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Alexandre-Antonin Taché was an Oblate priest and a missionary. He had a remarkable career both in the Church and in politics, working tirelessly to try and secure Métis and Francophone rights in the province of Manitoba. Although his career was marked with incontrovertible achievement as a missionary, his political dream of facilitating the settlement, in the Canadian West and, more especially, in Manitoba, of a society where Catholics and Francophones could flourish freely never fully came to fruition.
When the Oblates were put in charge of Catholic missions in the new vicariate apostolic of Hudson Bay and James Bay, Alexandre Taché, who was only 21 years old and only subdeacon, was asked to accompany Father Pierre Aubert to St. Boniface. On June 25, 1845, he climbed into a
Hudson's Bay Company canoe and travelled 2,000 km to arrive at his destination on August 25, 1845. On August 31, Mgr. Provencher ordained Alexandre Taché as deacon and, on October 12, as priest. He was named bishop in 1850 and accepted his episcopal see at St. Boniface in 1854.
In 1867, when became evident that Canada wanted to annex the north-west, Mgr. Taché, who had been on the Council of Assiniboia for nine years, was concerned for the future of the
Métis and of Catholics living in that territory. He tried, in vain, to convince
George-Étienne Cartier to send commissioners to investigate the needs of the population.
In February 1870, during the Red River Rebellion, Mgr. Taché met with George-Étienne Cartier and
Sir John A. Macdonald. He hoped to obtain an assurance that the rebels would get full amnesty. On his return to the Red River, he met with
Louis Riel to calm the rebels.
Louis Riel's provisional government, probably at the insistence of Bishop Taché, drafted a fourth "list of rights". This list was used as a basis for negotiations between
Alfred H. Scott, Judge
John Black and Father
Noël-Joseph Ritchot on the one hand and George-Étienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald on the other, and served as the basis for an agreement with Ottawa. It requested that a network of both Catholic and Protestant public schools be established. When the provisional government ratified the agreement which stipulated that Manitoba would be created as an officially bilingual province with a Catholic and Protestant public school system, Mgr. Taché travelled to Ottawa to announce the good news in person. He also attempted to get, in writing, a promise of amnesty for the rebels. He received only verbal assurances. On the day following Taché's return to Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg), troops under Colonel Wolseley, sent by Ottawa, entered the Red River colony. Louis Riel was forced to flee to the United States.
Mgr. Taché continued to be very active in the political arena after Manitoba received its provincial status. He took part in the distribution of electoral districts that determined the jurisdiction of representatives to the Legislative Assembly. He also drafted most of the 1871 bill on the school system. Bishop Taché remained in contact with Louis Riel, sometimes urging him to stay in exile in the United states, at other times trying to convince him to stay out of politics.
From 1870 to 1880, Mgr. Taché worked to attract Francophone and Catholic immigrants to the West. He supported the creation of the Manitoba Colonization Society, requested that the federal government appoint immigration officers in Quebec and urged Quebec bishops to preach in favour of migration to the West. He also urged recruiting agents to go to New England to try to repatriate exiled Catholics and Francophones, and encouraged clerics of French, Belgian and Swiss origin to scour their countries and promote the advantages of the western Canada. Unfortunately, these initiatives met with little success.
Bishop Taché did not align himself with Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont during the second Métis uprising in 1885 he did not believe they had valid reasons for mounting an armed rebellion. He did, nevertheless, do everything in his power to have Louis Riel pardoned, but without success.
When, in 1890, the Manitoba government abolished the Catholic and Protestant public school system, Mgr. Taché, in failing health, became leader of a resistance movement. He would remain active in this movement until his death in 1894.