Batoche was named in honour of Xavier Letendre, a chief trader of the district, and “Batoche” was his nickname. Batoche was established in 1872, when Xavier Letendre arrived with three French Canadians. Charles Chamberland, a painter, and two Gareau brothers, one a carpenter and the other a mason. The three tradesmen built a trading shop for Xavier, as well as a beautiful home for him. Letendre began a ferry service in 1873, which he named after himself called “Batoche Crossing”. The crossing is where the Carlton Trail crossed the South Saskatchewan River.
The inability of Riel's Provisional Government to obtain guarantees for the Métis in Manitoba in 1869-70, as well as the dwindling herds of buffalo, convinced many that they must adopt some of the agricultural ways of the whites or be swallowed up by eastern settlement. They looked westward to the Saskatchewan country as a place to make a fresh start. It would stretch from St-Louis-de-Langevin in the north to La Coulee des Tourond (Fish Creek) in the south spanning the Carlton Trail, the main trade route between Fort Garry and Fort Edmonton.
Soon a little village flourished on the banks of the river. By 1885, the community numbered about 500 people. The church, St. Antoine de Padoue, was built in 1884. It also had a rectory which also served as a school and hospital.
The Métis laid their farms out in long river-lot fashion, cultivating a small portion of them, but living principally by freighting, trading and raising cattle. They were a sociable people holding parties and dances in their homes to celebrate weddings, New Year's and other special occasions, or just to make the long winters pass more quickly. The annual "la Fete des Metifs," celebrating St. Joseph, the patron saint of the Métis, was held on July 24. It featured foot, horse and wagon races (naturally with wagering on the side), handicrafts and large amounts of food and drink. There was friction between the Métis and the Canadian government over land titles, culminating in the North West Rebellion of 1885. Batoche as the last battlefield in the Rebellion where the Métis surrendered to government forces. Louis Riel had selected Batoche as the headquarters of his “Provisional Government of Saskatchewan”.
The Battle of Batoche was fought over four days from May 9 to May 12, 1885. Less than 300 Métis and First Nations people led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont defended Batoche from a series of rifle pits which they had dug along the edge of the bush surrounding the village.
Riel and Dumont escaped. Riel gave himself up later and Dumont fled to the United States. Those who had not dispersed were captured and held for later trial in the courts. When the battle ended, there were more than 25 dead from both sides.
The Rebellion failed but the Métis community at Batoche was not destroyed in 1885. The settlement recovered. These was relative prosperity in the area during the 1890’s. In 1900, scrip was granted and many young Métis settled on farms around Batoche and had a certain success. Others worked as interpreters, scouts, and labourers for the North-West Mounted Police, who established barracks there in 1888.
Later, Batoche experienced many economic and social difficulties. The northern branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway bypassed the Métis settlement in favour of proposed white immigrant areas. Other reasons were more subtle. To many, they were still the Métis rebels and the government gave them little economic or social consideration.
Tuberculosis took a heavy toll and jobs became more difficult for both men and women who worked mainly as labourers or domestics. In a society now dominated by English Canadians, the Métis found little opportunity for their children to maintain their Michif language and pass on their cultural traditions. The “new nation” had become a minority group, “les gen libres” a dependant people.
By 1915, only one store remained in the village of Batoche. Increasing settlement from eastern Canada, Europe, and the United States, further isolated the Métis and many chose to move further north.Batoche was declared a National Historic Site in 1923 by the federal government under the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments board of Canada. The initial focus of commemoration was the armed conflict between the Canadian government and the Métis Provisional government in 1885. Batoche also commemorates the history of the Métis community of Batoche. Surviving portions of the Carlton Trail and river-lot system, and the roles of First Nations in the Northwest Rebellion/Resistance are also commemorated.
Batoche National Historic Site displays the remains of the village of Batoche on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Several buildings have been restored within the site. The site depicts the lifestyles of the Métis of Batoche between 1860 and 1900 - the trails they walked, their homes, their church, and the Battle of Batoche, May 9 - 12, 1885.
Visitors can also see an award winning half-hour multi-media show in the Visitor Reception Centre.
Today the cemetery sits near the banks of the river. In June of 1967, a stone cairn was unveiled and dedicated to honour five “rebels” who died during the Rebellion: Isadore Dumont, Auguste Laframbois, Joseph Montour, Jean Baptiste Montour, and Assiyiwin. Gabriel Dumont’s gravestone, a huge rock with plaques in English and French, stands at the far side of the cemetery overlooking the river.