The Life and Times of Archbishop Taché
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1954-55 Season
Some thirty-five years ago, when finishing grade school, I was presented with a special prize: Benoit's biography of Mgr. Tache.  I was then struck by the impressiveness of the two nicely bound volumes; I have since been deeply impressed with its contents, and this biography has supplied me with the material for this paper. Mgr. Tache was a prolific writer: his correspondence with his superiors, his priests, the government officials, and especially with his very dear mother-together with an enormous amount of writings-enabled the historian in question to depict very faithfully all the phases of this colourful life.
Alexandre Antonin Tache, born on 23 July 1823, was the third child of a family of five, of Charles Tache and Louise Henriette de la Broquerie, who married on 2 February 1820 - the father at the age of 35, the mother, at 22 - at Riviere-du-Loup, where they established their home for six years. The baby was baptized on the same day in St. Patrick's Church. It is said that when the babe was being brought to Church, the father met the parish priest, who hurriedly returned for the ceremony; in his haste, he made note of the proceedings on a sheet of paper with the intention of recording them in the official register at a later date. This was never done; and when young Tache was accepted for priesthood, no record could be found of his birth - the parish priest had died since, but fortunately, the godparents of the child were still living and could vouch that the baptism was duly performed.
The father, son of Charles Tache and Genevieve Michon, was a military official under De Salaberry during the war against the aggression of the United States in 1812-1814; he was the brother of Sir Etienne Pascal Tache, one of the Fathers of the Confederation. The Taches were descendants of Jean Tache, great grandfather of Antonin Alexandre, who established himself in Quebec in 1739, marrying in 1742 MarieAnne Joliette, granddaughter of the famous explorer.
The mother was the second child of Joseph Ignace Boucher de la Broquerie and of Charlotte Boucher de Niverville de Montizambert. Her forefather, Pierre Boucher, Seigneur de Boucherville, arrived in Canada in 1635 at the early age of 13, with his father and 11 brothers and sisters; in 1651, he saved the Trois-Rivieres colony, of which he was at one time Governor, from an invasion by the Iroquois; he returned to France and was entrusted with the colonization programme in Canada, which proved to be Colbert's success; for this Louis XIV created him a noble. Pierre Boucher died in 1717, at 97, leaving 15 or 16 children and a hundred grandchildren, among whom were 7 priests and 13 nuns. The most celebrated of them were the La Verendryes, father and son, explorers of the lands west of Lake Superior; a grandson of the Seigneur de Boucherville, Joseph Boucher de la Broquerie, born in 1732, married in 1753 Clemence Gamelin, daughter of Pierre Gamelin Maugras and of Marie Clemence Dufrost Lajemmerais, sister of Mother d'youville, founder of the Order of the Grey Nuns in Canada.
Is it so surprising that Tache made history when so many of his ancestors were outstanding figures in Canada and in the West?
In 1833, at 10, Alexandre Antonin entered the College at St. Hyacinthe (founded by Antoine Girouard, a native of Boucherville), completing his philosophy course in 1841, at the age of 18. Among his college mates were F. Theophile Langevin, who was father of Tache's successor in St. Boniface, and C. E. Fabre, who became the Archbishop of Montreal. He was one of the College's brightest pupils, especially in mathematics, being of a very happy disposition, inclined to ease somewhat and very adept at discussions; these traits are found later in his writings and deliberations.
Attracted to priesthood very early in life and encouraged by his mother to be free in the choice of his career, he entered the Sulpice Seminary in Montreal in September, 1841. That very year, at the invitation of Mgr. Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, several missionaries of the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate (Order founded by the Bishop of Marseille, Mgr. de Mazenod) arrived in Montreal and their presence created such an impression on Tache that he felt his calling to that religious Order. In spite of the entreaties of his family and friends, he entered the noviciate at Longueuil in 1844. Upon hearing of his mother's failing health, he vowed that should her condition improve he would not only remain in that Congregation but would go out West to bring the gospel to the Indians. His mother died 26 years later and it can be truly said that her sickness gave the West one of its most valiant apostles.
In 1818, at the request of Lord Selkirk, the Bishop of Quebec sent two priests, Joseph Norbert Provencher and Severe Dumoulin, together with a seminarian, to the "Pays d'en Haut"; after an arduous trip of eight weeks, they reached the Red River and landed at Fort Douglas. They were the first priests to reach the western region. Four years later, Father Provencher was called back to Quebec to be consecrated as auxiliary Bishop of Quebec, with the North-West as his domain. In 1844, this vast district became an apostolic vicariate and Bishop Provencher brought to the Red River region the first four Grey Nuns, Sisters, Valade, Lagrave, Coutlee and Lafrance. A year later, Mgr. Provencher, noticing that some of his priests were recalled or returning to eastern Canada, he appealed to the Oblate Congregation to supply him with missionaries. In answer to the call, there came Father Aubert and young Tache, a novice of 21 years, who at the time appeared to be much younger.
On 24 June 1845, Father Aubert, Tache and two grey nuns, Sisters Whitman and Cusson, left in a 33' x 5' canoe, manned by a crew of 5 French Canadians and 1 Indian guide, loaded with 2,000 lbs. of baggage, following the route established by the Hudson Bay Company for their semi-annual mail service. It took them 65 days to complete the trip, because of bad weather and sickness, drenching rains and scorching sun, stinging mosquitoes, numerous and difficult portages, sleeping under the canvas on a rock or on the canoe so that the wind would not carry it away, with a song on their lips and a prayer in their heart, following the trail of those voyageurs, La Verendrye, son, and Father Aulneau, witnessing the traces of those who had failed in the attempt. In spite of all these difficulties, Tache wrote letters to his mother, supplying her with the details of the adventure. On 25 August, at 1:00 P.M., the canoe touched the banks of the Red River, at St. Boniface, where Bishop Provencher was anxiously waiting for their appearance. On observing young Tache, he could not restrain his surprise: "I have asked for priests, and what do they send me? Children!" Later, however, he was the one to assert: "You can send me, without fear, more of these Taches and Lafleches".
Tache, only sub-deacon, was ordained deacon the Sunday following his arrival, the priesthood being conferred on him on 12 October following. He was the first to be ordained in the Red River region, and that, at the age of 22. As the author of his biography expresses it so well: "he started his noviciate in a bark canoe and not unlike Abraham, he left country and relatives to become father of a great nation". The first winter was spent at the Bishop's palace with Father Aubert, the first clergy to cohabit with the Bishop, studying the difficult Chippewayan language under the Reverend Belcourt.
The following year, in 1845, a great epidemic raged throughout the Red River settlement: grippe, measles, contagious dissentry. Unknowingly, the hunters were spreading the germs about the country, some dying as they went along; and, it is reported that at the St-Francois mission (White Horse Prairie) 43 persons were buried within the short time of three weeks. It was during this period that Bishop Provencher sent the new priests with the Reverend Lafleche to the extreme northern mission of Ile a la Crosse; he remained alone to assist the 96 persons, who died within three weeks as a result of the epidemic.
Tache and his companion made the trip on horseback, up to the Stone Fort, proceeding by boat on the Red River to Lake Winnipeg; upon reaching Norway House, the Reverend Lafleche took ill and had to return to St. Boniface. Tache then reached his destination after two months of travel, to continue the work previously started by the Reverend Thibault. Although he could not converse with the Indians, he remarked: "the missionaries won the hearts of the Indians by their charity, and the Indians captured those of the missionaries by their confidence and good-will". Tache was determined to learn their language and through the doubtful services of a local interpreter he spent the winter studying and establishing new missions at Lake Cariboo and Lake Athabaska; here he gained his first experience with dog trains, although he did not relish his first trial, for the dogs compelled him to snowshoe most of the time! It was at Ile a la Crosse that he met the Superintendent of the Fort, McKenzie, who obligingly established the priest and his crippled companion, the Reverend Lafleche (who joined him later) in a home built with his own hands. The two priests had to oversee the mission, one singing mass while the other giving the responses with an eye on the kettle. In four years Tache and Aubert had mastered the Chippewayan language to a point that they produced the first vocabulary and grammar.
In June, 1847, the Holy See had established the Red River Apostolic Vicariate in the "North-west diocese"; Bishop Provencher would have preferred the name of "Red River" or "St. Boniface". In 1849, due to failing health, Provencher recalled Lafleche with the intention of appointing him his co-adjutor. Lafleche was older than Tache, and crippled. "You require," said Lafleche, "a co-adjutor with energy, and here I am, infirm with less agility to travel than Your Grace". Provencher hesitated before calling on the youngest of the two, "who, however, had excellent dispositions but born only yesterday." An oblate bishop, furthermore, would be an asset to the missions, for this would establish a permanent link with this grand Order. Tache, now familiar with the country, the missions and the languages would then be the choice of Provencher, who remarked, "He is strong and healthy and has succeeded well beyond by fondest hopes". Father Tache, at 27, was elected Bishop of Arath, Co-adjutor with future succession, on 24 June 1850. This was a very opportune time, for the Founder of the Oblate Order, Mgr. de Mazenod, had intentions of recalling his subjects back to France (Bishop Provencher would surely have died of sorrow) but, on learning of Tache's election, the Superior General of the Order insisted on performing the consecration ceremony and invited the new Bishop to France for that purpose, much to Bishop Provencher's regret.
On reaching Marseille, the Bishop-elect was appointed Superior of the Oblate Order for the Red River district. The consecration ceremony was performed in the Cathedral of Viviers on 23 November 1851, which was the first event of the kind to be witnessed in that church in a hundred years; the Bishop of Marseille was assisted by the local Bishop Guibert (who became, at a later date, Archbishop of Paris, then Cardinal) and Bishop Prince, who had accompanied Tache on the voyage. After a short stay in France, the new Bishop proceeded to Rome in order to obtain the privilege of calling the North-West diocese that of St. Boniface, in conformity with the wishes of his Bishop. On his return, the Bishop of Marseille, gave him a pectoral cross while Bishop Guibert of Viviers made a gift to him of his most beautiful mitre. (The cross can be viewed in the museum in St. Boniface).
While in France, and back in Eastern Canada, he solicited some help for his missions, and a young curate at Berthiers insisted on joining the Oblate Order; and how fortunate, for it was the young Father Lacombe, who in later years proved to be a leading figure in the annals of the West. Father Grollier joined them on their westward journey, which proved to be a little easier, at least until Chicago, since the railroad had been established and formally opened on 24 May 1852. At Saint Paul, they took the stage-coach. The trip by Red River cart through the prairies offered a hazard, due to the hostilities between the Sioux Indians and the Americans. They had no option but to follow the trail on high land, for flood waters were submerging the country. Bishop Tache said to his mother in one of his many letters: "we have travelled in water, in mud and sometimes on land", and together with his companions, he had to pull the cart through water at waist level and ease the horses out of the mud. What a plight for a new bishop! On their arrival in St. Boniface, on 27 June, the situation was no better. The flood was even worse than in 1826, for the rising waters of the Red had passed the normal level by 25 feet. The Grey Nuns had to reach their home by canoe, for the second storey of the Bishop's Palace was being inundated. Ruin was everywhere.
Anxious to return to his mission at Ile a la Crosse in September, in accordance with his previous promise, the new Co-adjutor took leave with the blessing of his Bishop. "It is not the custom for a Bishop to bless another Bishop but since I have not long to live, I bless you here on earth until I can greet you above". On 8 July 1852, Tache returned to the mission he had founded six years ago, but this time, as a Bishop. He wrote to his mother, "There is no luxury in my new palace, my secretary is a bishop, my attendant is also a bishop and sometimes, the cook is bishop; but their devotion to my person is very dear in spite of their many failings".
In less than a year, the Bishop of St. Boniface died on 7 June 1853, at the age of 66, after spending 35 years in the Red River mission, having passed away with only one thought, the success of his priests in their missions. Bishop Tache learned the sad news one month later. He became the second Bishop of St Boniface, at the age of 30, with a territory equal in area to one-half of Europe and only 10 priests to assist him. Heeding the advice of his predecessor, he left only one priest in St. Boniface and headed for the northern missions, returning to Ile a la Crosse, Athabaska. He experienced innumerable difficulties. His journey was a desperate struggle against the elements. He was once so exhausted that he recommended: "on my next fall, make a hole and bury me." When he lost consciousness, his companion, faithful to the instructions of his Superior, acted accordingly and sought help. Bishop Tache, realizing his plight, made a desperate effort to fight certain death and dragged himself to a place, which proved to be a fishing hut. Here he received aid immediately and soon the Bishop was on the trail to the mission, (Two months later, Father Groliier found himself in a similar plight, with serious consequences.) On his journey to Lake La Biche, Bishop Tache met a 98-year old French Canadian of Montreal, married to a native girl, and head of a large family. Commenting on his bitter experiences the Bishop wrote to his mother: "If you learn that I have lost my head, you will not be able to blame the climate!"
The Bishop of St. Boniface did not assume his post until one year after the death of Bishop Provencher. On his return, Father Lafleche was recalled to Quebec but a new recruit from France had just reached the mission, Father Vital Grandin.
His first achievements were the establishing of the St. Norbert mission on the Riviere Sale and the beginnings of St. Charles on Sturgeon Creek in 1854. Next year saw the arrival of the Freres des Ecoles Chretiennes, who taught in the newly erected school which was known successively as the college, the old college, Provencher Academy and the monastery of the Carmelite nuns.
Bishop Tache made it a point to know everyone of the 1000 residents of St. Boniface. He sought to learn their living conditions, assist them when necessary and performed the last rites for the deceased, taking care to bring sympathy and consolation to the bereaved families. The author of his biography asserts: "to our knowledge there cannot be found in the whole wide world a prelate who could have known his people to such an extent, to have shared the joys and sorrows of his flock and counselled them so satisfactorily".
His charity knew no bounds. He fostered the orphaned children, assisted the sick, helped the aged and infirm. For example, he lodged at the Palace a poor woman whose nose was eaten away by cancer, took care of her children and sent a son to St. Hyacinthe College, at the expense of very strict economy on his part. He also took under his roof a poor widow from Fort des Prairies (Edmonton), who died shortly after, as did three of her children, and a leper, who had been found abandoned in a shack. From his third visit to Ile a la Crosse, he returned with a young Chippewayan whom he entrusted to his mother; but the new protege died shortly after.
Tache made a trip to Europe with the intention of recommending a co-adjutor and a sub-division of his territory. He pleaded the cause of a Co-adjutor, offering to delinquish his seat as Bishop of St. Boniface, should the new candidate have no knowledge of the Indian languages. The choice fell upon Father Grandin, who, at 28, became the Bishop Co-adjutor of St. Boniface. This appointment was confirmed by Rome on 11 December 1857, the consecration being held on 30 November 1859, in Trinity Church, and performed by the one who had conferred priesthood on the elect, Mgr. de Mazenod.
Bishop Tache, as on all of his trips to Eastern Canada or Europe, would seek assistance for his missions and visit the families of his missionaries. While in London, he met Governor Simpson of the Hudson's Bay Company, who obliged the Bishop by supplying free transportation from London to York Factory for three of his companions.
On his return to St. Boniface, Bishop Tache sent the three promising young lads to colleges in Eastern Canada with Sister Superior Valade. Louis Riel went to Montreal; Daniel McDougall, to Nicolet; and Louis Smith (Schmidt-Laferte) to St. Hyacinthe. These colleges supplied free tuition to the students, provided their protector would see to their necessities. It is reported that Sister Valade intoned a "Te Deum" on being relieved of her charges! The change in country, life and customs did not agree with the three proteges.
At the end of 1858, the missions in the St. Boniface district included the Cathedral parish, St. Francois-Xavier, St. Charles, St. Norbert; those of Lake St. Anne and Our Lady of Victory at Lake La Biche; St. John-the-Baptist at Ile a la Crosse, the Nativity at Athabaska and St. Joseph at Great Slave Lake. The work was done by 23 Oblate fathers and 2 secular priests.
10 June 1859 marked a decided step in the transportation history of Western Canada, when the first steamboat, the Anson Northup, made its arrival. Ringing bells and lusty cheers greeted the innovation.
The new Hudson's Bay Company route was designated for their importation, having already established posts at Georgetown (in honour of Sir George Simpson, Governor of Rupertsland), 200 miles south of Fort Garry. Burbank & Co. were operating a stage-coach service between Georgetown and St. Cloud and St. Paul. This overjoyed Tache, who remarked, "we are now at but 13 days from Quebec." What a difference between the original 62 days! The Bishop of St. Boniface submitted to his mother the new mail service schedule.
In 1860, the first newspaper, the Nor'Wester, was established on the Red River, and that same year, due to the departure of the Christian Brothers, Bishop Tache had to provide primary, commercial and classical instruction. Catholic work was carried on by 2 Bishops, 19 Oblate fathers, 2 Oblate novices, 2 secular priests and 8 lay brothers. That same year, Bishop Tache paid a third visit to his northern posts, taking the opportunity of discussing with Bishop Grandin, at Ile a la Crosse, the advisability of dividing the diocese so that another bishop could attend to the Athabaska-McKenzie district. Since the new bishop would have to use the Chippewayan language, Father Faraud was chosen. To meet the wishes of a Blackfoot Chief, he set the site of the new St. Albert mission (in honor of Father Albert Lacombe) and with the kind attentions of J. W. Christie, of the Hudson's Bay Company, a chapel and residence were erected inside the fort; this became the site of the St. Albert cathedral.
Bishop Tache made the return voyage in the record time of 55 days, thanks again to J. W. Christie, but great was his surprise and grief to discover that, on 14 December 1860, fire had completely destroyed his palace and the cathedral, "the most beautiful building of the Hudson Bay territory." A few months later, the barn of the Reverend Sisters also burned. Then came the trying experience of a flood. The recently formed mission of St. Vital had to be closed. Another blow to the Bishop of St. Boniface was the death of the first Superior of the Grey Nuns, Sister Valade, who had to be interred in the water-covered debris of the cathedral. The death in Europe of the Superior General of the Oblate Order, his very close protector and friend, Mgr. de Mazenod, added to his already accumulated sorrow. This required him to make a third trip to Europe, to elect a new Superior General. Much to his joy, Father Fabre was elected Superior General, which meant assurance of continued relations with the North missions. Adding to his satisfaction, Father Faraud was appointed Bishop of the newly-formed vicariate of Athabaska-McKenzie.
Upon his return in November, Bishop Tache proceeded with the erection of the vestry for the new cathedral. He transferred the statue of the Virgin, which was saved from the fire, and also, the remains of Bishop Provencher which, after 20 years, were found to be intact. A year later, the building of a palace was commenced and there the statue of the Virgin which had been salvaged from the fire was placed at the entrance, where it still can be seen today. A new recruit in the person of Father Ritchot had arrived, while Father Grollier died, at the age of 38, martyr of the North, after 12 years of missionary service.
In 1863 and 1864, starvation was again rampant. The crops had been destroyed by grasshoppers, worms and caterpillars, favoured by the exceptionally dry weather. Notwithstanding, Bishop Tache decided to revisit his mission at Ile a la Crosse. At Fort Edmonton, he predicted that before long there would be a gold rush. During his absence of 57 days, chicken pox claimed 57 deaths in St. Boniface.
On a visit to Rome, Tache learned of the appointment of his very close friend and companion at Ile a la Crosse, Father Lafleche, as Bishop of Trois Rivieres. He had fondly hoped that he could have him as companion, but this now not being possible, he was more than pleased to have his own Co-adjutor, with whom he could discuss the advancement of their missions, especially that of Ile a la Crosse, which had recently been ravaged by fire. In Rome, where Tache was made Assistant to the Pontifical Throne, it was decided that a new vicariate should be established, that of St. Albert.
Starvation came again in 1868, when everything was destroyed, gardens, crops, and even hunting was difficult. Outside contributions, especially from the Governor and Council of Assiniboia, relieved the situation somewhat, but boarding schools had to be closed. The Bishop of St. Boniface helped ease the tension so well that Governor McTavish, at a public meeting of appreciation, said: "It was deserving on your part to express your appreciation and gratitude to your Bishop: not unlike Joseph in Egypt, he has saved the colony from starvation, he has fed the inhabitants of these solitudes, like Moses with Israel in the desert". In order to supply employment, Tache decided to enlarge the mother-house of the Grey Nuns, which had been constructed in 1847.
Unable to attend the Fourth synod in Quebec, he delegated his Co-adjutor in his stead. It was planned to establish St. Boniface as an ecclesiastical province, on the same basis as Quebec and Toronto. Fearing that this arrangement would preclude all assistance from lower Canada, both Tache and Grandin felt that they could not support such a move.
It was not until 1869 that the first school was established in Winnipeg under the direction of the Grey Nuns. Mass was said on 15 June and this marked the beginning of St. Mary's Parish. In 1874, the school came under the supervision of the Sisters of the Holy Names. Missions were also founded at Fort Alexandre, Fort Francis and Lac Seul, on the Winnipeg River.
Bishop Tache had wishfully visualized, with some apprehension, however, that one day the Red River colony and the North-West Territory would no longer be isolated and that these would be part of a great country. For this purpose, in 1868, the "Canadian" party was formed. Negotiations were carried on in London between the Hudson's Bay Company and Sir George Etienne Cartier, and the Honourable William McDougall for the rights in the Red River district and Rupertsland. On the other hand, a group from Ontario had their eyes on the western lands. Not knowing what had transpired and seeing that the surveyors were at work, coupled with the rumours that they would be deprived of their property, the inhabitants became alarmed, especially the Metis people. Bishop Tache, on hearing that Ottawa had intentions of establishing a new government in the region, made representations to Ottawa, together with Governor McTavish of Assiniboia, to get two administrators, one of English descent, and the other of French extraction.
This was turned down. The Honourable William McDougall was appointed Lieutenant- Governor of the North-West Territories. Fearing that the new Lieutenant-Governor might be molested, Governor McTavish requested Bishop Tache, who was en route for Rome, to come back to the settlement. The news that McDougall was coming to Fort Garry fully equipped and with ammunition, caused great alarm in the colony. As it was customary for them to meet when necessity arose, a provisional government was formed to meet the situation, with John Bruce as President of a National Council of twelve, and Louis Riel as Secretary. Without going further into a situation which can only be treated by specialists, I would like to state that both Bishop Tache and Father Ritchot acted as moderators in these difficult times.
Repeated efforts were made to secure from the Federal Government a general and full amnesty, which had been promised after the entry of Manitoba in the Confederation provided they guaranteed their support that the Metis people would resist the Fenian raids and offers from the United States. Tache pleaded with Lepine and Riel to prevent further provoking situations.
On 1 July 1870, Manitoba became part of the Canadian Confederation. Of its first Lieutenant-Governor, Adam George Archibald, Bishop Tache said, "he is a man of great judgment, tact, prudence and firmness, who had taken an active part in the discussions leading to the settingup of the Act of Manitoba in the Ottawa parliament". The Honourable Archibald, on his arrival, chose two ministers, Alfred Boyd and Marc Girard. The population at the time was 12,228, of which 5,452 were of French descent and 4,841 of English parentage. Upon the invitation of the Lieutenant-Governor, Bishop Tache, who knew the territory so well, was requested to devise a plan of sub-division in electoral districts for the new government. This was done with great care and 24 districts were established, assuring a proper and fair representation. The first parliament opened on 15 March 1871, and one of its first legislations was that of regulating the public school system, to which Bishop Tache contributed considerably. This piece of legislation was then described as being the "'most natural, just and wise". Since its inception Bishop Tache was appointed to the Board of Education, acting as Chairman of the Catholic section. Another legislation which the Bishop of St. Boniface was instrumental in setting up was the incorporation of St. Boniface College on 3 May 1871.
In 1871 also appeared the first printing press in St. Boniface, and on 27 May, The Metis was issued as a weekly; Tache was, from the beginning, its inspiration and support. On 22 September of the same year, the Holy See created St. Boniface as a metropolitan district, with a bishopric in St. Albert and two apostolic vicariates: British Columbia and the Athabaska-McKenzie regions. Father Grandin then became Bishop of St. Albert, while Bishop Tache was elevated to Archbishop of St. Boniface.
Near the end of 1871, settlers arrived from Lower Canada and the United States to establish themselves at St. Boniface or Ste-Annedes-Chenes. Father Ritchot founded the parish of Ste. Agathe, where Father J. B. Proulx became first pastor, who shortly afterwards became Vice-Rector of Laval University in Montreal. The first pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Winnipeg was Father Lacombe.
In 1872, Archbishop Tache was affected by a leg ailment, which passed from one leg to the other. The doctors claimed that if rest could not do its work, Tache would most probably remain infirm and incurable. But nothing could stop him in proceeding with his work, especially towards obtaining amnesty for his people. At Ottawa, he was informed that Her Majesty would give her consent, provided it did not cover those implicated in the Scott incident. The whole matter became a national issue, and a special committee, known as the "North-West Committee", was formed by the Government to look into the matters of 1869. When the Archbishop was in Ottawa, all was not well in the community. Arrests had been carried out. He had been delegated by the Government to deal directly, on its behalf, with the principals and yet it was said "Tache outdid the instructions given to him and was wrong in claiming himself as plenipotentiary and not as a delegate". Also, rumours circulated that Tache had accepted the terms of the conditional amnesty. This brought him to write in defence of his people and of himself.
In 1875, the Archbishop was suffering from a broken leg, caused in an accident the year previous while on his way back from Quebec; his ailment brought him to the verge of submitting his resignation, having already served 30 years, 25 as Bishop. Bishop Bourget of Montreal, wishing to surprise his friend, organized a collection in lower Canada and presented him with a brand new pipe organ on the silver jubilee of his consecration, as a token of appreciation from all his friends in Canada for the wonderful work he had accomplished. This year, parishes were formed at St. Jean-Baptiste and St. Pierre. Winnipeg had 1,000 parishioners. As it was a Holy Year, the Archbishop marked the occasion by organizing a mission at which he gave two sermons a day. People flocked from near and far to hear him, claiming that each sermon was better than the last.
In 1876, Tache's health was visibly failing. 1877 marked the founding of the University of Manitoba. The agreement of the Archbishop and the Anglican Bishop was that the University would only examine the candidates and grant degrees. The University was then instituted by an affiliation of three colleges: St. Boniface (Catholics), St. John's (Anglicans) and Manitoba (Presbyterians) ; the first convocation was held on 5 June 1879. As Judge Dubuc remarked: "Tache was interested very actively and effectively in the University: he was listened to with great attention and respect; his recommendations, always on the practical side, were well received and accepted".
The Grey Nuns, who had been carrying on the nursing of patients in their institution, now too small for that purpose, purchased property from Mrs. Hynes Clarke and erected thereon a building, which the Archbishop blessed on 29 July 1877, as the new hospital in St. Boniface. He also proved to be a public-spirited citizen when, he himself laid 800 feet of sidewalk from the College to the Grey Nuns' establishment (on the now Tache Ave.); his example was immediately followed by Messrs. Royal and La Riviere. That same year, the Selkirk brought to the Red River region the first locomotive, and on 29 September, Lord and Lady Dufferin drove the first nail of the first railroad in Manitoba, Archbishop Tache and Bishop Grandin attending. As for the first arrival of the steamboat, bells pealed from the "turrets twain" to mark the outstanding event. This innovation was later followed by the Trans-Canada service of the C.P.R. and the linking of the West with the East by telegraphic facilities.
In 1879, the Archbishop had planned to attend the Oblate Chapter in France, but a serious and alarming heart ailment compelled him to change his mind. The doctors allowed him to go to lower Canada for a rest. Back in St. Boniface, his condition prevailed and he had to rest for a longer period. The year 1880 marked the incorporation of St. Boniface as a Municipality, for which the Archbishop designed the coat-of-arms; the laying of the corner-stone of St. Mary's Church in Winnipeg on 15 August, which was completed and blessed on 4 September 1881, in the presence of Archbishop Lynch of Toronto; the new St. Boniface College had been started, for occupancy the year following; and a proposed bridge, which would span the Red River, linking Winnipeg and St. Boniface.
During the period 1880-1882, Manitoba underwent a financial boom. With settlers arriving at the rate of 1,000 per month, land was being purchased at twice its price to be resold at 10 times the purchase price. Banks, stores, warehouses were being established and rents and the price of commodities were constantly rising; half of the Winnipeg Offices were Real Estate agencies. Archbishop Tache had contracted a debt of $51,000 to meet the cost of the new college, and, through the sale of some property, he met his obligations. The Grey Nuns also proceeded with the erection of a boarding school, at a cost of $30,000.00, through the sale of property; the Archbishop, highly interested in the venture, went so far as to settle the least detail. and board the scaffolding, in spite of his infirmity. His attentions were now turned to the erection of a Normal School. He also founded a new parish in Winnipeg, at his own cost, the Immaculate Conception, which was dedicated in 1883. This boom left in its wake failures and bankruptcies. St. Boniface now had a population of 2,015.
Those who took an active interest in the development of the colony, especially since the opening of the C.P.R., admit without hesitation that the greatest pioneer of the district was without a doubt the Archbishop of St. Boniface. They showed their appreciation in many ways. Van Horne, Director of the new railroad, placed at the disposal of His Grace a parlour-car to recognize the travels on foot, snowshoe and on horseback of this illustrious pioneer.
On 19 October 1884, the Winnipeg press announced that the Archbishop was in line for the bishopric of Montreal. To this Tache replied: "Let me assure you that when I came to this country, at the age of 21, I did so with the determination that nothing could change my decision; I have to-day given so much of my time and energy as a missionary to the country of my adoption that I have no intention of leaving and hope to finish my days here". The Times of Winnipeg published: "It is true to state that no Archbishop is more considered and loved by his flock than that of St. Boniface. The success obtained by the Catholic church in the North-West is due to his efforts; and now that he has accomplished so much, it is the desire and hope of the Catholics, as well as of the Protestants, that this generous Archbishop be not removed to continue his work elsewhere".
In spite of repeated representations made by Tache and Grandin to the new government for a better treatment of the Metis in Manitoba, the latter moved to Saskatchewan, where their life conditions were of the worst. Dissatisfaction rose, and without disrespect to the religious leaders, they took matters into their own hands and elected Riel at their head. Bishop Grandin pleaded with the government to grant concessions in order to ward off a situation which might eventually prove disastrous. This warning was not heeded. The troubles of 1885 at Duck Lake, Frog Lake and Batoche ended in the execution of Riel at Regina on 16 November. Although the action of the Archbishop did not produce immediate results, it nevertheless brought new measures, which had their effect towards the pacification of the North-West.
From 1885 on, the Archbishop's health compelled him to retire periodically to the Nuns' institution, at the suggestion of his assistants, who knew well that at the Palace the Archbishop would know no quiet, because of his abiding interest in the affairs of the Church and the community. On 13 August, the Jesuit Fathers assumed the direction of St. Boniface College, the Oblates being unable to pursue the work any longer.
In 1886, Tache attended the celebrations in honour of Archbishop Taschereau of Quebec, recently appointed cardinal, with the hopes that he would proceed to France, to be present at the Chapter sessions, but he was physically unable to do so. Upon his return to St. Boniface, he had planned on completing his comprehensive "Twenty years of missionary work," covering the years 1846 to 1866, by adding thereto the subsequent twenty years, 1866 to 1886. Again his illness got the best of him. This led him to institute proceedings for the appointment of a Co-adjutor. In view of the regulations of the Oblate Order, whereby promotions were to be discouraged among their subjects, he nevertheless affirms: "I am now more than convinced that my successor should be an Oblate subject". Bishop Grandin heartily approved this recommendation, provided he would not be subject to appointment.
As the work on the new cathedral was progressing favourably and the church of St. Mary's of Winnipeg and that of St. Norbert met the conditions required for the consecration thereof, he invited Bishop Fabre of Montreal to perform the ceremonies on his behalf. On 18 September 1887, the cathedral was consecrated by Mgr. Lafleche of Trois Rivieres; the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company were among the distinguished visitors on that occasion. The churches of St. Norbert and St. Mary's were consecrated on the 22nd and 25th of the same month, respectively. Subsequently, both Fabre and Tache proceeded further west to attend the blessing of the first Catholic church in Vancouver.
In the same year, London was holding its Colonial Exposition, at which the results obtained by the pupils of Manitoba more than pleased the Archbishop. The Canadian Gazette commented: "It is generally believed that of all the sister provinces, that of Manitoba, isolated as it is from all civilization, showed to what extent in matters of education how wrong this assumption can be". He celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Sister Coutlee, the only survivor of the four Grey Nuns who pioneered in the West.
In spite of his steadily decreasing state of health, the Archbishop insisted on presiding with Reeve Roger Marion, a pupil of the heroine of the day, over the preparations made for the holding of the First Synod on 13 July 1889. In attendance were 23 Oblates, 8 Jesuits, 29 secular priests and 6 deacons and sub-deacons. The apostolic vicariate of St. Albert saw its population doubled in the last years and, of necessity, a new vicariate would have to be erected; following the recommendation of the First Synod, the vicariate of British Columbia was formed, to be known later as the Westminster diocese. In 1891, Bishop Pascal took the seat of Prince Albert, in the vicariate of Saskatchewan.
For almost three-quarters of a century, confessional schools and the use of the French language in Manitoba had been maintained through strenuous work and heavy sacrifices. With the increase in population, which was becoming mostly English-speaking, these rights, which had been championed by the Archbishop of St. Boniface and recognized by the founder of the Assiniboia colony, the Hudson's Bay Company and its governors, the Colonial Council, Governors General, Imperial and Federal authorities, 6 parliaments in Manitoba, and especially sanctioned by the Act of Manitoba, were gradually being endangered. Until his death, the Archbishop devoted his time and efforts to the cause he had so lovingly and devotedly fostered for 45 years. His disappointment and sorrow contributed in no mean way to his now alarming state of health; in May 1890, Bishop Faraud alerted the clergy, yet on 24 June the Archbishop was able to celebrate his 40th anniversary of consecration and witness the passing of Bishop Faraud on 26 September. It is reported that the Archbishop reconstituted, from memory and from documents on hand, the estate of the deceased Bishop, a feat which only Tache could perform "proving to be a significant service to the Church and the missions of the North".
Father Grouard was appointed the second Vicar Apostolic of the Athabaska-McKenzie district and, on 1 August 1891, the Archbishop surmounted his disabilities in order to perform his first consecration of a bishop, the first to be held in his cathedral. He also obtained from the government the establishing of an industrial school in St. Boniface.
Making most of an opportunity supplied by Father Lacombe, who had organized a railway excursion in 1892, for the blessing of the corner-stone of the Prince Albert cathedral (attended by seven Bishops of Canada), the Archbishop visited Bishop Grandin at St. Albert, a place he last visited 28 years ago. After many years of continued representations for a co-adjutor, Father Adelard Langevin, director of the Grand Seminary of Ottawa, arrived on 1 July 1893, as local superior of the Oblate Order, pending the official appointment as succeeding Bishop; Tache greeted him by saying: "I have been waiting for you for ten years!"
Bishop Grandin was suffering of the same ailment as that of the Archbishop, but unlike the latter, he underwent an operation while in France, but his efforts to convince Tache to do the same met with little success. "What for?" he would reply, "I know my trouble and the art can do nothing for it." On 10 June 1894, he said his last mass under indescribable pain but he would never admit that his condition was serious. He even supervised the preparations in connection with the Golden Jubilee of the arrival of the Grey Nuns to the Red River. On 12 June, his doctors recommended an operation, from which he recovered momentarily. On the 21st, the celebrations of the Jubilee are in progress, and the Archbishop recommended to the Sisters to be cheerful and show enthusiasm. On the 22nd, symptoms indicated that the end was not far away. At 6 o'clock in the morning, at the age of 71, in the company of his future successor and his former Co-adjutor, Tache departed for a better world to reap the rich harvest of his labours and receive the just reward he so well earned. The autopsy revealed: "Suffering as he had and, with so disturbed an organization, it is strange that he had not died years ago". For five days, the body in state was viewed by multitudes from various parts of Canada. The funeral was held on 27 June with four Bishops, a large number of priests, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, ministers, judges and many officials paying their last respects to one of Canada's great pioneers.
1. Dom Benoit, Vie de mgr. Tache. Montreal, 1904.
Page revised: 3 September 2011