Memorable Manitobans: Marcien “Mars” Lemay (1926-2005)
Born at St. Boniface on 8 October 1926 to Marie Annabella “Blanche” Provencher (1896-1981) and Arthur Edward Lemay (1889-1977), he spent all of his life as a member of that community and attended St. Boniface College. He married fellow artist Helene LeNabat in October of 1950, with whom he went on to have three children. He was a firefighter with the St. Boniface Fire Department, but his passion was art, and he created many abstract paintings, including works in encaustic medium. He and his wife worked for a time from a studio repurposed from the firehall where he was once stationed.
His artistic accomplishments included his sculpture of Métis leader, Louis Riel. In 1969, he submitted two designs for a Riel sculpture to the Manitoba Centennial Corporation; the first one was rejected by the Corporation for being “too violent.” The second design, a collaboration between Lemay and architect Etienne Gaboury, was chosen for installation on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. The sculpture was unveiled in 1971. It was immediately a source of controversy, as it depicted Riel in the nude, his body distorted and compressed. Lemay said he had attempted to “convey the mood and suffering of a man sacrificing himself for his beliefs.”
The controversy continued until 1994, when the government in power finally decided to have the statue removed. Lemay and some of his supporters chained themselves to the statue in protest. It was, however, relocated to St. Boniface College, where it was unveiled in 1995. Meanwhile, Lemay had submitted a new sculpture design for the legislative grounds to the Manitoba Métis Federation, which had taken over the project. Although this new statue was more traditional in design, and was initially accepted by the Federation , it was subsequently rejected and replaced by a monument created by sculptor Miguel Joyal.
Lemay was devoted to the arts and to the outdoors and enjoyed time at the family cottage. Although he was known as a quiet and humble man, he was also recognized for his strong drive to meet any goals he set.
He died at Winnipeg on 7 September 2005 and was buried in the St. Boniface Cemetery. He received Le Prix Riel posthumously.
“Whose Hero? Images of Louis riel in Contemporary Art and Métis Nationhood,” Catherine L Mattes, a thesis in the Department of Art History, Concordia University, August 1998.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 8 September 2005.
“Creator of Riel sculpture passionate about his work,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 2005.
Marcien “Mars” Lemay, Bailey Family Tree, Ancestry.
This page was prepared by Lois Braun.
Page revised: 6 August 2022