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

An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XLIII.—Vice-Royalty of the Marquis of Landsdowne

Lord Lansdowne, Governor-General, Oct. 22,-1883. Red River Rebellion —Affairs at Duck Lake, Fish Creek, Cut Knife Creek, Batoche— Rebellion Suppressed—Completion of Canadian Pacific Railway —1885. Queen's Jubilee—1887.

Lord Lansdowne, the new Governor-General of Canada, arrived at Quebec, October 22nd, with loyal acclamation, and was sworn in the following day.

During the year 1884, the people of Canada felt a profound interest in the expedition organized by the British Government for the suppression of the revolt of the Mahdi in the Soudan, and the relief of General Gordon, shut up in Khartoum. At the invitation of General Wolseley, a force of 378 Canadian voyageurs, under command of Lieut.-Colonel F. C. Denison, enlisted for service in Egypt in conveying British troops and stores up the Nile; and accomplished their task with distinguished success. The whole civilized world shared the feeling of horror and regret when the gallant Gordon fell a victim to treachery on the very eve of the relief of Khartoum.

In the Province of Quebec a new ministry was formed under the premiership of the Hon. J. J. Ross.

One of the most remarkable evidences of the progress of the Temperance reform was the number of counties and cities in which the Scott Act was adopted by popular vote —up to the close of 1885, sixty-two counties and five cities. Although in many cases the officials whose duty it was to aid the enforcement of the Act were positively hostile to that enforcement, yet the weight of evidence goes to show that its operation tended greatly to restrain the sale of intoxicating liquor, to drive the traffic into holes and corners, and thus to deprive it of its quasi-respectability.

During the summer of 1884, considerable mutterings of discontent were heard among the half-breeds in the Saskatchewan and Assiniboine territories. They complained that they were unable to obtain patents for lands which they had long occupied, and were, indeed, in danger of being dispossessed by land companies whose grants overlapped their holdings. But their complaints brought no redress. The very remoteness of the seat of government, and the divided responsibility of the departmental system, made more difficult—or, at least less efficient—the administration of affairs over the vast regions stretching from the western boundaries of Manitoba to the Rocky Mountains, and from the forty-ninth parallel to the northern limits of population—a region greater than the whole of Russia in Europe.

The disaffected half-breeds invited Riel, who, after varied fortunes, had taken refuge among the Metis of Montana, to return and champion their rights. During the fall of the year he addressed a series of meetings at the half-breed settlements, and prepared a so-called Bill of Rights, demanding the removal of their alleged grievances. Pending the response from Ottawa to these demands, a Provisional Government was organized, with Riel at its head, and Gabriel Dumont, a bold and energetic half-breed, as his " Adjutant-General."

On March 18th, 1885, the rebels—for such their reckless acts now made them—seized the Government stores at Duck Lake, captured the Indian agent, cut the telegraph wires, and sent messengers to enlist the co-operation of the Indian tribes. To maintain order in all the vast region of the North-West, with a population of Indians estimated at over thirty thousand, there were five hundred Mounted Police. Major Crozier, with a force of about sixty police and forty volunteers, advanced to Duck Lake to take charge of the Government stores; they were intercepted two miles from Duck Lake by a force of Indians and half-breeds, about two hundred strong, under Gabriel Dumont. A collision occurred, and a fierce fight ensued, and fourteen of the volunteers and Police were killed. Riel now threw off all disguise, summoned Indians and half-breeds alike to revolt, and with only too disastrous success. The intelligence of these startling events produced an intense sensation throughout the country. Not since the Fenian invasion in 1866 had such patriotic enthusiasm been aroused. In a few days nearly four thousand volunteer troops were under arms.

The transport of so many men, horses, guns, stores, etc., a distance of two thousand miles from central Ontario, at an inclement season of the year, was one of no small difficulty. There were several gaps in the Canadian Pacific Railway north of Lake Superior, amounting in all to over ninety miles, over which the troops had to be conveyed in sleighs, or, in some cases, marched through the snow and slush.

Meanwhile tragical events were occurring in the far West. On Good Friday, April 3rd, the Indians at Frog Lake, who constituted Big Bear's band, rose in revolt, and massacred, with peculiar atrocity, the two priests, Fathers Marchand and Fafard, together with Thomas Quinn, Indian agent, John Delaney, farm instructor, John Gowanlock, and several others. Three of the settlers' wives, two of whom had been the horror-stricken spectators of their husbands' deaths, were carried captive to the Indian camp. Not till two months later were they finally rescued from their perilous imprisonment.

Qu'Appelle station, three hundred and twenty-four miles west of Winnipeg, on the Canadian Pacific Railway, was made the first advance rendezvous of the troops, and thither brigade after brigade were forwarded as fast as they arrived from the East. General Middleton determined to march his main column from Qu'Appelle to Clarke's Crossing, on the South Saskatchewan. Another division rendezvoused two hundred miles west of Qu'Appelle station, at Swift Current, and made a dash across the prairie with a flying column for the relief of beleaguered Battleford.

The march from Qu'Appelle^to Batoche, the stronghold of the rebels, was two hundred and thirty miles; from Swift Current to Battleford was one hundred and eighty miles. Over these vast distances every ounce of food and forage for man and beast, and all the multifarious supplies, stores, and ammunition for an army, had to be hauled over a prairie trail, when the roads were breaking up, and when the streams to be crossed were running with ice or swollen with the spring rains.

On April 6th, in a blinding snow-storm, the main body of the North-West field force, about nine hundred and fifty strong, left Fort Qu'Appelle. Eleven days' march brought them to Clarke's Crossing. The troops were impatient to push on to Batoche, thirty-three miles from the Crossing, but it was necessary to wait for forage supplies, hospital stores, and the like, from Swift Current. Without waiting for the reinforcements expected by the steamer Northcote, General Middleton decided to divide his column into two sections, and to move on the enemy simultaneously on both sides of the river. On April 23rd both divisions advanced. About half way to Batoche, on the south bank of the river, was a deep and rugged ravine, destined to become historic as Fish Creek. Here an advance force of the rebels was concealed. A conflict began which continued for several hours. The volunteers were almost without cover, and suffered severely, no less than ten being killed and about forty wounded out of about three hundred and fifty men under fire.

For a fortnight there was an enforced cessation of hostilities in order that the wounded might receive proper attention, and that General Middleton might accumulate a sufficient store of supplies, and obtain the reinforcements and artillery that were daily expected to arrive by the Northcote from Swift Current.

At Battleford, meanwhile, were crowded some six hundred refugees, two-thirds of them being women and children. Week after week they looked eagerly for the relief which, in spite of innumerable difficulties, was hastening to their rescue. At nightfall, on April 23rd, the relief column -arrived and the refugees within the stockaded fort hailed with joy their deliverers.

The troops spent a few days throwing up earthworks and strengthening the defences of the fort. To prevent the flames of Indian revolt from spreading like fires in the prairie grass, it was resolved to strike a blow at Pound-maker's camp. His "braves" had wantonly pillaged the settlers' houses far and wide, and it was feared that they might effect a junction with Kiel's main body at Batoche. On May 1st, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Colonel Otter, with a flying column three hundred strong, left Battleford in waggons or on horses, and by the light of the full moon pressed on all night to Poundmaker's camp. At five o'clock next morning, just after crossing Cut Knife Creek, which runs through a wooded ravine, they met the enemy on an open upland slope. Under the concentrated fire of Indians sharpshooters, the troops suffered severely. The continuous roar of the Gatling and the scream of the shells seemed, however, to intimidate the enemy. But the mountings of the guns unfortunately gave way, and they soon proved useless in the fight. The troops, after fighting from dawn to noon without food, were compelled to retreat. By ten o'clock at night Battleford was reached—the six hours' fight and the march of seventy miles having been effected within thirty hours. Our loss, unfortunately, was heavy—eight, killed and twelve wounded.

We left General Middleton's command chafing at the delay caused by waiting for t'he arrival of the Northcote with much needed supplies and ammunition. The progress of the steamer down the river from Swift Current was very tedious. She was heavily laden, and the water in the river was low. At length, on May 5th, she reached Clarke's Crossing. General Middleton, on the 7th of May, with his entire force—now numbering about a thousand men and six hundred horses, with four guns and a Gatling—marched along the right bank of the Saskatchewan, the Northcote advancing simultaneously on the river. The following night they encamped about eight miles from Batoche, the rebel stronghold. The village lay in an elliptical basin, with numerous lateral ravines, which offered good cover for the rebels. Concentric lines of rifle-pits among the brushwood also made a formidable defence. For three days a desultory and ineffective fire was kept up. The rebels refused to come out of their trenches, and the General, careful of the lives of his citizen soldiers, refused to allow the troops to charge.

On Tuesday, May 11th, the sharp-shooting was renewed. with vigour. After a hasty meal in the trenches, the General ordered an advance in force of the whole line, now extended along a front of a mile and a half. Simultaneously the Midlanders, Grenadiers, and 90th, with fixed bayonets, rushed down the slopes, heedless of the fire from the rifle-pits. The enemy, speedily demoralized, everywhere gave way. In a few minutes the rifle-pits were reached and cleared, and the gallant volunteers were in hot pursuit of the retreating rebels. Into the village they rushed, eager to save the prisoners. Among the foremost was the gallant Captain French, who fell, pierced through the heart, in an upper room of Batoche's house. Another officer, since deceased, Colonel Williams, of the Midlanders, wrenching open a trap-door, found, pallid and gaunt, nine white prisoners. In this charge, five volunteers were slain and twenty-two wounded. Only the leaders in the rebellion were put under arrest; the others were dismissed to their homes and supplied with food. Riel and Dumont both escaped. A few days later, on the 15th, Riel surrendered to a scouting party, but Dumont got safely over the border into Montana.

At Calgary, one hundred and ninety-four miles south of Edmonton, and eight hundred and forty miles west of Winnipeg, Major-General Strange, a retired British officer, who had seen much service, was entrusted with the command. He promptly raised a body of scouts among the cow-boys and frontier-men, and was soon joined by volunteers to the number of about twelve hundred men. Immediately after the Frog Lake massacre, a flying column was pushed forward to Edmonton and thence down the North Saskatchewan to Fort Pitt, and effectually extinguished the flame of what threatened to be a wide-spread Indian revolt.

In the meantime, General Middleton, with the bulk of his command, pressed on to the relief of Prince Albert and Battleford. Shortly after Poundmaker and his band surrendered, and an expedition was organized for the pursuit of Big Bear, who had in his camp over sixty white prisoners. Most of these were soon rescued, and the wandering chief, fairly starved into submission, at last surrendered.

The campaign was now ended. The gallant volunteers, who, aided by a few hundred Mounted Police and men of the Infantry School, had suppressed a rebellion extending over many hundreds of miles, of often rugged and difficult country, in which many hundreds of bold, vigorous, and valorous half-breeds and Indians were engaged, might now return home. The different columns which, from bases lying hundreds of miles apart, by forced marches, had reached this outpost of civilization, each fighting meanwhile a vigorous campaign, embarked together on steamers on the Saskatchewan, and were rapidly transported to the East.

The trial of Riel and his companions in his ill-starred revolt opened at Regina, the capital of the North-West Territories, on July 28th. Striking evidence was given as to his insanity, but on August 1st the verdict of "guilty" was rendered, and, after successive reprieves, he suffered the extreme penalty of the law at Regina, November 16th. The execution of Riel produced an intense sensation among his French-Canadian co-religionists. In Montreal and elsewhere tumultuous meetings were held, accompanied by riotous processions and the burning in effigy of the Premier of the Dominion.

Of happier omen was a contemporary event in the North-West—the driving of the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway (November 7th). Thus was brought to completion an enterprise of the highest importance to the material and political welfare of the Dominion. Never had an undertaking of so great magnitude been carried on with such remarkable rapidity and success. By its completion a great trans-continental highway was opened between the commercial interests of Europe and those of Eastern Asia much more direct and expeditious than any before existing. As a military factor it contributes greatly to the unity of the British Empire throughout the world.

During 1886 the principal event of importance was the dissolution of the Ontario Assembly toward the close of the year. After a short but very exciting campaign the Mowat Government was sustained by an increased majority, December 28th, 1886. Early in the following year the Dominion Parliament was dissolved, and a general election took place, February 22nd. The Conservative Government was sustained, though with a decreased majority.

The relations between the United States and Canada because somewhat strained on accounts of fishery disputes. An international commission was appointed in September, 1887, for the settlement of the fishery and international questions. Considerable public discussion took place with reference to a policy of unrestricted trade reciprocity between the two countries.

The most conspicuous event of the year throughout the British Empire was the celebration of the Jubilee year of the Queen. Never was seen more patriotic enthusiasm than that manifested in the many and varied celebrations, not only at the heart of the Empire, but also throughout its remotest dependencies.

Return to our 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