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William McDougall,
June 1872 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada, PA-033505). (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

This post is a continuation of Louis Riel, Hero or Rebel, published on 18 March 2018. The main subject matter of my earlier post was the Red River Rebellion, and résistance remains our subject matter. However, we will be focussing on William McDougall. William McDougall was the lieutenant-governor designate of Rupert’s and the North-West Territories. He and his party were prevented from entering the Red River by Métis, led by Louis Riel.

I will also introduce Gabriel Dumont, a Métis who left the Red River in 1869-1870 and settled in Saskatchewan. Dumont spoke six first nation languages and Michif-French, but did not speak English and could not write. (See Gabriel Dumont, The Virtual Museum.ca.) He went to Montana where Louis Riel taught school and asked for his assistance in petitioning the Canadian government to ensure that Métis did not lose their river lots and Amerindians, their land. In 1873, three years after the Wolseley Expedition, an emboldened Dominion of Canada had established the North-West Mounted Police and a railroad that would ensure Canada stretched from sea to sea, a Mari usque ad Mare, was under construction. The railway was a promise to British Columbia.

To some extent, we are revisiting the Red River Rebellion because there are gaps to fill. First, Riel’s story begins in the Red River Rebellion and ends in the North-West Rebellion. Métis leader Gabriel Dumont was born in the Red River settlement and he is the person who asked Louis Riel to come to Saskatchewan to help him appeal to John A Macdonald’s deafened Canadian government. Louis Riel would be hanged a few months after the Battle of Batoche which was not only the end of Riel’s story but also that of the North-West Rebellion.

Moreover, Riel had dreamed of a bilingual and multicultural Canada West, which was could not happen. Canada West would be, in its initial years, William McDougall’s Canada: English and Protestant. French Canadians were prevented from settling west of Quebec, as if there had not been a Quebec Act of 1774. As for Amerindians, they were sent to “Indian Reserves” and their children were educated in Residential Schools, despite the Royal Proclamation of 1763. (See A History of Residential Schools, CBC.ca.)

The  Canadian Party

In the Red River, William McDougall, a Clear Grit, met members of the Canadian Party, two of whom were Doctor John Christian Schultz and Charles Mair. The Canadian Party supported Canada’s expansion westward, a noble cause, were it not for William McDougall who was anti-Catholic and anti-French. His world was white, English and Protestant. It was Thomas Scott’s world, who was and sentenced to death by a Métis court and then turned into a martyr in a 19th-century Orangist Ontario.

The growing threat, in his view, was ultramontane interference from Lower Canada in the civil affairs of the united province, a fear that would increasingly distort his political perception.

(See William McDougall, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

In April 1861, for example, McDougall indicated in a fit of pique that he would ‘look to Washington’ to rescue Canada West from ‘the control of a foreign race, and of a religion which is not the religion of the Empire.’

(See William McDougall, The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Therefore, one wonders why he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Rupert’s Land and the North West territories.

No poorer choice for the post could have been made, in view of the necessity for diplomatic caution in dealing with the officials of the HBC and with the lay and clerical spokesmen of the various groups at Red River. The transfer was to take place on 1 Dec. 1869.

(See Louis Riel, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)


Howling Hay by William Kurelek (Photo credit: Consignor Canadian Fine Arts)


Carolers Heading to Church by William Kurelek, 1975 (Photo credit: Heffel Fine Art Auction House)

Louis Riel

Louis Riel was a Métis, one-eight Amerindian. Métis and Amerindians stood to lose their land, unless the future Manitoba’s entry into Canadian Confederation were carefully negotiated. Riel and his government advocated a bilingual and multicultural expansion westward. Moreover, the citizens of the Red River were Catholics and Anglicans. As for the descendants of Scottish crofters and other Scots, fur traders and their descendants, they were Presbyterians. All had lived at Red River harmoniously. Its Anglican bishop and archbishop was Robert Machray and Alexandre-Antonin Taché, its Catholic bishop and then archbishop. Under the leadership of William McDougall, who was anti-Catholic, Manitoba could have become a state and faith society, other religions not being “the religion of the Empire.”

Interestingly, both bishops and William Mactavish, the governor of Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land, warned against a premature arrival of Canadians at Red River. According to William Mactavish “as soon as the survey commences the Half breeds and Indians will at once come forward and assert their right to the land and possibly stop the work till their claim is satisfied.” Ironically, Mactavish was imprisoned by Riel, yet his wife was a countryborn, a Métis. He died of tuberculosis, in Liverpool, a few weeks after his release. (See Louis Riel, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

(Photo credit:  Heffel.com, left; Heffel.com, right)

In July 1869, William McDougall, then minister of public works, sent a survey party to the Red River under Colonel John Stoughton Dennis. In fact, a team, including Thomas Scott, was already building a road linking Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to Lake of the Woods. It would be called “the Dawson Road,” after Simon James Dawson, a surveyor exploring the country between Lake Superior and the Red River settlement, in 1857. Yet, the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada was to occur on 1st December 1869.

The Red River Rebellion

Under such circumstances, Métis and Amerindians had cause to fear a takeover of Red River. As well, one can understand that its inhabitants felt alarmed when “strangers” attempted to settle in the former Red River Colony. Since the arrival of tens of thousands United Empire Loyalists, including 3,000 Black Loyalists, the English-speaking population of Britain’s still new colony to the north of the United States had increased significantly.

But as noted above, on 2nd November 1869, Métis under Riel, prevented William McDougall, his family, and his entourage from entering the Red River. They were pushed back to Pembina, North Dakota. The Métis then seized Fort Garry and, beginning in December, Louis Riel was forming a Provisional Government. This story was told in Louis Riel, Hero or Rebel (20 March 2018). We also know that the Provisional Government’s “List of Rights” would be deemed acceptable. Louis Riel and his provisional government did succeed in negotiating Manitoba’s entry into Confederation

On 15 March 1870, Taché read a telegram in which Joseph Howe, the secretary of state for the provinces, stated that the “List of Rights” was “in the main satisfactory.” Delegates could go to Ottawa. On 23 and 24 March, a three-man delegation left for Ottawa. These were Abbé Ritchot, representing the Métis, Judge Black, representing the English settlers, and Henry Scott, representing the Americans.

However, Schultz and Mair arrived in Toronto before the three-man delegation and described the execution of Thomas Scott as a murder. Thomas Scott, Schultz, and Mair  had plotted to overthrow Riel’s Provisional Government, but a death sentence was too cruel a punishment. Thomas Scott’s execution was turned into a murder and he was depicted as a victim and a hero. Thomas Scott was a violent man, but Riel blundered. Consequently, upon their arrival in Toronto, Noël-Joseph Ritchot and Henry Scott were detained for “abetting murder,” but released because the judge ruled that the warrant was not legal. (See Louis Riel, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

Negotiations were successful. On 12 May 1870, the Manitoba Act received royal assent.

“My mission is finished,” Louis Riel

On 24 August 1870, the day the Wolseley Expedition reached Fort Garry, Louis Riel learned that the soldiers planned to lynch him. So, he left Fort Garry. Before leaving, he told Bishop Taché that his mission was finished. His mission had been a negotiated entry of Manitoba into the Canadian Confederation, but, in 1890, French ceased to be one of the two official languages of Manitoba under Premier Thomas Greenway. Bilingualism would not be revived until the Official Languages Act of 1969 and the Manitoba Act would not be recognized until the Constitution Act of 1982.


The Northwest Rebellion, A Country by Consent (CBC.ca) summarizes the North-West rebellion. Riel surrendered on 15 May, after the Battle of Batoche. He was tried, convicted of treason, and hanged, on 16 November 1885. Montreal journalist Joseph Israel Tarte, editor of Le Canadien, had this to say:

At the moment when the corpse of Riel falls through the trap and twists in convulsions of agony, at that moment an abyss will be dug that will separate Quebec from English-speaking Canada, especially Ontario.


The art works featured in this post are by William Kurelek, a Canadian Ukrainian who was raised in the Canadian prairies.

Love to everyone 


© Micheline Walker
8 May 2018