Louis Riel - Encyclopedia

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LOUIS RIEL (1844-1885), Canadian agitator, son of Louis Riel and Julie de Lagemaundiere, was born at St Boniface, on the 23rd of October 1844, according to his own account, though others place his birth in 1847. Though known as a half-breed, or Metis, and though with both Indian and Irish ancestors, his blood was mainly French. From July 1866 he worked for two years at various occupations in Minnesota, returning in July 1868 to St Vital, near St Boniface. In 1869 the transfer of the territorial rights of the Hudson's Bay Company to the dominion of Canada gave great uneasiness to the Metis, and in October 1869 a party led by Riel turned back at the American frontier the newly appointed Canadian governor; in November they captured Fort Garry (Winnipeg), the headquarters of the Company, and called a convention which passed a bill of rights. In December a provisional government was set up, of which on the 29th of December Riel was made president, and which defeated two attacks made on it by the English-speaking settlers of the vicinity. So far the Metis had been within their rights, but Riel was flighty, vain and mystical, and his judicial murder on the 4th of March 1870 of Thomas Scott, an Orangeman from Ontario, roused against him the whole of Englishspeaking Canada. An expedition was equipped and sent out under Colonel Garnet, later Lord, Wolseley, which captured Fort Garry on the 24th of August 1870, Riel decamping. (See Strathcona, Lord.) He was not arrested, and on the 4th of August 1871 urged his countrymen to combine with the Canadians against a threatened attack from American Fenians, for which good service he was publicly thanked by the lieutenantgovernor. In 1872 for religious reasons he changed his name to Louis David Riel.. In October 1873 he became member of the Dominion parliament for Provencher, came to Ottawa and took the oath, but did not sit. On the 16th of April 1874 he was expelled the House, but in September was again elected for Provencher; on the 10th of February 1875 he was outlawed, and the seat thereby again vacated. In 1877-78 he was for over a year a patient in the Beauport asylum for the insane, but from 1879 to 1884 he lived quietly in Montana, where in 1881 he married Marguerite Bellimeure. In 1884 in response to a deputation from the Metis, who had moved west to the forks of the Saskatchewan river, he returned to Canada to win redress for their wrongs. His own rashness and the ineptitude of Canadian politicians and officials brought on a rising, which was crushed after some hard fighting, and on the 15th of May 1885 Riel surrendered. He was imprisoned at Regina, was tried and on the 1st of August found guilty of treason, and on the 16th of November was hanged at Regina, meeting his fate with courage. His death was the signal for a fierce outburst of racialism in Quebec and Ontario, which nearly overthrew the Conservative government of the Dominion.

See J. S. Willison, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, vol. i.; George Bryce, History of the Hudson's Bay Company (1900); and the Canadian daily press for 1885.

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