Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 82: Commemoration (79-83)

Chief Peguis monument coming to grounds of Manitoba legislature

February 7, 2023

Statue of Saulteaux leader who welcomed 1st Selkirk settlers in 1812 expected to be unveiled in 2024

A bust of Chief Peguis stands in Kildonan Park but there are no statues of First Nations people on the Manitoba Legislature grounds. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

CBC News: A long-awaited monument to Chief Peguis is expected to be unveiled on the Manitoba legislative grounds next year.

The 160th anniversary of the historic chief’s death — which falls on Sept. 28, 2024 — has been set as the target date to reveal the statue, government ministers and some monument supporters said at a news conference in the legislative building on Tuesday.

The statue will be on the north lawn, facing inward between the existing Next of Kin monument and the former location of the Queen Victoria statue.

It will be the first to commemorate a First Nations leader on the downtown Winnipeg property. A statue of Louis Riel, a Métis leader and the province of Manitoba founder, has stood on the grounds since 1973, but there’s never been one of a First Nations leader.

“When this monument is up, everybody will have a chance to remember that history, which has long been forgotten by so many,” said Bill Shead, co-chair of the Friends of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty. “His role in his people’s relationship with the settlers who came in here … [was] fundamental.”

Peguis Selkirk Treaty

The 1817 document was signed north of present-day Winnipeg, by Thomas Douglas, the fifth earl of Selkirk and one of the owners of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and five First Nations chiefs brought together by Peguis. It allocated land along the Red and Assiniboine rivers to Selkirk’s settlers and was the first formal written agreement in western Canada recognizing Indigenous land rights.

It preceded the numbered treaties that followed. Treaty 1, which includes most of southern Manitoba, was signed 54 years later in 1871.

Chief Peguis was the Saulteaux leader who welcomed the first settlers in 1812, five years before the treaty was signed. He helped them during those difficult years, when settlers found promised houses or gardens were not there.

Two men, Bill Shead and John Perrin, stand along a path in the northwest corner of the Manitoba legislature grounds. It is the site where a statue of Chief Peguis is supposed to be erected.
Bill Shead, foreground, and John Perrin, with the Friends of the Peguis-Selkirk Treaty Inc., stand near where a new monument to Chief Peguis will be erected. It will be the first statue of a First Nations person on the grounds of the legislature. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Peguis guided them to Fort Daer in present-day Pembina, N.D., about 115 km south of Winnipeg, carrying the children of the settlers on ponies provided by his people.

The Saulteaux also showed the settlers how to hunt and sided with the HBC during its dispute with the North West Company. After the 1816 battle at Seven Oaks between men from the two companies, with settlers on the side of the HBC, Peguis helped the survivors.

‘Spirit of co-operation’

The new monument will be a “historic and symbolic addition” to the legislative grounds, James Teitsma, minister of government services, said at the news conference. “It’s our hope that it promotes reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Manitobans, and reminds all Manitobans of the historic spirit of co-operation between Chief Peguis, the allied chiefs and Lord Selkirk.”

The province previously announced $500,000 in funding to help build the statue.

Glenn Hudson, chief of Peguis First Nation, said he’s thankful to see his community’s namesake recognized on the legislative grounds. Without Peguis’s involvement, history could have turned out very differently, he said. But to him, the commemoration isn’t just about one person.

“It’s about the commitment of First Nations people to this area and seeing the growth and the prosperity of what we can be as a society,” Hudson said.

The monument will also feature inscriptions that pay tribute to all of the treaty’s signatory chiefs, acknowledge the violations of the treaty by settlers, and recognize the contributions of First Nations in the founding, naming and development of Manitoba.

Toppled Queen Victoria statue

A statue of Queen Victoria that used to stand front and centre on the grounds, leading up to the main entrance of the legislative building off Broadway, is no longer there. The monument was toppled and beheaded on Canada Day in 2021 by protesters angered by the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked burial sites of hundreds of Indigenous children at former residential schools they were forced to attend.

A statue of a woman seated on a throne stands in front of the Manitoba legislative building, which has stairs leading to several stone columns and a dome topped by a golden statue.
The Queen Victoria statue at the Manitoba Legislature grounds was unveiled in October 1904 and toppled by protesters in July 2021. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

And while those events made that site available, Shead said organizers remained focused on another space nearby that was like “a natural ampitheatre” surrounded by trees. “It’s a quiet place where people will be able to contemplate what’s going on,” Shead said.

The push for the Peguis monument, led by Friends of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty, has been ongoing since 2016. The group has been responsible for soliciting design proposals and raising funds to cover costs associated with the design, construction and installation of the monument.

It also manages capital contributions to an endowment fund that will be used for future maintenance of the monument. John Perrin, co-chair of the Friends of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty, said the monument will be unique among legislature statues in that it will face inward, rather than away from the building. “It’s requiring everybody that comes into this building to walk past the gaze of Chief Peguis,” he said.

Peguis has been honoured in other locations in Manitoba. A bust on top of a monument was erected in Kildonan Park in 1923 and a headstone stands in the cemetery of St. Peter Dynevor Anglican Church in the rural municipality of St. Clements.

A bust of Peguis was erected in Kildonan Park in 1923. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

With files from Darren Bernhardt, Ian Froese