Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Archbishop A.-A. Taché of St. Boniface: The 'Good Fight' and the Illusive Vision

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Archbishop A.-A. Taché of St. Boniface: The 'Good Fight' and the Illusive Vision

Article excerpt

Raymond J.A. Huel, Archbishop A.-A. Taché of St. Boniface: The 'Good Fight' and the Illusive Vision (Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 2003), xxv + 429pp. Paper. £21-99. ISBN 0-8886-4406-X.

By a paradox, Archbishop Taché owes his place in the textbook narrative of Canadian history to his absence at a key moment. In 1869, as the francophone, Catholic population of the Red River boiled into revolt, he was on his way to the Vatican Council in Rome. Bereft of the natural leadership of a pastor who was the nephew of the premier who had led Canada's Great Coalition in 1864-5, so it seemed, the Métis turned instead to Louis Riel, the young man whom Taché himself had packed off to Lower Canada to train for the priesthood.

Raymond J.A. Huel is well equipped to write this biography: he has edited both the collected outpourings of Riel and a series of histories of the Oblate missionary order. The result is a study which is strong on the organisational aspects of re-creating Catholic structures in the North-West. But I am left wondering whether Taché's absence in 1869 was so important after all. He had been fast-tracked into the episcopacy: coadjutor at 26, bishop (and later archbishop) at 31. The combination of personal inexperience with spiritual authority was hardly conducive to learning political skills on the job. His contribution to 'solving' the Red River problem after his return was a crude attempt to bounce the Dominion government into overlooking Riel's murder (as Protestants saw it) of Thomas Scott. His mishandling of the amnesty issue left him generally distrusted in Ottawa. From then on it was all downhill, both politically and demographically. The vision of a French Manitoba, even of a serious francophone enclave, quickly disappeared, and Taché fell back on hopes that Irish immigration might at least preserve a Catholic presence. In 1885, he failed to save Riel from the gallows, but discouraged full-scale denunciation of his grisly fate for fear of an anglophone Protestant backlash. …

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