Manitoba History: The Making of a Manitoban Hero: Commemorating La Vérendrye in St. Boniface and Winnipeg, 1886-1938
by Scott Berthelette
On Sunday, 11 September 1938, a giant canoe procession of 700 participants disembarked on the east bank of the Red River in the City of St. Boniface, Manitoba. The participants were mostly members of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, and some were even dressed in 18th-century period costumes, which were provided courtesy of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The costumed procession arrived amongst the many dignitaries and guests of honour who had gathered in St. Boniface to unveil a monument and to dedicate a park to the French fur trader and explorer, Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye. The unveiling of the monument was the apex of a nine-day bicentennial celebration commemorating the arrival of La Vérendrye and his voyageurs at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers in 1738. According to the Souvenir Programme of the La Vérendrye Bi-Centennial Celebration, the La Vérendrye monument and celebration sought to “pay tribute to the achievements of one of the world’s great men—The Pathfinder of the West.” 
The monument depicted three figures. The largest figure is the virile and robust La Vérendrye himself, surveying the northern horizon. Next to him stands a Jesuit missionary priest, Father Jean-Pierre Aulneau, who holds his left arm outstretched grasping a crucifix. Finally, in the lowest position of the monument is an unnamed Aboriginal guide. The inscription at the bottom of the monument reads: “LA VÉRENDRYE ISTAS INVENIT TERRAS EASQUE HUMANITATI ET FIDEI APERUIT.” La Vérendrye discovered these lands and opened them to humanity and the faith. The monument in La Vérendrye Park constitutes one of eight sites commemorating La Vérendrye in the City of Winnipeg (including St. Boniface).
In a concerted effort to catalogue Canadian monuments and plaques dedicated to the commemoration of New France, Alain Roy and Gratien Allaire have employed French historian Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire conceptual framework in their analysis of the commemoration of La Vérendrye in Canada. The Inventaire des lieux de mémoire de la Nouvelle-France is an ambitious project out of Laval University that seeks to catalogue and categorize all the lieux de mémoire in Canada pertaining to the French colonial period, both inside and outside the province of Québec.  Pertaining to the La Vérendrye expedition, there are 33 established lieux de mémoire.  It should be noted that Roy and Allaire have used Nora’s lieux de mémoire framework in the most literal sense of the term “memory sites,” meaning that they have not taken into consideration the less tangible conceptions, such as festivals, anniversaries, commemorations, fraternal orders, and even generations.  Rather than simply viewing “memory sites” as physical or empirical sites, I follow Nora’s conceptual framework and analyse the 1938 bi-centennial celebration itself as a lieu de mémoire.
Pierre Nora has argued that for a lieu de mémoire to be created, whether a celebration or monument, “there must be a will to remember.”  Therefore, this essay will determine why La Vérendrye was chosen to be commemorated as a lieu de mémoire by residents of both Winnipeg and St. Boniface in the form of a bicentennial anniversary and as a monument in 1938. Aside from Roy and Allaire’s cursory survey, there has not been a comprehensive analysis of the commemoration of La Vérendrye in Manitoba. The 1938 bicentennial celebration is a suitable focal point for an analysis of the commemoration of La Vérendrye, as it was the apogee of commemorative activities in Winnipeg and St. Boniface. Although La Vérendrye was initially commemorated as an exclusively French-Canadian hero, by 1938 he had become an influential historical figure in both the Anglo- and Franco-Manitoban communities. Following the Great Depression and the Great Drought of the 1930s, Manitoba’s economic recovery began in 1938 with the first bountiful wheat harvest in nearly a decade. At the same time, the businesses and factories of Winnipeg and St. Boniface boomed, as tractors, cultivating equipment, and harvesting machines were in demand once again. Economic prosperity had returned to the once shining “Buckle of the World’s Wheat Belt.”  The prosperous year of 1938 coincided with the bicentennial anniversary of La Vérendrye’s first arrival at the Forks.
By the time of the 1938 bicentennial, the commemoration of La Vérendrye was divided into three distinct categories—piety and religiosity, settlement and industry, and the spirit of co-operation. These categories had developed individually and over the first four decades of the 20th century. These commemorative themes were influenced by events in contemporary societies and cultures of Anglo- and Franco-Manitobans, rather than by the historical events that had shaped La Vérendrye’s own experiences in the 18th century. As Geoffrey Cubitt wrote, “commemorations are always as much about the present and the future as about the past.”  Similarly, H. V. Nelles has argued that “historians write about the past with the present and future very much in mind.”  Therefore, the contextualization of the Great Depression, the interwar period, and the cultural hegemony of Anglo- and Franco-Manitobans is imperative to understanding the reasons for the varying categories of commemoration present at the 1938 La Vérendrye bicentennial.
The version of La Vérendrye commemorated at the celebration had scant resemblance to our knowledge of the historical figure. It was a revisionist construction of the historical material and accumulated knowledge. The construction had been both actively and passively shaped into certain commemorative themes that would be suitable for remembrance by both Anglo- and Franco-Manitobans at the end of the Great Depression.
Geoffrey Cubitt has suggested that “commemorations offer occasions for communities to take stock of, to debate, and perhaps to adjust the meanings they find in their own history and the shapes they give to their collective identity.”  Despite the inclusion of both Anglo- and Franco-Manitoban cultures, however, the La Vérendrye bicentennial celebration marginalized both recently arrived European immigrants and the First Nations community. The spirit of co-operation discourse generated by the bicentennial was exclusively oriented towards Anglo- and Franco-Manitobans.
This article focusses on the 1938 bicentennial souvenir programme and the literature surrounding the event. In my analysis of the development of the categories of commemoration, I examine publications from the Société historique de Saint-Boniface. The Jesuits of St. Boniface College were largely responsible for first generating interest in La Vérendrye starting in 1908 with the rediscovery and excavation of the French trading post, Fort St. Charles, on the Lake of the Woods in Minnesota. Moreover, certain Franco-Manitoban authors such as Louis Arthur Prud’Homme were extensively involved in la Société historique de Saint-Boniface’s writings from the initial involvement in the search for Fort St. Charles to the 1938 bicentennial. Therefore, St. Boniface College and the Franco-Manitoban community initially played a crucial role in the shaping of the commemorative themes surrounding the celebration of La Vérendrye. In framing my argument, I use the conceptual framework developed by other scholars examining the commemoration of the French colonial period in North America, notably Alan Gordon, H. V. Nelles, Colin M. Coates, and Ronald Rudin.
The La Vérendrye bicentennial celebration was very consciously constructed as a lieu de mémoire by the event planners, coordinators, and organizers. In Québec, Ronald Rudin has argued that the leaders of commemorative events celebrating Samuel de Champlain and Bishop François de Laval “took their organizational work very seriously. Nothing was left to chance; every decision was carefully considered, from the timing of the various events, to the routes to be followed and the order of marchers, to the design of public monuments and mounting of theatrical events.”  These event planners “invested huge amounts of time and energy in these details in order to send contemporary messages to the tens if not hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators.”  The La Vérendrye bicentennial was also carefully calculated and planned by a number of planners and organizers, and should indeed be examined as a lieu de mémoire.
Before analyzing the categories of commemoration surrounding La Vérendrye and the bi-centennial celebration, I will first briefly contextualize him as a historical figure in the French colonial period of the 18th century. Born in Trois-Rivières in 1685, La Vérendrye engaged in several vocations throughout his life—soldier, fur trader, and explorer. Starting in 1731, he searched for a passage to the Western Sea, the fabled body of water supposedly located in Midwestern North America. The Sea would have opened into a small passage which led towards the Pacific Ocean. Since Christopher Columbus’ landfall in 1492, European monarchs and explorers had been obsessed with the discovery of a quicker passage to Asia. As a result of his search, La Vérendrye and his sons were some of the first Europeans to visit the regions that would become Manitoba, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. 
La Vérendrye failed to locate the fabled Western Sea. The slow pace of his explorations and discoveries led many of his contemporaries to accuse him of being greedy and more interested in the “sea of beaver” than in the discovery of “the Western Sea.”  Indeed, many of his contemporaries hated and despised La Vérendrye for his monopoly of the trading posts in the Northwest as well as for his failure to locate the Western Sea. Nor was La Vérendrye’s reputation rehabilitated after his death in 1749. Daniel Royot has noted how “La Vérendrye was not recognized as a major discoverer by early historians, who judged him uneducated, erratic, and venal.” 
However, in 1852 Pierre Margry, a French archivist, discovered a large quantity of La Vérendrye’s journals, reports, and letters. Margry wrote a revisionist history wherein La Vérendrye was depicted as continually misunderstood by the French government, a victim of the accusations of his detractors, and as a valiant and dutiful explorer who put the good of the colony ahead of his own and his family’s interests. This new interpretation of La Vérendrye continued into the 20th century and he blossomed into one of the major figures in the history of New France.  Many 20th-century historians have also written revisionist interpretations of La Vérendrye. For example, in 1904, Agnes Laut asserted that “every mile westward” of La Vérendrye’s travels “was consecrated by [French] heroism.”  In 1914, Lawrence J. Burpee praised La Vérendrye as “Canada’s bravest son,” who “gave all that he had, including his life, for the glory and welfare of his country.”  The major themes emphasized in these early biographies are La Vérendrye’s travel narrative, his “‘heroic” qualities, and his interactions with the “half-naked savages,” to whom are imparted the gifts of civilization and Christianity. 
As early as 1804, descendants of French voyageurs and the First Nations, the Métis, began to settle on the east bank of the Red River. However, the fledgling French community became connected to the rest of Canada after 1818 with the arrival of the first two missionaries, the Reverend Fathers Provencher and Dumoulin, dispatched by the Bishop of Québec.  Archbishop Taché of St. Boniface, who was “an admirer of the pioneers of the West, took a deep interest in La Vérendrye.” Taché voiced the idea of a monument in St. Boniface honouring La Vérendrye on 24 June 1886, when he “blessed the blocks of granite destined, in his mind, to become the base of the proposed monument.”  However, the blocks of granite then went into a deep slumber for over fifty years before a monument would finally be established at the site.
Taché’s enterprise was revived in the 1910s by a group of Franco-Manitoban Jesuits, scholars, authors, and politicians. The writings of Judge Louis Arthur Prud’Homme, the Reverend Denys Lamy, the Reverend S. J. Paquin, and the Reverend T. J. Campbell were particularly influential in the early Franco-Manitoban interest in La Vérendrye, and were often published in English by la Société historique de Saint-Boniface. In a 1913 appeal to the public, Prud’Homme wrote that “The Historical Society of St. Boniface was now seeking to revive the enterprise of the La Vérendrye monument”, which had been “so ardently desired by the great prelate [Taché].” 
Prud’Homme and Lamy’s initial appeal for the construction of a La Vérendrye monument called for the support of English-Canadian benefactors. They appealed to the generosity of the “broad-minded English-speaking citizen,” who would surely recognize “all the various races now enjoying in this new land [Manitoba] the fruit of La Vérendrye’s labours.” They proposed that La Vérendrye be honoured alongside the English founding figure of Manitoba, “the noble Lord Selkirk.” Prud’Homme and Lamy suggested that “no element of our population will, we trust, be backward in contributing to such an undertaking,” which sought to honour “the hero who contributed so much to the development of this country… no one would wish to leave in oblivion that other hero [La Vérendrye] who was the first to tread this Western soil.” 
An argument for equal recognition of La Vérendrye and Lord Selkirk in public memory was the strategy employed by the St. Boniface College and Historical Society to gather English support to fund the monument.  In the Québec context, Ronald Rudin has argued that the involvement of Anglo-Canadians in the commemorative activities of New France was due to “the increased concentration of economic power in English-run businesses.”  Rudin noted that, by 1908, the “relatively informal committees” were replaced by hierarchical and bureaucratized organizations that were “staffed by professionals employed for their particular expertise in staging commemorative spectacles.” Rudin argued that this “bureaucratization also increased the costs of such affairs, with the result that during celebrations of their own heroes, French-speakers often had to take a backseat to English-speakers, who had the means to foot the bill.”  The cost of a ‘proper’ commemoration, as well as the concentration of economic power among AngloCanadians, forced the Franco-Manitoban committees to court their English-speaking neighbours. Prud’Homme and Lamy urged their Winnipeg neighbours to contribute their financial support: “it is high time that such great and noble merits [of La Vérendrye] be publickly [sic] recognized and in some way repaid. Now that such a prodigious progress has set in, now that luxury has replaced desolation, the fortunate heirs of this great explorer’s toils and labours owe him, we think, the reward of a monument.” 
Despite their reliance on Anglo-Canadian funding, the La Vérendrye committee also sought to use their commemoration of La Vérendrye to assert their own identity, language, and culture. Within the FrancoManitoban community the influence of Catholicism and religiosity in their own commemoration of La Vérendrye seemed to be far more pertinent than the discourse on Selkirk and the British-Canadian co-operation. H. V. Nelles has argued that Franco-Canadian celebrations of the French colonial period sought to “establish a new cultural equilibrium in Edwardian Canada.”  According to Rudin, this commemoration of French Canada’s history looked back with nostalgia on the time when “French Catholics were entirely in control,” and was “the place where one could see the most reason to hope for the survival of the French-Canadian people under the difficult circumstances of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” 
St. Boniface College and la Société historique de SaintBoniface used a discourse of Catholicism and religiosity in their commemoration of La Vérendrye to assert their own independent cultural and religious identity in contrast to their neighbouring Anglo-Protestant counterparts in Winnipeg. Similarly, and on a much larger scale, Alan Gordon has argued that the French-Canadians in Québec celebrated and commemorated Jacques Cartier, the French captain and explorer from St. Malo, as a passionate and emotional symbol of religious significance. Gordon suggests that Cartier was seen as an “Abraham of America”. Just as Abraham had led the Hebrews into Canaan, so, too, had Cartier led the French into the promised land of the New World. The Bishop of Trois-Rivières, L. F. R. Laflèche, said that a national identity could be found in its genealogy, that “French Canadians were blessed… from the divine origins of their founding patriarch: Cartier.” Therefore, Cartier was recognized as the divine patriarch of the French nation in Canada, and as an ardent religious symbol for the continued endurance and propagation of the “True Faith” and a French cultural identity into the 20th century. 
The discovery of the remains of Father Aulneau, and the excavation of Fort St. Charles on the Lake of the Woods by an expedition from St. Boniface College in the summer of 1908, sparked a renewed interest in the La Vérendrye expedition. These discoveries were also the catalyst that brought religiosity into the La Vérendrye commemoration.  Moreover, the Fort St. Charles expedition re-invented the reluctant missionary, Father Jean-Pierre Aulneau, as a major and almost predominant figure in the quest for the Western Sea. Father Aulneau’s letters had been rediscovered and reprinted in 1893 as The Aulneau Collection.  In the first years of the 20th century, Jesuit scholars at St. Boniface College read this volume, and were inspired to embark on a number of expeditions to discover the old sites of Fort St. Charles and the island of the 1736 massacre. Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface was instrumental in funding several expeditions in the search for the fort.  At one time the sites of Fort St. Charles and the island where Aulneau was killed were considered so holy that T. J. Campbell wrote: “even the pagan Indians make the sign of the cross as they approach [the island], and then paddle furiously to hurry by.” 
The initial expedition in 1902 failed to find the fort. Nevertheless, the Jesuit expedition said a prayer on the island where they believed the Frenchmen had been massacred in 1736. In August 1908, the ruins of Fort St. Charles on the Lake of the Woods were discovered and identified by a Jesuit team from St. Boniface College. Campbell noted that the expedition began “with absolute trust in Divine Providence… they started out on the lake singing the Ave Maris Stella.”  The Jesuits from the College discovered the site of the fort in short time and immediately started excavating. Before two weeks had passed, they turned up nineteen skulls and some skeletons, which validated the account in La Vérendrye’s Journals and Letters.
The Jesuits discovered two skeletons side by side in a box. Campbell wrote of the Jesuits’ unique discovery: “at the feet of the other skeleton were the beads of a rosary and a bunch of keys. Between the two bodies was a cutlass. Both were headless. There could be little doubt that the Jesuits of 1908 met their brother Aulneau who had been murdered in 1736.”  S. J. Paquin wrote that, upon departing from the site of Fort St. Charles, the expedition planted a cross on the north side of the fort and sang “the Magnificat in thanksgiving.”  In both Paquin’s and Campbell’s narratives, the Jesuit expedition was led to Fort St. Charles and the remains of Father Aulneau by divine providence. Paquin concluded that, “we find us justified in believing that we have recovered the relics of the Rev. Father Aulneau, and in giving them the honour they deserve.” 
Following the discovery and excavation of Fort St. Charles, publications from la Société historique de SaintBoniface in the 1910s reveal that the discourse of Catholic religiosity dominated the commemoration of La Vérendrye. Prud’Homme noted that La Vérendrye was “a man of strong faith, sweetly pious, and this helped him to bear the severe hardships of his expeditions.” This ardently pious La Vérendrye undertook his mission “in the service of God and France.”  Prud’Homme concluded that La Vérendrye had planted the “seed of lasting institutions,” and took care to bring “with him missionaries who at the dawn of the discovery of the West, would establish the faith.” Due to La Vérendrye’s piety and diligence, “Western Canada at the time of its discovery had in its heart the teachings of the true Gospel… the seal of that moral grandeur which makes its present strength and its future hope.” 
Bill Moreau has argued that a scriptural and hagiographic discourse dominates the historiography of the 1736 Lake of the Woods massacre.  The rediscovery of the Aulneau letters and the publications of la Société historique de Saint-Boniface led to an increasingly important role for Father Aulneau in the Fort St. Charles and massacre narratives. For example, in a 1927 biography sponsored by the Québec government, Irene Moore wrote that “the missionary’s body was [found] in such a position that it was thought he was beheaded while on his knees… perhaps pronouncing absolution for his confreres in dying.”  Similarly, Ottawa historian and original English translator of the La Vérendrye Journals and Letters, Lawrence J. Burpee, stated in his Pathfinders of the Great Plains that in the midst of the Sioux attack on the French convoy, “the Jesuit priest walked up and down, deep in his breviary.”  Aulneau’s prominent role had now extended to both English and French historiographies of La Vérendrye. In the discourse of Catholic religiosity, historical writing becomes almost a hagiography, “a discourse… [with] scriptural echoes.”  Campbell suggested that Aulneau was not decapitated like the rest of the Frenchmen: “it was reported that the Indians were afraid to touch his body.”  Moreau argues that Aulneau becomes “the central, and almost sole figure in the narrative—he approaches heroic status.” 
Whereas Champlain and Laval had acted as commemorative counterweights to each other in the 1908 Québec celebrations, so too did raising Aulneau to “heroic status” allow a commemorative balance between the secular and the Catholic in the La Vérendrye commemoration. However, Aulneau and La Vérendrye never competitively vied for attention in the commemorative public space in St. Boniface in quite the same way that Champlain and Laval had competed in Québec. In contrast, Bishop François de Laval had at least been a significant religious leader in the French colony in his lifetime; whereas Aulneau’s status as a religious figure had been insignificant and was largely constructed by the Jesuit historians of St. Boniface College in the 20th century.
As Moreau has noted, Aulneau was not the central figure of the 1736 massacre. The first accounts of the incident in the summer of 1736 place “Aulneau in a subordinate role; one account speaks only of the group, while the other gives priority to Jean-Baptiste de la Vérendrye.” Aulneau was not a martyr, as he was not slain in defence of the Catholic Faith. Rather, the Frenchmen were killed for commercial and political reasons. As Moreau indicates, “the heads [of the Frenchmen] wrapped in beaver pelts speak the symbolic language of commerce rather than Christianity.”  Moreover, Aulneau was not a particularly successful or passionate missionary; Aulneau’s personal letters to his mother and colleagues indicate that he was greatly discouraged by his missionary work among the Cree, whom he described as “fierce and cruel.” He believed that they obeyed and worshipped the devil and that their sole occupations were warfare and hunting. Aulneau never set foot in the vicinity of present-day Winnipeg but he described the region around the Lake of the Woods as a “wretched country” and stated, on multiple occasions, his “natural repugnance” for his missionary work.  Aulneau had also been initially quite reluctant to undertake the mission: “it was not without a pang that I brought myself to obey.” Finally, Aulneau was unenthusiastic about having been sent to undertake missionary work alone; he wrote frequently about how the difficulties of the missionary work “would have been more than welcome had it been advisable to give me as a companion another Jesuit.” 
Conversely, Aulneau’s Jesuit friends and colleagues, writing about him after his death, contradicted and negated the hesitancies discernible in his writings. In 1738, Father Luc-François Nau wrote to Aulneau’s mother that her son was now “invoked here as a powerful intercessor with God, and [that] a great many persons affirm that they have received signal graces through his intercession.”  Still problematic was Aulneau’s departure from Fort St. Charles to join the French convoy headed to the French trading post at Michilimackinac, on the straits between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Aulneau would be headed away from his missionary work after less than a year in the West. Most Jesuit narratives seem to disregard this enigma and simply attach him to the convoy without question. On discussing Aulneau’s presence in the convoy, Nellis Crouse ponders that perhaps “he decided to return to Montreal, though why he did not remain in order to perfect himself in the Indian dialects and carry on his missionary labours among the neighbouring tribes is not clear.”  Grace Flandreau more directly asserted that Aulneau had given up his missionary work: “[he] proved unequal to the grim life of his new frontier. He demanded to be returned to Michilimackinac and asked that Verendrye’s son should accompany him so that he might make the journey with the greatest speed and safety.”  In all cases, Aulneau seems to have been determined to return to Michilimackinac with the utmost haste and security.
The Jesuit priest had also asked La Vérendrye for his son, Jean-Baptiste, so that “no time was lost on the way, either going or returning.”  La Vérendrye wrote that “my eldest son went with them [the convoy to Michilimackinac], as I could not refuse him to the reverend Father, who had asked for him.”  Moreau observes that the “writings [of] the elder La Vérendrye betray some peevishness with the missionary, stating on three occasions that it was at Aulneau’s insistence that Jean-Baptiste was sent along with the brigade, stopping just short of accusing the Jesuit of responsibility for the death of his son.”  Indeed, Jean-Baptiste de La Vérendrye was attached to the convoy solely on Aulneau’s request, and seems to have had no reason to be part of the convoy himself. Regardless, La Vérendrye had previously sent his eldest son on far more dangerous errands than the relatively short voyage to Michilimackinac.
The commemorative theme of French piety and Catholicism seems to have continued into the period of the bicentennial celebration and the unveiling of the La Vérendrye monument in 1938. Similar to Burpee’s writings, other English-Canadian historians began to draw upon the discursive themes of religiosity and piety. Edward Watts has argued that some dissident American writers of this period also used the legacy of the French in North America to challenge American imperialism, exclusion, and ambition.  New France had been perceived as demonstrating “a more horizontal notion of difference, one that tolerated and even championed interculturalism and other forms of cultural plurality,” whereas, the “Anglo model was constructed as a vertical stratification of races, regions, and religions.”  Similarly, English-Canadian historians drew upon the moralizing themes of the French colonial period, which was recognized as inherently less bloody and deplorable than both England’s and Spain’s colonial heritage. 
In Winnipeg and Ottawa, English authors and academics were drawn into the growing interest in La Vérendrye through the efforts of Prud’Homme and other Franco-Manitoban academics and Jesuits.  The St. Boniface College expedition and further writings from la Société historique de Saint-Boniface seem to have generated interest and support from the City of Winnipeg. In 1913, the mayor of Winnipeg, Thomas R. Deacon, wrote to Prud’Homme expressing his utmost support:
In the same year, Prud’Homme and the La Vérendrye Monument committee gathered support from a number of prominent Anglo-Manitobans. Manitoba’s Public Utilities Commissioner and a former judge, H. A. Robson, also expressed support. Robson wrote: “I am heartily in favour of the proposal and trust it may at an early date be successfully carried out.”  Also expressing his support, Sir William White wrote to Prud’Homme: “I sincerely trust that the efforts of the committee will meet with success and that a monument worthy of the Great Explorer will soon be an accomplished fact... to commemorate the names of those who did so much for the Canadian West, especially in its earlier years.”  The La Vérendrye monument had gathered a lot of English financial support in 1913 through la Société historique de Saint-Boniface’s efforts, but was not finally erected until 1938. The massive delays can probably be attributed to two of the monumental events of the 20th century, as the outbreak of the Great War and the Great Depression significantly hindered the progress of the monument’s realization.
Nevertheless, Prud’Homme continued to write prolifically in English on La Vérendrye throughout the wartime period, focussing on the theme of co-operation between Anglo- and Franco-Manitobans, properly emphasizing their respective heroes, La Vérendrye and Selkirk. In 1916, Prud’Homme wrote that “the French Canadians have a special claim on La Vérendrye and the English Canadians on Selkirk, but these two great men cannot be held within the compass of only one nationality. They are the glory of the West, and the fathers of that part of Canada.” Prud’Homme argued that all Canadians should learn their names and histories, and should strive to “imitate their spirit of sacrifice for the love of their country.” 
Prud’Homme’s perseverance and continued work on La Vérendrye throughout the war met with some success. Following the war, a La Vérendrye statue was erected in 1920 upon completion of the Manitoba Legislative Building. However, this statue was much smaller than the intended monument in St. Boniface. Nevertheless, the La Vérendrye statue was still a victory for la Société historique de Saint-Boniface and the College. A story in the Winnipeg Tribune claimed that “the great Anglo Saxon heroes” should serve as suitable commemorations for the building and grounds. Despite the bias toward exclusively “Anglo Saxon heroes,” local groups and interests pressed for commemorative monuments to honour both Lord Selkirk and La Vérendrye. 
Colin M. Coates has observed that it would be inaccurate to argue that lieux de mémoire were created by the “simple imposition of the state’s will to remember, or even for less direct and hegemonic control by the Dominion or provincial governments.” Although government subsidies for monuments and festivities help shape the collective memory of a community, the government contributions are often made “as a reaction to the demands of voluntary organizations or prominent individuals.”  Therefore, the provincial government certainly supported the establishment of a La Vérendrye monument on the Legislative grounds, in contrast to the other “great Anglo Saxon heroes.” There were both voluntary organizations and prominent individuals in the Franco-Manitoban community who publicly appealed for the commemoration of La Vérendrye in Manitoba.
In the spirit of co-operation, statues of Vérendrye and the Earl of Selkirk stood as companion pieces on the East portico of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Baker has argued that La Vérendrye also was chosen to be honoured as a historic hero, because he “was thought to be a good model for young people to emulate.” The duo were honoured and commemorated at the Manitoba Legislative Building for much the same reasons that Prud’Homme had already emphasized: “De la Vérendrye was one of the first to explore the area which was to become the province of Manitoba, Selkirk had believed in the future of the region and had led settlers there.” 
public memory in Winnipeg and St. Boniface. Studying Canadian war social memory, historian Jonathan Vance has argued that the interwar period necessitated an explanation for the unfathomable carnage of the First World War. Many historians in the interwar period, Vance argues, saw the War as “Canada’s progress from colony to nation” and the victory at Vimy Ridge as “the one milestone to mark the progress on the road to national maturity.” However, Vance argues that the War “did not create a single nationalism, but instead strengthened the two nationalisms of French and English Canada; both societies gained a greater appreciation of their separate identities from the experience of the war.”  Both the separation of French and English nationalism, as well as the unifying sense of a national Canadian identity, are evident in Manitoba in the interwar period. The French (La Vérendrye) and the English (Selkirk) are separated but commemorated in unison in a spirit of co-operation. The linking of La Vérendrye and Selkirk in commemoration solidified a Manitoban identity, while also asserting a separate and distinguished Anglo- and FrancoManitoban culture. At the same time, the predominant role of French and English public memory in Winnipeg and St. Boniface excluded other cultural segments of the contested space for public commemoration in Manitoba. In the 1910s, Winnipeg was unique in Canada for its large population of European immigrants and, as historian Jim Blanchard has noted, the 1916 census indicated that Winnipeg had a population that was only 67 percent British in origin. 
The Great Depression and the Great Drought of the 1930s turned the once shining “Buckle of the World’s Wheat Belt” into the “Dust Bowl.” By 1938, however, the economic situation in Manitoba began to improve. Eric Wells has argued that “bountiful harvests in 1938 and 1939, along with improved conditions in the United States, helped restore the upward trend in wheat prices” and as a result, the businesses and factories of Winnipeg and St. Boniface boomed.  The prosperous year of 1938 coincided with the bicentennial anniversary of La Vérendrye’s first arrival at the Forks. The establishment and unveiling of the long-awaited La Vérendrye monument would finally come to realization. The renewed economic prosperity in the province of Manitoba saw the emergence of a third category of commemoration— La Vérendrye’s role in the settlement and industrialization of Manitoba. At the same time, the two other commemorative categories of religiosity and the spirit of co-operation continued to persist in the commemoration of La Vérendrye in the bicentennial celebration.
In 1938, the cities of Winnipeg and St. Boniface held a nine-day event to honour and pay tribute to La Vérendrye. The event was designed as a bicentennial celebration that commemorated the arrival of La Vérendrye at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers on 24 September 1738. The celebration from 3-11 September consisted of a pageant, a parade, a canoe procession at the Forks, and finally—the climax of the festivities—the ceremonial unveiling and dedication of the La Vérendrye monument and park in St. Boniface. The program guide proposed to celebrate “the discovery of the West by La Vérendrye,” who two hundred years before had ventured into territories that were “entirely unknown to the white race.” 
The bicentennial program stated that La Vérendrye saw “with his prophetic vision the potentialities of the great western plains… his vision—his sacrifice.”  La Vérendrye was recognized as the forerunner of industry and commerce of Manitoba and was said to have recognized the “potentialities” of the province of Manitoba as he experienced the “millions of acres of forests,” the vast expanse of fertile western plain, the “inexhaustible store of fish and game,” and even the hints of copper and other precious ore deposits. La Vérendrye did not develop Manitoba in his own right, but “he pointed the way and his illustrious successors have carried the torch to us—the people of Manitoba—who today honour his memory.” With much exaggeration the bicentennial program also stated that La Vérendrye “gave birth to the City of Winnipeg… [through] perseverance and fortitude.” 
Twenty-nine different advertisements were scattered throughout the twenty-four page bicentennial program. An advertisement by the “City of Winnipeg Hydro” gave praise to La Vérendrye for having built Fort Maurepas on the Winnipeg River in 1734. The advertisement stated that “the Winnipeg River is steeped in Romance… Times have changed, but the romance of the river has not dimmed.” The canoes used on the “highway” by the “countless voyageurs, traders, trappers and prospectors” have been replaced by “City Hydro’s huge power plants.”  In this sense, the Winnipeg River itself has become a site of commemoration by celebrating its “discovery” by La Vérendrye and the foundation of Fort Maurepas. 
Other companies and corporations also commemorated La Vérendrye and used the bicentennial events to advertise their products and services. The Toupin Lumber & Fuel Company wrote that “La Vérendrye was unquestionably one of the greatest patriots of our Canadian Land. Let us prove our faith in him by permanently establishing ourselves on the soil he loved so much.” The Toupin Lumber & Fuel Company reinforced the La Vérendrye prophetic foundation legend by suggesting he loved the Manitoban soil and had somehow imagined settlement and industry in Manitoba. The advertisement concludes, that the best way to acknowledge and pay tribute to La Vérendrye is by “building for yourself a real good home. One which will take care of your families for many years to come.”  Similarly, the Great-West Life Assurance Company wrote that “Two Hundred Years Ago, when Pierre Gaultier de la Vérendrye surmounted untold hardships to reach this gateway to the West, he must have divined the great wealth and future that lay in store.” Great-West Life connected past heroism and adventure with current industry and development: “where his paddle dipped and where his moccasins left their imprints, there have risen great power developments… [and] massive buildings of industry and public service.”  Starting in 1938, the economic upturn following the Great Depression saw a renewed growth and confidence in local businesses and factories. Therefore, the third category of commemoration emerged in the post-Depression period, the celebration of La Vérendrye for his role in the settlement and industry of Manitoba.
As mentioned, the 1938 bicentennial celebration also saw the resurgence of two other commemorative themes— religiosity and the spirit of co-operation. For example, the bicentennial celebration was intended to commemorate not only the French voyageurs and La Vérendrye, but also the Earl of Selkirk and the Selkirk Settlers who settled in the Red River valley in 1812. The program noted that settlers of all nationalities arrived in Manitoba and worked together, “shoulder to shoulder,” to realize their dreams and to “build a common heritage to hand down to their children… sacrifices had to be made, and with the SPIRIT OF CO-OPERATION they laid well the foundations upon which the generations to come are to build.”  The recent economic turbulence of the 1930s was certainly now more present in the undertones of the spirit of co-operation discourse than it had been in the 1910s
The joint commemoration of Selkirk and La Vérendrye allowed both Anglo- and Franco-Manitobans to take pride in a shared heritage and history. The “honorary patrons” present at the bicentennial celebration in 1938 comprised a fairly mixed group: eleven English dignitaries including the Lieutenant-Governor and the Premier of Manitoba, as well as seven French dignitaries including the Premier of Québec and a French diplomat. Of the executive committee there were six English members and seven French members.  As a result, the program and the bicentennial celebrations seem to have been almost completely bilingual. About half the events were in Winnipeg and half in St. Boniface.
Ethnic minorities were also incorporated into the bicentennial celebrations as part of the Winnipeg elite’s conscious desire to integrate the “outsider” ethnic groups into the Manitoban community. The bicentennial program stated that “We are fortunate in having as citizens people representing many nationalities. Each evening several of the following groups present their offerings.”  Royden Loewen and Gerald Friesen have written that it was in the 1920s when “Winnipeg’s elites first recognized that cultural diversity was one of the city’s distinctive features… Public acknowledgement of pluralism was then extended to the promotion of citizenship.”  The program listed nine ethnic minorities and a description of their song, music, or dance to be performed as part of the bicentennial celebrations. People of Czechoslovakian, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Italian, Jewish, Polish, Swedish, and Ukrainian ethnic backgrounds took part as performers. Even within the context of “representing [the] many nationalities” of Canada, the organizers of the program sought to enforce their vision of the Canadian nation and the Canadian citizen. The program praised the “Polish-Canadians of this City,” who were “glad to participate in this celebration as much as they are happy to know that many pioneers of their nationality have contributed to the making of the history of Canada.” Despite their contributions to the making of the Canadian nation and history, the program noted that the Polish-Canadians contributions were “on a smaller scale than La Vérendrye and his co-nationals.” On the other hand, the bicentennial program represented the Dutch minority as comprising the “ideal” Canadian immigrants: “People from the Netherlands came to Canada and rather than form separate communities proudly became absorbed in Canadian life.” The high praise for Dutch assimilation into “Canadian life” marginalized the other ethnic groups, who presumably had formed “separate communities,” and had retained their own language and culture, and did not become wholly absorbed into “Canadian life.” 
First Nations were also represented; however, their role was also severely marginalized by the Anglo- and Franco-Manitoban organizers. English-born Philip H. Godsell was in charge of the “Indian Scenes and Dances” portions of the celebrations.  Godsell had been an HBC employee until 1929 during which time he worked in the Keewatin, Lake Superior, Mackenzie River and Western Arctic districts. At the time, he was living and working fulltime as a writer and journalist in Winnipeg. On the third day of the celebrations, there was an “Old-Time Fair”, a “Buffalo Barbecue” and an “Indian Pow Wow on barges” at Whittier Park in St. Boniface. 
Colin Coates argues that the “colonial contexts” of commemoration have meant “Aboriginal peoples’ histories and memories have been both appropriated and forgotten.” This was particularly pertinent in the period from the 1890s to the 1920s, wherein “both English- and FrenchCanadians participated in vociferous debates over the meanings of nationalism and imperialism.” In the debate over the meaning of nationalism, Aboriginal peoples were critically important to the writing of Canadian history. However, in the process, Coates states, “First Nations were denied their own history, being relegated to the realm of memory, fantasy, and desire.”  First Nations history was appropriated by the La Vérendrye bicentennial celebrations; the “Indian Pow Wow” was not meant to commemorate an Aboriginal traditional dance, but rather was appropriated to assert and validate notions of French and English nationalism.
The commemorative themes of religiosity and piety were also part of the celebrations. The program concluded with the 1738 founding of Fort Rouge at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. According to the program, the “party is met by two Chiefs and La Vérendrye smokes the ceremonial pipe of peace. For the first time, the solemn strains of the Te Deum are heard in the wilderness as the priest gives his blessing.”  The First Nations Chiefs who smoke the ceremonial pipe of peace with La Vérendrye are unnamed and remain anonymous. Their identity is unimportant and their symbolic gesture of peace and compliance justifies Franco-Manitoban imperial claims to the province. The program also failed to mention which priest gave the blessing at the peace ceremony, perhaps completely failing to take into account that the slain Father Aulneau had not yet been replaced by another missionary. Nevertheless, the inclusion of references to the Te Deum hymn and the priest’s blessings reinforces the continued importance of the commemorative theme of piety and religiosity in the commemoration of La Vérendrye.
In conclusion, the commemoration of La Vérendrye in Manitoba began in 1886 when Archbishop Taché blessed and oversaw the placement of the first granite blocks in St. Boniface, the future site of the monument. In 1908, researchers from St. Boniface College discovered and excavated the site of Fort St. Charles on the Lake of the Woods, and at the same time the recovery of Father Aulneau’s remains and the discovery of the island where he was killed renewed a sense of religious fervour in St. Boniface. La Vérendrye’s relatively secular commercial and exploratory expedition was transformed by FrancoManitoban historians and Jesuits into a zealous mission of conversion. In 1920, Prud’Homme was particularly influential in building Anglo-Canadian support through his construction of a bicultural discourse and spirit of co-operation. The commemorative theme of co-operation was evident in the post-war establishment of the statues of La Vérendrye and Selkirk as companion pieces on the East portico of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Finally, the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the economic upturn in 1938 saw the commemorative theme of La Vérendrye as a settler and industrial prophet emerge. The three categories of commemoration were shaped through time and by varying social changes during the first four decades of the 20th century. As Geoffrey Cubitt has suggested, “commemorations are always as much about the present and the future as about the past.” 
The 1938 La Vérendrye bicentennial celebration was the apogee of La Vérendrye commemoration in Manitoba, the culmination of efforts by Judge Prud’Homme, the St. Boniface Historical Society, and St. Boniface College in the course of the early 20th century. Following the celebration, La Vérendrye faded from public memory with the advent of the Second World War. However, there was a resurgence of interest in La Vérendrye in the 1970s. In 1973, at the unveiling of a La Vérendrye plaque in Bonnycastle Park in Winnipeg, the President of the Manitoba Historical Society, Dr. E. C. Shaw, described the character of La Vérendrye: “Belief in God, Integrity of action, Fearlessness in the face of the unknown, Gentleness of spirit.”  The 1970s also saw the inauguration and growth of the Festival du Voyageur, a Winnipeg winter festival that annually celebrates the culture and lifestyle of the French voyageur. The commemorative themes surrounding La Vérendrye have changed and the focus has shifted from the man to the commemoration of the culture and lives of his soldiers and voyageurs. 2013 marked the 275th anniversary of the foundation of Fort Rouge under La Vérendrye’s supervision at the Forks of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. Today, the memory of La Vérendrye continues to remain accessible to public memory as the monuments, plaques, and statues erected in his honour still mark the landscape of Winnipeg as sites of commemoration or lieux de mémoire.
1. “Programme of the bi-centennial celebration of the arrival of Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, Winnipeg and St. Boniface, September 3rd to 11th, 1938,” La Vérendrye Bi-Centenary Committee, Winnipeg, http://peel.library. ualberta.ca/bibliography/6240.html.
2. Alain Roy and Gratien Allaire, “À propos de l’ Inventaire des lieux de mémoire de la Nouvelle-France: La Vérendrye et ses traces dans le paysage canadien,” in Entre lieux et mémoire: L’inscription de la francophonie canadienne dans la durée, ed. Anne Gilbert et al., Ottawa: Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 2009, pp. 117–118.
3. Ibid., p. 135.
4. Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” Representations 26 (1989): 12.
5. Ibid., p. 19.
6. Eric Wells, Winnipeg: Where the New West Begins, Burlington: Windsor Publications Ltd, 1982, p. 154.
7. Geoffrey Cubitt, History and Memory, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007, p. 221.
8. H. V. Nelles, The Art of Nation-Building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec’s Tercentenary, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, p. 17.
10. Ronald Rudin, Founding Fathers: The Celebration of Champlain and Laval in the Streets of Quebec, 1878–1908, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003, pp. 9–10.
11. Ibid., p. 10.
12. Nellis M. Crouse, La Verendrye: Fur Trader and Explorer, Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1956, pp. 3–5.
13. Jean-Pierre Aulneau, The Aulneau Collection, Montreal: Archives of St. Mary’s College, 1893, pp. 66–67.
14. Daniel Royot, Divided Loyalties in a Doomed Empire: The French in the West from New France to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Cranbury: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp, 2007, p. 229.
16. Agnes Laut, Pathfinders of the West, Ayer Co Pub, 1904, p. 197.
17. Lawrence J. Burpee, Pathfinders of the Great Plains, Toronto: Brook & Company, 1914, p. 1.
18. Ibid., pp. 4, 59.
19. Wells, Winnipeg: Where the New West Begins, p. 182.
20. Louis Arthur Prud’Homme, “A Monument to La Vérendrye The Discover of the West Appeal to the Public” in A Monument to La Vérendrye, the Discoverer of the West, ed. Committee of La Vérendrye Monument, St. Boniface: Le Manitoba Printing Co., 1913, p. 5.
23. Ibid., p. 7.
24. Ronald Rudin, Founding Fathers, p. 8.
26. Prud’Homme, A Monument to La Vérendrye, p. 6.
27. Nelles, The Art of Nation-Building, p. 16.
28. Rudin, Founding Fathers, p. 9.
29. Alan Gordon, The Hero and the Historians: Historiography and the Uses of Jacques Cartier, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010, pp. 83–84.
30. La Vérendrye established Fort St. Charles in 1731 on a peninsula in the Lake of the Woods in the modern day Northwest Angle, Minnesota. Fort St. Charles served as his principal headquarters until 1738 when Fort La Reine, Portage La Prairie, was established. Burpee, Journals and Letters, p. 95.
31. Jean-Pierre Aulneau, The Aulneau Collection, Montreal: Archives of St. Mary’s College, 1893.
32. Prud’Homme, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes Sieur De La Vérendrye, p. 38.
33. T. J. Campbell, “Out of the Grave: The Discovery of Fort St. Charles in 1908,” Bulletin of the Historical Society of St. Boniface 5 (1915): 3.
34. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
35. Ibid., p. 21.
36. S. J. Paquin, “The Discovery of the Relics of the Reverend Jean Pierre Aulneau,” La Société Historique de Saint-Boniface 1 (1911): 75.
38. Louis Arthur Prud’Homme, “Pierre Gaultier de Varennes Sieur De La Vérendrye,” Bulletin of the Historical Society of St. Boniface 5 (1916): 6-8.
39. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
40. Bill Moreau, “The Death of Père Aulneau, 1736: The Development of Myth in the Northwest,” Historical Studies 69 (2003): 61.
41. Irene Moore, Valiant La Vérendrye, Quebec: L.S.A, Proulx, 1927, p. 227.
42. Burpee, Pathfinders of the Great Plains, p. 40.
43. Moreau, The Death of Père Aulneau, p. 61.
44. Campbell, Out of the Grave, p. 16.
45. Moreau, The Death of Père Aulneau, p. 61.
46. Ibid., p. 60.
47. Aulneau, The Aulneau Collection, pp. 76–77.
48. Ibid., p. 47.
49. Luc-François Nau to Madame Aulneau, 10 October 1738, Aulneau Collection. Quoted in Moreau, The Death of Père Aulneau, p. 60.
50. Crouse, La Vérendrye, p. 104.
51. Grace Flandreau, “The Verendrye Expeditions in Quest of the Pacific,” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 26 (1925): 74.
52. Burpee, Journals and Letters, p. 215.
53. Ibid., p. 217.
54. Moreau, The Death of Père Aulneau, p. 60.
55. Edward Watts, In This Remote Country: French Colonial Culture in the Anglo-American Imagination, 1780–1860, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006, p. 224.
56. Ibid., p. 14.
57. See, for example, Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Boston, 1867
58. Prud’Homme, A Monument to La Vérendrye, p. 7.
59. Thomas R. Deacon, “Mr. T. R. Deacon, Mayor of Winnipeg, Mayor’s Office, Winnipeg, April 10th, 1913. [to] His Honour Judge Prud’Homme, St. Boniface, Man.” In A Monument to La Vérendrye, the Discoverer of the West, ed. Committee of La Vérendrye Monument, St. Boniface: Le Manitoba Printing Co., 1913, p. 9.
60. H. A. Robson, “Honorable Judge Robson. Public Utilities Commissioner, Public Utilities Commission. Winnipeg 19 Apl. 1913. [to] Noel Bernier, Esq. Winnipeg,” in A Monument to La Vérendrye, the Discoverer of the West, ed. Committee of La Vérendrye Monument, St. Boniface: Le Manitoba Printing Co., 1913, p. 10.
61. Sir William White, “Sir William White, K. B. Winnipeg, April 11th, 1913. [to] Judge Prud’homme,” in A Monument to La Vérendrye, the Discoverer of the West, ed. Committee of La Vérendrye Monument, St. Boniface: Le Manitoba Printing Co., 1913, p. 12.
62. Louis Arthur Prud’Homme, “Pierre Gaultier de Varennes Sieur De La Vérendrye,” Bulletin of the Historical Society of St. Boniface 5 (1916): 1-2.
63. Baker, Symbol in Stone, p. 118.
64. Colin M. Coates, Heroines and History: Representations of Madeline de Verchères and Laura Secord, University of Toronto Press, 2002, p. 8.
65. Baker, Symbol in Stone, pp. 112, 133.
66. Jonathan Vance, Death so Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War, Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997, p. 10.
67. Jim Blanchard, Winnipeg’s Great War: A City Comes of Age, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2010, p. 8.
68. Wells, Winnipeg: Where the New West Begins, p. 154.
69. La Vérendrye Bi-Centenary Committee, Programme of the bi-centennial celebration, p. 17.
70. Ibid., pp. 12-13.
71. Ibid., p. 2.
73. Fort Maurepas, however, was originally established on the Red River in 1734, and it was not until 1739–1740 that a second Fort Maurepas was built on the Winnipeg River. The Winnipeg Hydro company requested that the location of the original Fort Maurepas be on the Winnipeg River where their power plants operated in order to connect themselves to the heroisms and discoveries of La Vérendrye. Champagne, Nouvelles Études, p. 9.
74. La Vérendrye Bi-Centenary Committee, Programme of the bi-centennial celebration, p. 9.
75. Ibid., p. 17.
76. Ibid., p. 7.
77. Ibid., p. 19.
78. Ibid., p. 11.
79. Royden Loewen and Gerald Friesen, Immigrants In Prairie Cities: Ethnic Diversity in Twentieth-Century Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, p. 146.
81. Ibid., p. 14.
82. Ibid., p. 18.
83. Coates, Heroines and History, pp. 7, 10.
84. La Vérendrye Bi-Centenary Committee, Programme of the bi-centennial celebration, p. 7.
85. Cubitt, History and Memory, p. 221.
86. Edward C. Shaw, “La Verendrye” Manitoba Pageant 19 (1973). http:// www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/19/laverendrye.shtml
We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
Page revised: 27 March 2020Back to top of page