Wishing a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian followers. Thank you for all your interest and encouragement !
November seems to be a time of rememberance. Today we remember my cousin 4 times removed Louis Riel famed Metis leader and the sacrifice he made for his people. I am related to him through my paternal grandmother Josephine Beauchamp nee Daigneault. The chart is below ( from the St. Boniface Historical Society).
My grandmother married into a family from Quebec who decended from original settlers and voyageurs in New France . I have written about the Fur Traders and Explorers in my family as well as The Spirit of Resistance about the Metis uprising. I hope will enjoy reading about them.
The events of the Northwest Rebellion eventually led to the surrender, by Riel, against overwhelming odds. He felt this would save further blood shed and that the ensuing trial would provide a platform from which to air the grievances of the Metis people. He did not wish his actions to be known as those of a “madman”, the defense’s main tool. This did not help him. After pleading the case of the Metis for an hour, the judge finally lost patience and along with the jury, sentenced him to be “hanged by the neck until dead”. The arm of the law could not be seen as weak.
I often ponder the many aspects of the Riel situation. I think about my grandmother, Josephine Daigneault and how she must have heard the story many times as a child; perhaps there were still relatives living who were affected by the death of their relative.
I think about Riel’s situation; how he was thrown into a situation he may not have been fully prepared for because he was educated and religious. His father was a man of strong opinion and ambition and probably gave him a strong sense of responsibility towards the community.
Talk of his sanity brings to my mind the religious raptures that the nun, Marie L’Incarnation experienced as she went through the trials of establishing a convent in the New World. We are taught that we must put our faith in God when we are overwhelmed with fear. Belief can overcome. That is what it would take to face the strong possibility of death.
I think Riel’s life is an example of being swept up by forces out of our control, about fighting against greed, deceit and inhumanity. Rest in Peace, cher cousin.
After the rebellion in the Red River colony, many people migrated to Saskatchewan in the areas of Prince Albert and St. Laurent. Not long after that the new settlers, Metis and white, began to demand the same rights to land as those in Manitoba. In the first year, 1878, the lots were surveyed running back from the river but were later changed to the square surveying method. Title to the land was not granted nor was any change made to surveying methods and worse, they had no democratic right to representation.
Again, Riel was called upon in St. Peter’s, Montana where he was teaching, to represent the settlers in dealing with the federal government. Riel however, did not find support from the Church when he arrived. On December 16, 1884, a petition was drafted by Riel requesting the organization of Saskatchewan as a province. Further to that, a Bill of Rights on March 8, 1885, called for Alberta and Saskatchewan to have their own legislatures. These would only be implemented after Riel’s death.
The disregard of the government would soon lead the Northwest into the unrest that had occurred in Manitoba. The Metis formed a Provisional Government on March 19, 1885 which was also termed the “Exovedate”. Riel was asked to advocate for responsible government, parliamentary representation and land grants for French and English Metis and white settlers. Also tabled would be income from land sales for hospitals, schools and farm equipment, better provision for the Indians and the establishment of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces.
Running in the background of this political unrest was the fate of the railway and the fortunes of then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. Macdonald had gained his seats by granting tariff protection to manufacturers in the east who in turn supported the Conservative Party. This tariff protection was coined by MacDonald as the “National Policy” and it soon led to what became known as the “Pacific Scandal”. Macdonald had accepted election funds from shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan in exchange for the contract to build the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. Macdonald resigned and Alexander Mackenzie became Prime Minister. However, because of a depression Allan lost the charter to build the railway.
In 1878, John Macdonald (after a prolonged alcoholic binge), and the Conservative Party were re-elected and his ambition for nation building rose once again. This time, his horizons broadened to western immigration and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. His ambitions trammelled the rights of the Indian and Metis people whose way of life depended on the land the railway would cross over. The buffalo had disappeared and treaties were made with the Indians to live on reserves where starvation would limit their movement. The near bankrupt CPR would receive huge money and land grants and tax exemptions. In 1883, it was in trouble again and a further grant was given. In 1885, another request was made which the federal cabinet rejected.
At the same time, the Battle of Duck Lake in Saskatchewan erupted led by Gabriel Dumont against Major Crozier of the NWMP. The Metis had sent Isadore Dumont and Assywin (an Indian Leader) to talk peace with the Major but were shot down. At this, firing commenced, the Metis forcing Crozier’s men to retreat. This was the perfect excuse for Macdonald to persuade the cabinet to grant the money needed to for the railway.
Now, Riel, as leader of the Northwest Rebellion, was a condemned man. General Frederick Middleton was sent at the head of 3,000 militia to the area of Batoche, Saskatchewan, in opposition to a mere 400 Metis. Battles occurred at Duck Lake, Fish Creek and Batoche where trenches were dug as rifle pits. The Metis held out for three days but were no match for the Gatling guns and cannons of Crozier’s troops. The battle met its unequivocal end on May 12, 1885. Dumont escaped to the United States but Riel voluntarily surrendered thinking that his trial for high treason would at least allow him a venue to plead the case for his people.
Shortly after the British North America Act had created Canada by uniting the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, a movement developed to annex Rupert’s Land to the new country. There was little remaining arable land in Upper Canada and the northwest was seen as an opportunity to expand borders and increase trade with Asia on the Pacific. These men, primarily Anglo-Saxon protestants also wanted to expand the British culture westward under the pretext of uniting the country.
A campaign was embarked upon that would change the image of the North-West to one of plenty instead of a frozen wasteland. The government would be lobbied for a railway to the Pacific . Rupert’s Land would have to be annexed and the HBC attacked for being a backward thinking monopoly. The base for westward expansion would be the Red River Settlement. The fortunes of the aboriginal people could only be improved by this expansion and civilizing influence.
Like the American West, the expansion would increase the market for Canadian products. It would also halt American expansion into Canada and private land ownership would follow. Soon after Confederation, the Canadian Government entered into negotiations with the British Colonial Office to acquire Rupert’s Land (which included the Red River Settlement) from the HBC. In July of 1868, the Rupert’s Land Act authorized the surrender of the HBC lands and privileges to Canada. In April 1869, the terms of transfer were settled. HBC was given a payment of £300,000 and extensive land grants. No one thought to discuss the terms with the actual inhabitants of the West. As in America, they were an “invisible” people. All bowed before progress.
Land which had been purchased by the settlers, Metis and British, was included in the transfer to Canada. In August, 1869, William McDougall, Minister of the Interior, prematurely sent out Canadian surveyors to the Red River area. The system followed the American one of dividing lands into rectangular townships. The Metis system had the land running in long narrow strips back from the river which gave everyone access to water. The lots stretched several miles back to an area for grazing or hay privilege.
On October 1, 1869 survey lines crossed Andre Nault’s hay privilege . When the surveyors refused to leave, Nault called on Louis Riel who was bilingual. An altercation took place during which Riel stepped on the surveyor’s chain. Passive resistance made the surveyors withdraw.
John MacDonald’s indifference to the plight of the settler’s led to the formation of the Metis National committee with Riel as secretary. William McDougall was to be made Lieutenant Governor at which the Metis protested. McDougall would not be permitted entry to the settlement until the Metis were conferred with as to the terms of the takeover. When McDougall tried to cross the American border he was forced back . Then Fort Garry, in the heart of the settlement was taken over.
The settlers began to meet, both Metis and English, until Riel put forward that they should form a provisional government to deal with Canada. On December 1, the day of the takeover, Riel tabled before the people a List of Rights which set out the terms which Riel and other delegates wanted Canada to accept. One of these was the right to self-government and control over the settlement’s affairs. Some of the other terms were a local legislature and elections, free homesteads, public lands for schools, use of French and English in the legislature and the courts, Indian treaties and Parliamentary representation.
Meanwhile, William McDougall sat over the border in Pembina, North Dakota. He did not know that MacDonald had postponed the takeover and took it upon himself to create his own set of official documents by which to proclaim himself Lieutenant Governor and the North-West a part of Canada. He then stepped over the border read it and returned to Pembina. He had missed a letter to him from MacDonald that proceeding would result in a “state of anarchy”. The HBC had already executed papers for the transfer of Rupert’s Land a week later on December 1st. McDougall’s premature proclamation left a gap in the government of Rupert’s Land which then gave the right to form a provisional government to keep control of the area.
A few days later, Riel found out about the fraudulent proclamation. McDougall ordered a call to arms which was to be implemented by Colonel Stoughton Dennis and John Schultz, a known racist and the town’s newspaper publisher. Riel acted quickly, imprisoning Schultz and a number of Canadians who were planning an attack on Upper Fort Garry. He formed a provisional government under the “Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the NorthWest on December 8, 1869, insisting on their right to negotiate the terms of the transfer.
Donald Smith , then chief HBC official in Canada, was sent to the settlement to bribe some of the Metis away from Riel. He then addressed a large assembly, promising representation and title to land. Riel convened “the Convention of Forty” which was to be half French and half English to discuss Smith’s proposals. From this meeting a List of Rights was establlished. Riel met opposition from his own cousin Charles Nolin on his proposal for provincial status. A motion for a trip to Ottawa to discus entry into Confederation passed quickly. There was agreement on the formation of a provisional government which was passed by William McTavish then Governor of Assiniboia.
While the provisional government was forming, the bigots, Schultz, Mair and Scott escaped. Thomas Scott was an “odious character” given to violence. They gathered an armed group of Englishmen against Riel and the government but were arrested and imprisoned. Scott would not let up on his abuse of the guards until Riel ordered a court-martial. The death penalty was voted for and Scott was executed by firing squad, proof that there was an actual government in power. This however, turned out to be a huge political mistake for it raised the ire of the Protestants in Ontario.
A new list of rights was drawn up to be presented to MacDonald which included status as a province and provision for separate schools. The provision was taken to the Prime Minister and then Deputy Prime Minister Georges Cartier. Riel remained behind to guard the colony.
As a result of the meeting,
- Manitoba gained entry into confederation as a province
- A grant of 1,400,000 acres of land was allotted to the children of the Metis
- Bilingualism in the legislature and courts was granted
- Denominational schools were created
These were all part of the Manitoba Act which was based on the Provisional Government’s List of Rights.
On July 15th, 1870 Manitoba joined Confederation, Riel became the “Father of Confederation”. The request for amnesty of all persons involved in the resistance was not granted and would later have dire consequences for Riel.