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Father Goiffon: The Fire That Saved His Life


Wanda Anderson


The first church in Pembina was built in the early eighteenhundreds. It consisted of three log buildings, a presbytery, a chapel anda "shop." Now all they needed was a clergyman.

In the year 1859, a young priest, Father Goiffon, lefthis native France to become a missionary in this remote territory. His sympathyhad been aroused for the people of this area by tales which had reachedhim before he set out. He served the church in Pembina until 1860 when thechurch was burned during a Sioux outbreak.

Because of this misfortune, Father Goiffon found it necessaryto transfer his activities to St. Joseph which was forty miles distancefrom Pembina.

In August of that year, he was summoned to St. Paul, fora meeting with his vicar-general. That meant a two month trip by ox cartso he decided to leave immediately to avoid the late storms of autumn.

He set out the next morning, covering twenty miles thefirst day. When he reached Pembina, he joined a party of ox carts enroutefrom Fort Garry to St. Paul. Along the Red River Valley they traveled overrough country and then into "grand traverse" 19 miles of swampgrass which was almost as high as the oxen's backs. Several days later,they reached St. Paul.

The whole group had planned to leave for home in ten days,giving Father Goiffon time to conduct his business in St. Paul. However,the priest was a day late getting finished so the Fort Garry party set outahead. Riding a horse which he had purchased in St. Paul, Father Goiffonset out to overtake the ox cart train. He traveled in the company of twoother men until news reached him that he was badly needed in Pembina, asthere was no one there to minister to the dying, baptize the babies andtend to the other needs of his parishioners. He then decided to hurry onahead, traveling alone.

After traveling a couple of days, the rain began to falland Father Goiffon decided to camp for the night. During the night, it becamemuch colder and by morning the rain had turned to a blinding snow storm.He wrapped himself in a buffalo robe which he carried. He forgot to coverhis horse which died due to the exposure.

Now, unable to travel, he lay wrapped in the buffalo robefor several days having only a handful of dried berries for food.

When he was finally found by members of the wagon train,he was delirious and at times unconscious. Parts of his body were badlyfrozen. He was taken on to Pembina where he lay for three weeks withoutmedical help.

By this time, gangrene had set in on his limbs and hislife was in danger, so it was decided to bring him to St. Boniface wherehe could get medical attention. As the roads were too bad for sleighs orcarts, he was loaded on a hand sled and taken to the Bishop's palace adjoiningSt. Boniface Cathedral. Here, doctors amputated his right leg. Some dayslater when the stitches were removed, a large artery burst and began tohemorrhage. At this time a fire alarm was sounded and the priest was takenoutside in the bitter cold where he lay for some time. The intense coldcongealed the blood and the bleeding stopped. Father Goiffon lived. A firehad saved his life.


Peterson, Edith, Tales of Early Manitoba. Copyright 1970,The Winnipeg Free Press. Pages 15-16

Wemmet, W. M., The Story of the Flickertail State. Copyright1952, Valley City, North Dakota. Pages 93-102

ate. Copyright1952, Valley City, North Dakota. Pages 93-102