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He saw men cry at Riel’s funeral

by Lillian Gibbons

Winnipeg Tribune, 14 August 1958

The man to be honored next week as St. Boniface’s oldest citizen, born in the city, remembers the funeral of Louis Riel:

“I was nearly 13 years old. I was one of the boys who served at the altar in St. Boniface Cathedral. I’m the last one left—Roger Goulet, Alexandre de la Ronde and Henry Fisher are all gone. We wore white lace surplices over black cassocks.

“I remember how the wind blew when the cathedral doors were open. The pall bearers who had beards, all had white ones—they were coated with hoar frost and snow,” says Taillefer Leveque, 312 Enfield Crescent.

He is 85. He’ll be 86 the last day of the year.

The body of the French city’s most famous son, who had been hanged at Regina Nov. 16, 1885, was viewed by Taillefer’s father: “It was he and nobody else.”

“His body lay in the home of his brother, Joseph Riel in St. Vital, for two or three days. My father went to see it, like hundreds more ... When the service was held in the cathedral it was a sad day for everybody. Yes, I saw people cry — I saw men cry,” recalls quiet-spoken eager-eyed Taillefer.

The service began at 10 a.m. and lasted an hour or more, but the burial did not follow immediately : “They were afraid the body might be snatched ... But there was no disturbance. When I was walking by in the afternoon with the school boys I saw the crowd at the grave. Everybody was in black.”

Taillefer went to old St. Boniface College that stood at the corner of Tache and Provencher, near the Archbishop’s Palace ... the boarders used to go to the Palace for their meals—in the basement,” the octogenarian added with a smile.

What was the date of the funeral?

He could not remember. “It was cold, with snow.”

Kinsey Howard in his book on Riel says, December 12, nearly four weeks after the death. By that time excitement over the execution of a hero had subsided. It wasn’t till Nov. 25 that a funeral mass was read in Regina. The frozen body was kept under the church floor boards, in a pine box. On a night when a blizzard kept folk indoors the corpse was put in a box car on the CPR train for St. Boniface and Pascal Bonneau sat beside it with a rifle.

“It was Fr. Messier who took the service” remembers Mr. Leveque, “not Bishop Tache.”

My Love Affair With Louis Riel

Page revised: 27 June 2014

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