Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 3, 2000
St. Boniface Cathedral rebuilt after disastrous fire
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
It's one of the Manitoba capital's more unusual landmarks. Viewed from downtown Winnipeg, the imposing stone facade of St. Boniface Cathedral with its huge empty rose window dominates the far bank of the historic Red River.
Thirty-two years ago, a disastrous fire seemed certain to end the church's position as the cultural centre of the old francophone district.
Salvation came in the form of a new, smaller church, designed by award-winning local architect, Etienne Gaboury to fit inside the limestone ruins.
An open-air atrium behind the facade gives access to the hidden, 1,000-seat cathedral. A self-rusting steel roof adds colour and contrasts with the grey Tyndal limestone walls.
The Roman Byzantine style ruin, fourth church on the site, was built in 1908. Its name honours the eighth century "apostle of Germany" and veterans of the Swiss Des Meurons Regiment who settled here.
Since the first bishop, Joseph-Norbert Provencher (his name graces a bridge and boulevard here) celebrated the Eucharist in a log church in 1819, the diocese has had a close relationship with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The order, whose members were in the vanguard of 19th century missionary endeavours in the Canadian West, contributed three archbishops from St. Boniface.
The name of Alexandre-Antonin Tache is perpetuated in the attractive riverside promenade here, while coadjutor Vital-Justin Grandin went on to become St. Albert's first bishop in distant Alberta.
Four bishops and a number of missionary priests are interred in the old cathedral crypt, which, along with some church furnishings, survived the fire.
Pleasant, park-like grounds of the cathedral offer visitors a variety of historic sites. Early missionaries, explorers and settlers in the cemetery include Louis Riel and other participants in the rebellion of 1869.
Monuments honour the Blessed Virgin and the La Verendrye family of explorers. The former Grey Nuns log hospital/convent, now a museum, is said to be Winnipeg's oldest surviving building.