Thereby Hangs A Tale... by Janet Legault

Pictured is William Cossette standing easy with arms spread at the top of the cross. It is about 118 feet from the ground. Pictured on the right hand steeple is a man from down East (name unknown) and Ovila Michaud at the lower end of the steeple.


There are fascinating stories to be found in every community. Take Gravelbourg, for instance. Travellers to this small Saskatchewan town are intrigued by the grandeur of its educational and religious buildings. They are greeted by Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral as visitors to the town have been for almost seventy years; indeed, in 1929 Reverend J. Elie Auclair noted that the public buildings are “superbly dominated by the two square turrets of the church”. Those turrets were built at a cost.

The accident occurred on a cold November day in 1918. The actual building of the Cathedral had begun in June. The work was progressing quite quickly, and by the Fall of that year the men were working on the bell towers. As far as possible the builder had undertaken to employ local French-Canadians, but on this day Ovila Michaud (34) from Gravelbourg was working with another labourer from “down East”. They filled their wheelbarrow with cement and stepped onto the scaffold, ready to be pulled up to the level on which they were working. It was a trip that had been made several times before, but this time was different. Seventy feet up the exterior of the building, the plank carrying the heavy load broke in half. Without any warning, the two men and their wheelbarrow plunged towards the ground. Michaud hit it first, the wheelbarrow and the other man falling on top of him. Michaud survived; the other man was killed.

Bernadette Levac was seven years old at the time, and the accident happened to her father. Because it was winter, the family had left the farm and were living at the top of what is now Macleods store. The first news that Bernadette, her mother, her brothers and her sisters got was that their father was dead. Then, “Dad was brought home on a stretcher.” Bernadette recalls how much she cried that day when she saw her father’s suffering: “He was full of blood and cement. Two arms were broken, one of his legs was very badly broken, and he had broken ribs. One eye was cut very badly; the other was swollen. His face was cut around the mouth and the flesh was hanging down.. He was unconscious.” Bernadette remembers how much her younger sister, Gertrude, was crying.

There had been a lot of snow and there were no roads open to Regina. Not even the train was running, stuck as it was in the hills between Gravelbourg and MooseJaw. For three days Ovila stayed at home, tended around the clock by Dr. Soucy, Dr. Lavoie, and three nurses. The five children gave up their beds and slept on the floor so that the doctors and the nurses might rest. Kind neighbours brought the family food; however, there were very few people to comfort Bernadette’s mother, Permilia. During the summer the family lived eight miles from Gravelbourg, and Permilia knew very few people in town. It was a distressing time.

Eventually, the train arrived, and Dr. Soucy accompanied Ovila to Regina. Permilia did not go with them because she could not speak English; in any case, she could not leave her six children. She was not to see her husband for six months. It was a joyous occasion when Ovila was reunited with his family, but it was also a day tinged with sadness. Ovila looked for his youngest daughter, “baby Gertrude” (2) but he did not find her. She had died of pneumonia while he was in the hospital. 

Ovila Michaud spent some time in a wheelchair, but he recovered completely. He seem destined, however, to die in an accident. In 1952, at the age of sixty-eight, he was crushed when he was trapped between his tractor and a seeding drill.