Saturday, July 22, 2006

Metis welcome return of pool table to Batoche Historic Site

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About 150 Metis welcomed home yesterday a billiards table that former leaders Gabriel Dumont and Louis Riel played on before the North-West Rebellion in 1885. Dumont and Riel are known to have enjoyed shooting billiards together. The Metis, led by Riel, tried to set up their own sovereign nation independent of the Dominion of Canada. He was hanged for treason in Regina on Nov. 16, 1885.

The mahogany table was unveiled at the Batoche National Historic Site, about 90 kilometres from Saskatoon.
"That's very healing for people," said Mark Calette, manager of the site. "It's not so much that it was a pool table, but it was an item taken from a Metis family and now it's come back."

The billiards table is believed to be one of the first in Western Canada and was set up in Dumont's store and saloon on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River.

After quelling the 1885 rebellion, Canadian soldiers looted from families in Batoche. The Dumont family lost everything, including its billiard table, said Calette. The table ended up at Stony Mountain Institution, a medium-security prison north of Winnipeg. The warden of the jail at the time was hired by the federal government to transport the rebellion's spoils back east, but he decided to keep the table.

When Parks Canada learned of the table's whereabouts in 1984, it disassembled it and kept it in storage until earlier this month. "All the families lost not only things like the pool table, but they lost their homes. Their homes were burned. Their animals were killed. That's what happened to my family," Calette said. "This is the return of an item that symbolizes a return of the items that were taken."

Calette would like to see other stolen items repatriated. The Bell of Batoche, stolen from a Catholic church, is still missing and believed to be in Manitoba. [Winnipeg Sun]
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