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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXXIX.—The Red River Rebellion—To 1870


Cession of North-west Territory to the British Crown—1868. Riel Rebellion—1869. Provisional Government of Assiniboia organized, February 9th—Loyal organization for the suppression of the revolt—The Scott Massacre, March 4th—Colonel Wolseley organizes Red River Expedition—1870. British Columbia enters the Dominion—History of Colony—Franco-Prussian War—Outrages of the Commune—1871.

In 1868, the Rupert's Land Act was passed by the British Parliament, and under its provisions the Hudson's Bay Company surrendered to the crown its territorial rights over the vast region under its control. The conditions of this surrender were as follows :—the Company was to receive the sum of £300,000 sterling in money, and grants of land around its trading posts to the extent of fifty thousand acres in all. In addition it is to receive, as it shall be surveyed and laid out in townships, one-twentieth of all the land in the great fertile belt south of the north branch of the Saskatchewan. It retains also the privilege of trade, but without its former exclusive monopoly.*

Unhappily, jealousies were awakened among the settlers lest this movement should in some way prejudice their title to their land. September, 1869, the Hon. William Macdougall proceeded to Red River in order to assume the duties of Governor of the North-west Territory so soon as the cession should take place. He was met near the frontier by a band of armed men, and compelled to retreat across the border to Pembina. An insurrectionary council was created, with John Bruce as its president and Louis Riel as secretary, although the latter was really the leading spirit of the movement. The insurgents took forcible possession of Fort Garry, a stone-walled inclosure containing the valuable stores of the Hudson's Bay Company, and made a number of illegal arrests, over sixty in all.

The temporary success of the revolt seems to have completely turned the heads of its leaders. A provisional government was created, of which Riel contrived to have*himself elected president (February, 1870). Riel had now an armed force of some six hundred men under his control, and carried things with a high hand in the settlement, arresting whomsoever he would, confiscating public and private property, and banishing from the country persons obnoxious to himself. Among these was Major Boulton, a Canadian militia officer, who, after a summary trial by a rebel tribunal, was sentenced to be shot, but was afterward reprieved. Less fortunate was Thomas Scott, a brave and loyal man, who, after a mock trial by a rebel court-martial, was sentenced to be shot at noon the following day. In spite of the remonstrance and intercession of the Rev. George Young, the Wesleyan missionary at Winnipeg, who attendee! the prisoner in his last hours, and of Mr. Commissioner Smith, the cruel sentence of this illegal and self-constituted tribunal was carried into execution amid circumstances of much barbarity.

The tidings of this assassination produced intense excitement throughout Canada, especially in the Province of Ontario. Measures were promptly taken by the Imperial and Dominion authorities, conjointly, for maintaining the supremacy of the Queen in the North-west.

Colonel Garnet Wolseley, afterwards distinguished as the successful commander of the British troops in Egypt, organized a military expedition to suppress the insurrection. A body of twelve hundred men, chiefly volunteer militia from both Ontario and Quebec, proceeded by way of Fort William and Rainy Lake and River to Fort Garry. All the military stores and provisions, and the large and heavy boats, had to be borne with incredible labour over numerous portages, often long, and steep, and rugged. On the 24th of August the little army reached its destination, only to find that Riel and his fellow-conspirators had fled from Fort Garry.

The British troops immediately occupied the fort, and to the great joy of the loyal inhabitants, the Queen's authority was again acknowledged as supreme. On the 3rd of September, the Hon. A. G. Archibald arrived and assumed the functions of Lieutenant-Governor. Mr. Archibald was shortly after succeeded as Lieutenant-Governor by the Hon. Chief Justice Morris.

In the early part of 1871, the Pacific province of British Columbia was admitted into the Dominion of Canada. The previous history of that colony is soon told. In 1762, Captain Vancouver visited and partially explored the islands lying off the North Pacific coast, and gave his name to the largest of the group. In 1849, Vancouver's Island became a Crown colony, and Sir James Douglas, the local agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, became its first Governor. The contemporaneous discovery of gold attracted thither thousands of Canadian and American gold hunters. In 1858, between twenty and thirty thousand men were digging on the terraced slopes of the Frazer and its tributaries. As a firm local government was necessary for the maintenance of order among the mixed and often reckless population, British Columbia was organized a separate Crown colony. In 1866, Vancouver's Island was reunited with British Columbia, and on the 20th of July, 1871, that colony was incorporated with the Dominion of Canada. It was granted a representation in the Dominion Senate of three members, and six members in the House of Commons. The chief condition of the union was the construction within ten years of a railway connecting the tide waters of the Pacific Ocean with the railway system of Ontario and Quebec—a gigantic undertaking, afterwards found impracticable within the allotted time.

Contemporaneously with this national growth and development, stirring events were shaking the European continent to which we could not in Canada be indifferent. The declaration of war against Germany by the Emperor of the French, in 1870, was speedily followed by the invasion of France, and the successive defeat of the French armies in the sanguinary conflicts of Woerth, Gravelotte and Sedan. The Emperor becoming a prisoner of war, the Empress fled to England, and France was declared a republic. The victorious German armies pressed remorselessly on to the siege of Paris. Amid frost, and famine, and fire, amid desperate sorties and gallant resistance, the doomed city held out till January 23 rd, 1871, when it succumbed to the awful bombardment and relentless siege of the ememy. On the 1st of March, the conquering army marched into the captured capital, and inflicted, as the price of their evacuation of France, the penalty of the excessive indemnity of 5,000,000,000 francs.

No sooner was the strong hand of the Germans removed than the terrible rising of the Commune took place. For three months the Republican army of France besieged its own capital, and in fratricidal conflict fought its way through scenes of slaughter, blood and flame, to the possession of the city. A dreadful retaliation followed the stubborn resistance and wanton destruction of property by the frenzied Commune, in the wholesale execution of the defeated faction by their victorious fellow-countrymen. These tragical events were the cause of profound sympathy in Canada, and considerable sums of money were contributed by its French and German inhabitants for the relief of the wounded of their respective countries.


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