Father Goiffon

Father Goiffon


Suzanne Dexter


Father Goiffon, a young Catholic priest, originally fromFrance, felt sympathy for the Metis Catholics of Pembina. He came, setup his missionary and guided the troubled people of Pembina.

There was no church property in Pembina because of a Siouxuprising. So, he conducted his mission from the parish of St. Joseph, fortyox cart miles away.

In August of 1860, Father Goiffon had just come back froma two month buffalo hunt and discovered he had an unwelcome summons to St.Paul with a train of ox carts. It was unwelcome because of another longjourney and it was getting close to when the snow falls.

He knew his neighbors, the Morneau brothers, were planningon a journey to St. Paul with a train of ox carts. So he went over thereand made arrangements to go along.

It was in the last week of August that Father Goiffon lefton his journey with the ox carts. He was to drive his own cart. On thefirst day, they covered twenty miles because of the good weather.

On the journey, Father Goiffon thought that he would goin the fabulous city of St. Paul. He was going to get a precious sheetof glass so he could have more longing moments of sunshine, some fresh food,and the greatest prize of all, a horse.

They went over miles of flat country along the river untilthey the Grand Traverse. This part of the road is nineteen miles of swampand tall grass.

It had to be crossed without stopping and preferably duringthe day. Many a traveler got lost in the swamp. The train of ox cartssafely made it and camped at Little Salt River.

It was counted that there were thirteen rivers to crosson the ox cart trail. Many could not be forged, so if there was not a bridgeup they had to build their own.

Soon they came to St. Paul. They set camp up on the outskirts.There they met some people from the Red River Settlement which is now calledWinnipeg, Manitoba. They soon made arrangements to all to go back togetheron a safer return drive. They would leave the first week in October. So,that meant ten days to stay in St. Paul. Father Goiffon purchased the glass,some things for the church and a four year old gelding.

Father Goiffon spent most of his time straightening outthe business at the Bishop's Palace. When the day arrived that the RedRiver party was moving back, Father Goiffon still had business to do. TheMorneaus waited one more day for the Father and then they set off.

They were all eager for travel and so the first day oftravel they made good progress. Somehow by mistake the Red River peoplehad taken their tents, so they slept out in the open every night. One daythey had broken an axle on the wagon, but they still hurried on and couldnot catch up with the Red River party.

Father Goiffon was getting anxious because his people backat Pembina had been without a priest for two months. He told the Morneausthat he would push ahead with his horse and see them back at Pembina. Inhopes of fine weather and his good horse, he figured he should make it infour days.

The Morneaus protested and said if the weather broke andstormed, he would really be in trouble. Also, Father Goiffon could notcarry enough food and warm clothing.

But Father Goiffon traveled fast and soon he reached RedLake River. He met some of his parishioners here who were very sick. Hestopped over night and talked and comforted his friends, where now liesGrand Forks.

The next day was November first, when he finally caughtup with the Red River party. The next day it was raining but Father Goiffontraveled on with more food and the protests of the Red River party who askedhim to stay. He was sure to reach Pembina that night. It rained all dayand without taking shelter, Father Goiffon was soaking through. The rainwas coming down hard so he camped overnight under a buffalo hide.

When Father Goiffon woke up the next morning, there wassnow laying on the ground eight to ten inches deep. Father Goiffon wastoo inexperienced to realize what danger he really was in. And he stillestimated his destination to Pembina to Sunday. There was hardly any foodleft for himself. Also, the hay was nearly gone for his horse and the snowwas fast covering the wood for a fire. He decided that the Red River partywas too far back to wait for, so with a prayer, he again set off for Pembina.

The storm was getting worse and the horse was losing strength. Father Goiffon was sure that he had the right trail so he kept the horsegoing. After traveling all day in the Grand Traverse swamp, he set up camp. He took the saddle off the horse and tied him up so he would not stray. Then, thoughtlessly, took the saddle blanket for himself to sit on. Aftera feeble meal, Father fell asleep under his buffalo robe.

The next morning he got up and suddenly remembered thatit was Sunday and Pembina was no where in sight. (All the day before hehad traveled in a circle unknowingly.) He had lost his mitts and hat underthe snow and it was useless to find. He could not travel any longer forsurely he would freeze to death. So, he crawled under the robe again andfell asleep.

He woke up on the fourth day of the storm with no knowledgeof time except night and day. He soon discovered his horse dead. But stillnot realizing his danger with confidence that someone would find him, hefell asleep again.

He woke up again with no knowledge of anything except thatof coldness and hunger. In desperation, he took his knife and cut off piecesof raw flesh from the horse and ate it before giving in to the suppressivesleep that overcame him.

After five days lost in the swamp and delirious dreams,the Red River party found him. The only way they found the priest was becauseof his calling out from his dreams. They followed the voice and found himhuddled to the carcass of ripped horse flesh. Father Goiffon was frozensolid to the ground and had to be cut loose from it. His feet and rightleg were badly frozen and left leg was slightly saved because that was theside he was laying on all the time. They loaded him up in a wagon and fedhim hot tea. They took him up to the Rolette place and put his frozen feetin bins of snow to thaw them out without more damage. They he was fed hotsoup.

For three weeks he layed at the Rolettes's while gangreneset in. There was no doctor, so Madame Rolette tried the best she could. The message of Father Goiffon's illness reached Father Lestance of St.Boniface. He sent a messenger to bring Father Goiffon to the Red Riversettlement of Fort Garry.

After his journey, he rested a day and then underwent surgery. They had to amputate his right leg. His condition improved so much thatafter eight days of the operation they removed the stitches. The next daythere was a great alarm, Father Goiffon was bleeding to death. It seemeda large artery above the wound had opened up. There was nothing the doctorscould do. Because of the Father's weakness, they could not perform an operationto tie off his artery. It seemed that the end for Father Goiffon was near.

Duties still went on in the parish as always, but gloomily. One of the sisters in a depressing mood carelessly spilled grease on thestove. Fire broke through the whole parish. The precious library was burnedand sacred vestments and vessels were destroyed. But through all this ruina miracle arose and saved Father Goiffon. Since part of the building wasburned, the cold air blew in and with such cold air it stopped the bleedingof Father Goiffon's leg. Doctors were amazed. Father Goiffon soon recoveredenough for an operation on his left foot. He soon returned to Pembina butbecause of his handicaps he was transferred to a less tedious parish inMinnesota.

The new St. Boniface was rebuilt in 1908. And on the dayof the christening, walking in the procession, was Father Goiffon who felthis life obligated to the cathedral and his services.


MacLeod, Margaret Arnett as told to Edith Paterson 'TheFrozen Priest of Pembina' True West, December 1973, 47305, page 25