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TACHÉ, ALEXANDRE-ANTONIN, Roman Catholic priest, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, missionary, archbishop, and author; b. 23 July 1823 in Fraserville (Rivière-du-Loup), Lower Canada, son of Charles Taché, a merchant, and Louise-Henriette de Labroquerie (Boucher de La Broquerie); d. 22 June 1894 in St Boniface, Man.
Alexandre-Antonin Taché was the third in a family of five. When his father died on 12 Jan. 1826, his mother left her eldest child, Joseph-Charles, in Kamouraska and went with the rest of her family to seek shelter at her parents’ home in Boucherville. There she lived again with her brother, Joseph-Antoine, who assumed the role of father, as Taché all his life thought of him.
Taché had a happy childhood with his mother, who had resolved not to remarry and lived quietly. She had a lively intellect and was passionately fond of history, literature, and philosophy. Alexandre-Antonin was brought up in a religious atmosphere that was steeped in family traditions and the memory of ancestors such as Louis Jolliet*, who journeyed as far as the Mississippi, and Pierre Gaultier* de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, who reached what is now western Canada. In 1832, after the boy’s grandparents had died, Joseph-Antonin moved the little family to the manor-house of Sabrevois, where Marguerite Bourgeoys* and Jacques Marquette* had once resided. This setting left its mark on Taché, who was a sentimental and impressionable child already filled with the mystery of the hereafter. Later he would write: “I enjoyed myself in this place, fragrant with the sweet scent of devotion and heroism, and in the midst of . . . games [and] usements, a serious thought drew me, an eloquent voice like that from a monument told me the path to follow and I set out.”
In September 1833 Taché entered the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe, where he was taught by Joseph-Sabin Raymond*, Joseph La Rocque*, and Isaac-Stanislas Lesieur-Désaulniers*. According to his teachers and fellow students, he was brilliant although not head of the class. Open-minded, he worked steadily, and was active, argumentative, and jovial, an exuberant youth given to teasing and fond of outings. The early attraction he had felt to the priesthood became more insistent. He opened his heart to his mother, his lifelong confidante, and she told him to pray and wait, listening. Lesieur-Désaulniers, his spiritual director, encouraged him with similar advice. On 1 Sept. 1841 he entered the Grand Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal, and on 21 May 1842 he received the tonsure.
Taché’s studies were not yet finished when Bishop Ignace Bourget* of Montreal appointed him regent at the Collège de Chambly and then, in January 1844, mathematics teacher at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe. His mind, however, was elsewhere. Since a brief encounter with some Oblates in December 1841, he had been caught up in the idea of joining their community. His mother urged him to follow his impulse, but relatives and friends tried to dissuade him. Late in the autumn of 1844 he entered the Oblate noviciate at Longueuil. He was filled with a strong desire to preach the Gospel “among the Indian tribes in the west whom Father Marquette, having set out from Boucherville, had first discovered, whom the La Vérendryes, having set out from the same place, had continued to make known.” He unburdened himself to his superiors. Joseph-Bruno Guigues*, superior of the Oblates in Canada, had just been requested by Charles-Joseph-Eugène de Mazenod, the founder of the community and bishop of Marseilles, to take charge of Catholic missionary work in the new vicariate apostolic of Hudson Bay and James Bay, which was administered by Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher*. Guigues named Father Pierre Aubert* to organize the Oblate missions and authorized Brother Taché, then only 21 and a subdeacon, to accompany him.
There were some 1,400 miles to cover from Montreal to St Boniface. Taché departed on 25 June 1845 in a Hudson’s Bay Company canoe. All the way he paddled, hauled his load over portages, and entertained the crew with jokes, hymns, and devotional readings. When the canoes reached the watershed between the St Lawrence River and Hudson Bay basins, Taché could not hold back his tears. He felt the break with the symbolic link – the St Lawrence – that bound him to his homeland, and even more to his mother. The pemmican sent to the voyageurs by Provencher was for him the sign that he was entering a foreign land. On 25 August Taché reached his destination. According to a charming legend, at this moment Provencher exclaimed, “They send me children! But it is men we need.” A hasty judgement, which, it is said, he soon revised. He ordained Taché deacon on 31 August and priest on 12 October. Alexandre-Antonin took his vows on 13 October.
The vicariate apostolic of Hudson Bay and James Bay was immense – some 1,790,000 square miles. It took in the whole Arctic basin and Rupert’s Land, from which Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] had carved out the Red River colony in 1812. In these regions the HBC held fur-trading rights, although these were being contested by the independent fur traders, and by virtue of its charter it assumed administrative obligations within them. There are no precise statistics, only estimates of the mixed and scattered populations. The whites, thought to number 3,600, worked in the trading-posts or were settled in the colony. Roughly 12,000 Métis lived mainly by hunting buffalo and working small farms. There were approximately 60,000 Indians divided into five cultural groups belonging to three linguistic families. The Algonkian family included the Ojibwas, Crees, and Blackfeet. The Assiniboins, part of the Sioux family, roamed over a territory divided by the border between the colony and the United States. An Athapaskan tribe, the Chipewyans, occupied the basins of the Churchill, Athabasca, and Mackenzie rivers.
Red River was the only settlers’ colony. The 1847 census listed 4,871 inhabitants, 50 per cent of them Catholics. It was administered by a governor appointed by the HBC and the Council of Assiniboia, whose members were also named by the company in consultation with the population. The parish of St Boniface, containing 2,000 inhabitants, half of them Catholic, was an administrative, commercial, and religious centre. The Catholic episcopal residence, where Provencher and four secular priests lived, was located there. So too was a girls’ school run by the Grey Nuns [see Marie-Louise Valade*]. The parish of St François Xavier, to the west, had a church but no resident priest. Until Taché’s arrival Catholic missionaries had worked among the French-speaking Métis of the region, who had been converted in large numbers, and the Saulteaux (Ojibwas), whom vain attempts were being made to settle at Wabassimong (Whitedog, Ont.). Beyond St François Xavier, Jean-Baptiste Thibault* had been carrying on his ministry across the Prairies as far as the Rockies since 1842.
This was the territory being opened up to Taché’s apostolate in the autumn of 1845. He spent part of the winter at St Boniface and the remainder of it at Baie-Saint-Paul (St Eustache), where George-Antoine Bellecourt* taught him, as well as Louis-François Laflèche, the rudiments of the Ojibwa language. On Thibault’s recommendation Bishop Provencher sent Taché with Laflèche to open a mission at Île-à-la-Crosse (Sask.), 300 leagues from St Boniface, which was the meeting place for the brigades coming from Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and the Mackenzie River. The HBC had established a stockaded trading-post there much earlier. The missionaries left St Boniface on 8 July 1846. They went to Lower Fort Garry to meet Sir George Simpson*, governor of the HBC, who supported their undertaking and commended them to Roderick McKenzie*, the chief factor at Île-à-la-Crosse. McKenzie accompanied the missionaries on the trip from Norway House and then gave them lodgings in his post. Taché and Laflèche spent the winter there studying Cree and Athapaskan. In the spring McKenzie had a house measuring 36 by 24 feet built for them which served as both presbytery and chapel; termed the “omnibus-house,” it would be a model for other constructions at the Oblate missions.
Since Laflèche was crippled with rheumatism, he ministered to the Indians near by. Taché took on the missionary trips. In the spring of 1847 he went to set up a mission at Reindeer Lake. He came back to spend the summer with his friend Laflèche and then on 20 August left for Lake Athabasca, some 400 miles to the north. He was the first Catholic missionary to preach the Gospel to the approximately 100 Crees and 1,000 Chipewyans living around the trading-post there. He returned in October to spend the winter with Laflèche, who was suffering a painful attack of rheumatism. With the arrival at Île-à-la-Crosse of the Oblate missionary Henri Faraud* in July 1848, he could go back to Lake Athabasca in the autumn. In June 1849 Laflèche went to St Boniface, while Faraud was given responsibility for the missions in the Lake Athabasca district.
On 4 June 1847 Rome created the diocese of the North-West out of the former vicariate apostolic. Bishop Provencher, who was getting on in years, was looking for a successor. Laflèche would not accept the office, supposedly because of poor health. Provencher fell back on Taché, who, although only 27, possessed the “vigour of youth (and) the prudence of an old man as well” and was “fit to manage the spiritual and the temporal.” On 14 June 1850, without Taché’s knowledge, Rome named him bishop of Arath and coadjutor with right of succession. He did not learn of the appointment until January 1851. His vanity was flattered, his desire to serve usefully was fulfilled, but reason made him foresee the enormous burden that had just been placed on his shoulders. He was at St Boniface on 4 July 1851, and then set out for Marseilles at the order of Bishop Mazenod, who consecrated him bishop on 23 November. From there he went to Rome, where he had two audiences with Pius IX. He received permission from the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda for the new diocese to bear the name of the see, St Boniface, in accordance with Catholic tradition.
On his return to St Boniface on 27 June 1852 Taché found it heavily damaged by a Red River flood, which had carried away barns and houses, delayed sowing, and caused consternation. He did not linger: Provencher continued to look after the colony while he took charge of the missions. On 8 July he left for Île-à-la-Crosse. There the missionaries had enlarged the garden and built a stable. Vegetables and barley were being grown. The brother in charge of the kitchen made butter and cheese. The fathers ran a school. Apostolic activity was being extended, with Faraud setting up a mission at Great Slave Lake (N.W.T.) in October 1852. Competition between Catholics and Protestants was intensifying. On 7 June 1853 Provencher died. Taché, who had been superior of the Oblates of the northwest since 1851, then became bishop of St Boniface, but he did not return to his see immediately. Instead, he entrusted diocesan affairs to the vicars general, Thibault and Laflèche, who were at St Boniface. He stayed at Île-à-la-Crosse to put the mission on a solid foundation. In the summer of 1853 he made an episcopal visit to Lake Athabasca, and in the spring of 1854 he set out on the Saskatchewan River for a long trip that took him to Fort Pitt, Fort Augustus, and the St Anne mission (St Anne Lake, Alta), where Albert Lacombe* was working. From there he went to Lac La Biche.
In September 1854 Taché arrived at St Boniface, and on 5 November he took formal possession of his episcopal see. There had been considerable progress since 1845. His diocese had four secular clergy and ten Oblates, two of them lay brothers. The Grey Nuns had opened a school at St François Xavier and the missionaries had built residences at St Anne, Île-à-la-Crosse, Lake Athabasca, and Lac La Biche. At St Boniface the Christian Brothers, who had arrived in the summer of 1854, were engaged in elementary teaching. The Grey Nuns ran a home for orphans and old people. But St Boniface was still only a large market town, where Taché himself lived frugally among his people. Through parish visiting he came to know his flock of about a thousand. He spent time with the sick and helped the poor, whom he often received in his residence. He supervised the building of a combined house and school for the Christian Brothers and of the church and presbytery of St Norbert. He took pains to strengthen the faith of his flock through well-prepared homilies and to establish an organizational framework to support religious practices. With regret he saw his friend Laflèche and Abbé Joseph Bourassa go back to Lower Canada. He bore in silence the criticisms of his Oblate colleagues who reproached him for neglecting them, particularly for not having a retreat house built for them. He begged for reinforcements and developed his missionary strategy.
The missions were encountering great difficulties: the scattering of the population over a wide area, periodic migrations of the native peoples, multiplicity of languages and cultures, division among the Christian churches, and the interests of the HBC. The company appreciated the civilizing action of the missionaries but was worried about the rivalries between Catholics and Protestants and about the missionaries’ efforts to get the Indians to adopt a sedentary life-style. Taché knew that it would not be possible to create parishes with inveterate nomads or to supply a missionary for each Indian band. He sensed that the HBC, in its struggle with the independent traders, would reach the point of refusing to transport the missionaries and their supplies. He feared the competition from Protestant clergy, which was increasing, especially in the northern missions. His aim was to push as quickly as possible into the whole territory and win over the local populations. His strategy, therefore, would be to establish a base of operations at a key point from which to supply the northern missions, and then create a network of permanent, well-organized missions near the trading-posts, where priests, supported by brothers and nuns, would exert a deeper influence through schools, the regular services of a supporting ministry, and the example of a sedentary life. From these missions the priests would be able from time to time to make long evangelizing trips among the widely scattered bands. He intended to put a permanent resident coadjutor in charge of the mission territory, even though it might eventually be subdivided and detached administratively from his diocese. To complete his strategy, in 1865 he put in place a special ministry for the Crees and the Blackfeet, who seldom visited the trading-posts. At that time he entrusted to Father Lacombe the task of following them in their migrations. Although it was Taché’s intention to imbue the Métis with French Canadian culture, he seems to have contented himself with converting the Indians to Christian faith and then perhaps settling them on the land.
On 5 June 1855 Taché set out for Île-à-la-Crosse to carry out his missionary plan. He put fathers Jean Tissot and Charles-Augustin Maisonneuve in charge of organizing the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires mission at Lac La Biche. This mission, which included a farm, storehouses, a wagon road to the Prairies, and regular transport services, quickly became the supply point for the northern missions. Taché also had the St Joseph mission established on Great Slave Lake. In the spring of 1856 he undertook to visit all the Oblate missions and then returned to St Boniface. The sole remaining task was to obtain the appointment of a coadjutor for these missions.
To that end Taché left for Rome in September, but he stopped at Marseilles to consult Bishop Mazenod. They agreed to suggest the appointment of Vital-Justin Grandin* as coadjutor, which the pope would confirm on 11 Dec. 1857. The trip was another decisive step in the development of Catholicism in the west. Taché made a round of visits in France to inform Catholics about the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which partly financed his missions. Bishop Mazenod granted him some funds and promised him eight missionaries. From April to October 1857 Taché was in Lower Canada, where donations poured in. The Grey Nuns agreed to send three sisters to St Anne in 1858 and others to Île-à-la-Crosse. A printer saw to the publication of works in native languages. However, the political debates in progress cast a shadow on Taché’s successful trip. The rumours of imminent annexation of the northwest by Canada had initially delighted him. But the views on church and state relations and on school questions held by the Grits and the Rouges, who were promoting the plan [see George Brown*], led him to foresee serious dangers for his “oasis in the desert.” Taché left Montreal on 3 Oct. 1857. He went by train to Kingston, by steamship to Detroit, and by train again to St Paul (Minn.), arriving in less than four days! But from there it took him 24 days to reach St Boniface, on 6 November.
Taché led his diocese like a general, begging for resources from the Canadian church and the Oblate community and then distributing them on two fronts. On the missionary front he supported his colleagues who had gone off to conquer the west and the north. In the autumn of 1858 Father Pierre-Henri Grollier* launched his attack on the north, an initiative that within a few years took him up to the Arctic. During that time others were consolidating their position at Fort Edmonton (Edmonton) and Father Faraud, setting out from Lake Athabasca, went up the Peace River as far as forts Vermilion (near Fort Vermilion, Alta) and Dunvegan. On the Red River front, Taché encouraged the concentration of Métis at Pointe-des-Chênes. He also urged the settlers and Métis to band together in order to be in a position to establish new parishes. In the period 1853–65 he created some 15 parishes. Many Métis followed his advice, with the result that in 1870 there were four parishes with Métis in the majority: St Anne, St Albert, St Joachim, and Our Lady of Victory. Taché also promoted the education of both Métis and white children. He provided help for the needy, whose numbers were much increased by the great grasshopper invasion of 1857. All these endeavours cost a great deal and Taché had only slim resources. In 1859 he estimated his budget at £2,050, made up of £1,350 from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, £400 from surplice-fees and donations, £100 from the HBC, and £200 from an annuity constituted from various gifts.
In this period economic and technological changes were affecting the Red River settlement. The first steamship reached St Boniface on 10 June 1859. The following year Georgetown was linked to Saint Cloud (Minn.), a locality already connected with St Paul, by a stagecoach service. Thenceforth St Boniface was only eight or nine days from St Paul. The mail, which used to arrive twice a year, now came monthly. In 1859 the first issue of the Nor’Wester (Winnipeg), an English-language, Protestant newspaper, appeared, as did the report of Simon James Dawson* on the possibilities of peopling the west. The penetration by a new society that was strongly anglophone, Protestant, and agricultural, led the francophones, both Métis and whites, to close ranks around their parishes. Under the leadership of Taché, who became increasingly anxious, indeed pessimistic, as the pioneer front moved forward, they all discovered minority rights. In order to delay as long as possible the arrival of a stream of migrants likely to shatter the balance between Catholics and Protestants, Taché, who had sat on the Council of Assiniboia since 23 June 1858, supported the HBC’s resistance to freedom of trade and to the intrigues of the Canadian party [see Sir John Christian Schultz]. He hoped to prolong the paternalistic rule of the HBC and the Catholic Church, and thus give the Métis time to become settled, take up land, and increase in number.
Taché believed that the moment had come to proceed with erecting the vicariate apostolic of Athabasca-Mackenzie. But before entering into discussions on the matter he judged it desirable to make a pastoral visit of the missions, which lasted from October 1860 till February 1861. The long journey led him to spend 44 nights sleeping in the open, sometimes at a temperature of minus 40°F. On his return to St Boniface on 23 Feb. 1861 he found his cathedral and palace had been destroyed by fire. Then on 30 May the four large outbuildings of the residence also burned down. At the urging of the bishops of Lower Canada, Taché decided to go begging. In June he left his diocese and made the rounds of the churches in Lower Canada. He took advantage of the trip to secure the backing of the episcopate for the plan to divide his diocese. He then went to Marseilles to participate in electing Mazenod’s successor as head of the Oblates, and on to Rome. His wishes were granted by the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda and on 13 May 1863 it established the vicariate apostolic of Athabasca-Mackenzie, appointing Faraud vicar apostolic.
Taché was back at St Boniface on 26 May 1862 and began rebuilding his cathedral and palace. He left the preparations for erecting the new vicariate to Grandin. In August 1864 he made his last apostolic visit to the Oblate missions in the northwest. In the autumn of 1865 Faraud took over his vicariate, and in 1868 Grandin would settle at St Albert to pave the way for the erection of the diocese of that name.
From 1865 Taché could concentrate his energies on the Red River colony, which was still struggling with grasshoppers, droughts, and epidemics. In the summer of 1866 he went to Lower Canada, and in 1867 to Europe, as much to settle administrative problems as to obtain relief for the distress of his flock. There were more and more signs that a new era was dawning in the west. Canada was preparing to annex the northwest. The completion in 1868 of the railway linkage between St Paul and eastern North America facilitated access to the region. Taché felt that the French and Catholic achievements in the northwest should be made known. In rapid succession he wrote Vingt années de missions dans le Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique (1866) and Esquisse sur le Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique (1869). The first text, which was epistolary in style, was composed at the request of the superior of the Oblates and set out the main stages in the Oblates’ missionary work. The other, written for “serious men who are giving thought to this country,” was a general survey of everything Taché had learned about the northwest, covering geographical, demographic, commercial, administrative, and political conditions.
Taché’s concerns about the annexation of the northwest by Canada proved well founded. He thought the British North America Act, which safe-guarded Catholic interests, was acceptable, but he wondered who would benefit from the economic and political integration of the colony into Canada. In 1869 the Canadian government negotiated with the HBC and the British government the annexation of the west, without taking into account the populations involved [see Sir George-Étienne Cartier*]. The survey teams employed that year on the construction of the Dawson road [see John Allan Snow*], which linked Upper Fort Garry to Lake of the Woods, and on surveying lots [see John Stoughton Dennis*] exploited the workers, scorned the Métis, and took exception to the coexistence of the two cultures. There were rumblings of discontent among the local people about which the governor of Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land, William Mactavish*, and the Anglican bishop of Rupert’s Land, Robert Machray*, informed the government of Canada. Taché, who was worried about the fate in store for the Métis, went to Ottawa on his way to Rome for the first Vatican Council in 1869. Sir George-Étienne Cartier received in a cavalier manner this man who was said to have been bought off by the HBC. He remained deaf to Taché’s suggestion that he appoint two commissioners to inquire into the needs of the Red River colony, one French-speaking, the other English-speaking, and that he let the people elect a few members of the Council of Assiniboia. Taché spoke of his concerns to leaders of the Conservative party (Hector-Louis Langevin*, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau*, and Gédéon Ouimet*) and before leaving for Europe sent Cartier a letter in which he called for “more than one French Canadian Catholic in the government of the northwest and . . . men with experience.” He also wrote to Grandin urging him to encourage the Métis to “take possession of as much land” as they could.
On 8 Dec. 1869 Pius IX opened the Vatican Council and, at Upper Fort Garry, Louis Riel* established a provisional government. Anxious at the turn of events, the federal government requested Taché to leave Rome. He was in Ottawa on 10 Feb. 1870. He met with the cabinet and then had private conversations with Governor General Sir John Young*, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Cartier, and others. The mood was one of conciliation. The ministers revealed their intention to see that justice was done. Taché was handed a copy of Young’s proclamation of amnesty dated 6 Dec. 1869, which promised amnesty to the inhabitants of Red River who laid down their arms. In Taché’s eyes, amnesty for all the Métis leaders was crucial, for on it depended the pacification of the region. He obtained from Cartier the promise of a complete and general amnesty.
On 17 Feb. 1870 Bishop Taché left Ottawa for Red River with status as the federal government’s delegate deputed to reassure the people and restore calm, persuade the Métis to accept the transfer of the northwest to Canada, and publicize the proclamation of amnesty. He did not know, however, what was in the back of Macdonald’s mind – that, as he confided to Sir John Rose* on 23 February, the Métis “must be kept firmly in hand until they are submerged by the influx of settlers.” According to Taché, even the execution of Thomas Scott*, which took place on 4 March, was covered by the promises made him in Ottawa. The prelate was back in the colony on 8 March. The provisional government, with Riel at its head, was distrustful. Taché had a talk with Abbé Jean-Baptiste Thibault and Charles-René-Léonidas d’Irumberry* de Salaberry, two other delegates of the Canadian government. On 11 March, surmising that the fear of reprisals was fuelling Métis distrust, Taché promised Riel and the Métis leaders an amnesty for all acts committed up till that time. On 14 March Riel made peace with Taché. The next day the bishop met the new elected council of the provisional government. He convinced it that the Canadian government was seeking justice, fairness, and peace, and that it was wise to renew the mandate of Joseph-Noël Ritchot*, John Black*, and Alfred Henry Scott*, who had been elected in February to negotiate in Ottawa a list of rights. The list was reworked a third time by the executive of the provisional government, probably under the influence of Taché, who wanted the immediate creation of a regular province with a permanent and responsible government. But Ritchot had a fourth list, the seventh clause of which specified, at Taché’s request, a system of public schools, some Catholic, others Protestant.
While the delegates were negotiating in Ottawa, Taché pursued his peacemaking mission and thwarted the Americans’ scheming with the Métis. On 9 June, eager to avoid a civil war and acting with the consent of Thibault, Salaberry, and Mactavish, he formally promised amnesty to the Métis. On 24 June 1870, after hearing Ritchot’s report, the provisional government ratified the Manitoba Act of the government of Canada passed on 12 May, which created an officially bilingual province with a system of Catholic and Protestant public schools. Taché was anxious to be the bearer of the news of ratification himself and left St Boniface on 27 June, reaching Ottawa on 12 July. He wanted to get a written promise of amnesty and urged Adams George Archibald, who had been appointed lieutenant governor of Manitoba and who was soon to leave for his post, to set up a civil government. Again he had to be content with verbal promises about amnesty. Back in St Boniface on 23 August, he hastened to Upper Fort Garry to reassure Riel. On the 24th Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley*’s troops, sent by the federal government on an “errand of peace,” forced their way into Upper Fort Garry. After going to the bishop’s residence to tell Taché that he had been tricked by the politicians, Riel fled to the United States. During the following weeks there ensued a fire, attacks, insults, and deaths [see Elzéar Goulet*]. None the less Taché did not cease his efforts to pacify the Métis. Together with Archibald, who arrived on 2 September, he endeavoured to maintain the people’s trust in the Canadian government. By mid October the worst of the crisis was over. The bishop had truly helped prevent civil war, but from then on he had a cross to bear: the matter of amnesty.
In the autumn of 1870 Taché was already feeling somewhat worn out physically, but the conventual way of life he imposed upon himself still enabled him to get through a great deal of work. He followed events in Europe with anguish: Italian troops were in Rome, and the Germans were besieging Paris. The foreign sources of support for his apostolic activity were threatened. He showed himself to be a typical ultramontane bishop of the time, strongly attached to the papacy, fiercely opposed to modernistic ideas, and distrustful of liberal politicians and laymen, whom, within his own church, he confined to carrying out assigned tasks. He shared the sufferings and woes of the native peoples, and recognized their property rights to their ancestral lands. He was concerned about the educational and religious rights of all the Christian denominations, but as a good Christian bent on conquering the world for Christ he ignored in these matters the rights of the native peoples, whom he had been sent to convert to Catholicism and to westernize. As for his church and his province, he intended to build them on the Quebec model, with bilingual institutions, Catholic and Protestant schools, and peaceful coexistence of the various religious denominations.
Taché worked closely with the lieutenant governor and the handful of French-speaking professional men whom he and Cartier had encouraged to move to Manitoba – among them lawyers Joseph Dubuc* and Joseph Royal*, notary Marc-Amable Girard, and civil servant Alphonse-Alfred-Clément La Rivière*. Archibald had the wit to call upon his knowledge of the country and his experience with people. Taché helped establish the boundaries of the 24 ridings that would send 12 francophones and 12 anglophones, 12 Catholics and 12 Protestants, to the provincial assembly. Until about 1887 he would be an adviser heeded by the political leaders. He virtually dictated the bill, passed unanimously in 1871, that set up a system of Catholic and Protestant public schools. In 1877 he got his views accepted when the University of Manitoba was founded [see Alexander Morris*]. Through Dubuc, Taché had a presence in the Council of the North-West Territories, which advised the lieutenant governor of Manitoba on the administration of the districts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Athabasca. With Grandin, he acted as an intermediary between the Métis and Indians on the one hand and the government of Manitoba, the Council of the North-West Territories, and the Canadian government on the other. In the autumn of 1871 he had encouraged the Métis and Riel, who was back in Manitoba, to oppose the Fenians. The following February he handed over to Riel and Ambroise-Dydime Lépine* money sent by Prime Minister Macdonald and his special commissioner Donald Alexander Smith* in the hope of encouraging them to go into exile in the United States. He contrived to get Cartier elected in Provencher riding in September 1872, but subsequently could not persuade Riel to stay out of politics. He succeeded in keeping the Métis quiet and in peacefully settling some of their problems, but on the question of the promised amnesty he met with bitter defeat. When Taché had gone to Ottawa in 1871, Macdonald had informed him that a “government that endeavoured to grant an amnesty would not be able to remain in power.” The arrest in September 1873 of Lépine, on the charge of having murdered Thomas Scott, convinced him it was his duty to speak out. “For four years I have been used,” he stated, “supposedly to secure the happiness of the people I love, in reality to deceive this same people.” In March 1874 he brought the question to public attention in Amnistie, a pamphlet pleading for amnesty as a matter of national honour. In the period from 10 April to 20 May he appeared three times before the special committee of the House of Commons that had been set up to inquire into the causes of the rebellion in the North-West Territories in 1869–70. His testimony, published and commented on in the press, was damning for the politicians he implicated. Before the committee had even submitted its report, André Nault* and Elzéar Lagimodière were arrested in September and Lépine was convicted by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba. In March 1875 Taché intervened once more with a new pamphlet, Encore l’amnistie. Late in April an unconditional general amnesty was proclaimed for all except Lépine, William Bernard O’Donoghue*, and Riel. Riel would long hold a grudge against Taché for having consistently advised the Métis to yield to the politicians’ wishes.
This essentially political activity did not distract Taché from the more urgent duties of building up his diocese. On 22 Sept. 1871, under pressure from Grandin, Rome had raised St Boniface to an archdiocese, with the diocese of St Albert and the vicariates apostolic of British Columbia and Athabasca-Mackenzie as its suffragan sees. Taché lost no time in getting church institutions recognized in civil law. The relevant statute of 1874 suggested a certain distrust of laymen: it did not provide for any fabrique councils. The parish corporation was to consist of the archbishop, the parish priest, and the vicar general. As archbishop of St Boniface and superior of all the Oblate missions in his ecclesiastical province, Taché undertook many forms of activity. He personally supervised the supplying of the missions in the northwest and the Athabasca-Mackenzie region; St Boniface was the hub from which the annual caravans set out. Through letters and trips to France, Rome, and other parts of Canada he begged for assistance to the missions and social work. He increased the number of parishes from 15 in 1870 to 40 by the time of his death. He encouraged Catholic education and instruction in the secular branches of knowledge; he wanted Catholics to be as well prepared as Protestants for entry into the labour market, and to have an élite to defend them in political spheres. In 1888 there were 74 schools in his diocese.
In Taché’s view the evolution of the church and of Manitoba dictated one priority: strengthening the French-speaking and Catholic element. “We are going to be outnumbered,” he stated in July 1872, “and since under our constitutional system strength lies in numbers, we are going to find ourselves at the mercy of those who do not like us.” Thus he was preoccupied with stimulating the migration of a stream of French-speaking Catholics to the west to maintain the cultural balance. His strategy consisted in establishing French-speaking Catholic parishes in the interior of the block of lands reserved for the Métis, and on this base developing a chain of French-speaking communities reaching to the Rockies. But there would never be any concerted attempt to carry out the plan. He himself was to accept the fact that French-speaking emigrants settled wherever they wanted and Bishop Grandin would encourage a community of francophone settlers in the region around Edmonton. In response to Taché’s urgings, the bishops of the province of Quebec timidly supported his plan at a meeting held at Quebec from 17 to 24 Oct. 1871. They signed a circular letter drawn up by his friend Laflèche, who had become bishop of Trois-Rivières, inviting French speakers of the province of Quebec who wanted to emigrate to choose the west rather than New England. They also passed a resolution asking the federal government to appoint emigration agents in Quebec and give financial assistance to emigrants from that province, as it was doing for those from Ontario.
In 1874 Taché strongly supported the founding of the Société de Colonisation de Manitoba, which sought to recruit settlers in Canada and the United States and help them when they were settling in the west. He sent fathers Lacombe and Doucet to Quebec and the United States to promote the cause of settlement. The colonization society obtained the appointment by the Canadian government of an agent for the repatriation of Franco-Americans. The results were disappointing. In the 1880s Taché would get more recruiting agents in the province of Quebec, and with the help of the Canadian government, which paid their salaries, more colonizing missionaries in the dioceses of New England and the American midwest. He encouraged the clergy of French origin to scour France, Belgium, and Switzerland for settlers. These recruiting efforts met with but modest success and barely made up for the drift of the Métis to the North-West Territories. The effectiveness of Taché’s efforts was limited by several factors: the relative remoteness of Quebeckers, who were drawn naturally to the south, the reluctance of their élites to encourage the “depopulating of Quebec,” and a negative image of the west as a distant, inhospitable, and barren land. The articles he published in the Winnipeg Standard, which were later assembled in a pamphlet under the title Denominational or free Christian schools in Manitoba, only delayed the crisis he foresaw. Like all his compatriots in the west, he felt abandoned and even betrayed by Quebec, the motherland, especially when with the economic boom of the 1880–82 period the demographic imbalance increased. In 1882, in the month of March alone, 9,655 English-speaking immigrants reportedly arrived at St Boniface.
Taché had even less success with the plan for settling Métis in the North-West Territories that he had developed in 1878 to guide the Canadian government in its search for a policy. He had proposed the creation of 12 reserves, of 144 square miles apiece, in which about 100 Métis families would each receive two 80-acre pieces of land laid out in long rectangular strips in the traditional manner. The Métis would not be able to sell these properties before the third generation. This plan, like one submitted in the same year by John Stoughton Dennis, then deputy minister of the interior, was designed to avoid the mistakes made in Manitoba, where the Métis had sold their lands for a song [see Gilbert McMicken]. The Canadian government could not decide on a policy and consequently confined itself to pious wishes.
In March 1882 land speculation in Manitoba collapsed and that summer the grasshoppers invaded the fields. The residents of the province were in desperate straits, especially the Métis, who had been pushed back to the banks of the Saskatchewan, and the Indians, who had been shunted onto reserves through a series of treaties signed in the years 1871–77. Taché and the St Boniface newspaper Le Métis warned the government that discontent was again on the rise. In July 1884 Riel arrived at Batoche (Sask.), where settlers and Métis were restless. In September the dissatisfaction became more widespread. Riel prepared a petition in which the property rights of whites as well as Métis were the main subject of complaint. There were several angles to the problem. On the one hand the Canadian government had not yet put into effect the much-amended Dominion Lands Act of 1872, which authorized it to allocate land to the Métis. On the other hand, in the absence of a survey of the area and of documents certifying the termination of the Indians’ property rights, the Métis did not hold indisputable title to their properties. Mobilized by Riel, the Métis rose up in the spring of 1885 under the leadership of Gabriel Dumont*. On 26 March they were met by a troop of North-West Mounted Police under Lief Newry Fitzroy Crozier*. Taché was appalled. In his eyes, this time it was really a rebellion. He could not approve of the uprising, or of the religious Messianism of Riel that underlay it. He worked to reassure the people and hastened to send a warning to the leaders and bishops of the province of Quebec, who quite naturally were inclined to back Riel’s cause. But knowing well the fate reserved for the Métis and Indians and outraged by the Canadian government’s negligence as well as by the fanaticism of some of the immigrants, he pleaded for justice and clemency. In June he was in Ottawa to intercede for both groups. But he did not succeed in getting a reprieve for Riel, who was hanged on 16 Nov. 1885. On 7 December he published La situation, a pamphlet inspired “by justice and humanity” and written in hopes that racial and religious fanaticism would give way to moderation and reason. Taché ascribed the Métis uprising to the incompetence and ill will of the federal officials in the west, the imbroglio concerning property rights, the failure to allocate lands to the Métis, and the deranged mind of Riel. The government belatedly followed the path proposed by Taché. In 1886, however, when Philippe Landry*’s motion expressing regret that Riel had not been reprieved was debated in the commons, Taché did not encourage his friends to support it, for fear of stirring up passions; he urged instead that the Métis cause be put above partisan interests. With bishops Grandin and Laflèche he judged it more effective to mobilize “honest, firm, and conscientious members of the house” who would force the government to respect the Métis’ rights, rather than “to throw the ministers out of office.” In the years that followed, this plea brought increased government aid to the Métis and may have been the original reason for Joseph Royal’s appointment as lieutenant governor of the North-West Territories.
The period after the Métis uprising saw radical changes. Canadian Pacific Railway trains criss-crossed the Prairies. Taché could go from St Boniface to Montreal in 62 hours, instead of the 62 days it took him in 1845. From then on English-speaking Protestants determined the development of the west. Taché, who clung to his dream of linguistic duality in western Canada, was a man respected by the people of Manitoba – his relations with Lieutenant Governor Schultz were even cordial. The vice-president of the CPR, William Cornelius Van Horne*, put his own coaches at the archbishop’s disposal. But Taché was a man without the weapons he needed. With Grandin he had collected a voluminous file on the harassment engaged in by Indian Affairs officers: the appointment of Protestant teachers in reserves with a Catholic majority, the refusal to provide for the needs of certain parents who did not send their children to Protestant schools, the building of schools far away from Catholic churches, the banning of Catholic missionaries from certain reserves, among other things. His remonstrances with the government of the North-West Territories in 1886 went unheeded. Taché was also becoming more and more ill. He suffered long periods of general weakness that confined him to his bedroom or forced him to stay for prolonged periods in the Hôpital Général in Montreal. In 1887 he resigned as superior of the Oblates. He had the energy, however, to organize a provincial council, held at St Boniface from 16 to 24 July 1889, to take stock of the development of the Catholic Church in the west. The seven prelates who attended the council passed important motions: raising the vicariate apostolic of British Columbia to a diocese [see Paul Durieu], dividing the diocese of St Albert, designating an Oblate as permanent delegate to the Indians, adopting decrees on faith, spiritual zeal, divine worship, and Christian education, all directed to unifying beliefs, standardizing practices, and fanning ardour for pastoral work.
Obviously the fathers of the council also wanted to strengthen Catholicism in the west at a time when the question of Catholic schools was being debated. In March 1890, despite promises from the attorney general, Joseph Martin*, and Premier Thomas Greenway* himself, the Manitoba government passed two bills that restructured the Department of Education and did away with the province’s system of Catholic and Protestant public schools.
These measures angered both English- and French-speaking Catholics. Archbishop Taché could not persuade Lieutenant Governor Schultz to withhold assent to the legislation, the constitutionality of which was doubtful – Schultz in fact signed it only when Macdonald insisted. Taché, whose health was steadily deteriorating, spearheaded the resistance movement and was to remain until the end of his life the man in Catholic ranks who determined the strategy to be pursued in this cause. He immediately tried to get the federal government to disallow the school legislation. On 7 April 1890 he signed a petition to the governor general, following it up with a personal letter on 12 April in which he called for a fair and equitable solution. He sent a personal delegate, James-Émile-Pierre Prendergast*, to Ottawa to lobby for disallowance. Disappointed at the Conservative party’s evasiveness, not satisfied with the compromise worked out by the minister of justice, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, on the language question, embittered at the scant support he received from Quebec politicians, he urged Bishop Laflèche in May to move heaven and earth to make the government disallow the legislation. But both Liberal and Conservative politicians were convinced that this matter could shatter the political parties and preferred to play for time. On the pretext that it was very difficult to define the rights existing at the establishment of Manitoba, the minister of justice, followed by Langevin, Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, and Sir Adolphe-Philippe Caron*, persuaded Laflèche that for the time being it was better to leave the question to the courts, and to intervene later if need be.
Sick at heart, Taché yielded by degrees to the politicians’ arguments. He decided none the less to maintain the resistance movement on a war footing and to keep the issue before public opinion. In June 1890 he had a national congress convoked at St Boniface, ensuring, however, that laymen took the leadership role. On 15 August he published a pastoral letter, and in September he had a petition bearing the signatures of 4,266 Manitoba Catholics delivered to the governor general. These documents did not ask for the legislation to be disallowed, but pleaded for action from the government, which was leaving the matter to the courts. With Laflèche’s agreement, Taché put off till after the March 1891 elections his plan for a joint letter from the Canadian bishops. The original plan would have urged – if not obliged – Catholics to vote for candidates who were in favour of redressing the Manitoba school situation. The fear of not getting a decisive majority and of playing into the Liberals’ hands probably motivated Taché and Laflèche to postponement. In March, 28 of the 29 Catholic bishops of Canada signed a letter to the governor general which demanded justice for the Catholics of Manitoba but which also fell short of calling for disallowance. The Conservative cabinet was both surprised and pleased, and journalist Joseph-Israël Tarte* wondered how the school situation could be redressed quickly and efficaciously. As a result Tarte came to the conclusion in 1893 that during his stay in the Hôpital Général of Montreal in the winter of 1890–91, Taché had reached an agreement with Chapleau not to embarrass the Conservative government and that in ceasing to demand disallowance before the election, he had undermined the chances of success of the Manitoba cause.
Taché was afraid that the Manitoba policy on schools would spread. Events proved him right. In Ontario, the Protestant Protective Association demanded that separate schools be abolished and the Mail, spurred on by the ostentatious nationalism of Honoré Mercier, kept up a display of aggressive antagonism toward Catholics [see Christopher William Bunting]. The crusade that D’Alton McCarthy conducted in the west had met with a sympathetic response in the North-West Territories. In 1892 its government passed an ordinance that again reduced the rights of Catholic schools. Taché protested in vain. Thompson, who had become prime minister, refused to condemn this policy. From one disappointment to the next, Taché reached the point of no longer believing that justice would come from the courts and of blaming Thompson for mishandling the case of the schools. Manitoba’s School Amendment Act of 1894, which ensured strict application of the school legislation of 1890 in rural districts, brought his exasperation to a peak. From the time the province’s school system had first been called in question, Taché had fought valiantly by word, by deed, by writing. He had published many texts setting out the origins of the whole problem and justifying his views. He put forward six basic arguments for a system of Catholic and Protestant public schools: the right of parents to transmit their faith and morals to their children; the right of the Catholic Church to teach; acquired historical rights; legal rights recognized by the Manitoba Act and the ordinances of the North-West Territories; the compatibility of a system of Catholic and Protestant public schools with British tradition; the hypocritical nature of the legislation. Archbishop Taché attached great importance to the last of these arguments. In his opinion, the aim of Joseph Martin, who considered it iniquitous to oblige Catholics to attend Protestant schools, was to secularize the school system. According to Taché, an outcry from the Protestant clergy had forced him to retreat, and the legislators had simply called neutral what in fact were Protestant schools. The new non-denominational schools were the continuation of the former Protestant schools. As proof, he cited the following facts: the administrators and inspectors were all Protestants, the teachers were Protestants, and the courses in religion and ethics in the new schools were exactly the same as those in Protestant schools. The same prayers, the same scriptural passages, and the same licence granted to freedom of enquiry were to be found in them. Because of this the new school system, in his view, was contrary to democratic principles, and in Catholic eyes it was and always would be an example of hypocrisy and a form of persecution.
His articles shook public opinion, but Taché did not see their results. On 2 May 1894 his health deteriorated still further. On 3 June he preached his final sermon in his cathedral and on 22 June he died. Catholics and Protestants alike filed past his casket. Bishop Laflèche delivered the funeral oration. His remains were laid to rest in a vault reserved for the bishops, near those of Bishop Provencher.
One of the most eminent figures in the annals of the northwest, Taché is also probably one of the most difficult to place in Canadian history. Since a historical judgement depends in large measure on historians’ ideological presuppositions, conscious or unconscious, various interpretations can be made. As an individual, Taché had fully lived out his desire to work for his personal salvation through service to the poorest of the poor. The charity, peace, and joy he radiated had made his entourage consider him a saint. Wilfrid Laurier*, who so regarded him, called him saintly but naïve, in other words a man devoid of political sense. This judgement is somewhat wanting. Taché had come from a milieu in which harmony had constantly to be restored between Protestants and Catholics, anglophones and francophones, and victors and vanquished. He had been raised in the nostalgic pride traditional in an aristocratic family, in the triumphalist intransigence of an ultramontane form of spirituality, in the cult of the superiority of the western world. He was, then, a conqueror who set off to transplant western civilization, the Catholic religion, and French Canadian culture in the northwest. His origins and his objectives shed light on his vision of what the northwest could become and determined both his apostolic and his political actions.
Taché respected and loved the Métis and the Indians; he imparted European values and truths to them; he made them aware of their rights to their ancestral lands and to the management of their daily lives. However, as a good representative of his culture, for whom civilization stopped at Christianity and Greek rationalism, he was never fully aware of the cultural rights of the people whom he called his children, beyond those of the language, religion, and way of life he had inculcated in them. He had thus, unconsciously, undermined the native peoples’ culture and sapped their ability to resist the pioneer advance.
Taché had built his diocese on the model of the Quebec Catholic churches: unyielding dogmatism, a strict moral code, a rigid hierarchical organization of the clergy and the faithful, demonstrative and sentimental piety – all lived out in paternalistic fashion Like every French Canadian bishop working on the fringes of settlement he had been an agent of social, economic, and cultural development. But he always contemplated problems first from a Catholic rather than an ethnic perspective. His reasoning in the school question reveals this point of view, as does his tactic of putting Irish Catholics forward to contest in court the validity of the legislation [see John Kelly Barrett*].
Alexandre-Antonin Taché had lived at the critical point when the emergence of the west showed the true face of the federal government as it then was: a political machine in the service of the Anglo-Protestant bourgeoisie and culture, run by men who trimmed their sails to the winds of power. He had vainly defended the idea of a harmonious political synthesis of the two great traditions from which present-day Canada derives. He was vanquished, but not for want of political sense. The vicissitudes of his action were only a process incidental to a confrontation between unequal forces. Promising or not promising amnesty, relying upon Liberals or upon Conservatives in the school question, and so many other stands taken could not in the long run change the course of things set in motion at confederation. Taché had seen with great clarity that Manitoba – that officially denominational and bilingual entity – would succumb under the weight of numbers and the battering by an uncompromising political majority determined to shape the west in its own image and likeness. In the long run his defeat revealed that a newly imperialistic Ontario could not define a Canadian identity comprehending all the individuals and collectivities that coexisted in the political space of the country. The Ontario “I,” formed not among others but against them, has never been able to become a national “We,” even if it has taken on that appearance. “Canada First” has always meant for those others “Ontario First.” It is this failure that made certain fundamental elements of Archbishop Taché’s thinking of relevance in the 1970s and that, year after year, fuels separatist regionalisms.
Alexandre-Antonin Taché’s correspondence is voluminous and varied. It is located mainly at the following repositories: AAQ, Arch. de l’archevêché de Saint-Boniface (Saint-Boniface, Man.), Arch. des oblats de Marie-Immaculée (Montréal), Arch. du séminaire de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), Arch. générales des oblats de Marie-Immaculée (Rome), Arch. hist. oblates (Ottawa), NA, PAM, and PAM, HBCA. His published works and letters are listed in J. M. Greene, “The writings of Archbishop Taché” (ma thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1953), and in L.-M. [Parent], “Monseigneur Taché, écrivain” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1952).
Can., House of Commons, Select committee on the causes of the difficulties in the North-West Territories in 1869–70, Report (Ottawa, 1874). “Correspondance Taché–Laflèche,” Albert Tessier, édit., Cahiers des Dix, 23 (1958): 241–60. DOLQ, vols.1–2. Lionel Dorge, Introduction à l’étude des Franco-Manitobains; essai historique et bibliographique (Saint-Boniface, 1973). [J.-P.-A.] Benoît, Vie de Mgr Taché, archevêque de St-Boniface (2v., Montréal, 1904). J.-É. Champagne, Les missions catholiques dans l’Ouest canadien (1818–1875) (Ottawa, 1949). Paul Crunican, Priests and politicians: Manitoba schools and the election of 1896 (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1974). T. [E.] Flanagan, Louis “David” Riel: prophet of the new world (Toronto, 1979). Gerald Friesen, The Canadian Prairies: a history (Toronto, 1984). A.-G. Morice, Histoire de l’Église catholique dans l’Ouest canadien, du lac Supérieur au Pacifique (1659–1905) (3v., Winnipeg et Montréal, 1912). W. L. Morton, Manitoba (1957). Stanley, Birth of western Canada; Louis Riel. Alastair Sweeny, George-Étienne Cartier: a biography (Toronto, 1976). L. H. Thomas, The struggle for responsible government in the North-West Territories, 1870–97 (Toronto, 1956). Voisine, Louis-François Laflèche. Waite, Man from Halifax. Gaston Carrière, “Mgr Provencher à la recherche d’un coadjuteur,” CCHA Sessions d’études, 37 (1970): 71–93. J.[-E.] Champagne, “Monseigneur Alexandre Taché, o.m.i., organisateur de l’Église catholique dans l’Ouest canadien,” CCHA Rapport, 16 (1948–49): 13–22. Andrée Désilets, “Les relations entre Mgr Taché et Hector-Louis Langevin,” CCHA Sessions d’études, 37: 165–71. Lionel Dorge, “Bishop Taché and the confederation of Manitoba,” Man., Hist. and Scientific Soc., Trans. (Winnipeg), 3rd ser., no.26 (1969–70): 93–109. A.[-N.] Lalonde, “L’Église catholique et les Francophones de l’Ouest, 1818–1930,” CCHA Sessions d’études, 50 (1983): 485–97; “L’intelligentsia du Québec et la migration des Canadiens français vers l’Ouest canadien, 1870–1930,” RHAF, 33 (1979–80): 163–85. Robert Painchaud, “French-Canadian historiography and Franco-Catholic settlement in western Canada, 1870–1915,” CHR, 59 (1978): 447–66.
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Cite This Article
Jean Hamelin, “TACHÉ, ALEXANDRE-ANTONIN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 20, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tache_alexandre_antonin_12E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jean Hamelin|
|Title of Article:||TACHÉ, ALEXANDRE-ANTONIN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||March 20, 2023|