Chief Peguis monument in Winnipeg delayed by a year, organizers say

The long journey to create a monument in honour of Chief Peguis and the 1817 treaty he helped negotiate — which helped establish the settlement that became Winnipeg — has gotten a little longer, with the statue now expected to be unveiled late next year.

The monument was supposed to be erected on the Manitoba legislative grounds this fall, in time for the 160th anniversary of the Saulteaux leader’s death. However, the group behind the push to create the statue says the plan now is to unveil it in September 2025.

“This project is something that’s going to be there for a long, long time. And we have to get it right,” said Bill Shead, a member of Peguis First Nation and co-chair of the Friends of the Peguis-Selkirk Treaty, which has been pursuing a statue since 2017.

“So I prefer to see things delayed and done properly far rather than rushed, and perhaps slipping up and not having what we want as a first-class monument on the grounds.”

That monument will consist of a bronze statue of Chief Peguis standing on a stone plinth, holding an eagle fan and facing east, where the sun rises.

It will also feature four large stones containing bronze medallions inscribed with totems that represent the Saulteaux and Cree chiefs — Mache Wheseab, Mechkaddewikonaie, Kayajieskebinoa and Ouckidoat — who came together with Chief Peguis to make and sign the 1817 treaty with Thomas Douglas, better known as Lord Selkirk.

A fifth large stone will display a medallion representing Lord Selkirk and King George III, on whose behalf Selkirk signed the treaty.

It will be on the northwest lawn of the legislative grounds, not far from the corner of Broadway and Osborne Street.

While a statue of Métis leader Louis Riel has stood on the legislative grounds since 1973, the Peguis statue will be the first on the grounds to recognize the contributions of First Nations people to the founding and building of Manitoba.

Shead said the process took longer than organizers thought, including long contract negotiations, facing issues with certain materials not being able to be shipped during winter, and figuring out things like insurance.

John Perrin, the group’s other co-chair, said the planned unveiling on Sept. 28 was more of a goal than a fixed date, and organizers realized about six months ago that the project would take longer than expected. The monument is expected to take another year or so to complete, he said.

Drawings show the proposed design for a monument that includes a layered plinth and a man standing on it with one arm raised.
The design for the Peguis monument is seen in an architect’s conceptual art. (Warren Kay/CBC)

“None of us … had ever been involved in a project like this, you know, on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building,” Perrin said. “So we went into it really, I guess, not knowing what to expect.”

Perrin said the plan now is to be ready to install the statue on the foundation late next summer, ahead of the planned September 2025 unveiling.

History of Chief Peguis

There are no known images of Peguis, but there are descriptions of him — which is what a bust of him that already exists in north Winnipeg’s Kildonan Park is based on.

The 1817 treaty 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 covers most of southern Manitoba, was signed 54 years later, in 1871.

A design competition for the monument was launched in 2021 by Friends of the Peguis-Selkirk Treaty, not long after a statue of Queen Victoria on the legislative grounds was toppled and beheaded on Canada Day, the target of protesters angered by the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked burial sites of hundreds of Indigenous children at former residential schools.

A spokesperson for the province said that statue remains in secure storage, and no decisions have been made for any future plans.

The winning concept for the Chief Peguis statue, a unanimous choice by the jury, comes from Stranger Bronzeworks Fine Art Foundry, which happens to be based out of Peguis First Nation, 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The First Nation is named after Chief Peguis, who led them a band of Saultaux people from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., to settlements in Manitoba.

The province previously announced $500,000 in funding to help build the statue. Perrin said the money provided by the province covers just under half the project’s total budget, which is anticipated to come out to just over $1 million. The group plans to start fundraising to raise the rest of the money soon.