St Boniface's Renaissance Man
by George Siamandas
As Manitoba entered confederation in 1870 a few good men were persuaded to come to St Boniface to provide leadership for the largely Metis French speaking community. One of these was Joseph Royal, a lawyer and journalist who died on August 23 1902.
Royal was born in 1837 in Lower Canada (Quebec.) Royal was a talented child whose parents were not able to send him to school until a benevolent individual paid his education with the Sulpicians in Montreal, then the Jesuits and then under George-Etienne Cartier. Royal was one of Cartier's young men along with Marc Amable Girard and Joseph Dubuc. Royal was called to the Quebec bar in 1864. All three were groomed by Cartier and with Bishop Tache's urging came out to help the relatively uneducated Metis govern themselves.
Royal's first love was journalism and he helped establish several journals as a student. because he was a Catholic and Conservative, he was ardent defender of church state relations and the principal of Canadian cultural duality. In 1867 the year of Confederation, Royal established the newspaper Le Nouveau-Monde.
Royal had established a promising career in Quebec. But Bishop Tache was able to convince him to come which he did in the fall of 1870. Shortly after his arrival he was nominated for the St Francois Xavier West seat in the new of Manitoba Legislature. The family stayed for 18 years, and his two sons, one a lawyer and another a physician, stayed in Manitoba. Their original house still stands at 147 Provencher.
Royal helped establish the administration of the province. His knowledge of Parliamentary procedures helped him became the first speaker and he was acknowledged as being fair and skilful.
In his newspaper "Le Metis," Royal was a strong advocate of French Metis rights. In 1870 they were 10,000 or half the population. He condemned speculators who cut wood on Metis lands, he discussed Metis land rights and championed amnesty issues. Royal also represented specific Metis land rights at the courts for no fee. With new immigration, by 1872 the population balance was already shifting away from the francophone duality.
By 1875 Royal was the most powerful politician in Manitoba next to Premier Davis. In fact Davis's govt was known as the Davis Royal administration. He was not seen favourably by the English community. He was seen as ambitious aggressive and interested in self aggrandizement.
Royal helped with the establishment of the University of Manitoba by drafting the University Bill, and had already been the first head of the Catholic school system. Royal was also head of the french Colonisation Society and was instrumental in encouraging French immigration to Manitoba.
In 1879 Joseph Royal tried a power play to oust the Norquay government but failed. Royal was forced to resign and the French community was left without the solid leadership they had enjoyed for 10 years. In 1880 Royal became a federal member of Parliament for Provencher. In 1888 he accepted the 5 year appointment as the Lieut Governorship of the North West Territories. Finally in 1893, he returned to Montreal to live out his passion as a journalist becoming the editor in chief of La Minerve. After Le Minerve's demise in 1899 he became editor of Le Journal. He died on August 23, 1902.
At the critical beginning of the new province of Manitoba, St Boniface could not have been served by a more talented and powerful man than Joseph Royal.