Description of Historic Place
St. Boniface Cathedral, composed of the stone ruins of a 1905-08 basilica implanted with a smaller 1972 church, is located in the heart of St. Boniface, Winnipeg's French district. The provincial designation applies to the cathedral and the grounds it occupies, including the historic cemetery.
St. Boniface Cathedral was the largest and most elaborate Roman Catholic cathedral in Western Canada, as well as the best example of French Romanesque architecture in Manitoba. Although ravaged by fire in 1968, the cathedral's ruins remain an excellent example of the style, typified by round-arched openings and classical detailing. Designed by Montreal architects Marchand and Haskell, this was the third cathedral (and fifth church) built on the site where in 1818 Father Joseph-Norbert Provencher established the first permanent Roman Catholic mission west of the Great Lakes. Situated across the Red River from the Hudson's Bay Company's trading post, Provencher's facility became the nucleus of francophone St. Boniface and of Roman Catholic missionary activity in the Red River Settlement and beyond to the Pacific and Arctic coasts. In 1972 a church designed by Franco-Manitoban architect Etienne Gaboury was opened within the remains of the 1908 basilica. The complex juxtaposes old and new, with the basilica's heavy limestone facade, sacristy and walls providing a base for the modern building of wood, glass and weathering brown steel. This site also holds one of Western Canada's oldest and most historically significant Roman Catholic cemeteries.
Source: Manitoba Heritage Council Minutes, June 12, 1993
Key elements that define the heritage character the St. Boniface Cathedral site include:
- the location on the east bank of the Red River, at the junction of avenues Tache and de la Cathedrale in St. Boniface, amongst related sites, including the Archbishop's Palace, Grey Nuns' Convent and St. Boniface College
- the structure's east/west orientation on well-groomed grounds fronted by a cemetery that holds important pioneer families and historical figures, including Louis Riel, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodiere and Marie-Anne Gaboury, Bishop Grandin, etc.
Key elements that define the cathedral's exceptional Romanesque Revival styling include:
- the multi-storey limestone structure, an open-air shell formed by remnant wall planes, namely the ashlar facade and the rusticated segments of the north, south and sacristy walls
- the symmetrical two-part front elevation with a large central empty rose window recessed behind the main facade
- the monumental features of the main facade, including a large floriated compound arch resting on pilasters with heads featuring volutes, square corner towers abutted by lofty Corinthian columns with massive plinths and chevroned off-sets, and a large gable parapet depicting a seated bishop inset in a niche surrounded by diaper patterned nailhead mouldings, crow-stepped trim and projecting bands of billet moulds, all topped by a low-relief Greek cross
- the arcaded entrance composed of inner and outer round-arched openings with intrados inscribed with Greek crosses
- the numerous elongated rectangular and round-arched windows, many with radiating stone voussoirs and downward-sloping smooth-cut sills, and including the towers' tall narrow openings
- the details, including the crypts of Bishops Provencher, Tache, Langevin and Beliveau, the grand stone staircases, profuse detailing such as the modillioned cornice, limestone coping, dentilled and geometric banding, label moulding, and lion's head, diamond and floral motifs, etc.
Key elements that define the complex's internal layout and details include:
- the cruciform base and partial walls creating a large enclosed rectangular courtyard behind the original facade