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SYME, JAMES – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 18 April 1881 at Victoria, B.C.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

The Red River Rebellion and the Creation of Manitoba, 1869–70

The unrest that preceded the creation of Manitoba [see The Fenians] arose largely out of a desire on the part of many inhabitants of the Red River colony, including a large number of Métis led by Louis RIEL, that the transition to the status of Canadian province be made in a way that respected the rights of local peoples. After survey work began in the summer of 1869, fear over land rights was among the causes that led to rebellion later that year:

“As tensions mounted among the Métis it was clear that strong leadership was needed. Riel’s experiences during the past ten years had produced a life-style very different from that of the buffalo-hunting Métis, but it was these people he now aspired to lead. The older, more established leaders had had little success and had shown little initiative. Riel – ambitious, well-educated, bilingual, young and energetic, eloquent, deeply religious, and the bearer of a famous name – was more than willing to provide what the times required.

“Late in August 1869, from the steps of the St Boniface cathedral, Riel declared the survey a menace. On 11 October a group of Métis, including Riel, stopped the survey. A week later, the National Committee, with John Bruce as president and Riel as secretary, was formed in St Norbert with the support of the local priest, Joseph-Noël Ritchot*.” 


In the fall of 1869 Prime Minister Sir John A. MACDONALD gave his interpretation of the rebellion’s origins:

“The main burden of blame Macdonald put upon officials of the [Hudson’s Bay Company]. The dissatisfaction of the Métis was well known to its local council. The transfer had been planned and known of for months. HBC officer John H. McTavish had been in Ottawa in April, had seen Macdonald and others, and had been told of the transfer of the northwest to Canada with the same rights for its inhabitants as had existed before. Yet company officials gave no explanation to the people of Red River about what was to happen. ‘All that those poor people know,’ Macdonald said to Cartier on 27 November, ‘is that Canada has bought the country… & that they are handed over like a flock of sheep to us; and they are told that they lose their lands…. Under these circumstances it is not to be wondered at that they should be dissatisfied, and should show their discontent.’”


The provisional government that took charge of Red River on 8 Dec. 1869 established a list of demands and prepared to negotiate with Canada, as related in the biography of Roman Catholic priest and missionary Noël-Joseph RITCHOT:

“On 11 Feb. 1870… Ritchot was once again in the public eye when he was named a delegate to the Canadian government in Ottawa, together with John Black*, president of the General Quarterly Court of Assiniboia, and Alfred Henry Scott*, a clerk. Black was to represent the English-speaking element in the colony, Scott the Americans, and Ritchot the Métis. Their task was to negotiate the entry of the Red River colony into confederation, based on the ‘List of Rights’ prepared by the executive of the provisional government, in fact the third such list drafted. It provided, among other things, for the establishment of a province, provincial control of public lands, the use of English and French in the legislature, the courts, and public documents, a bilingual lieutenant governor and judge, and an amnesty for all members of the provisional government and those who acted on its behalf. Before Ritchot left the colony on 24 March, he received a fourth version of the list, adding separate schools to the demands, probably at the request of Bishop [Alexandre-Antonin] Taché, and specifying the structure of the new provincial government.”


The negotiations, in which Sir George-Étienne CARTIER (one of the most important of the architects of Canada’s westward expansion and defenders of minority rights) played a key role, led to the provisional government’s ratification of the Manitoba Act on 24 June 1870 [see Sir George-Étienne Cartier]. The creation of the new province on 15 July, however, was followed by a period of instability and violence marked by Riel’s exile, as recounted in his biography:

“On 24 August Riel learned that the soldiers were planning to lynch him; he vacated Upper Fort Garry a few hours ahead of them. Accompanied by [William Bernard] O’Donoghue and a few others, Riel crossed the Red River to Taché’s palace in St Boniface. He told the bishop he had been deceived, but added: ‘No matter what happens now, the rights of the métis are assured by the Manitoba Bill; it is what I wanted – My mission is finished.’ Riel then proceeded to his home in nearby St Vital, where his mother lived; but growing more apprehensive about his safety he took refuge at St Joseph’s mission, about ten miles south of the border in Dakota Territory.”


The biographies that appear in the following lists provide additional information on this crucial chapter of the history of the Red River colony and of Canada.


Negotiations with Canada and the Manitoba Act
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