorsing many cheques. He saw a large number of his properties transferred to loan companies. In spite of all, he never got discouraged and with a deep faith and unshakable hope in the future, he held on to this part of the province which was his home for more than a half a century. During his long life, he saw that locality pass through three distinct stages. He came at the time when the buffaloes were exterminated from the plains; he has known the epoch of immense ranches and he witness of intensive farming and became a prosperous farmer. He had to suffer, like every stock breeder, from the plunder of animals that was practiced on a large scale for a few years. He took an active part in freeing the country from these plunderers and robbers of horses and other livestock. In 1912, at the time of the creation of the rural municipality, he worked diligently to its organization and had the honor and responsibility of being its first mayor. He cooperated with all activities of the parish. He will fill the post of church warden, director of the St. Jean-Baptiste Society and school trustee.

In 1881, he had married Marie-Louise Vaudry. This union was blessed with nine children. The eldest, Ablert, was to be the first white blood child to baptized in the parish. During World War 1, he was killed in active service. Here is the list of children of this family: Jean, Louis, Charles, Edgar, Blanche, (Mrs.Provost). Corinne (Mrs. Irenee Granager), Antoinette (Mrs. Henri-Louis Audette) and Albertine (Mrs.Romeo Rodriguez). A few years before his death. Treffleleft his ranch to settle in the village from where he continued to administer his lands. He died at the age of 74, on December 5, 1937, after a short illness. He had lived half a century in Willow Bunch. His wife survived him till June 2, 1944.


One of the prominent characters of Willow Bunch valley and even of southern Saskatchewan was without doubt Dr. Arsene Godin. Of all those who knew him, many remember this distinguished personality, his noble bearing and his firm, kind gaze. His celebrity is not one of physical appearance only, but most of all, in his personal realizations, in the ideal that he cherished for his fellow-citizens, and the professional and national ideals that he bequeathed us. A chronicler of the time who has known Dr. Godin will give us here an interesting narration of his life, his accomplishments and his ideals: Arsene Godin was born in the beautiful Acadie village, in the province of Quebec, May 4, 1880. After a serious primary education, he dreams of a classical course in Physics and Medicine. In 1905, his colleagues nominated him as President of the Medicine Student’s Body. He had just obtained his degrees in medicine when a serious illness obliged him to a period of rest. His inclination led him to Western Canada and he arrived at Willow Bunch in the fall of 1907. He had no intention to stay there. God’s Providence decided other wise for during thirty years he will exercise in this environment a fruitful apostleship. An intellectual and officious person with a methodical mind, a first-rate organizer, he would participate in all worthy actives.

He saw to it that his fellow citizens were well informed on different phases of life. At its Congress held in Lebret, the Catholic French-Canadian Association nominated him to the important office of General President, a post that he filled with distinction for many years. From 1909 to 1934, he was the head physician of Pasteur Hospital. Around 1920 he went to New York and Paris to pursue his studies in surgery. With higher degrees, he became a specialist of great ability and of high esteem. In the meantime, he was always ready to share his knowledge and experience with his co-parishioners. One institution which is a living monument to the memory of its promoter, Dr. Godin, and which contributed largely to entertain religious and patriotic life among the population was Society of St. Jean-Baptiste, founded in April, 1911. It was modeled on the one of the province of Quebec and had the same aims: to preserve among the French-Canadians their religious and French heritage, to show interest for all hat can preserve and strengthen it, therefore encourage intellectual and physical development.

For many years, Dr. Godin was the director of the church choir which was considered the best of the province. A proof of this statement is an excerpt from `Le Patriote de I`Quest` at the occasion of the A.C.F.C. Congress: `The Willow Bunch choir really amazed all the members of the Congress. Under the expert direction of Dr. Godin, the polyphonic mass was so well performed as to surpass in perfection what is heard even in important cities.

"Dr. Godin had also great concern in the economic well-being of the parish. He was for many years church warden and an active member of the Board of Trade. He had acquired vast properties where tenant farmers worked under his direction. With the World Depression of 1929, he saw his credits diminish considerably. Then he had to face years of dearth which reduced nearly to nothing the fortune he had treasured up during the prosperous years. In April 1934, he was dealt the great blow of his medical career; in two hours the Pasteur hospital which he owned and directed, was totally destroyed by fire. Because of financial difficulties, he was never able to rebuild what he had erected at the cost of great sacrifices for the welfare of his fellow parishioners. This ordeal, together with the failure of other projects to make the stronghold of French-Canadian civilization in Saskatchewan, contributed to make him gloomy and even taciturn in character. As he confided to the author of these notes he considered himself greatly misunderstood. Nevertheless, he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his professional work, while his leisure hours were put to the intellectual development of his fellow citizens. He was the author of many leading articles in the `Patriote de I`Quest` and gave several interesting public conferences that were justly praised at the time" On certain occasions, it seemed that Dr. Godin recovered his former patriotic energy.

In November,1936, he published an article in which he deplored our lack of enthusiasm towards actual vital problems and as a remedial measure suggested the formation of study clubs. For this he received warm praises, but unfortunately, a few months later, he had to leave our town for Rochester, Minnesota, to consult the famous Mayo doctors. It was already too late. After several weeks of treatment, he came back to Willow Bunch in the same condition in which he left. Believing that a complete prolonged rest would be beneficial to him, he left for Montreal, bringing with him elaborate historical notes he had collected, having in mind the revision of these documents before sending them to a publisher. No one of those who saw him off on this gray November morning ever conjectured that it was his last farewell. In spite of energetic treatments and proper care, his condition went from bad to worse until his death on August 27, 1938, at the Hotel-Dieu of St. Jean. He was only 58 years old. He lies now in peace at Cote-des-Neiges."


The author of "La Montagne de Bois" deserves a special mention in the history of Willow Bunch. Clovis Rondeau was born on October 25, 1881, at St. Felix de Valois, P.Q. This village was also to people Willow Bunch with many settlers in the future. Clovis spent his first seventeen years on his father’s farm. In 1898,he leaves for the seminary in Joliette, where he finishes his Humanities with great success in spite of a delicate health. In 1905, he enters the High Seminary of Montreal for his first year of theology. He will pass the next three years in Joliette as a teacher and supervisor. Ordained priest on August 1,1909, he is named vicar in different parishes of the diocese: Berthier Lanorale, Saint Lin, St.Gabriel du St. Esprit. Threatened with tuberculosis in 1917, he leaves his diocese for a more favorable climate. It is the Canadian West that receives him. The archbishop of Regina names him vicar in Willow Bunch, and a year after he assumes the direction of St. Victor parish in Saskatchewan. On February 2, 1921, the Society of the Missions Etrangeres is established by the bishops of Quebec with Father Avila Roch as organizer. Father Rondeau, who dreams to be a missionary, begs for his admission in the newly-formed society and he, with Father Louis A. Lapierre,are its first recruits. He leaves St. Victor after three years of work as a parish priest and from Quebec he organizes an intensive propaganda campaign in order to stir up missionary zeal and vocations in the parishes and among benefactors and friends. It is at this moment that Father Alphonse Lemieux, priest at Willow Bunch, asks Father Rondeau to write the history of Willow Bunch, which was preparing to celebrate the golden jubilee of its foundation. The parish priest and some of the parishioners had gleaned notes and documents that were sent to Father Rondeau. In 1923 the press released the book "La Montagne de Bois" by Father Clovis Rondeau This same year, the young missionary is sent to Rome specialize in theological science, but on account of a pulmonary hemorrhage, he was forced to stay a few months in the clinics of Italy and France, and finally he came back to Canada. In September 1925, he became General Bursar of the Society as well as professor at Pont Viau Seminary. Father Rondeau always desires to consecrate his life to the foreign missions. His health is not strong enough at the beginning of his career, but in 1937 he had the great happiness of being sent to Davao, in the Phillippines, where he was named superior of the mission. There again, in spite of his energy and good will, his health gives in and he has to come back to Quebec the following year. In 1941, he is named superior of the new house of probation and director of the aspirants for the missions. Next year, he becomes director of the seminarists in Pont Viau. He worked in this position till 1946 when a long illness brought him to the point of death. From 1953 to 1957, he ministers the Cloistered Missionary Sisters of Jesus-Mary, to the day that illness again visits him and obliges him to quit all kinds of active ministry. The last ten years of his life are spent in quietness and meditation, first at college, rue St.Hubert, then at St. Charles Borromee Hospital. It is there that he dies on Sunday, March 9. 1969, aged 87 years. The funeral ceremony was presided bay Mgr. Clovis Thibault, bishop of Davao, Philippines. This prelate was glad to give that last homage to the one who, in 1937, had been the superior of the first group of priests of the Mission Etrangeres, Mgr. Thibault himself having urged him to undertake this mission.

In the homily of the funeral mass, Mgr. Thibault pointed out two characteristics from the wonderful career of this beloved priest: his readiness to accept the will of God and his faith in Providence. Two virtues, two moral forces without which cannot be explained this humble and fruitful life, all given up to the service of the Church and to the Mission.

After his departure from Willow Bunch, Father Rondeau continued to take interest in this part of the country and in his ex-parishioners. He came back furor five times to pay visits to affection to his numerous friends in the West.

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