The man who tried to keep the French balance in Red River

By George Siamandas


Archbishop Alexandre Tache born in Quebec then called Lower Canada on July 23, 1823. Descended from the Boucher family and the La Verendreys on his mother's side. He was the nephew of Sir Tache, one of the fathers of Confederation. He was very well educated; a brilliant scholar. In 1845, at age 21, he made the 1,400 mile trip from Montreal to St. Boniface. It took 66 days. He stayed in St. Boniface only a year and moved to become a roving missionary in Ile a la Cross in Saskatchewan to work amongst the Indians. On June 14 1850 at age 27 he became a bishop.


Yes he was a confidant of Louis Riel. During the rebellion in Manitoba, Tache was attending the first Vatican Council in Rome but was called back to help with the uprising. Tache in fact was promised amnesty for Riel and his men but the federal government reneged on their offer. It made Riel distrustful of Tache whose reputation in the Metis community was affected. Tache's efforts to mediate were seen as meddling. Riel held a grudge against Tache for having urged conciliation with the politicians. Tache became Archbishop of St. Boniface on September 14, 1874.


He was the leader of the French community. He was involved in establishing and expanding the Catholic Church in western Canada. And he had a giant territory to work on extending into Alberta and to the north. He succeeded in attracting not only masses of French settlers but also brought several professional men like lawyers Joseph Dubuc and Joseph Royal to St. Boniface. And by the 1880s Tache saw 74 schools operating in his diocese. Tache remained an important adviser on all things political till about 1887.


Starting in 1859 Red River started to experience rapid change. The steamboat went through June 10, the Norwester newspaper appeared and so did Simon James Dawson's report on the prospects of peopling the west. Tache saw a threat from the anticipated influx of anglophone, protestant, agricultural people. He tried to promote the paternalistic control of the HBC as well as the Catholic church till the Metis could become a larger population. He wanted to see a big migration of French speaking communities all the way to the Rockies. He established a colonization society in 1874. And he scoured France, Belgium, and Switzerland for French settlers to Manitoba.

In July 1872 he wrote: "We are going to be outnumbered and since our constitutional system relies on numbers, we are going to find ourselves at the mercy of those who do not like us." Meanwhile the Metis were dispersing west and into the US. He felt betrayed by Quebec which itself was concerned with depopulation. In 1882 a year after Winnipeg's big boom, 9,655 English immigrants arrived in Winnipeg during the month of March alone. By 1890, the French were only 14% of the population in Manitoba. And in the same year Tache met his second great disappointment with the elimination of French as a language of instruction in Manitoba.

Tache had enormous impact yet he was not seen as a forceful man, he didn't push himself onto some of the very contentious issues like the Riel uprising and the school question 20 years later. He was a small curious man who was very close to his mother and wrote letters to her on topics like the daily life of the Indians and on astronomy. Tache loved horses and was suited for the missionary work which required travel by horse. Tache died on June 22, 1894 in St. Boniface. In his memory there is a boys school, a senior's home, the municipality of Tache and the street.


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