Manitoba Historical Society
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My Love Affair with Louis Riel: Coffin in which Louis Riel was brought from Regina is located in ancient closet

by Lillian Gibbons

Winnipeg Tribune, 23 July 1937

The coffin in which Louis Riel was brought from Regina in 1885, where he had been hanged for treason, to St. Boniface where he was to be buried, stands in a cupboard in a log house in St. Vital.

The discovery was made unexpectedly when a reporter and a photographer visited Honore Riel’s house for a story of the old building that has stood in that hot sun for 70 summers. The clean little sitting room, with its narrow boarding ceiling, had old fashioned walnut chairs ranged expectantly around the walls; they were backed up as though waiting for something to happen in the shining central space.

“What’s in the cupboard? Is it a chimney cupboard?” asked the reporter.

“Oh, nothing much,” replied young Mr. Riel. “Would you like to see ?”

He threw wide the door made of the same white-painted inchboarding as the ceiling.

A rough coffin stood on end. The visitors smothered their exclamations of surprise.

“It’s the coffin Louis Riel was in when they brought him from Regina in 1885 ... “ The owner of the dubious antique seemed afraid of it himself. The photographer wanted him to step inside it and be snapped. “Nothing doing,” Honore shook his black head and went out of the room. He would tell about his uncle’s coffin, but getting in it was another matter.

There was a rumor that “they” would try to steal the body. Feeling ran high between the two sides of the rebellion of ‘69; by the time the rebel leader was captured after the ‘85 rising in Saskatchewan anything might have happened. “So they got a new coffin and transferred him to that. That’s how we have the old one here in the house.” The explanation was easy.

“Well, just step inside it, it won’t take a minute,” urged the photographer.

Honore still backed away. Mrs. Riel silently glided outdoors.

The reporter was left. Somebody had to do it.

Page revised: 10 June 2021

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