This national historic site was home to the Metis people of Saskatchewan and the final and decisive battle of the Northwest Rebellion in 1885. The Metis people, descendants of First Nations (women usually) and French or Scottish traders, led by Louis Riel, set up a provisional government. The federal government in Ottawa was not amused, to say the least. It sent Canadian forces and the RCMP in to put down the 'upstarts.' The resulting battles and eventual loss at Batoche to the Canadian forces set the less-than-productive tone for relations between the Canadian government and the First Nations and Metis peoples. In fact, it was only in 2002 that the Saskatchewan government recognized some of the inherent rights of the Metis people.
Batoche is a national historic park, therefore it has a fantastic interpretive center with everything in French and English. Arriving at the center, it doesn't appear that there is very much to see. The site is actually very large. You can visit the Canadian forces encampment site, the old town site, the graveyard, and the original church, which still bears bullet holes from 1885.
Before heading outside, make sure you take in the award-winning multimedia presentation. Growing up in Saskatchewan, I learned all about Batoche, so I am not the best judge of the presentation. I rely on the opinions of my Danish host parents, whom I took up to Batoche. They thought the half-hour presentation was stunning. It described the history so anyone could understand and really gave the viewer the feeling that you were there on the battlefield (good sound effects!).
It is a good walk down to the church and old schoolhouse. Guides in period costume will show you around the original church and take you inside the schoolhouse that also served as the post office and home to the parish priest. If your guide happens to be a man, be sure to ask him about the distinctive and traditional sash he is wearing! The day that we went to Batoche, it was absolutely sweltering outside - later that evening there were a few funnel clouds! The church and schoolhouse provide a great place to duck out of the sun and heat. They are very cool inside.
A trip to Batoche will not be complete without a trip to the graveyard. This cemetery contains the graves of local residents past and present, as well as the graves of those who died in the fighting in 1885. Note the wooden crosses enclosed by a worn wooden fence - this is the mass grave of the Metis. An interesting note: there is a white stone grave with a number of hearts carved into it. This grave is for the six children of a local family who died in a house fire. A very sad memorial.
If you are adventurous, you can head down to the encampment or old town site areas. It is quite a hike! Be sure to bring along water. We decided not to head out, as it was far too hot to do so. But we did take a look at the river upon whose banks Batoche was built. The North Saskatchewan River was an active part of the Battle of Batoche. Canadian troops used the river to bring in supplies and reinforcements from North Battleford and to ferry the injured down the river to Saskatoon. The Metis decided to stop the shipments, stringing a line across the river, taking the smokestacks off the next ship to come down the river and stranding it there.
Louis Riel, the leader of the Metis at Batoche, was captured and was taken to Regina and tried as a traitor. He was convicted and hanged. A popular play, the second longest continuously running stage production in Canada, is performed in Regina every summer - "The Trial of Louis Riel." Recently, moves have been made to repair the reputation of Riel. One of the major highways in Saskatchewan has been renamed the Louis Riel Trail. If you travel on Highway 11, you will see the signs on the side of the road with the distinctive Red River cart created by the Metis. Moves have also been made to declare that Riel was not a traitor and was in fact one of the Fathers of Confederation.
Batoche is open all summer. Day passes are available: Adults $5, kids 6-16 $2.50, and kids under 6 are free. For more information, check the website or phone (306) 423-6227. The website also gives very good directions on how to get to Batoche as well as information on special events held at the park.
I highly recommend a visit to Batoche, one of only a handful of battlefield sites in Canada. It will take you back in time to a decisive period in Canada's history.