At the end of the Provencher Bridge here in my downtown Winnipeg neighborhood is the Joseph Royal Park. It has become known as a place where homeless people hang out. In fact there was a brutal beating incident reported in the news in this park in June of 2010. Today however it was covered in sparkling white snow and the only creatures hanging out there were some birds.
A plaque behind the giant stone arch describes the man the park was named after.
Joseph Royal was born in Quebec in 1837 one of eight children of Edouard and Marcelin, a poor, illiterate and devout Catholic couple. Joseph was clever and quick-witted and so a priest, seeing his promise, paid for his schooling at a Jesuit College in Montreal.
He became a journalist and worked for six different French Canadian newspapers as an editor. He married Agnes Bruyere and they had seven children. He also found time to article with famed lawyer George Cartier and was called to the Quebec bar in 1864.
While editor of the newspaper Le Nouveau Monde he published more articles and letters than any other Canadian newspaper in favour of Louis Riel, a Metis who was leading a resistance movement against the Canadian government in Manitoba.
In 1870 his news instincts made him decide to get the real story on what was happening in Manitoba and so he went there on a fact-finding mission. He met Louis Riel and became convinced the cause of Metis land possession was a just one. He felt God was calling him to a special mission in Manitoba and moved there to start a newspaper called Le Metis. He couldn’t afford to move his family from Montreal and he went into huge debt to set up his printing press in Manitoba.
He also practiced law in Manitoba and defended Lepin and Nault– two men associated with Louis Riel who were accused of ordering the execution of Thomas Scott, a member of the anglophone group that opposed Riel and promoted joining Red River to Canada. Later Joseph Royal argued for complete amnesty and a stay of execution for Louis Riel.
Joseph Royal had a distinguished career as a civil servant and politician. He was elected to the Manitoba Legislature and served as the Speaker of the House and the Attorney General. He was also elected to the federal House of Commons. He was the first mayor of St. Boniface, the first education Superintendent in Manitoba and was appointed the lieutenant governor of the North West Territories.
Although I’m sure Joseph Royal would be happy to know Winnipeg has a park named after him, he was hoping for a little more lucrative and honorable recognition. He wanted to be appointed a senator at the end of his political career. But he was not. There were no big pensions for civil servants and politicians in those days, so Joseph had to move back to Montreal and take a newspaper job. He ended his life a poor man financially, living in a boarding house and dying after a lengthy illness in 1902.
Joseph Royal Park is a scenic resting place. It has a fountain surrounded by benches at its centre.
The park also contains a statue that pays tribute to St. Boniface writer Gabrielle Roy and a plaque with a quote from one of her novels.
There are two other historical markers in the park. One describes the Provencher Bridge. The other describes the St. Boniface Woolen Mills which used to be located nearby.
Across the street from the park is Place Joseph Royal a building of high-end condominiums. We looked at condos in that building before buying ours in the Ashdown Warehouse. They are handsomely appointed and pricey. How ironic that a man who died a pauper in a rooming house now has a ritzy condominium complex named after him.