I have written about Batoche on a previous post titled National Historic Sites of Saskatchewan, but this location definitely deserves a post all its own. It’s the perfect place to spend some time and learn about a very important battle that occurred here, and shaped some of the history of the prairies…and of Canada. Located about an hour’s drive north of Saskatoon it makes for a perfect day trip, or a stop on your way through the province.
The Battle of Batoche took place during the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. The original inhabitants and land-owners of this area were the Metis. The Metis, who are an indigenous group of people with European and First Nation ancestors, first settled here in 1872. By 1885 there were 500 people living in the village here and close to 1200 including the surrounding area. Families settled along the riverbank of the South Saskatchewan River, which provided them with easy access for transportation.
The Metis relied on animals such as bison, moose, deer, and rabbit for food as well as for making clothing. Women would gather berries and plants such as juniper, dandelion, and prairie sage that would then be used for medicinal purposes. They grew grain and corn, as well as other crops, and raised cattle.
In 1882 Father Moulin, a Roman Catholic priest arrived in Batoche and helped to see the construction of a rectory which included a chapel and a school room. In 1884 a church was constructed on the site.
In the years leading up to the battle, the Canadian government had already begun surveying the land that the Metis were occupying along the river. The government wanted to redesign the plots that the Metis held, which would cut off their access to the river. The Metis, along with other First Nation people, were having difficulty obtaining land titles and the government was not responding to their requests.
In 1884 Louis Riel, a Metis leader who had led a rebellion against the Canadian Government in Manitoba, was asked to come to Batoche to help Gabriel Dumont, the Commander General of the Metis Provisional Army, negotiate with the government. The Canadian Government failed to reply to their petitions and pleas, and eventually sent in forces to settle the disputes. The North West Mounted Police attacked Batoche on May 9, 1885. The fighting lasted for four days, and in the end the Metis, along with Cree and Dakota First Nation people, were no match for the North West forces.
When the fighting was over there were 25 dead and the village lay in ruins with buildings burned by the troops and many families left homeless. Some of the Metis leaders were imprisoned, while others escaped to communities close by. Louis Riel, who led the Metis in the fight, was imprisoned, charged with treason, and later hanged in Regina in November of 1885.
After the rebellion the village was rebuilt, however because the Metis were still unable to obtain legal ownership of the land many chose to move more north. Although there are not many buildings now at Batoche, a farmhouse that was one of the first structures to be rebuilt, can be accessed by pathways to the south of the visitor centre.
At Batoche you will find a video explaining the history of the site, interpretive trails throughout the area, guided tours, and a gift shop and coffee shop. Give yourself about 2-3 hours here to meander the pathways and soak up the history. If you are doing a road-trip through this part of Saskatchewan, make sure and add this location to your plans.
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