The Mystery of the Bell

The rediscovery of a historic Canadian artifact has prompted the release of a CBC documentary.

Written by Steve Ducharme

April 10, 2014

The Mystery of the Bell traces the history of the “Bell of Batoche,” an item stolen by Ontario soldiers in the 1885 North-west Rebellion. First Nations people cherish the bell and until last year its whereabouts were completely unknown.

In the program, Mark Starowicz, Executive Director of Documentary Programming at the CBC, and producer Wayne Chong, explore the timeline of events leading to the bell’s repatriation last summer in Batoche, Saskatchewan.

Canada’s History caught up with Starowicz who is a twenty-five-year industry veteran and has received numerous accolades for his work on Canadian television. He is also the Creator and Executive Producer of Canada: A People’s History, for which he received the Pierre Berton Award (now known as the Governor General History Award for Popular Media) in 2001.

“We want to tell the remarkable story of this bell, and what its roots are,” said Starowicz. “We trace how it was stolen, who had it and the various identities it has assumed, the political battle for it, right up to the current day.”

The bell was taken as a war prize during the Battle of Batoche — one of the final conflicts in the North-west Rebellion. The battle forced the surrender of Louis Riel, and he was executed later that year.

The relic eventually turned up in Millbrook, Ontario in the 1930s hanging in a fire hall. After numerous diplomatic attempts by the Metis community, the bell was stolen in 1991 — not to be seen in public again until 2013 at a parade in Batoche, Saskatchewan.

What happened in the interim is the subject of much debate and controversy.

“It's a terrific detective story, a journey through Canadian history,” said Starowicz.

“It’s a Canadian Da Vinci code.”

The Mystery of the Bell can be seen on CBC’s DocZone.

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