Manitoba’s First French Newspaper
by George Siamandas
Saturday May 27, 1871 marked the first edition of St Boniface’s first newspaper called Le Metis. It gave a voice to St. Boniface viewpoints on the issues of the day. And as with all newspapers it was the result of one man’s vision for the community of St. Boniface. Joseph Royal, a lawyer who had come from Quebec at Ritchot’s urgence
was the man responsible for the publication of Le Metis. Another great man at the right time for Manitoba when he arrived in August 1870. Royal entered politics immediately and was part of Manitoba’s first legislature.
Le Metis became the instrument through which Royal could educate the French community about the news and issues of the day. It became the vehicle a community and political leader like Royal needed to get his message out and build a new community. Royal had created several literary publications before. Some avant guard and others like “Le Nouveau-Monde” established in 1867. Royal was as interested in journalism as he was in law and politics. Royal was an ardent defender of French language rights and committed to the principle of Canadian cultural duality. Especially those of the 10,000 people of mixed blood. Royal was described as a great story teller with a penchant for sarcasm and humour. Le Metis served as a forum of debate about the Riel question and the amnesty issue and Metis land rights.
NEWSPAPER OFFICES RANSACKED DURING 1872 ELECTION
Other English newspapers like the Liberal and the Free Press disagreed strongly with Le Metis. The feelings in this fledgling community could run very high. During the September 18, 1872 federal election, the offices of Le Metis which were not in ST Boniface but at the McDermot Block were ransacked and the presses were destroyed causing $8,000 in damages. It took 10 weeks to get back into production. The attack was attributed to Orangemen. But it seemed the paper was always on the move. In its ten years of life it had seven locations and three different owners.
It had lots of federal and provincial government notices on land and other legal matters. It was their financial support that made its publication possible till about 1879 when such support was discontinued. There were reports on what was going on in France and in Quebec. An 1874 issue reported flooding in France and subsequent issues listed the generous contributions from leading Winnipeg and St Boniface citizens to relief efforts. Le Metis also talked of the importance of education and Royal became the first superintendent of the Catholic School system.
Le Metis ceased publication Sept 29, 1881 replaced by a new paper called Le Manitoba. Its founder, Joseph Royal, went on to edit several Montreal newspapers after his political career had ended after 18 years in Manitoba.