The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XXIX Open Rebellion


No one had taken a more active part in securing the annexation of the North-Vest territories to Canada than Hon. William McDougall, and it seemed fitting that he should be made their first lieutenant-governor. His commission, dated September 29, 1869, was to take effect on the day on which the transfer of the territory was consummated, and Mr. McDougall was instructed by the secretary of state for the Dominion to proceed to Fort Garry at once in order to superintend the organization of the new territorial government. He was also asked to make reports to the government on the state of the laws in the territories, the system of taxation, the currency, the lands open to settlement, the condition of the Indian tribes, the relations between the Hudson's Bay Company and the different religious denominations, etc. In addition; he was asked to send the names of men qualified to serve as members of his council, and he was urged to take steps for the early extension of the telegraph system into the North-West. On October 11 the secretary of state forwarded by the hands of Mr. J. A. N. Provencher the commission appointing Mr. McDougall as lieutenant-governor and commissions to Mr. "William Mactavish and others, authorizing them to administer the oaths of allegiance and of office to Governor McDougall and to all other persons appointed to government positions. But Mr. McDougall did not accomplish any of the multifarious tasks assigned to him. He departed for his new field of duty at once, and on October 30 he reached Pembina, accompanied by Mr. J. A. N. Provencher, who was to act as secretary of his government, Mr. Albert Richards, who was to be his attorney-general, Dr. Jakes, Major Cameron, and some members of his family; but he never entered Fort Garry as governor of the North-West Territories.

News of Governor McDougall's coming preceded him and stirred the Metis to increased activity. Their spokesman. Riel, attempted to secure the support ox the English-speaking settlers for the opposition to the policy of the Dominion government shown by the Metis, but they would give him no encouragement. He then called a meeting of his leading supporters among the inhabitants of the French parishes; and a committee, or council, was appointed to direct the agitation. John Bruce was made president and nominal leader of the council, while its real leader, Louis Riel, was appointed secretary. The house of Father Ritchot at La Salle river was used as a council chamber.

This committee, determined not to recognize the authority of the Dominion government or its officials, decided that Governor McDougall must not be allowed to come to Fort Garry, and the following notice was sent to him:

"Monsieur—Le Coinite National des Metis de la Riviere Rouge intime a Monsieur W. McDougall l'ordrc de ne pas entrer sur le Territoire du Nord-Ouest sans une permission speciale de ce comite.

"Par ordre du President,

John Bruce, Louis Riel,

Secretaire.

"Date a St. Norbert, Riviere Rouge, Ce 21e jour d'Octobre, 1869."

On his journey across the Minnesota plains Governor McDougall had met Hon Joseph Howe, who was on his way east after spending some time m the Red River Settlement. Mr. Howe told him that there was no efficient government in the colony, that the French half-breeds were greatly dissatisfied with the terms and manner of the transfer to Canada, and that the whole situation was one requiring the utmost tact, if serious trouble was to be averted; but the governor did not expect such decided opposition as was intimated in the notice from the committee which was put into his hands on his arrival at Pembina. On the same day he received a long letter from Governor Mactavish, informing him of the unrest among the Metis and the excitement caused by his own approach. Governor Mactavish suggested that three courses were open to him: a small band of friendly French people might be raised, who would go to Pembina and escort the governor to Fort Garry; a body of English residents, large enough to overawe the Metis, might be enlisted to bring him in; or he might remain at Pembina until the malcontents dispersed. He advised the governor to adopt the last plan, and it would appear that Colonel Dennis had sent similar advice. Nevertheless, Mr. McDougall crossed the boundary and took up quarters in the Pembina post of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The Metis council took steps to enforce obedience to its order. The road from Pembina to Fort Garry led across the La Salle river, and as the stream runs between high, steep banks, it could not be easily crossed except at the bridge; and the council sent a band of thirty or forty men, armed with guns and revolvers, to build a barricade of small timber across the trail south of the bridge and to remain there to guard it. One or two advance parties were placed on the road further south.

These high handed actions of Riel and his followers did not meet with approval from all the French and Metis, and they were viewed with decided disapprobation by the English-speaking people of the settlement. The situation was discussed at a meeting of the council of Assiniboia on October 25, the members present being Judge Black, Bishop Maehray, Dr. Cowan, Dr Bird, and Messrs. Dease, Sutherland, McBeth, Fraser, and Bannatyne. Riel and Bruce had been invited to attend the meeting, and members of the council remonstrated with them for taking up arms and showed them that such actions were criminal. Riel expressed his determination to persist in opposing Mr. McDougall's entrance into the settlement, although he promised to repeat to his followers what he had been told by the council. The Metis leaders were allowed to retire; and then the council engaged in a long discussion, plan after plan being suggested only to be rejected because the council was well aware of its lack of power to enforce any measure which it might adopt. Finally, on motion of Messrs. Bannatyne and McBeth, the following resolution was adopted:

That Messrs. Dease and Goulet be appointed to collect immediately as many of the more respectable of the French community as they can, and with them proceed to the camp of the party who intend to intercept Governor McDougall and endeavor, if possible, to procure their peaceable dispersion ; and that Mr. Dease report to Governor Mactavish on or before Thursday next as to their success or otherwise."

Of course Mr. Dease had to report that he had not been successful in his mission; and having shot its futile holt, the council did little more. One man in Fort Garry seemed to have some foresight and decided ideas of the plan of action which should be adopted. He was Sergeant James Mulligan, chief of police. He urged Dr. Cowan to call out the 300 special constables, who had been enrolled in anticipation of trouble a few years earlier, and as many of the old pensioners as could be found, and place them as a garrison in Fort Garry. The walls and bastions of the fort were in good order and were mounted with 13 six-pounder guns. There were nearly 400 Enfield rifles in its armory, left there by troops who had once garrisoned the place, and there was plenty of ammunition and provisions. If Mulligan's advice had been followed, the fort could have been held against any force which the Metis were likely to have mustered, and the incipient rebellion would probably have fizzled out before the end of the year. But nothing was done, and the inaction of the authorities encouraged Riel to persist in the course on which he had entered.

Governor McDougall decided to wait at the boundary for a few days, but he sent his secretary forward at once to ascertain how matters stood in the settlement. Mr. Provencher was a nephew of the deceased Bishop Provencher, and the governor hoped that he might secure the sympathy and confidence of the French and Metis people. AYhen Mr. Provencher's carriage reached the La Salle barricade, it was stopped and he was invited to attend mass in the neighboring church. After the service he discussed the political situation -with some of the leading people of the district, and in the afternoon he had an interview with Kiel. The latter told him plainly that, as leader of the Metis, he could not recognize the measures adopted by the Canadian government nor the appointments which it hail made, but that he was ready to open negotiations with any representative of the government fully empowered to agree upon the, terms under which the colony would be federated with the Dominion That was the message which Mr. Provencher was to carry to Pembina, and an armed guard would accompany him.

As Father Ritchot, Riel, and some of his supporters came out on the road to see Mr. Provencher started on his return ride to Pembina, another carriage approached the barricade. It contained Major Cameron, who hoped to reach Fort Carry and study conditions there from another point of view. Seeing the obstruction on the road, he called out impatiently, "Remove this infernal fence!" But the Metis guard declined to oblige him, and two of the men. taking his horses by their bridles, turned their heads southward. "You are to return to Pembina," said Riel,' "and to make sure that you do not take some other road my men will accompany you there." He then detailed a guard of fourteen mounted men under Ambroise Lepine to escort the two baffled travelers back to Pembina, which they reached on the evening of the next day, November 2. Lepine had been entrusted with another duty, which he carried out without delav. and that was to set Mr. McDougall south of the border. So on November 3rd the Governor found himself deported from the country whose government he was sent to organize. Hearing of the governor's unpleasant experience, Colonel Dennis went to Pembina and secured fairly comfortable quarters for him near the United States customs house in Pembina.

Riel was not slow to see the advantage which the possession of Fort Carry could give him. During November 2nd, the day on which Lepine was sent to compel Governor McDougall and his party to retire to United States territory, Riel marched a force of about 120 men down to Fort Garry, entered it unopposed, and took possession of its cannon, rifles, ammunition, and other stores, in spite of the protests of Dr. Cowan, the officer of the Hudson's Bay Company in charge there. lie quartered his officers in the apartments of the company's clerks and appropriated some of Governor McDougall's furniture in order to make them more comfortable. During the first few days of their occupation of the fort Riel's men seem to have committed 110 depredations.

Kiel's success appears to have turned his head, and his actions became more arbitrary and lawless. Mails were detained and examined, and letters between Pembina and Fort Garry had to be sent by special messengers. A rumor that Mr. McDougall was bringing arms from Canada and intended to have them secretly conveyed to Fort Garry gave the insurgent leaders an excuse for stopping every cart which crossed the boundary to search it for concealed weapons and ammunition. The same excuse served for the detention of a quantity of merchandise consigned to Dr. Schultz, and Riel's agents were careful to collect duty 011 the goods before releasing them.

Riel's next move seems to have been designed to give some appearance of legality to his usurpation. On November (i he went to the office of the Nor'-Wester, and ordered the editor, Dr. Bown, to print a notice for distribution among the people of Red River. When Bown refused, he was made a prisoner, and two men, engaged by Riel for the purpose printed the required number of copies of the notice. It read as follows:

♦'"PUBLIC NOTICE TO THE INHABITANTS OF RUPERT'S LAND

"The President and Representatives of the French-speaking population of Rupert's Land, in council, (the invaders of our rights being now expelled), already aware of your sympathy, do extend the hand of fellowship to you, our friendly fellow-inliabitants, and in doing so invite you to send twelve representatives from the following places, viz.:—

St. John's...................... 1 St. Clement's ................... 1
Headingly ....................... 1 St. Margaret's .................. 1
St. Mary's ...................... 1 St. James ....................... 1
St. Paul's....................... 1 Kildonan ....................... 1
St. Andrew's .................... 1 St. Peter's ...................... 1
Town of Winnipeg .............. 2

In order to form one body with the above council consisting of twelve members, to consider the present political state of this country, and to adopt such measures as may be deemed best for the future welfare of the same.

"A meeting of the above council will be held in the Court-House, at Fort Garry, on Tuesday, the 16th day of November, at which the invited representatives will attend.

i.. "By order of the President,

Louis Riel, Secretary.

"Winnipeg, November 6, 1869."

The English-speaking residents hesitated to countenance Riel's actions by sending delegates to a meeting of his council; but finally, hoping to reach some peaceable solution of the trouble, they decided to accept his invitation. On the day appointed the twenty-four delegates presented themselves, and as they filed into the court-house a salute of twenty-four guns was fired from the walls of the fort, which the Metis supplemented by a feu-de-joie from their muskets. The convention consisted of the following members: John Bruce, president; Louis Riel, secretary; French representatives—Francois Dauphinais, Pierre Poitras, and Pierre Laveiller from St. Frangois Xavier, W. B. O'Donoghue from St. Boniface, Andre Beauchemin and Pierre Parenteau, Sr., from St. Vital, Louis Lacerte and Baptiste Tourond from St. Norbert, and Charles Nolin and Jean Baptiste Perreault from Ste. Anne's. English representatives—Henry McKenney and H. F. O'Lone from Winnipeg, James Ross from Kildonan. Maurice Lowinan from St.- John's, Dr Bird from St. Paul's, Donald Gunn from St. Andrew's, Thomas Bunn from St. Clement's, Henry Prince, chief of the Indians settled there, from St. Peter's, Robert Tait from St. James, William Tait from Ileadingly, George (Iran from St. Ann's, and John Garrioch from Portage la Prairie.

Governor McDougall found himself in a very difficult position. He was on the border of tlie country which he had been sent to govern, but he was prevented from entering it and taking up his duties. Friends in the settlement were not unanimous in the advice which they gave him, some urging him to wait at Pembina, others assuring him that if he came down to Fort Garry the loyal people in the colony would rally to his support. But many of these loyal people were unwilling to take any action which would direct the hostility of the Metis against themselves. Colonel Dennis, who had canvassed the English and Scotch settlers, hoping to raise among them a force strong enough to bring the governor down to Fort Garry, gives the following as the opinion of those inhabitants who had decided to remain neutral: "We feel confidence in the future administration of the government of this country, under Canadian rule; at the same time, we have not been consulted in any way, as a people, in entering into the Dominion. The charter of the new government has been settled in Canada, without our being consulted. We are prepared to accept it respectfully, to obey the laws and become good subjects; but when you present to us the issue of a conflict with the French party, with whom we have hitherto lived in friendship. backed up, as they would be, by the Roman Catholic church, which appears probable, by the course at present being taken by the priests, in which conflict, it is almost certain the aid of the Indians would be invoked, and perhaps obtained by that party, we feel disinclined to enter upon it, and think that the Dominion should assume the responsibility of establishing amongst us, what it, and it alone, has decided upon." Governor McDougall could not hope for any active support from that section of the people.

I1 Nor did he receive much support from the government which had sent him out as governor of the newly acquired territories. It was the original intention of the Dominion government to complete the transfer of the North-West territories on October 1, and Mr. McDougall's arrival was timed accordingly. But the proclamation of Her Majesty, announcing the annexation of the country to the Dominion, was postponed, and in the meantime, Governor McDougall had no official status in it. This fact afforded the Metis ground for their position and gave some of the English-speaking people an excuse for their apathy and inaction. Mr. McDougall felt the weakness of his position, for on November 2 he wrote to Governor Mactavish, reminding him that the Hudson's Bay Company was still the governing power in the country and responsible for the preservation of peace until the transfer of the colony was formally proclaimed. But the company's governing power had waned to a shadow, and Governor Mactavish could do nothing but offer advice. He advised Mr. .McDougall to return to Canada until the trouble had blown over; but as that meant an overland journey of four hundred miles to St. Paul in the beginning of winter, Mr. McDougall hesitated. lie urged Mr. Mactavish to issue a proclamation, explaining to the people the terms of the act, which made their country a part of Canada, and warning them against impeding any action taken under its provisions. Mr. Mactavish was very doubtful if such a proclamation would have any effect in checking unlawful movements on the part of the French population. since the local authorities found themselves in a very anomalous position. In his reply he says: "The Act in question referred to the prospective transfer of the territory; but up to this moment we have no official intimation from Britain, or the Dominion of Canada, of the fact of the transfer or of its conditions, or of the date at which they were to take practical effect upon the government of this country."

Nevertheless Governor Mactavish finally decided to try the effect of a proclamation. "When Riel's convention assembled, Governor Mactavish sent his secretary, Mr. J. J. Hargrave, with a copy of the proclamation to be read before the delegates. It was as follows:

"Whereas H William Mactavish, governor of Assiniboia, have been informed that a meeting is to be held to-day of persons from the different districts of the settlement, for the ostensible purpose of taking into consideration the present political condition of the colony, and for suggesting such measures as may be best adapted for meeting the difficulties and dangers connected with the existing state of public affairs; and whereas, I deem it advisable at this juncture to place before that meeting, as well as before the whole body of the people, what it appears necessary for me to declare in the interests of public order, and of the safety and welfare of the settlement:

"Therefore, I notify all whom it concerns, that during the last few weeks large bodies of armed men have taken up positions on the public high road to Pembina, and, contrary to the remonstrances and protests of the public authorities, have committed the following unlawful acts:

"1st. They have forcibly obstructed the movements of various persons traveling on the public highway, in the peaceful prosecution of their lawful business, and have thus violated that personal liberty which is the undoubted right of all Her Majesty's subjects.

2nd. They have unlawfully seized and detained on the road at La Riviere Sale. in the parish of St. Norbert, goods and merchandise of various descriptions, and of very considerable value, belonging as well to persons coming into the colony as to citizens already settled here and carrying on their business in the settlement, thereby causing great loss and inconvenience, not only to the owners of these goods, but, as has formally been complained of, also to the carriers of the same, and possibly involving the whole colony in a ruinous responsibility.

"3rd. They have unlawfully interfered with the public mails, both outgoing and incoming, and by thus tampering with the established means of communication between the settlement and the outside world have shaken public confidence in the security of the mails, and given a shock to the trade and commerce of the colony, of which the mischievous effects cannot now be fully estimated.

"4th. Not only without permission, but in the face of repeated remonstrances on the part of the Hudson's Bay Company's officer in immediate charge of Fort Garry, they have, in numbers varying from about sixty to one hundred and twenty, billeted themselves upon that establishment, under the plea of protecting it from danger which they allege was known by themselves to be imminent, but of which they have never yet disclosed the particular nature ; they have placed armed guards at the gates of an establishment, which, every stick and stone of it, is private property, in spite of the most distinct protestations against such a disregard of the rights of property; they have taken possession of rooms within the Fort, and although they have there as yet committed no direct act of violence to person or property, beyond what has been enumerated, yet by their presence in such numbers, with arms, for no legitimate purpose that can be assigned, they have created a state of excitement and alarm within and around the Fort, which seriously interferes with the regular business of the establishment.

"5th. A body of armed men have entered the Hudson's Bay Company's post at Pembina, where certain gentlemen from Canada with their families were peaceably living, and under threats of violence have compelled them to quit the establishment at a season of the year when the rigors of winter were at hand, and forced them to retire within American territory.

"And, in the last place, they have avowed it as their intention, in all these unlawful proceedings, to resist arrangements for the transfer of the government of this country, which have been made under the sanction of the Imperial Parliament, and of virtually setting at defiance the Royal authority, instead of adopting those lawful and constitutional means, which, under the enlightened rule of Her Most Gracious Majesty, our Queen, are sufficient for the ultimate attainment of every object that rests upon reason and justice.

"The persons who have been engaged in committing these unlawful deeds have resorted to acts which, directly tend to involve themselves in consequences of the gravest nature, and to bring upon the colony and the country at. large the evils of anarchy and the horrors of war.

"Therefore, in the interests of law and order, in behalf of all the securities you have for life and property, and. in a word, for the sake of the present and the future welfare of the settlement and its inhabitants, I again earnestly and emphatically protest against each and all of these unlawful acts. I charge those engaged in them, before they are irretrievably and hopelessly involved, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, under the pains and penalties of the law; and whatever in other respects may be the conclusions of those who meet to deliberate upon the present critical and distracted state of public affairs, I adjure you as citizens having the interests of your country at heart, to ratify and proclaim, with ail the might of your united voices, this public notice and protest and so avert from the country a succession of evils, of which those who see the beginning mav never see the end. .

"You are dealing with a crisis, out of which may come incalculable good or immeasurable evil; and with all the weight of my official authority, and all the influence of my individual position, let me finally charge you to adopt only such means as are lawful and constitutional, rational and safe.

"Given under my hand and seal, at Port Garry, this 16th day of November,|

1869.

W. Mactavish

Governor of Assiniboia,"

When Mr. McKenney, to whom Mr. Hargrave had handed the proclamation, attempted to read it to the convention, the French delegates objected, while the English insisted upon hearing it. The wrangle which followed tended to create a feeling of antagonism between the two factions and to destroy the little chance." of unanimous action which may have existed at first. The convention sat until the evening of .November 17, without having made any headway,-and then adjourned until the 22nd. When the convention reassembled on that date some of the English delegates proposed that Governor McDougall should be admitted in order that they might discuss the grievances of the people with him. But Riel declared that he should not be permitted to enter the colony either as its governor or as a private citizen, and this irreconcilable attitude of the Metis leader widened the breach between the two parties in the convention. On the next day he had Governor Mactavish, Dr. Cowan, and other gentlemen arrested; and when the convention met, he declared his intention of forming a provisional government to conduct negotiations with the Dominion authorities for the federation of the colony with Canada and asked the English-speaking representatives to join him in the movement. Fearing lest they had already countenanced some of his illegal acts by sitting in the convention which he had summoned, these delegates declared that they could not discuss his latest proposal without consulting the people who hail elected them; and so the convention was again adjourned to December 1st.

The proclamation, which Governor Mactavish sent to the convention on November 16, states that up to that time the Metis, who had taken forcible possession of Fort Garry, had "committed no direct act of violence to person or property,'' beyond occupying some of the buildings of the Hudson's Bay Company; but Riel's moderation in this respect was of short duration. Winter had come, and he knew that to keep his band of armed men about him he must feed and pay them, as well as find comfortable shelter for them. He had no means to do these things for more than a hundred "soldiers," and therefore means must be found. The simplest way was to seize the store of the Hudson's Bay Company, which was well stocked with food, clothing, arms, and ammunition—the things Riel needed most. This was done in spite of the protests of the governor and the factor in charge, and the leader of the insurgents did not neglect the opportunity to take from the company's strong box the money needed for his campaign. Father Moriee has given the following euphemistic account of the affair:

"Eventually the inexorable necessities growing out of the prolongation of the struggle, the formation of a regular government, and the opposition which it met, compelled Riel not only to seize arms and ammunition, as well as supplies of food belonging to the company, but also to negotiate a loan of money and to force the manager of that corporation to consent to it, on the condition that Canada, which was the cause of the uprising, would reimburse the said company when it should take possession of the country."

It is said that Riel used a part of the money so obtained to purchase the Pioneer, a newspaper which Mr. Caldwell had established a short time before. Thenceforward this journal was to some, extent the organ of Riel and his party. On November 23rd, he seized all the official records of the Hudson's Bay Company, and as these included titles to lands and other important documents, the act created much uneasiness among all classe-3 of people. About the same time rumors that the friends of Governor McDougall were holding secret meetings came to Riel's ears and led him to keep an armed patrol on the streets.

Some friends of peace now made an effort to induce the French to change their programme so far as to acknowledge tne government of the Hudson's Bay Company until a joint committee of Metis and English-speaking people could be selected to treat with Mr. McDougall on behalf of the Dominion government or with that government directly. At first the suggestion was favorably received, and Riel gave an assurance that this would be done. But renewed rumors that friends of Governor McDougall were planning to retake Fort Garry gave the Metis leader an excuse for changing his mind, and in a public meeting held in Winnipeg soon after he stated that a provisional government had become a necessity because the Hudson's Bay Company was powerless to govern the colony longer. He added that there was no desire on the part of the Metis to force their special views on the rest of the community and that he wished to act in conjunction -with representatives of the English. This assurance induced the English delegates to reconsider the question of attending the adjourned meeting of the convention, and a report that the Queen's proclamation, annexing the colony to Canada, had been received, led them to decide to attend the meeting called for December 1st.


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