The agitation for freedom which we have
described in Red River Settlement, and the efforts of Canada to
introduce Rupert's Land into the newly-formed Dominion of Canada had,
after much effort, and the overcoming of many hindrances, resulted in
the British Government agreeing to transfer this Western territory to
Canada, and in the Hudson's Bay Company accepting a subsidy in full
payment of their claim to the country. This payment was to be paid by
Canada. Somewhat careless of the feelings of the Hudson's Bay Company
officers, and also of the views of the old settlers of the
Colony—especially of the French-speaking section—the Dominion Government
sent a reckless body of men to survey the lands near the French
settlements and to rouse animosity in the minds of the Metis.
Now came the Riel Rising.
Five causes may be stated as leading
up to it.
1. The weakness of the
Government of Assiniboia and the sickness and helplessness of
Governor McTavish, whose duty it was to act.
2. The rebellious character of the
Metis, now irritated anew by the actions of the surveyors.
3. The inexplicable blundering and
neglect of the Dominion Government at Ottawa.
4. A dangerous element in the
United States, and especially on the borders of Minnesota inciting
and supporting a disloyal band of Americans in Pembina and Winnipeg.
5. A cunning plot to keep Governor
McTavish from acting as he should have done, and to incite the Metis
under Riel to open revolt.
The drama opened with the appointment of
Hon. William McDougall as Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest
Territories in September, 1869, and his arrival at Pembina in October.
Mr. McDougall was to be appointed Governor by the Dominion Government as
soon as the transfer to Canada of Rupert's Land could be made.
McDougall, on his arrival at the boundary of Minnesota, was served with
a notice by the French half-breeds, not to enter the Territories.
Meanwhile, Louis Riel, son of the
old miller of the Seine, and a true son of his father—but vain and
assertive, having the ambition to be a Cæsar or Napoleon, took the lead.
He succeeded in October in getting a few of the Metis to
seize the highway at St. Norbert, some nine miles south of Fort Garry,
and in the true style of a Paris revolt, erected a barricade or barrier
to stop all passers-by. It was here that Governor McTavish failed. He
was immediately informed of this illegal act, but did nothing. Hearing
of the obstacle on the highway, two of McDougall's officers came on
towards Fort Garry, and finding the obstruction, one of them gave
command, "Remove that blawsted fence," but the half-breeds refused to
obey. The half-breeds seized the mails and all freight coming along the
road coming into the country.
THE SCENE SHIFTS TO FORT GARRY
It is rumored that Riel was thinking of
seizing Fort Garry; an affidavit of the Chief of Police under the
Dominion shows that he urged the master of Fort Garry to meet the
danger, and asked leave to call out special police to protect the Fort,
but no Governor spoke; no one even closed the gate of the Fort as a
precaution; its gates stood wide open to its enemies who seemed to be
the friends of its officers.
On November 2nd Riel and a hundred of his
Metis followers took possession of Fort Garry, and without opposition.
Riel now issued a proclamation with
the air of Dictator or Deliverer, calling on the English parishes to
elect twelve representatives to meet the
President and representatives of the French-speaking population. He
likewise summoned them to assemble in twelve days.
McDougall, prospective Governor, on
hearing of these things, wrote to Governor McTavish, calling on him to
make proclamation that the rebels should disperse, and a number of the
loyal inhabitants made the same request. The sick and helpless Governor
fourteen days after the seizure of the Fort, and twenty-three days after
the date of the affidavit of the rising, issued a tardy proclamation,
condemning the rebels and calling upon them to disperse.
The convention summoned by Riel, met on
November 16th, the English parishes having been induced to choose
delegates. The convention at this meeting could reach no result and
agreed to adjourn to December 1st. The English members saw plainly that
Riel wished the formation of a provisional government, of which he
should be head.
At the adjourned meeting, Riel and his
fellows insisted on ruling the meeting and passed a bill of rights of
fifteen clauses. The English representatives refused to accept the bill
of rights, and after vainly trying to make arrangements for the entrance
to the country of Governor McDougall, returned home, ashamed and
Turn now to the condition of things
from which prospective Governor McDougall is all this while viewing the
promised land. He and his family are badly housed in Pembina, and he is
of a haughty and imperious disposition.
December 1st was the day on which the
transfer being made of the country to Canada, his proclamation as
Governor would come into force. But it so happened on account of the
breaking out of Riel's revolt, the transfer had not been made.
Now came about a thing utterly
inexplicable, that Mr. McDougall, a lawyer, a privy councillor, and an
experienced parliamentarian, should, on a mere supposition, issue his
proclamation as Governor. Riel was aware of all the steps being taken by
the Government, and so he and the Metis laughed at the proclamation.
McDougall was an object of pity to his Loyalist friends, and he became a
laughing stock for the whole world.
His proclamation, authorizing Col. Dennis
to raise a force in the settlement to oppose Riel, was of no value, and
prevented Col. Dennis from obtaining a loyal force of any strength,
which under ordinary circumstances he would have done.
As all Canada looked at it, the whole
thing was a miserable fiasco.
The illegality of McDougall's
the loyal Canadians in Winnipeg in a most awkward situation. One hundred
of them had arms in their hands, and they were naturally looked upon by
Riel as dangerous, and as his enemies.
Riel now acted most deceitfully to them.
He promised them their freedom, and that he would negotiate with
McDougall and try to settle the whole matter.
On the 7th of December the Canadians
surrendered, but with some of them in the Fort and others in the prison
outside the wall, where the Sayer episode had taken place, Riel coolly
broke his truce, while the Metis celebrated their early victory by
numerous potations of rum, from the Hudson's Bay Company Stores, and, of
course at the Company's expense.
Encouraged by his victory and the
possession of his prisoners, Riel, now in Napoleonic fashion, issued a
proclamation which it is said was written for him by a petty American
lawyer at Pembina, who was hostile to Britain and Canada.
An evidence of Riel's disloyalty and
want of sense was shown by his superseding the Union Jack and hoisting
in its place a new flag—not even the French tri-color, but one with a
fleur-de-lis and shamrocks upon it, no doubt the flag of the old French
regime with additions. He also took possession of Hudson's
Bay Company funds with the coolness of a buccaneer, and his manner in
refusing personal liberty to people whom he dared not arrest was
overbearing and impertinent.
The inaccessibility of Red River
Settlement in winter added much to the anxiety. No telegraphic
connection nearer than St. Paul, some four or five hundred miles, was
possible, even the regular conveyance of the mails could not be relied
on. Meanwhile the Canadian people were in a state of the greatest
excitement, and the Government at Ottawa, well-knowing its mismanagement
of the whole affair, was in desperate straits. To make the situation
more serious the only man who could deal with Riel and could remedy the
situation, Bishop Tache, of St. Boniface, was absent at the great
conclave of that year in Rome. The more intelligent French people had no
confidence in the sanity and reasonableness of Riel. He was to them as
great a puzzle as he was to the English. It was a gloomy Christmas time
in Red River, and the gloom was increased by the suspense of not knowing
what the Government at Ottawa would do in the circumstances.