Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

The Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk's Colonists
Chapter 26 Riel's Rising

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.


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 discouraged.

Turn now to the condition of things in Pembina, 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 proclamation left 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.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus