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Buffalo Hunt by Peter Rindisbacher (1806-1834; aged 28) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Métis Family by Peter Rindisbacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Louis Riel’s demise is a fine example of what happened to French-speaking Canadians and their Amerindian spouses in the western provinces of Canada. A new post will follow.

From Coast to Coast

John A. MacDonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada and a Father of Confederation
Georges-Étienne Cartier was a Quebec Leader and a Father of Confederation
Gabriel Dumont (a Métis leader) took Riel to Saskatchewan (second Rebellion)

Louis Riel is the grandson of Jean-Baptiste Lagimonière/Lagimodière (1778-1855), a farmer and a voyageur who made a name for himself. On 21 April 1806, he married Anne-Marie Gaboury (1780 – 1875), the first white woman resident in the west, and the grandmother of legendary Louis Riel.

Upon learning that the Earl of Selkirk, DOUGLAS, THOMAS, Baron DAER and SHORTCLEUCH, 5th Earl of SELKIRK (1771 [St Mary’s Isle, Scotland] – 1820 [Pau, France]) was settling the Red River, Lagimonière and his wife went to live in the Red River settlement. But rivalry between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company was so intense that North-West Company men nearly destroyed the settlement.

Lagimonière was sent to Montreal to speak to Lord Selkirk, but taken prisoner on his way back to Manitoba. Lord Selkirk attacked the fort and the settlers were able to resume a difficult but relatively normal life. Lord Selkirk rewarded Lagimonière for his services, by giving him a large grant of land between the Red River and the Seine, close to present-day Winnipeg. Lagimonière had become a celebrity.

Louis Riel

The Lagimonières had several children: four girls and four boys and, at one point, they became a very prosperous family. One of the Lagimonière daughters, Julie, married a Métis, a neighbour named Louis Riel, and is the mother of Louis Riel (22 October 1844 – 16 November 1885; aged 41) who is considered the father of Manitoba.

Louis Riel

Louis Riel (1844 -1885; by hanging)

An intellectually-gifted child, Louis Riel was sent to the Petit Séminaire, in Montréal. In a petit séminaire, one prepared for the priesthood. Louis Riel dropped out before graduation and studied law under Rodolphe Laflamme.

Riel was not very fond of the subtleties of laws and slowly found his way back to Manitoba working odd jobs in Chicago and St Paul, Minnesota. Many voyageurs, who had been employed by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, retired in Minnesota. Riel then travelled back to the Red River settlement, which had changed during his absence.

The Settlers, the Surveyors and William McDougall

  • On his arrival in St-Boniface, the current French area of Winnipeg, Riel observed that settlers had arrived from Ontario. They were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who disliked Catholics. Many were Orangemen or Orangists. Settlers had also moved up from the United States.
  • As well, land surveyors were dividing up the land, but not in the manner it had been divided formerly. The long strips of land of New France were becoming square lots. This land still belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company, but the Crown was preparing for a purchase (1869), and no room was being made for the Métis.
  • Moreover, William McDougall, an outsider, had been appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the territory and was overseeing the progress of the land surveyors.
  • As for the Métis, they had suffered from an invasion of grasshoppers, so food was scarce. Moreover, immigrants were dwarfing Métis and Amerindians. They needed a leader and went to Louis Riel, who was literate and had studied law.

The Red River Rebellion: the First ‘Treason’

  • Riel quickly organized a “national committee” to put an end to the surveyors’ work.
  • On 2 Nov. 1869, Riel and his men captured Fort Garry unopposed.
  • However, John Christian Schultz and John Stoughton Dennis started to prepare for an armed conflict.
  • The Federal Government recalled McDougall and orders were given to end the work of the surveyors.
  • Riel had John Christian Schultz and John Stoughton Dennis imprisoned in Fort Garry and
  • Riel and his Métis established the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia:

“The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was a short-lived legislature set up to pass laws for the North-Western Territory and Rupert’s Land provisional government led by Louis Riel from 1869 to 1970. The Legislative Assembly was named after the Council of Assiniboia that previously managed the territories before the Hudson’s Bay Company sold the land to Canada in 1869.” (See Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, Wikipedia.)

Scott and Boulton recruit a small army and are joined

A goodwill mission arrived from the Federal Government. One member of this group was Donald A. Smith, the chief representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Frightened by Thomas Scott and Charles Boulton, Métis had them imprisoned and court-martialed. They were condemned to death by Ambroise Lépine.

  • Charles Boulton was pardoned, but
  • Thomas Scottan Orangeman, was executed, despite pleas on the part of Donald Smith of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Manitoba enters into Confederation: 12 May 1870

The Bishop of Saint-Boniface, Bishop Taché, returned from Rome carrying an amnesty proclamation for all acts previously performed. At this point, Riel and his men reached an agreement and the Manitoba Law was passed on 12 May 1870. The Federal Government gave land to the Métis and made both French and English the official languages of the new Province of Manitoba.

However, in 1870, after learning that Colonel Garnet Wolseley was being sent to the Red River by the new Governor-General, A. G. Archibald, Riel fled to the United States but returned home to Saint-Vital in the fall of 1871. He then offered to help keep Fenians from attacking the Red River Settlement.

Louis Riel

  • was elected into office in 1873;
  • He was re-elected to the Federal Assembly in 1874, but a motion to expel him from the room was proposed by Orangist or Orangeman Mackenzie Bowell and passed.
  • But Riel was re-elected into office. However, he was prevented from sitting with other members of Parliament.

At about the same time, Ambroise Lépine’s death sentence for the “murder” of Thomas was commuted. Lépine spent two years in jail and lost all his rights. However, Lépine and Riel were amnestied in February 1875. Louis Riel’s amnesty was “conditional on five years of banishment from ‘Her Majesty’s Dominions.’”

Riel had a nervous breakdown in 1875 and was hospitalised for three years (1875-1878), under assumed names. He was treated for depression and turned to religion. At this point, Riel started believing he had a divine mission to guide his people.

Riel was released from the hospital and went to the United States where he managed to earn a living, became an American citizen, joined the Republican Party and, in 1880, married a Métis woman, Marguerite Monet. There is little information about Marguerite. Born in 1861, she died in 1886. Riel fathered three children, one of whom died as an infant.

North-West Rebellion (1885): The second ‘treason’

In June 1884, Riel was asked, by Saskatchewan Métis Gabriel Dumont, to help Métis whose rights were being violated. Dumont had been defeated and wounded at the battle of Duck Lake, on 26 March 1885. Riel went to Saskatchewan believing that it was his divine mission to do so. He took over a Church in Batoche, Saskatchewan, and gathered a small army. However, on 6 July 1885, he was officially arrested and accused of ‘treason.’

He was tried and his lawyer asked that he be examined by three doctors one of whom came to the conclusion that Riel was no longer responsible for his actions. This divided determination was not made public and Riel was condemned to death. Riel himself did not wish to use insanity as his defence.

Appeals failed so Louis Riel was hanged in Regina on 16 November 1885. His body was sent by train to Saint-Vital and he was buried in the cemetery of the Cathedral at Saint-Boniface.

To this day, opinion remains divided as to Riel’s guilt. Riel, who was hanged for “treason,” is nevertheless a Father of Confederation.


Yet, Louis Riel had been elected into office three times. He is still considered by many as the father of Manitoba. Riel had brought Manitoba into Canadian Confederation as a bilingual province where Métis were allotted the land they needed.

Yes, the Red River Rebellion was ‘treason,’ but clemency had been requested by the judge and there were mitigating circumstances: Riel’s mental health is one of these contingencies. However, the execution of Thomas Scott had long generated enormous resentment on the part of Ontario Orangemen or Orangists. As a result, amnesty did not weigh in Riel’s favour.

As for the North-West Rebellion of 1885, it was considered ‘treason.’ Riel was found guilty and condemned to death, but the judge asked for clemency. However, Orangists remembered the execution of Thomas Scott and, despite appeals, Riel was hanged ostensibly for ‘treason,’ but also, in all likelihood, for the “murder” of Thomas Scott.

These videos tell the story:

 Buffalo Hunt, P. Rindisbacher 


Photo credit: Wikipedia, all images
Artist: Swiss-born Peter Rindisbacher

Sources other than Wikipedia:


© Micheline Walker
12 May 2012