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St.Boniface Basilica - Winnipeg, Canada
On November 1, 1818, Father Joseph-Norbert Provencher built on this site a small log chapel which he dedicated to Saint Boniface, the English missionary monk and apostle, who spread the Catholic faith among the Germanic tribes in the 8th century. Saint Boniface, the first permanent mission west of the Great Lakes, became the heart of Roman Catholic missionary activity extending to the Pacific and Arctic coasts, as well as serving the growing population of the Red River Settlement.
Five cathedrals have stood on this beautiful location. In 1832, Bishop Provencher erected a cathedral surmounted by twin spires, and in 1862 a stone cathedral was built under the direction of Bishop Taché. On August 15, 1906, Archbishop Langevin blessed the cornerstone of what became one of the most imposing churches in Western Canada. It was designed by the Montreal architectural firm of Marchand and Haskell. This structure, the best example of French Romanesque architecture in Manitoba, was ravaged by fire on July 22, 1968.
It was a hot summer's day, a Monday during that summer of 1968 - July 22. The St Boniface community was celebrating 150 years in Manitoba and St Boniface Cathedral was undergoing refurbishing. It twin towers and roof were being repaired and repainted. The painting crew broke for lunch at noon and noticed some flames coming from the roof once they had gotten to the ground. An alarm was called in but the big church went up in less than an hour. By 1:00 the towers collapsed into the centre of the old church. The Fire trucks reported trouble getting over the Provencher bridge which was partially blocked by onlookers. Thousand came out to view the spectacle.
Reporters said they could feel the heat two blocks away. It was a total loss, a particularly tragic one for the French community. Very few items were salvaged. Fine wood elements, parish records, and other objects were lost. All that was left was the front and a perimeter shell. The fire chief said that there was no way to stop such a fire once it gets started in a big open space like a church. The Cathedral had no sprinklers. There were no fire protection measures required at the time. The fire is thought to have started in the attic portion above the ceiling. And while they did not say for sure, they think the workers may have started it.
The present cathedral, blessed by Archbishop Baudoux in 1972, was designed by Franco-Manitoba architect Étienne Gaboury. It incorporates the sacristy, façade and walls of the former basilica. In the façade lie the tombs of the bishops of Saint-Boniface.
Louis Riel, together with many of the West’s first Catholic settlers, key figures and missionaries, is buried here in Western Canada’s oldest Catholic cemetery.