Wednesday, September 29, 2010

St. Boniface

I was on my way to the St. Boniface Hospital this week, preparing to give yet more blood before my annual visit with my oncologist, and decided to take a break and play tourist again.

Known as Winnipeg's French Quarter, St. Boniface is the largest francophone community in Western Canada. Winnipeg actually has the largest speaking French population of any Canadian city outside of Quebec.

The parish of St. Boniface was established in 1818, became a town in 1883 and was declared a city in 1908. St. Boniface remained an independent city until 1970, when it was attached to the City of Winnipeg. The parish opened doors for settlement in Western Canada, attracting primarily French-Canadians and workers from the North West Company with mixed European and native backgrounds.

St. Boniface has made an effort to preserve its heritage and French is seen on street signs and is heard in shops and businesses. Over half of the population in St. Boniface is bilingual and some claim to speak French exclusively. I guess that would work, as long as they didn't leave St. B.!

It is ironic, considering the area's French roots, that the original parish was named "St. Boniface" in honour of an eighth-century English-born missionary who became the patron saint of Germanic people.

This dramatic facade is all that is left of the original St. Boniface Cathedral. The St. Boniface Basilica was built in 1908, and ravaged by a devastating fire in 1968. Five cathedrals have stood on the site, the first being built in 1832. The present cathedral was completed and blessed in 1972 and incorporates the sacristy, facade and walls of the former Basilica.

The cemetary, which is the the oldest Catholic cemetary in Western Canada, includes the graves of many important Manitoba figures, including Metis Leader and founder of Manitoba, Louis Riel.

Louis Riel's gravesite has undoubtedly been photographed hundreds of times, so I decided instead to focus my attention elsewhere. One of the oldest headstones I found was dated 1848.

And then I noticed this one. It does look odd, cars parked on the street and head stones so old the dates are illegible.

All right, I admit it! Cemetaries fascinate me!!

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