by George Siamandas

St. Boniface College founded on January 12, 1819. Fifty-one years before the province of Manitoba would be established and 54 years before Winnipeg became a city, St. Boniface was already establishing educational and religious institutions.

The interest in education was motivated by an interest to evangelize. In 1818 Father Provencher together with Father Dumolin and seminarian Guilaume Etienne Edge came to St. Boniface to establish a mission east of the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. It had been Lord Selkirk who had asked Bishop Plessis of Quebec to send these missionaries to help "convert and pacify" the Metis and French Canadians at Red River. And Selkirk set aside land for this new community.

It was a difficult job as the population of half- breeds and natives was a mobile one following the buffalo through the plains. And till 1823, Pembina had been the preferred place to winter and in size was much larger than the fledgling St. Boniface settlement. Provencher had been providing schools and missions in both St Boniface and Pembina.

At this time there were more people living and wanting to live in Pembina than there were at St Boniface. But because of the settling of the 49 parallel as the US boundary, Pembina was found to be in US territory. The plan became to encourage the Metis to settle down and to become farmers in St Boniface and at St Francois Xavier. That way they could attend church and their children could go to school.


Joseph Norbert Provencher had been born at Nicolet Lower Canada in 1787. He was ordained in 1811 and came to Red River in the fall of 1818. A tall man at 6' 4", Provencher was appointed the first bishop for the north west in 1822. Provencher died on June 6 1853. Provencher's school was intended to groom local people for the priesthood and other needed professions. He personally saw to the education until help from nuns and other priests became available in the 1840s. By 1823 male students were learning latin, history and classics. A girls school was begun in 1829 further strengthened in 1844 with the arrival of the Grey Nuns. By 1854 a wooden building housed 50 pupils. In 1871 St. Boniface College received its charter.

The current college was built after 1925 using an enlarged junior seminary which had been built in 1911. St Boniface College has been on three different locations. The second school which was located at the site of Provencher Park was built in 1880 lasted till a fire in 1922.

Famous students include our famous Louis Riel, singer Daniel Lavoie, and architect Etienne Gaboury. Another graduate is Jesuit Priest Father Robert Bernier who is credited with being Trudeau's greatest influence. Several of the leaders in the formation of the province were college alumni such as Dugas and Tache. First graduate was a Bernard Bruneau in 1823. Reflecting the earlier period during which English students also attended a distinguished graduate was Burns Packers' John Burns who died in 1952.


By the early 1880s a major building was in place on the site of what is now Provencher Park. The 1886 yearbook shows annual tuition at $30 (In 1997 it is $3,000). Board and room and tuition were $130. The student roll shows pupils from all over but the majority were from St Boniface. Courses were offered in philosophy, history, mathematics, geography, music and composition. Till 1925 English students also attended but after this they went to the new St Pauls College.

St Boniface College is western Canada's oldest post secondary educational institution and its only French language university. For Manitobans it is the centre of francophone artistic and cultural life. Affiliated with the University of Manitoba since 1878, one can obtain a U of Manitoba degree in French, education degrees at both bachelor and graduate level, as well as studies in normal arts and sciences. It also offers community college programs in business administration, day care services.


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