Jean Louis Légaré (1841-1918)
Jean Louis Legare was born in St. Jacques, Montcalm County, Quebec on October 25, 1841. He was the son of Francois-Xavier Légaré and Julie Melancon.
Early in his life, he left home for adventure and in search of work. In 1865, he left for the United States in hope of making his fortune there. By 1869, he became involved with the fur trade as a clerk at Fort Totton, North Dakota; this led to many subsequent independent business ventures and community development efforts.
His Metis employer, Antoine Ouellette, hired Jean-Louis to establish business in Wood Mountain. In 1870-71, he organized his first camp at Little Woody, 15 miles south of Willow Bunch. In the spring of 1871, while on a trading expedition to sell furs, he collaborated with George Fisher, from St. Francois-Xavier, in establishing a store east of Wood Mountain.
On April 15, 1873, Jean-Louis married Marie Ouellette, the daughter of Francois Ouellette and Josephte Bottineau. In October of 1875, Marie gave birth to their only child, Albert Joseph Legare. Only one year later, in 1876, tragedy struck and Marie Ouellette passed away after falling off a horse while visiting her father at Fort Walsh. She was buried in Lebret. Jean-Louis never remarried.
In the spring of 1877, Sitting Bull and his tribe of Sioux numbering 4000 came to the Wood Mountain and Willow Bunch area after the Battle of Little Big Horn. Initially, Sitting Bull and his people traded with Jean-Louis; however, with the severe depletion of the Buffalo, the Sioux faced starvation and they required more assistance. Jean-Louis, being a generous and compassionate man, provided money and supplies for the destitute group. By 1881, both the Canadian and American governments wanted Sitting Bull and his people to return to their native land and establish a reserve, but the Sioux chief would only trust the word of his friend, Jean-Louis. As a result, both federal governments entered into an agreement with Legare to enlist his help in the matter. With the aid of Legare and his Metis scouts, Sitting Bull returned to Fort Buford, where he surrendered to US authorities in July of 1881. A bill for compensation of goods and services was sent to the Canadian and American governments, but Legare was never fully repaid.
At the invitation of Andre Gaudry, he moved to Willow Bunch in 1881, and constructed the first wooden house in the area with a private water line (which eventually led to the establishment of the Willow Bunch waterworks). In 1884, he switched to trading horses for cattle in Manitoba; this began the establishment of a cattle industry in Willow Bunch. By 1886 the first school opened in Willow Bunch, of which Légaré was a trustee. In 1888 he traded more horses, this time for dairy cattle, and then began a cheese factory. This business enterprise failed by 1894 due to economic distress in the area. Being a devout Roman Catholic, in 1899 he donated 80 acres of land to the Saint-Ignace-des-Saules parish, and a church, rectory, convent were built. From 1898 to 1918, Légaré held the position of first postmaster in Willow Bunch, as well as the offices of Justice of the Peace and census enumerator. He died On February 1, 1918, at 76 years of age and was buried in Willow Bunch. The Jean-Louis Légaré Regional Park was established in 1960, and in 1970 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada erected a plaque commemorating his life and achievements.
Jean Louis Légaré (1841-1918)