Friday, 18 April 2014

The Bell of Frog Lake

Frog Lake Massacre April 2, 1885

The Bell

The church, the rectory and all the buildings of Frog Lake were burned April 4, 1885 (the day before Easter) including Father Marchand's chapel/residence at the St. Louis Mission at Onion Lake .  All that remained of the mission of Notre Dame du Bon Conseil (Frog Lake) were the bell tower and the cemetery.

Before the fires the bodies of the missionaries, Delaney and Gowanlock had been hurriedly placed in the cellar under the church by several Metis while Quinn and Gouin were placed in the cellar of a house near where they were killed. The other victims remained where they died as permission to move them had been denied.

Six weeks after the massacre the Midland Battalion (the advance guard of Major General Strange) arrived and buried the victims of the massacre. 

The bell which was still suspended from the fire blackened bell tower by the church on June 8 disappeared possibly taken by the soldiers but a search  found no trace of the bell wrote Bishop Grandin.

Father Laurent Legoff  the Oblate missionary in charge of the St. Raphael Mission at Cold Lake also wrote that the bell  had been taken from the bell tower. General Strange upon learning of the theft blamed the military teamsters. Father Legoff's response was: "Was this an object so small a teamster could just hide it in his back pocket"(translation). The Canadian government later reimbursed the Mission for their lost bell.

Recently evidence that soldiers from the Midland Battalion had indeed stolen the bell surfaced in Ontario.

Charles H. Winslow  who was a captain in the Midland Battalion and received the North West Canada Medal  for his participation in the North West Rebellion of 1885 wrote of the bell:  "All was desolation. The only thing left was a stockade fence around where the Roman Catholic church had stood, and, at the gate, two posts, on which was swinging a small bell, and as there was quite a crave for souvenirs, some of  men of my company, without my knowledge, of any of the officer' knowledge, took it down in this night, packed it in a box with some old clothing and managed to smuggle it home." CBC News (April 10, 2014)

In Ontario on Friday July 25, 1885, William Young, a private of the Millbrook Regiment in the Midland Battalion  (who also received the North West Canada Medal) wrote in his diary:  
"Our company then presented the town with a large bell that we had brought from Frog Lake, to be used as a fire bell. The bell had belonged to the Roman Catholic Mission at Frog Lake and one dark night two of our lads went and seized the bell and nailing it up in a wooden box had brought it home to Millbrook. The authorities had searched for the bell but could find no trace of it."  Will E. Young Diary

The bell hung for decades in the fire hall of Millbrook until the building was destroyed by fire. By 1991, it was kept in the hall of Millbrook branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. In October of that year the bell disappeared.

The bell resurfaced in 2013 and at that time Billyjo DeLaRonde admitted to stealing the bell from Millbrook 22 years earlier believing it to be the Bell of Batoche.

The settlement of Frog Lake in 1885

The rectory was a simple log house with a large room which served as kitchen, parlour and classroom. On one side doors opened to a small chapel (which also served as the confessional) and a bedroom for Father Leon Fafard. Upstairs in the attic were three small rooms. Two were in use by Father Felix Marchand who was learning the Cree language and Fafard's lay assistant John Williscroft .

A dozen feet from the rectory was the recently completed 40 foot long church made of square-cut logs. The church was dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel (''Notre Dame du Bon Conseil'' in French). Beside the church was a timber frame that held the bell. A well, a shed, and a stable completed the site which was surrounded by pole fences.

Two or three hundred feet from the church on a  rise were the solid buildings of the Indian Agent. The Hudson's Bay Company post and George Dill's store were nearby. North West Mounted Police occupied a large area with barracks, a supply depot, a blacksmith, stables and other buildings necessary to support the small detachment. They left to join Captain Dickens at Fort Pitt before the massacre. The other residents chose not to leave.

Two miles west on Frog Creek John Gowanlock was building a grist mill (flour mill) which was almost complete.  Map of settlement

In 1884 Father Felix Marchand founded the mission of Saint Louis at Onion Lake. Father Legoff was in charge at the St. Raphael mission at Cold Lake and the Saint Charles mission at Long Lake was without a priest.

Three Wood Cree groups who were mostly Christian formed a reserve which was located nearby.

In January 1885 Big Bear and his band of about 20 families camped in the valley of Frog Creek close to the mill. None were Christian.

On April 2, 1885 warriors led by Wandering Spirit, the war chief of Big Bear, killed:
* Thomas Quinn, the Indian Agent.
*Charles Gouin (a carpenter working at the agency)
*Father Leon Adelard Fafard
*Father Felix Marie Marchand
*John Williscroft (Fafard's lay assistant)
*John C. Gowanlock ( partner of R.C. Laurie of Battleford in the construction of a combined flour and saw mill)
*William Gilchrist (Gowanlock's clerk)
*John Delaney (farm instructor)
*George Dill (trader)

Horse Child, 12 year old son of Big Bear and 22 year
old William Bleasdell Cameron (source)
Survivors of the massacre were William Cameron  and the wives of two of the slain men Theresa Gowanlock and Theresa Delaney.

''For two months John Pritchard, Solomon, John Jr., Mary Rose, the smaller children, Adolphus Nolin, and the widows were forced to suffer with Big Bear's camp as it moved, first into battle, and then in retreat, through the bush, swamp, snow, rain and mosquitoes of April and May until Big Bear's camp disintegrated and the swaggering painted war chiefs released the prisoners. It should be noted that the Pritchards, Nolin,Cameron, and the J.K. Simpsons were not the only prisoners of Big Bear's unmanageable warriors.They also had as prisoners the Hudson's Bay Company Trader from Fort Pitt, W.J. McLean and his numerous family, one of whom was 8 year old Duncan. In addition they had brought in John Fitzpatrick, the Farming Instructor at Cold Lake, as well as H.R. Halpin, the Hudson's Bay Company Agent and the Rev. Pete LeGoff. From Onion Lake they had George G. Mann, the farming instructor, and his  family, and the Anglican Minister, Rev. Chas. Quinney and his family. They had also the rest of the Hudson's Bay Company staff from abandoned and looted Fort Pitt."  (source)

Frog Lake Massacre