The Shooting of Peter Champagne

It was just after 5:30PM on Sunday, August 14, 1927 when Anthime* Bourdin burst into the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Fortunet Tessier. Both parents were out, but his granddaughter, fifteen-year-old Irene Tessier, was home looking after the other children. He’d run over in his stocking feet, his shirt opened and his throat red. He told her to go and get the neighbours, that he’d shot Peter Champagne but he wasn’t sure if he was dead. He told her that Champagne had attacked him, choked him, gone for his shotgun and after he’d managed to fight him off had picked up the axe. All the while he kept glancing out the window, as though expecting Champagne to have followed him.

She summoned one of the neighbours, Henry Guignon, and he and another neighbour escorted Bourdin back to his farm about a half mile away to see what had become of Champagne. Guignon later testified that at his arrival, Bourdin had seemed a little drunk, and confirmed that his throat was red and he’d complained of a bump on his head.

Cautiously, they approached the house, only to find Peter Champagne dead in a hole about three to four feet across and about eighteen inches deep just outside the kitchen door. An axe lay on the right side of the body, a little over ten feet away.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Aug 15, 1927

After they confirmed that there was nothing to be done for Champagne, they went back to Tessier’s and called the provincial police. Constable Flannagan received the call to go to the farm at about 10:30PM. When he arrived he found the body as previously described, and also located the gun. An open box of cartridges was found on a trunk in the bedroom. Champagne had a gunshot wound under his right collarbone and some surface wounds about his head. The gun appeared to have been fired at close range, with Champagne dying within a minute of the shot.

Flannagan was forced to take Bourdin’s statement through an interpreter, as he spoke very little English. When it became clear that he’d shot Champagne, Flannagan placed him under arrest.

An inquest was conducted by Dr. R. G. Scott of Wakaw. As witnesses were interviewed, some strange details came to light. On the day of the shooting, Joseph Donohue described coming across Bourdin lying in the road about a mile from his house. He’d proceeded on to the farm of Norman Morrison and after explaining what he saw, Morrison drove back to where Bourdin was lying by the roadside, wrapped in a robe, with Donohue following behind in his own car.

It was raining quite heavily, and Bourdin’s shirt was torn, his buggy badly smashed up. Morrison pulled the robe off Bourdin and asked him if he was drunk. Bourdin replied that he was “waiting for his man”, but wouldn’t elaborate on who that man was. Morrison and William Jobin, who’d come along on the outing, got Bourdin into the car and drove him to his son’s house. When they arrived, Peter Champagne was there. Bourdin got out of the car, and then a few minutes later, got back in, despite Morrison telling him that he couldn’t drive him home. Champagne got in as well, and Morrison drove them both to Bourdin’s. Champagne offered to pay for the ride, and when they refused he went and got a jug of alcohol from the house, insisting that they each have a drink, before he took a drink of his own so long that Morrison told him to stop.

Morrison later testified that he didn’t really want the drink. He was anxious to get away, admitting that he didn’t like to see Champagne drunk because he was afraid of him. He said that the two men seemed quite friendly when he left.

Following the inquest, a preliminary hearing was held and Anthime Bourdin was committed to stand trial that September in Prince Albert.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Aug 22, 1927

The trial opened on Tuesday, September 20, 1927, before Justice J. F. L. Embury. John G. Diefenbaker and J. E. Lussier appeared for the defense, and J. H. Lindsay KC represented the Crown.

Lindsay submitted his theory that Champagne was killed by a shot fired deliberately from inside the house, while the deceased was found outside a few feet from the back door. He entered the screen door into evidence, which showed a bullet sized hole, fired at close range from inside the house. He called witnesses that testified that no trace of a struggle was seen in the house, that no blood was found on the ground or about the premises and that the screen door was found closed and latched. Both Professor Edmonds of the University of Saskatchewan and a gunsmith and mechanic testified that the shot was fired from inside the house at close range.

Diefenbaker and Lussier had a two pronged approach to Bourdin’s defense. First, they brought in witnesses to testify to Champagne’s bad temperment and violence while drinking. William Jobin testified that the previous year, Champagne had come to his house drunk and he and the others at his place had been afraid of what he might do. Champagne had gone to the granary to get an axe, and Jobin, at the suggestion of his mother, had fired a shot at the granary to scare him away. He told the court that Champagne had a bad reputation, and that the women in the community were scared of him.

Another stated that Champagne had gone to his house while intoxicated and insisted on fighting him. He’d run into the house to get away from him.

Mrs. J. Donohue testified that Champagne was very bad tempered when under the influence, and on one occasion had come to their house and demanded a gun to shoot Tessier with. She was frightened and hid the gun, saying he’d looked very angry.

The owner of Hoey poolroom also testified, telling the court about the time Champagne had cut up his arms and hands after drunkenly smashing the window with his fists.

The second part of their approach was to show what an upstanding citizen Anthime Bourdin was. Bourdin was a very prosperous farmer in the district, having lived there for thirty-three years. He was about sixty-eight years old and quite active for his age, but was said to have very poor eyesight. His wife had been in Montreal at the time of the shooting, visiting relatives, while his children were all grown up and moved out. Meanwhile, Champagne was about forty-six, had lived in the district for twenty years working as a farm labourer (including working for Bourdin occasionally), and had a bad reputation in the district.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Sep 21, 1927

Their final move was to bring Anthime Bourdin to the witness box to testify. The statement achieved by Constable Flannagan was a non-sensical mess (probably due to a lack of ability by the interpreter and Bourdin still being a little drunk at the time), so now they wanted to set the record straight and let Bourdin tell his story.

He told the court that he’d owned the shotgun for some years but had never used it, having originally purchased it for an employee who could shoot game. The trigger on it, he said, was hard to raise.

On the day in question, he was out doing his chores. When he went inside, Champagne was in his house, getting drunk on liquor Bourdin had bought from the liquor store a little while ago. He told the court that if he’d known Champagne was coming over, he’d have locked it up because Champagne turned ugly when he was drunk. Champagne asked him for more liquor and he’d felt obliged to give him some. When he did, he noticed the gin was about a third gone. He’d joined Champagne in partaking of the alcohol and had “a drink or two” before lunch. At this point, he noticed Champagne was getting pretty drunk, now asking for wine.

They had lunch at about 1:00PM and to prevent Champagne from getting more liquor, Bourdin testified that he put him in an old buggy to drive him to his son’s house. On the way, Champagne slid out of the buggy, catching Bourdin as he fell and dragging him out with him. Bourdin lay down beside the road and sent Champagne to his son’s place, where the horse had gone. Here he was found by Norman Morrison, who took him to his son’s and then brought both men back to his house, where Champagne, having secured the liquor, gave Morrison a drink.

After Morrison left, they went into the house and Champagne became quarrelsome. He caught Bourdin while he was sitting down, threw him to the floor, and according to Bourdin, choked him and kicked him in the side. Champagne told him he would kill him and went to the bedroom where the gun was. Bourdin heard him putting shells in it and as Champagne came out of the bedroom he caught the gun barrel and managed to push Champange out the back door of the kitchen and fastened the screen. Champagne took the axe from the wood box and came back, evidently to break down the door. Bourdin told the court that he’d put the gun under his arm and with both hands tried to hold the door. The gun went off, although he had no recollection of raising the trigger. The shot hit Champagne, who fell backward onto the ground and Bourdin had run out the other door to get help.

With that, the jury was dismissed and after between three and four hours of deliberation, the jury found Bourdin not guilty of murder. The defense’s approach had worked.

And that is the story of the unfortunate shooting of Peter Champagne of Domremy.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – Sep 22, 1927

*Anthime Bourdin was also seen spelled as Anthony, Antime and Antoine. Last name was also seen spelled Bourdon.

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Saskatoon Daily Star: Aug 15, 1927, Aug 20, 1927, Aug 22, 1927, Sep 20, 1927, Sep 21, 1927, Sep 22, 1927

If you’d like to read more historical true crime stories from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Murder of Henry Kinakin

The Murder of Kosto Surkin

A Double Murder Near Kennedy

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