Several days after the Remembrance Day service, the Millbrook Legion was the focus of unwanted attention after vandals tossed red paint on the front of the building and painted white infinity symbols on its exterior. The neighbouring Masonic Lodge building was subjected to the same treatment.
The discovery occurred on the morning of November 16th, which coincides with Louis Riel Day, commemorating the execution of Metis leader, Louis Riel, in 1885. The white infinity sign is the symbol on the Metis flag.
It did not take long for volunteers within the organization to remove the paint with pressure-washers. The evidence was gone by the afternoon, but the act was not a random event- it was a notice that the perpetrators were remembering, and their target was deliberate. They were remembering the bell- a small church bell with huge importance in early Canadian history.
In 1885, a violent, five-month insurgency known as the North-West Rebellion took place in parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta between representatives of the Canadian government and members of the Metis and First Nations. It was sparked by rising fears on both sides over rapid changes in the west. Eventually the government troops won, resulting in the permanent enforcement of Canadian law throughout the west, and the conviction and execution of Metis leader Louis Riel. At the end of one of the battles, dubbed the Battle of Batoche, victorious Canadian militia sacked the communities and collected war trophies, among them items from the local church, including church bells from Batoche. The Bell became a symbol of solidarity and a physical reminder of a brutal and definitive crushing of the Metis people.
The local historical society published a book in 1990 called “This Green and Pleasant Land”. A story by Ernest Clarry describes the return of the soldiers and the arrival of the bell in Millbrook. It describes Sergeant Fred McCorry, one of the returning members of the platoon, presenting the village with a bell taken as a war trophy from a little church in the vicinity of Frog Lake. Those who retrieved the bell thought it would make a good fire bell for the village, and it was soon installed in the Fire hall.
A few years later, the issue of the bell was discussed in the House of Commons, where it was deemed advisable that the sacred bell be returned to its home parish. The local MP arrived in Millbrook to discuss the situation was greeted by Sergeant McCorry who stated unequivocally that the bell was going to stay in the village. He is quoted as saying he would stand on guard to defend it with a rifle. The bell remained in Millbrook and was eventually housed in a concrete and glass case inside the legion.
A CBC broadcast about the rebellions in 1990 reported that the bell was in Millbrook, bringing the artifact back into the spotlight. The broadcast sparked an unsuccessful diplomatic mission the following year by five Metis men asking for the bell’s return. A week later, the bell was gone, along with three medals, belonging to Sgt. Ed McCorry and his two nephews, Millbrook soldiers who were at the Battle of Batoche.
Billyjo Delaronde was among the visitors on that mission, and kept the bell hidden for 22 years. In July 2013, he returned the historic artifact to Batoche wrapped in buffalo skins and a Metis flag at the annual “Back to Batoche’ festival. In 2017, the bell was given to the St. Boniface Museum for public display, where it remains today. While it is still called the Bell of Batoche by many, an examination in 2014 determined that the artifact is actually from neighbouring Frog Lake. Whether the bell originated in Batoche or Frog Lake, it serves as a reminder to the Metis people of their treatment at the hands of the Canadian army. They call it the North West Resistance, describing their actions as standing up to protect their way of life. In return they were massacred, robbed, burned out and looted by the Canadian army. And they haven’t forgotten.
The Metis Nation of Ontario expressed concern that the infinity sign was used to deface the legion, saying the Metis community have been working hard to build relationships and raise awareness about Metis issues to build a spirit of reconciliation in local communities. Efforts are currently underway in Port Hope to address concerns about a statue commemorating a “hero of the Battle of Batoche” to ensure the whole story is heard. It seems there is a lot more listening to do. KG