John Jacob Astor & the Voyageur as Settler and Explorer


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Signing of the Treaty of Ghent. Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier is shaking hands with United States Ambassador to Russia John Quincy Adams; British Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn is carrying a red folder. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Treaty of Ghent, 1814

In my last post, I mentioned Dr Bigsby. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814, put an end to the War of 1812, a war between the British and the Americans.  Under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, an official border had to be drawn between Canada (British) and the Union (American). Our Dr Bigsby was with the Commission whose members drew the border between Canada and the United States. Also engaged in drawing the border was Simon Fraser, an explorer. (See Treaty of 1818, Wikipedia)

Because many voyageurs worked with the Hudson’s Bay Company, it could be that our canotier was among the last persons to realize that Nouvelle-France had become a British colony.

However, the voyageur‘s world changed when the border was traced between Canada and the United States. Moreover, because of the Louisiana Purchase, the central part of the United States was no longer a French colony. Napoléon had sold a third of what constitutes the present-day United States.


The Purchase was one of several territorial additions to the U.S. (See Louisiana Purchase, Wikipedia)

Louisiana: the green area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Consequences

Following the The Louisiana purchase, 1803 and the Treaty of Ghent, 1814, Grand-Portage ceased to be part of a territory that had been considered French or English territory. Settlers would soon begin arriving in both Manitoba, a British possession, and in Minnesota. As for our voyageur, he had to use other trading-posts and was still in the employ of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The American Fur Trade Company, 1808

At this point, the United States entered the fur-trade business. On 6 April 1808, John Jacob Astor (17 July 1763 – 29 March 1848), German (Waldesians)- born Johann Jakob Astor, established the American Fur Company and also established the Pacific Fur CompanyRamsay Crooks, John Jacob’s employee and his successor, hired American canoemen, but his employer would never have become the richest man in the world had  Congress not allowed him to hire Canadiens.

The Americans recruited by Ramsay Crooks did not prove equal to the task. They could not work in unison. They carried guns, quarreled among themselves, and killed North-American Indians. So Ramsay Crooks decided that an exception had to be made to the Embargo Act of 1807.

Ramsay Crooks therefore wrote to Astor:

“It will still be good policy to admit freely & without the last restraint the Canadian Boatmen. these people are indispensable to the succesful prosecution of the trade, their places cannot be supplied by Americans, who are for the most part are [sic] are too independent to submit quiety to a proper controul, and who can gain any where a subsistence much superior to a man of the interior and although the body of the Yankee can resist as much hardshiip as any man, tis only in the Canadian we find that temper of mind, to render him patient docile and persevering. in short they are a people harmless in themselves whose habit of submission fit them peculiarly for our business and if guided as it is my wish they should be, will never give just cause of alarm to the Government of the Union it is of course your object to exclude foreigner except those for whom you obtaine licences.” [i]

As a result, during Thomas Jefferson‘s presidency, the American Fur Company was allowed to employ Canadian voyageurs, which it did, with considerable success, for twenty years. In fact, John Jacob Astor, whose great-grandson perished in the sinking of the Titanic, had a fine employee in Gabriel Franchère (1786-1863). Franchère and voyageurs sailed to the mouth of the Columbia River. They travelled on the Tonquin, under the command of Jonathan Thorn, an impatient and hard man. The Tonquin left New York on 8 September 1810 and arrived at the Columbia River on 12 April 1811 to establish the first American-owned (if Canadian-staffed) outpost on the Pacific Coast, Fort Astoria (present-day Astoria, Oregon).” [ii] 

You will note that I have used bold letters to write “if Canadian-staffed.” Nute writes that “John Jacob Astor, the prince of American fur-traders and the organizer of the largest American fur company, is said to have remarked that he would rather have one voyageur than three American canoemen.” [iii]

Gabriel Franchère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gabriel Franchère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Note on Gabriel Franchère

When the American Fur Company surrendered to the North West Company, in 1812, Gabriel Franchère found his way back to Montreal where, temporarily, he remained in the employ of John Jacob Astor. Franchère is the author of a book entitled Relation d’un voyage à la côte du Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique septentrionale dans les années 1810, 11, 12, 13, et 14 (Narrative of a trip to the American North West in the Years 1810, 11, 12, 13, and 14). It would seem that the book is the possession of Marianopolis College, in Westmount, Montreal. 

What I would like to point out here is that Franchère did not stay in Montreal. He returned west and died in Minnesota, where Astor’s men settled when they retired from what we could call “active duty.” It shoud also be pointed out that this was a most articulate gentleman who nevertheless worked as a mere clerk not to say voyageurs and had so loved his work that home had become Minnesota. As for voyageurs in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), most of its employees retired in neighbouring Manitoba (Canada).

The Explorers 

Beaver pelts had been very precious because they were used, among other things, to make hats. Remember the high hats. But as John Jacob Astor realized, the beaver had nearly become extinct, which for him meant abandoning the fur trade. As I have noted, a large proportion of his men settled in Minnesota when they could no longer carry two bales, or when steam boats replaced the canoe. They had opened up a very large number of forts and “[t]hey, with their traders, were thus the first white settlers of most of these areas.” [iv]


But what of the intrepid hommes du Nord, the North men, or young voyageurs?  As it happens, “[i]t was they, too, who did the actual exploring of the interior, for the greater explorer, like Alexander Henry, Jonathan Carver, and Alexander Mackenzie [who] relied on their canoemen for knowledge of navigable streams, portages, wintering grounds and other topographical features.” [v] 

A new canoe was used, mentioned in The Voyageur & his Canoe “The Kootenay-Salish canoe was built for the rapid rivers of southern BC [British Columbia], with both ends extending out under the water (art work by Lewis Parker).” [vi]

The Kootenay-Salish Canoe by Lewis Parker (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

In short, we have just learned about a third employer. As well, we saw that most voyageurs remained where they had worked, thereby becoming settlers, and that the more intrepid worked for explorers. I am sure that Simon Fraser had voyageurs in his employ when he chartered British Columbia. The Kootenay-Salish canoe was their canoe.


Canoemen by David Morris


Love to everyone 

[i] Grace Lee Nute, The Voyageurs (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1987[1931]), pp. 203-204.

[ii] Wikipedia, “Pacific Fur Company”           <>

[iii] The Voyageurs, p. 6.

[iv] Nute, op. cit., p. 10.

[v]  Ibid.

[vi] James Marsch, “The Birchbark Canoe,” in the Canadian Encyclopedia <>

Un Canadien errant, 1842, La Bonne Chanson

© Micheline Walker
28 March 2018
[14 January 2012]





Translation by Leonard Cohen

Un Canadien errant (A wandering Canadian, )
Banni de ses foyers, (banned from his hearths, )
Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
Des pays étrangers. (in foreign lands.)
Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
Des pays étrangers. (in foreign lands.)
Un jour, triste et pensif, (One day, sad and pensive, )
Assis au bord des flots, (sitting by the flowing waters, )
Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)
Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)
“Si tu vois mon pays, (If you see my country, )
Mon pays malheureux, (my unhappy country, )
Va dire à mes amis (go tell my friends)
Que je me souviens d’eux. (that I remember them.)
Va dire
Leonard Cohen translates Un Canadian errant

The Voyageur & his Canoe


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“Voyageurs at Dawn” by Frances Anne Hopkins, (1871) (1838–1919)

Grace Lee Nute, a pioneer

Several books have been written about the voyageurs, but Grace Lee Nute is our pioneer. She published her The Voyageur in 1931 (D. Appleton and Company). That book is still one’s best reference.

The Voyageur‘s clothes

At the beginning of her second chapter, Nute quotes missionnary Sherman Hall:

[m]y man dresses himself in the habit of a voyageur, that is, a short shirt, a red woolen cap, a pair of deer skin leggins which reach from the ancles a little above the knees and are held up by a string secured to a belt about the waiste, the aziōn [breech cloth] of the Indians, and a pair of deer skin moccasins without stocking on the feet. The thigh are left bare.  This is the dress of voyageurs in summer and winter.[i]

As Grace Lee Nute writes, there are missing items: “a blue capote, the inevitable pipe, a gaudy sash.” The gaudy sash is “une ceinture fléchée,” a wool belt with an arrow (une flêche) design, made by French Canadians. It resembles the Irish woven belt but is wider and features the arrows.

Nute adds that the voyageur also wore a “gay beeded bag or pouch hung from the sash,” quite similar to the Scottish Highlander’s hair horse sporran. The voyageur stood out in a crowd.

Dr Bigsby, whom we will meet in my next voyageur post,

was disappointed and not a little surprised at the appearance of the voyageurs. On Sundays, as they stand round the door of the village churches, they are proud dress fellows in their parti-coloured sashes and ostrich-feathers; but here they were a motley set to the eye: but the truth was that all of them were picked men, with extra wages as serving in a light canoe [ii]

“Quetico Superior Route, passing a Waterfall by Frances Ann Hopkins (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

A Hierarchy among Voyageurs

There was a hierarchy among voyageurs. We had:

  • hivernants (winterers): they stayed during the winter, trading and manning the “fort;”
  • hommes du Nord (northern men): outstanding voyageurs who travelled further inland and opened up Forts from Athabasca to Fort Vancouver, established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821. Sometimes these voyageurs accompanied explorers such as Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (17 November  1685 – 5 December 1749) and his four sons and Simon Fraser (20 May 1776 – 18 August 1862), an employee of the North West Company until its merger with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821.
  • mangeurs de lard (pork-eaters), who went back and forth between Montreal and trading posts such as Grand-Portage.

The Canoes

One voyageur song is entitled “Épouser le voyage,” or to marry the voyage. The voyageur saw his work as a profession. As for the canoe, it was his home. Voyageurs travelled in their canoe and the canoe was the voyageur’s roof for the night. He slept underneath his upside-down canoe.

Origins of the Canoe

A voyageur learned how to make a canoe from what he could find in the wood. The birchbark canoe was of course borrowed from the Amerindians, but it was pointed out to me that there is a resemblance between the Longships used by Vikings and the York boat. However, the York boat was a boat, not a canoe. Yet the canoe resembled the Longships, except that it was relatively small. Europeans have long fished off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. There is a pre-history to history (recorded history) just as there is an oral tradition preceding the written tradition.

In Newfoundland, there is a town named Port aux Basques, which would indicate that Basques fishermen probably fished nearby or used the channel located close to Port aux Basques. The Trans-Canada highway ends, or begins, at Port aux Basques.

Voyageurs used birchbark canoes:

Making a Birch Bark Canoe (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

“In building a canoe, bark is stripped from the birch, placed inside a staked frame, sewn and attached. Ribs are fixed in position and seams sealed with spruce gum (artwork by Lewis Parker).” [iii]


There were several types of canoes used by voyageurs, but the first two were the most important.

  • “The famous canot du maître or canot de Montréal, on which the fur trade depended, was up to 12 m long and carried 6 to 12 crew and a load of 2300 kg over the route from Montréal to Lake Superior.” [iv]
  • “The smaller canot du nord  or North canoe carried a crew of 5 or 6 and a cargo of 1360 kg over the smaller lakes, rivers and streams of the Northwest.” [v]
  • The canot bâtard or bastard canoe was a mid-size canoe.

However, voyageurs also used Amerindian canoes.

  • “The birchbark canoe of the Algonkian peoples was ideal for travel by rivers and lakes separated by narrow watersheds or portages (artwork by Lewis Parker).” [vi]
  • “The Kootenay-Salish canoe was built for the rapid rivers of southern BC, with both ends extending out under the water (artwork by Lewis Parker).” [vii]

The Algonkian Canoe, Lewis Parker (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The York Boat was named after the Hudson’s Bay Co’s York Factory. “It was one of 3 types of inland boats (the others being scows and sturgeon-heads) used by the HBC, and the most suitable for lake travel.” [viii]


York Boats on Lake Winnipeg by W. J. Phillips (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia [courtesy Glenbow/4615])

Love to everyone

[i] Grace Lee Nute, The Voyageurs (St Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1987 [1931]), p. 13.

[ii] Op. cit., p. 15.

[iii] “Birchbark Canoes,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. <>

[iv] loc. cit.

[v] loc. cit.

[vii] loc. cit.

[viii] “York Boat,” The Canadian Encyclopedia <>


The Tonquin, 1811

The Tonquin, 1811

© Micheline Walker
14 January 2012

The Voyageurs & their Employers


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Hudson’s Bay Company Ships
Prince of Wales and Eddystone bartering with the Inuit off the Upper Savage Islands, Hudson Strait, NWT. Watercolour by Robert Hood (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-40364) (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The Hudson’s Bay Company ships Prince of Wales and Eddystone bartering with the Inuit off the Upper Savage Islands, Hudson Strait by Robert Hood (1819) (Hudson Strait, Wikipedia)

The French Régime

During the French régime, the voyageurs or canoemen who travelled to the heart of the continent to collect beaver pelts were hired by a “bourgeois” who used the selection criteria I listed in my last post:

  • short legs,
  • a powerful upper body, and
  • a good singing voice.

The Hudson’s Bay Company

Matters changed when Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636–1710) and his brother-in-law, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers (1618–1696), discovered the sea we now know as the Hudson’s Bay. They collected enough beaver pelts to fill a hundred canoes. Having done so, they travelled to Canada which, at that point in history, was the western part of Nouvelle-France. The eastern part was l’Acadie, comprising Maine, part of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Radisson and Groseilliers thought that officials in Canada would be interested in their discovery: one could harvest the coveted pelts travelling by boat, large boats. Officials confiscated the fur Radisson and Des Groseilliers had brought back. It was proof of their discovery. They were treated like coureurs des bois, mere adventurers, not to say criminals.

Rupert of the Rhine

Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Radisson being very shrewd, he and Des Groseilliers went to Boston to seek the help  they required to travel to England. The Bostonians agreed to take them to England where a member of the royal family, Prince Rupert of the Rhine (17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682), took an interest in the findings of the two explorers. He financed a trip to the Hudson’s Bay. The first ships to venture to what would be Rupert’s Land were the Eaglet and the Nonsuch that left England on June 3, 1668. The Company was chartered on 2 May 1670. That is how the Hudson’s Bay Company was established.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC)

is the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world.[I]

Rupert's Land showing York Factory

Rupert’s Land showing York Factory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British Régime

Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed on February 10, 1763 by France, Britain and Spain, France relinquished its claim on its two provinces of New France. The Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War, an international conflict.

The North West Company

After New France became a British Colony, a second Fur Company was founded, the North West Company, and it established its headquarters in Montreal. The most prominent figures in the newly-founded company were Benjamin Frobisher, his brother Joseph, and Simon McTavish.

The Fight at Seven Oaks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(please click on the picture to enlarge it)

The North West Company competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1779 to 1821, when a merger was negotiated. The conflict between the two companies reached an apex on 19 June 1816 when Robert Semple, Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land challenged a party of Métis at Seven Oaks. The Métis were allies of the North West Company. Semple and 20 of his men were killed.

The Merger

This event served as a catalyst in the merger of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. After the merger, the man in charge, was the immensely capable and pleasant Sir George Simpson (1787 – September 7,  1860), a Scots-Quebecer. Sir George Simpson was Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land and administrator over the Northwest Territories and in British North America (now Canada) from 1821 to 1860. He was knighted by Queen Victoria.

To sum up, let us simply say that we had voyageurs working for

  • a “bourgeois,”
  • The Hudson’s Bay Company (1670 – ),
  • The North West Company, revived in 1990, but not a fur-trading company,
  • a merger (1821-1860; end of the fur trade).

However, by 1821, only one company remained: the Hudson’s Bay Company.

York boats were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to transport furs in the Northwest. The sails could be used in open water. (Canadian Encyclopedia)


[i] written by ARTHUR J. RAY, reviewed by SASHA YUSUFALI , accessed on January 12, 2012.  <>

[ii] written by CORNELIUS J. JAENEN, accessed on January 12, 2012.  <>


Arne Dørumsgaard, arr.
Frederica von Stade (1945- ) sings early French songs (3), (Edinburgh, 1976)

© Micheline Walker
13 January 2012

The Voyageurs, continued


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Signing of the Treaty of Ghent. The leading British delegate Baron Gambier is shaking hands with the American leader John Quincy Adams. The British Undersecretary of State for War and the Colonies, Henry Goulburn, is carrying a red folder. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Past Articles

My post entitled Louis Riel, hero or rebel (20 March 2018) was very long, too long. I  will mention the settlement of the Red River Colony by the Earl of Selkirk, but the details will constitute a separate post.

I had researched material concerning the voyageurs in a series of six posts published in 2012. I had also written posts mentioning the Treaty of Ghent, In 1814, a border between the future Canada and the United States was drawn. The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812. As for the Pemmican War, they opposed voyageurs from the Hudson’s Bay Company (established in 1670) and voyageurs North West Company, established in 1789, with headquarters in Montreal. Two voyageurs posts feature Gabriel Franchère and the men he took from New York to Fort Astoria, located in present-day Oregon. Franchère was in the employ of John Jacob Astor‘s Pacific Fur Company and the earlier American Fur Company, incorporated in 1808. John Jacob was allowed to hire Canadiens voyageurs despite the Embargo Act of 1807.  Moreover, following the Treaty of Ghent, fur trading posts that had been British became American fur trading posts. Gabriel Franchère, a clerk and trusted employee of John Jacob Astor’s lived in Minnesota.

Future Articles

  • the “School Questions”
  • the Exodus

However, earlier posts do not refer to certain events that followed Louis Riel’s death. For instance, the population of Canada West had been Catholic and Anglican. Matters changed as Canada moved westward. The purchase of Rupert’s Land gave Canada the territory it needed and the Orange Order opposed the arrival of French Canadians in Ontario. At this point, we have the “School Questions:” the Ontario Schools Questions; the Manitoba Schools Question, and the New Brunswick Schools Question. I wonder if, and to what extent, French-Canadian habitants tried to move to Ontario and provinces west of Ontario.

Nearly a million French-speaking Canadians moved to the United States, including my paternal grandfather and other relatives, when the thirty acres granted habitants by La Compagnie des Cent-Associés (see The Canadian Encyclopedia) could no longer be divided and French-speaking Canadians had yet to acquire skills one needed in the business world.

Nearly a million French Canadians moved to the United States. That episode of Canada’s history is called the exodus. Protestants in New France had also fled to the Thirteen Colonies after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. New France was a province of France.


Sources and Resources

The Minnesota Heritage Song Book (lyrics and translation)


Reign of Louis XIV of France. French Huguenots arriving in Dover (England) after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1685. Coloured engraving.
January 01, 1900 (Photo credit: Getty Images)


Thirteen Colonies (dark pink). Louisiana is situated on the left side. It belonged to Spain in 1775, but was mostly a French colony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M’en revenant de la jolie Rochelle


La Bonne Chanson (l’abbé Gadbois)

Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior by Frances Anne Hopkins, 1869 (Photo credit Wikipedia)  

© Micheline Walker
22 March 2018



The Voyageurs: hommes engagés


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Shooting the Rapid, 1879, Frances Ann Hopkins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shooting the Rapids by Frances Ann Hopkins, 1879 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Voyageurs

The voyageurs were the French-speaking Canadian boatmen or canoemen, who travelled in birch-bark canoes from Ottawa or Lachine, to fur-trading posts in what is now Manitoba and Minnesota, Grand-Portage being the main trading post.

  • First, they had to short-legged. Being short-legged was important because they had to transport as much fur as possible relatively small canoes and much of the fur was stored under each canoeman’s seat in the canoe. There was very little room for their legs.
  • Second, a strong upper body was an essential characteristic. They sometimes had to go from one waterway to another waterway and when they did, they carried fur (usually beaver pelts) and personal supplies on their back, bundles called bales, they carried on their backs, weighed more than 40 kilos (about 90 pounds), perhaps a conservative figure. And they also had to carry their canoe.  These parts of their trips were called a portage (from the French porter: to carry).
  • Third, they had to be good singers.

The Singing Voyageurs

Travellers to North-America, fur traders, employees and governors of fur-trading companies, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, historians, and others often reported that the Canadien voyageur, sang as he paddled canoes filled with precious pelts.

Les Trois Cavaliers fort bien montés (The Three Well-Mounted Horsemen), a folksong, inspired Irish poet Thomas Moore to give it new words in 1804. It became the famous Canadian Boat Song.

In Kitchi-Gami [i], J. G. Kohl writes that “They [the voyageurs] were chosen men! The best singers in the world:”

C’était des hommes choisis ! Les plus beaux chanteurs du monde!

Le Portage

Portages were so difficult that the men often chose to “shoot the rapids.” At such times, I doubt that they sang. “Shooting the rapids” was dangerous and many men died.  Alongside the rivers the voyageurs used to go from Lachine (Montreal), or Ottawa, the usual points of departure, to what is now Manitoba and Minnesota, there are little white crosses. The voyageurs left small white crosses where boatmen had die.

The Contract: voyageurs and coureurs de/des bois

We have to distinguish between the voyageurs who had a licence to work in the fur trade and those who roamed the forests without the proper permit, called coureurs de/des bois. As for the voyageur, he was a hired man: an engagéBut the coureurs des bois were adventurers. They roamed the woods without a permit and if they got caught fur-trading, they faced sanctions and the beaver pelts they had not sold were confiscated.

These men usually signed a three-year contract which meant that they often left behind, a wife and children to whom the earnings of the voyageur were usually sent.  However, many men lived with Amerindian women or married Amerindian women. Their children were Métis.

However, some voyageur wanted to marry a French-Canadian woman and simply waited. Canada’s Louis Riels grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, went to Quebec to marry Marie-Anne Gaboury, the first white woman to settle in Western Canada. Their daughter Julie married a Métis named Louis Riel and they had a son they named Louis Riel. Several Métis remained in Manitoba, but the Battle of Batoche took place in Saskatchewewan. Many retired in Minnesota, USA. Those who did had usually been employed by the American Fur Trade company, founded by John Jacob Astor in 1808.


I will continue to tell the story of the voyageurs, but let this be the background. We have actually gone a long way.  For the time being, I will continue to reflect on the fact that these men sang despite the dangers they faced and their isolation from their home.


© Micheline Walker
12 January 2012

[i] G. Kohl, Kitchi-Gami. Wanderings Round Lake Superior (London: Chapman and Hall, 1860).  Available in paperback, with an introduction by Robert E. Bieder, under the title Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1985 [1860]).

The Beaver

The Beaver

Louis Riel, Hero or Rebel


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Buffalo at Sunset

Buffalo at Sunset by Paul Kane, c. 1851 – 1856 (National Gallery of Canada)


“I have done three good things since I have commenced: I have spared Boulton‘s life at your instance, I pardoned Gaddy, and now I shall shoot Scott.”
(Louis Riel, Wikipedia)


Riel, Louis and the First Provisional government, 1869 (courtesy Glenbow Archives/NA-1039-1) (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

132c7732-6818-4002-b060-1a78ecef2729 (1)

March 4, 1870. Protestant Orangeman Thomas Scott is executed on orders from Louis Riel (from the Illustrated Canadian News, April 23, 1870/Glenbow Collection) (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia) 


Executing Thomas Scott is in fact the worst thing Riel ever did. “Some historians say this was one of Riel’s most fatal errors.” (See Execution of Thomas Scott, A Country by Consent.) It was.

Irish-born Thomas Scott, an Orangeman from present-day Ontario, was captured when he and his party tried to break into Fort Garry, the former Red River Colony and future Winnipeg. He could have been freed on the condition that he leave the valley, but he wouldn’t leave the valley. He was a member of the Orange Order, named after Dutch-born Protestant king William of Orange, anti-Catholics Protestants who looked upon French Canadians as “morally inferior:”

Its [the Orange Order’s] members generally viewed Roman Catholics and French Canadians as politically disloyal or culturally inferior. Some Orange members argued that their association was the only one capable of resisting Catholics who, they believed, were subservient to the Pope’s spiritual and political authority and who were therefore disreputable crown subjects.

(See Orange Order, The Canadian Encyclopedia)

As an Orangeman and very anti-Catholic, Thomas Scott repeatedly taunted his captors and threatened to kill Riel.” (See Execution of Thomas Scott, A Country by Consent.)  Moreover, Orangemen had a “penchant for violence and secrecy.”

Colonial administrators in Upper CanadaCanada West were at times thankful for their loyalty and service, and other times disparaged their penchant for violence and secrecy.

(See The Orange Order in CanadaThe Canadian Encyclopedia.)

Canada buys Rupert’s Land

One can understand that after Canadian Confederation, Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, and his government might wish to expand westward. In 1867, the United States had bought Alaska from Russia. Moreover, the United States had developed an ideology, Manifest Destiny (c. 1850), which suggested that Americans “were destined to expand across North America the special virtues of the American people and their institutions, etc.” (See Manifest Destiny, Wikipedia.)

Therefore, John A. Macdonald and his government purchased Rupert’s Land, a vast territory, named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who supplied Pierre-Esprit Radisson with a ship, the Nonsuch, that took him near the center of the continent. For men employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, chartered in 1670, portages were minimized. The HBC’s trading post was York Factory, built in 1684.  However, in 1774, the Hudson’s Bay Company built Cumberland House, on the Saskatchewan River, its first western inland post. “Brigades” of canoes would go down waterways to acquire beaver pelts used to make top hats or chapeaux haut-de-forme. At this point, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North-West Company became fierce competitors until the merger of the two companies in 1821.

This [Rupert’s Land] amounted to an enormous territory in the heart of the continent: what is today northern Québec and Labrador, northern and western  Ontario, all of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, south and central Alberta, parts of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and small sections of the United States.

(See Rupert’s Land, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)


Rupert’s Land (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Winter Fishing on the Ice by Peter Ridinsbacher, 1821 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Red River Colony

However, although one can understand Prime Minister John A. Macdonald‘s wish to expand the new Canadian Confederation westward, but he did so without consulting the inhabitants of the Red River Colony, depicted above in Peter Rindisbacher‘s art, many of whom were Métis. The Earl of Selkirk had settled the Red River Colony in the early decades of the 19th century. So, the Colony’s citizens were alarmed because of the influx of immigrants that followed Confederation. New Canadians were moving West in a manner that did not reflect the way the Earl of Selkirk’s had settled the community. (See The Red River Settlement, Canada’s First Peoples and Lord Selkirk’s Grant, It was located at the juncture of the Red River and the Assiniboine, in modern-day Winnipeg.

When he returned from studying in Montreal, Louis Riel, the grandson of Jean-Baptiste Lagimonière, or Lagimodière, and Marie-Anne Gaboury, noticed that life was changing in the Red River Colony and that it was not changing to the benefit of the Métis, who numbered 10,000. For instance, “[t]he Métis did not possess title to their land, which was, in any case, laid out according to the seigneurial system rather than in English-style square lots.” (See Louis Riel, Wikipedia.) French seigneuries were narrow strips of land on the shores of the St. Lawrence. Given that they were narrow, several seigneuries could be built on each side of the St. Lawrence River. Such a configuration facilitated transportation.

In short, entry of the Red River Colony into Confederation seemed a takeover.

The Red River Rebellion

A timeline of events

On 20 August 1869, a survey party arrived. On 11 October, the survey’s work was interrupted so, on 16 October, a “Métis National Committee” was formed at which point Louis Riel was summoned by the HBC-controlled Council of Assiniboia and “declared that any attempt by Canada to assume authority would be contested unless Ottawa had first negotiated terms with the Métis.” (See Louis Riel, Wikipedia.) On 2 November, unilingual William McDougall, who had just been appointed Lieutenant Governor of  Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory, attempted to enter the settlement. McDougall had participated in the purchase of Rupert’s Land. He and George-Étienne Cartier had gone to London seeking funds to purchase Rupert’s Land. Métis “led by Riel seized Fort Garry [present-day Winnipeg].” (See Louis Riel, Wikipedia.) The Métis formed a Provisional Government, the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, on 6 December and on 27 December 1869, Louis Riel became its President. On 4 March 1870, 28 year-old Irish- born Thomas Scott was executed by firing squad, but he may have been left to die of his wounds. (See Louis Riel, Library and Archives Canada.)

The execution of Thomas Scott: a mistake

The execution of Irish-born Ontario Orangeman Thomas Scott, on 4 March 1870, is central to an account of the Red River Rebellion and to the fate of French-speaking Canadians in western Canada. Thomas Scott was violent. “He took part in a strike in 1869, for which he was fired and convicted of aggravated assault.” Therefore, he may have attempted to kill Louis Riel. Moreover, “Scott backed the annexation of the Red River Settlement to Canada, and the rest of his life revolved around this conflict. Scott had persecuted many metis, or “Half Breeds” in Winnipeg, and his first town, Ottawa, with a mysterious man named Gnez Noel.” Members of the Orange Order “generally viewed Roman Catholics and French Canadians as politically disloyal or culturally inferior.” (See Orange OrderThe Canadian Encyclopedia.)

In fact, colonial administrators were of two minds with respect to members of the Orange Order.

Colonial administrators in Upper CanadaCanada West were at times thankful for their loyalty and service, and other times disparaged their penchant for violence and secrecy.

(See Orange Order in CanadaThe Canadian Encyclopedia)

In short, Thomas Scott was not a model citizen. On the contrary. Yet, would that, however “violent and boisterous” he was, 28-year-old Thomas Scott had been spared a death sentence, if only out of compassion.  I should think a pardon would  have prevented Riel’s own demise and, perhaps, allowed French Canadians to settle west. Thomas Scott was a very young man whom almost everyone would have forgotten, but who would, henceforth, be considered a martyr taken into captivity at Fort Garry, and murdered by a so-called government of ‘Half Breeds.’

Besides, was the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia a government? In their own eyes, they were. Yet, if French Canadians were “morally inferior,” one would surmise that French Métis, a blend of French Canadians and Aboriginals, at first, were morally inferior to French Canadians. I doubt that the Métis Provisional Government, or the  Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, could be taken seriously and I believe it could not anticipate the impact of the execution of Thomas Scott (The Canadian Encyclopedia). I suspect that for many Canadians, Métis could not form a government.

In fact, it would be my opinion that Riel was very angry, which is the reason he would be committed to an asylum in the mid-seventies. After the Red River Rebellion of 1870, he was elected to Parliament three times, but he was never allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons. It has been suggested that Riel suffered from megalomania, which could be the case, but, first and foremost, he was very angry and had reason to be.

His [Riel’s] mental state deteriorated, and following a violent outburst he was taken to Montreal, where he was under the care of his uncle, John Lee, for a few months. But after Riel disrupted a religious service, Lee arranged to have him committed in an asylum in Longue Pointe on 6 March 1876 under the assumed name “Louis R. David[.]” Fearing discovery, his doctors soon transferred him to the Beauport Asylum near Quebec City under the name “Louis Larochelle.”

(See Louis Riel, Wikipedia.)


The inhabitants of the Red River Colony, the Métis and Aboriginals especially, had a right to their land. It had belonged to the Hudson’s Company Bay since 1670, but colonial powers usurped the land they occupied. As for the Red River Colony, it had also been settled. The Earl of Selkirk‘s family had bought sufficient shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company to acquire the land he settled, but that land have been claimed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, not purchased.

However, the notion that land in North America had been claimed, not bought, was probably lost on John A. Macdonald and his fledgling government. It had been lost on all colonial powers and colonists. By modern standards, it seems legitimate on the part of the European citizens of the Red River to determine their relationship with Canada.

The Red River Colony occupied land that had been bought by Lord Selkirk.  One could say that it was not Rupert’s Land. One could argue that William McDougall and his surveyors were trespassing on land bought by the Earl of Selkirk, that now belonged to the citizens of the Red River Colony, the future Winnipeg, which means that the inhabitants of the Red River Colony had rights. Although Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché and Hudson’s Bay Company governor William MacTavish, advised caution on the part of John A. Macdonald’s government, the Canadian minister of public works,  William McDougall, ordered a survey of the area, he and his men arrived on 20 August 1869. (See Louis Riel, Wikipedia.)

(See Alexandre Antonin Taché.)

As for John A. Macdonald, at this stage, he was still inexperienced. He therefore  purchased Rupert’s Land, part of which belonged to the Red River Colony (Upper Fort Garry) was located, without consulting its inhabitants, which led to the Red River Rebellion. Following the Red River Rebellion, there was little room in Western Canada for Catholics, French Canadians, and Métis. A committee of three travelled to Ottawa:

Riel’s Provisional Government sent Father Noël-Joseph Ritchot a close adviser of Riel’s, Alfred Scott, a Winnipeg bartender, and Judge John Black, to Ottawa to negotiate with the Canadian government.

(See The Birth of Manitoba, Manitobia.)

The news of Scott’s execution arrived ahead of them. John Schultz and Charles Mair, who had both been imprisoned by the Provisional Government for a period of time, were now in Ontario and determined to turn public opinion against Riel.

(See The Birth of Manitoba, Manitobia.)

canada_change_1870-07-15 (1)

The Manitoba Act 1870

Yet the Red River Rebellion did lead to the Manitoba Act of 1870 (la Loi sur le Manitoba), a negotiated entry into the Canadian Confederation.

The Manitoba Act reads as follows. It is

[a]n act of the Parliament of Canada that is defined by the Constitution Act, 1982 as forming a part of the Constitution of Canada. The act, which received the royal assent on May 12, 1870, created the province of Manitoba and continued in force An Act for the Temporary Government of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territories when united with Canada upon the absorption of the British territories of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory into Canada on July 15, 1870.

(See Manitoba Act of 1870, Wikipedia.)

The Wolseley Expedition

However, no sooner was the Manitoba Act of 1870 signed than John A. Macdonald, fearing the United States would annex Manitoba, dispatched the Wolseley Expedition (or Red River Expedition) to “restore order.” The Expedition left Toronto in May 1870 reaching Fort Garry, or the Red River in late August 1870.

After a journey lasting three months of arduous conditions, the Expedition arrived at, and captured, Fort Garry, extinguished Riel’s Provisional Government and eradicated the threat of the U.S. being able to easily wrest western Canada from Confederation.

(See Wolseley Expedition, Wikipedia.)

Riel flees (1870)

Riel fled the Red River upon the conclusion of the Wolseley Expedition (Wikipedia). During the 1879s, he was elected into office three times, but was never allowed to sit in the House of Commons. After his illness, a nervous breakdown, he went to the United States, worked as a teacher and married, Marguerite Monet, à la façon du pays, and fathered two children. He returned to Canada in 1885, summoned by Gabriel Dumont, he was taken prisoner when Métis were defeated at the Battle of Batoche, Saskatchewan, (in May 1885).


How does one conclude?

Louis Riel attempted to protect land the white man, Europeans, had taken from North-American Indians, Amérindiens. However, Riel made the mistake of condemning Thomas Scott to death, giving a martyr to the Orange Order and pursuing Riel for fifteen years and executing him? The Métis were not recognized as an aboriginal people until the Patriation of the Constitution (The Canadian Encyclopedia), in 1982.

As for the Métis List of Rights (A Country by Consent), recognized in the Manitoba Act of 1870, they were short-lived rights. In 1890, Manitoba passed An Act to Provide that the English Language shall be the Official Language of the Province of Manitoba (See Manitoba Act, The Canadian Encyclopedia). In March 1890, the government of Manitoba “passed two bills amending the province’s laws on education: An Act respecting the Department of Education and An Act respecting Public Schools.” These bills abolished the province’s dual school system: Catholic and Protestant. French-speaking children attended English language schools.

Orangemen disparaged the Jesuits’ Estates Act of 1888 and resented the influx of French Canadian Catholics into Eastern Ontario at the turn of the 20th century. Finally, in the debates surrounding the Manitoba Schools Question and the Ontario Schools Question, Orangemen vigorously agitated against Catholic education because of its ties to the French language.

(See Orange Order, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)

Moreover, “[t]he Order [Protestants] was the chief social institution in Upper Canada.” (See Orange Order in Canada, Wikipedia.)

As for Riel, he was neither a hero or a rebel, but a victim, a victim of colonialism. Amerindians were nomadic, which they could not be after the purchase of Rupert’s Land. Colonial powers gave themselves rights they did not have. Riel was executed for High Treason, after the Battle of Batoche, following the North-West Rebellion (1885).


Red River Expedition at Kakabeka Falls by Frances Anne Hopkins, 1877 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sources and Resources


  1. French Canadians as a Founding Nation (19 January 2018)
  2. Louis Riel, as a Father of Confederation (2012 & 2018)
  3. Voyageurs Posts (a page)

Sources and Resources

À la claire fontaine 


© Micheline Walker
20 March 2018

Louis Riel, as Father of Confederation


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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  prepare for the priesthood. Louis Riel dropped out before graduation and studied law under Rodolphe Laflamme.

He 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 organizes a “national committee” to put an end to the surveyors’ work.
  • On 2 Nov. 1869, Riel and his men capture Fort Garry unopposed.
  • However, John Christian Schultz and John Stoughton Dennis start to prepare for an armed conflict.
  • The Federal Government recalls McDougall and orders are given to end the work of the surveyors.
  • Riel has John Christian Schultz and John Stoughton Dennis imprisoned in Fort Garry and
  • Riel and his Métis establish 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 good will mission arrives from the Federal Government. One member of this group is Donald A. Smith, the chief representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Frightened by Thomas Scott and Charles Boulton, Métis have them imprisoned and court-martialed. They are condemned to death by Ambroise Lépine.

  • Charles Boulton is pardoned, but
  • Thomas Scotta Orangeman, is 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, returns from Rome carrying and amnesty proclamation for all acts previously performed. At this point, Riel and his men reach an agreement and the Manitoba Law is passed on 12 May 1870.  The Federal Government gives land to the Métis and makes both French and English the official languages of the new Province of Manitoba.

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

Louis Riel

  • is elected into office in 1873;
  • He is 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 is 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 is commuted. Lépine spends two years in jail and loses all his rights.  However, Lépine and Riel are amnestied, in February 1875. Louis Riel’s amnesty is “conditional to five years of banishment from ‘Her Majesty’s Dominions.’”

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

Riel was released from 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’

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

He is tried and his lawyer asks that he be examined by three doctors one of whom comes to the conclusion that Riel is 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 fail so Louis Riel is hanged in Regina on 16 November 1885 and the body is then sent by train to Saint-Vital and he is 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. Moreover, Riel had brought Manitoba into Canadian Confederation as a bilingual province and with Métis being 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, being amnestied did not weigh in Riel’s favour.

As for the North-West Rebellion of 1885, it was ‘treason.’  Riel was found guilty and condemned to death, but the judge had 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

Carpe diem: Love Songs


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Still life with basket of flowers by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer, Flanders, 1690s (Courtery: Art Gallery of South Australia)

This has been a difficult year. I celebrated Valentine’s Day discreetly and failed to write a post on the subject of love. However, if one clicks on Posts on Love Celebrated, a page, not a post, one will find discussion on this subject.

At any rate, I am wishing you, belatedly, a Happy Valentine’s Day.

In Gilles Durant’s poem, the first song, a lover invites his Lady to enjoy the pleasures of love, as life is much too brief. Carpe diem.

Ma Belle, si ton âme… Gilles Durant de la Bergerie & and other love songs


©Micheline Walker
21 February 2018



SOGI as anti-bullying legislation


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Shah Abbas I of Persia with a boy by Muhammad Qasim, 1627. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)

  • sex as “dirty”
  • diversity
  • sex as learned behaviour
  • celebrations of one form of sexuality

A controversy has arisen in British Columbia, Canada. A programme called SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) is now part of the curriculum and its purpose is to promote an acceptance of a sexual orientation that differs from heterosexuality, and to protect transgender individuals.

Most of us are heterosexuals. We engage in sexual intimacy with a person whose sexuality is different. Men and women make love, which is how humanity perpetuates itself. But sexuality is diverse, and children should know. The difficulty is not necessarily the subject matter, but the way in which children learn that there are differences in sexuality and that some men are born inside the body of a woman and some women, inside the body of a man. This is a subject some teachers may not be able to teach because they are insufficiently informed or are themselves intolerant of diversity in human sexuality.

I was not familiar with SOGI, but someone sent me an email inviting me to look at a Facebook page, which I did. I therefore watched an American news broadcast where SOGI, a Canadian programme, was looked upon as potentially destructive. A human sexuality programme need not be destructive. For example, given entrenched prejudices, it may be difficult for a homosexual adolescent to accept his or her sexual orientation. In this regard, SOGI can be helpful. Our adolescent, gay or lesbian, may feel better about accept his or her sexuality.

As noted above, heterosexuality, sexual attraction between a man and a woman, is the most common form of sexual orientation. It is often presented as “dirty.” Heterosexuality isn’t dirty, nor are other forms of sexuality, such as homosexuality, attraction to a person of the same sexual orientation, bisexuality, attraction to both men and women, and asexuality. Asexual human beings are not sexually attracted to another human being.

What is potentially destructive is the denigration of one form of sexuality and the promotion and celebration of another form. What is also potentially destructive is any suggestion that human beings choose their form of sexual orientation and that children may be indoctrinated into a form of sexuality that isn’t theirs. A human being’s sexuality is determined before children enter kindergarten. In my opinion, this should be common knowledge. (See Social Learning Theory, Wikipedia.)

So, although children cannot choose their sexual orientation, there is no room in Canadian classrooms for exhibitionism. In other words, exposing children, particularly small children, to readings by a drag queen whose appearance is frightening cannot be very constructive. It is a sensationalized depiction of homosexuality. (See Sensationalism, Wikipedia.) Therefore, I cannot applaud the producers of the news broadcast presented below:


Canadian anti-bullying legislation

I researched SOGI which led me to an article published in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Human sexuality is a subject matter that may be poorly taught and taught by biased teachers, but it is consistent with Canada’s anti-bullying legislation, and bullying is a form of behaviour that must be discouraged, as it is a form of hatred and may lead a child or adolescent to commit suicide. Canadian children are being asked to respect “sexual” otherness (sexual orientation and gender identity) as well as other forms of “otherness:” nationality, colour, language, stammering, disabilities, etc. This cannot be achieved if teachers are themselves intolerant and teach in a manner that reinforces rather than reduces prejudicial and, at times, criminal behaviour. Children can be cruel.

The Globe and Mail reported that a father (shown below) was afraid to take his fifteen-year-old transgender offspring to school, because the child could face bullying. At the age of 15, a child has usually entered adolescence, and, in the hands of adolescent bullies, a transgender child could indeed be at risk.

Bullying varies from school to school, but if a school has a significant number of bullies, a transgender child may indeed be entering an unsafe environment, hence the legitimate fears of a father (shown below) and the relevance of anti-bullying legislation and SOGI.


Cole, 15, with his father, Brad Dirks, prepares to head off to school in Langley, B.C. on Oct. 20. Brad has been supportive of programs that help transgender students find acceptance at school.


Brad Dirks with his sons Cole, 15, and Jake, 11, before heading to school in Langley, BC on October 19, 2017.

Human sexuality, briefly

  • a continuum
  • Heterosexuality
  • Homosexuality (gays [males] and lesbians [females])
  • Bisexuality, etc.

Given the purpose of SOGI, which is acceptance of difference, of otherness, a description of heterosexuality and homosexuality need not be too graphic and detailed. It may suffice to point to the heterosexual–homosexual continuum, which admits diversity in sexual orientation.

Along with bisexuality and heterosexuality, homosexuality is one of the three main categories of sexual orientation within the heterosexual–homosexual continuum.


Scientific research has shown that homosexuality is a normal and natural variation in human sexuality. (See Homosexuality, Wikipedia.)

If a presentation of human sexuality is too detailed and too graphic, small children could feel perturbed. Age matters. If age didn’t matter, pederasty (pedophilia) may be looked upon as acceptable, which it was in ancient Greece, but is no longer. However, it seems appropriate to tell children that some people differ from “Mummy” and “Daddy,” who are heterosexuals.

Sexuality as a choice

According to most experts, human beings do not choose their sexual orientation. In other words, sexual orientation is not learned. (See Social Learning Theory, Wikipedia.)  A little discretion is necessary, whatever one’s sexual orientation. In some cases, there is no choice other than repressing one’s sexual urges. Pedophilia is abusive. There is an age of consent. But the fact remains that a child’s sexuality is determined in very early childhood and that some children are born into the wrong body, which is the plight of transgender people.

Transgender people

Transgender people feel their sexuality does not correspond to their assigned sex. (See Sex Assignment, Wikipedia.) There was a time when little could be done to correct transgender sexuality, or the discrepancy between sex assignment and gender identity. However, transgenders may now undergo a treatment programme called sex reassignment. I am not familiar with the details, or the nitty gritty, of sex reassignment, but, broadly speaking, sex reassignment consists in a “combination of psychological, medical, and surgical methods intended to physically change a person’s sex to match their gender identity.” (See Sex reassignment, Wikipedia.)

“Greek love”

In ancient Greece, pederasty (pedophilia) was accepted. (See Pederasty in ancient Greece, Wikipedia.) French scholar Michel Foucault, the author of The History of Sexuality (1976), wrote an essay entitled “Greek love.” Ancient Greece was a homosocial culture. Homosociality “implies neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality.” (See Pederasty in ancient Greece, Wikipedia.)


Achilles and Patroclus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, ancient Greece is not present-day Greece. Although pedophiles, or pædophiles, do not choose to be pedophiles or pederasts, in most societies, pedophilia is looked upon as sexual abuse. An adult male cannot force a younger male, a child, to engage in sexual activity. Nor, for that matter, should an older male assault a young girl. In fact, no one should force another person into sexual intercourse or a pregnancy. Sexual exchanges must be consensual and pregnancies are far too invasive to be coerced.


Allow me to conclude poetically. Metamorphoses were a favourite subject matter in Greco-Roman antiquity. Few books have been as influential as Roman poet’s Ovid (20 March 43 BCE – CE 17/18) Metamorphoses. Roman novelist Lucius Apuleius (c. 124 – c. 170 CE) also wrote a Metamorphoses, a picaresque novel entitled the The Golden Assbased on a Greek narrative. Lucius wished to be transformed into a bird, but he was mistakenly transformed into an ass. The Golden Ass contains in-set tales, one of which is the story of Cupid and Psyche, a tale we are familiar with.

Poet Ovid wrote that the son of Greek mythology’s Aphrodite (Venus in Rome) and Hermes prayed to a god asking to be forever united with water nymph or naiad, Salmacis. As Hermaphroditus, he was both a female and a male. The combination of male and female genital attributes is called androgyny.

We all share male and female attributes, to a greater or lesser extent. Men and women befriend one another. It seems therefore that we need to emphasize the notion of a  heterosexual–homosexual continuum.

Fabuliste Jean de La Fontaine‘s motto was diversité: Diversité c’est ma devise. That precludes bullying. SOGI is anti-bullying legislation. Bullying borders on criminality and may be criminal behaviour.


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone ♥

Otello’s Nessun maggior dolore by Gioachino Rossini


Nessun maggior dolore by Simeon Solomon (Photo credit: Arcadja Auctions)

© Micheline Walker
20 February 2018







Forthcoming Posts


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Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon1864, Tate, Britain (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

Anti-bullying legislation: sexuality

I have been unable to create posts, except drafts, since 20 January 2018. I am too tired and somewhat discouraged. But I continued working on French-speaking Canadians as a founding nation and also wrote a post on SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity), a programme promoting an acceptance of diversity that is consistent with Canadian anti-bullying legislation. There’s an uproar in British Columbia that may be the result of entrenched discrimination against people whose sexual orientation differs from the most common form, which is heterosexuality. Communication is very difficult, whatever the topic, but sexuality is a particularly sensitive area. People often hear what they wish to hear or expect to hear. We then enter into a dialogue de sourds, a dialogue of the deaf.

Moreover, now that it has become possible for a man living in the body of a woman, and vice versa, transgender adolescents are the victims of bullying. Transgenders may undergo treatment that will correct gender identity. It consists in transgender hormone therapy as well as surgery and psychotherapy. (See Transgender, and Sex assignment, Wikipedia).

Some men are born inside the body of a woman, and some women, inside the body of a man. However, the story of  human sexuality is very complex and cannot be the subject matter of a mere post. So, teachers, and bloggers, have to simplify and state, in a nonjudmental way, that there is a continuum in sexual identity which includes homosexuality as well as bisexuality and asexuality. Anti-bullying legislation was first used in Quebec, in 2004, but the current battle is fought in British Columbia and spilling east.

Transgender people

Sexual orientation differs from gender identity. When she was convicted of espionage (WikiLeaks), Chelsea Manning was Bradley Manning whom she is no longer:


The Founding Nations: Louis Riel

I continued working on French Canada as a founding nation. This topic took me west of Quebec and, for reasons I cannot understand, it published itself before I could finish it. It has reverted to draft form, as it requires serious revisions. Many Quebecers have some Amerindian ancestry very few women were sent to New France before the Louis XIV sent filles du roy (the King’s Daughters) to New France. However, west of Quebec, voyageurs and fur traders married Amerindians and founded a nation: the Métis nation whose most famous and controversial figure is Louis Riel.

Apologies and love to everyone  

Art by Simeon Solomon


© Micheline Walker
18 February 2018