<-Précedent [Canada and / et Québec] [Peaceweb Home Page] Oct. 26, 1996 Prochaine->

First Riel Rebellion / 1ère rébellion de Riel

Winnipeg, North West Territory: Defense of Metis rights or treason to the Crown?

The Red River Rebellion, the first Riel Rebellion took place in what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1869 and 1870, when people of mixed French and Native descent, the Metis, rebelled. Metis leader Louis Riel proclaimed a Provisional Government in Manitoba to prevent a hostile takeover by Canada.

The trouble had started in 1864, when the Quebec Conference which was preparing for Confederation, called for the admission of the North-West Territories into Canada upon Confederation, claiming that Assiniboia (as the Red River area was then called) had no government. In fact, a Council of Assiniboia had been created, with equal French and English speaking members. Nor was Riel the first in Red River to proclaim a government. A short lived pro-Canadian "Republic of Manitoba" was proclaimed in January, 1868, by Thomas Spence, a new immigrant from Canada and a political follower of D'Arcy McGee. What was the last straw to many Metis was the appointment by Canada of the anti-French newspaperman William McDougall as the Governor of the territory after the passage of the Act for the Temporary Government of Rupert's Land in June 1869. McDougall was "escorted" out of the Red River colony on November 2 by the Metis provisional government, which at first was simply the local council of the Metis. On November 23, after both English and Scottish Metis had shown their willingness to resist Canadian advances on their lands with arms, Riel's followers seized the stocks and cash at Fort Garry. By December 7, the Provisional Government's own flag - with a fleur-de-lys and a shamrock on it - was flying from Fort Garry. (The Canadian flag at this time was the Union Jack, but some English settlers had flown a flag of their own - a Union Jack with the word "Canada" imprinted on it.)

Finally, in August, 1870, Canadian troops defeated Riel’s forces; and Riel escaped to the U.S., where he remained - and was evenelected a Member of Parliament from the riding of Provencher in Manitoba in 1874. (The Canadian government did not allow him to take office). In 1885, he went to Saskatchewan, where Metis leaders had called for him to lead a second rebellion; he was defeated, and hanged by the Canadian government in Regina, Saskatchewan, on November 16, 1885.

The Globe, Toronto, February 5, 1870

The Globe's reporter made it to Riel’s camp, and this was part of his front-page story:

“...At noon Riel came in, and cursed and swore tempestuously, and vowed, if I was not off in ten minutes, he would put me in gaol and keep me there. I offered to go to gaol. I gathered my baggage and was going out of the guard-room, when he called me back and said:

`I know where you mean to camp to night, but G-d d-n your soul if I don’t make it too hot for you if you go there.’ I drove off, guarded by two soldiers armed to the teeth. About dark we left the guard and alighted at a house friendly to Canada. While there, messengers from the half-breeds opposed to Riel, offered to protect me while I remained. ...

“There are four parties in the country, Riel with O’Donohoe and the priests, the Scotch and English Half-breeds, and the Americans. Riel and O’Donohoe rule with an iron hand, and are becoming extremely unpopular with all parties, while Riel’s vanity makes him contemptible. He is a vain-glorious creature and sold his poor mother’s last cow to buy for himself, the modern Napoleon, a suit of clothes when he became President.”

L’Événement, Montréal, 5 Février, 1870

Note: L'évêque Lingevin de Rimouski a plaidé le cas des Metis.

Le Mail, d’Ottawa, qui tient à son debut a se faire lire, expose tout un plan machiavélique qui aurait en le Nord-Ouest pour théâtre, M. McDougall pour victime et M. Langevin pour insigateur. D’après le Mail, M. Langevin aurait été en rapports suivis avec les Métis avant lárrivée de M. McDougall dans le territoire et leur aurait conseillé de se soulever afin de fournir un motif pour créer un petit province français à la Rivière-Rouge. C’est ce que quelqes insurgés auraient dit à M. Provencher, dans leur entrevue avec lui. Nous n’avons pas besoin de dire que ce récit n’a pas l’ombre de vraisemblance et ce qu c’est une fable d’opposiiton.

L’Événement, Montreal, February 5, 1870 (translation by Carl Stieren)

Note: Bishop Lingevin of Rimouski was a well-known defender of the rights of the Metis.

The Mail, from Ottawa, which has tried from its beginning to gain readers, has exposed quite a Machiavellian scheme that could have passed for theatre in the North West, with Mr. McDougall playing the victim and M. Langevin playing the villain. According to the Mail, Mr. Langevin is supposed to have been in constant contact with the Métis before the arrival of Mr. McDougall in the territory, and to have advised them to rise up, to provide grounds for creating a tiny French-speaking province at Red River. That is what several insurgents said to M. Provencher, in their interview with them. We don’t need to say that this account has not a shadow of credibility and that it is a fairy tale invented by the opposition.