The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XXXI The Provisional Government


The-"Rill of Rights" was published on December 5th. It tended to reassure the English settlers and induce them to wait for a peaceable settlement of the troubles of the colony. The collapse of Colonel Dennis' attempt to raise an armed force and his proclamation tended in the same direction. Joint action on the part of the Metis and English factions seemed possible once more. Many of the Metis retired from Port Garry to their homes, leaving only about sixty men there.

On December 10th, two days after he had proclaimed the establishment of a provisional government, Riel hoisted its flag over Fort Garry The design on the tiag combined the fleur-de-lis with the shamrock; and it is said that the latter emblem was added at the suggestion of W. R. O'Donoghue, one of Riel's councillors from St. Boniface. The adoption of the shamrock as one of the. emblems on his flag may have given rise to the rumor that Riel was acting in collusion with Fenians across the international boundary, and the rumor received some corroboration from articles advocating annexation to the United States, which appeared in the New Nation about the time that paper became the organ of Riel's party. Riel himself, however, steadily protested that he was opposed to annexation and that he desired to maintain a provisional government, representative of all classes in the community, until the rights of the people could be secured from Canada. Had his acts been as moderate as his statements and had he kept faith with the men who surrendered at Dr. Schultz' house, he might have won the co-operation of the English element in the population; but unfortunately the breakdown of the movement in opposition to him made him more arbitrary than ever. lie persistently refused to release his prisoners and added to their number by incarcerating men who were known to disapprove strongly of his methods; and he continued to take from the stores of the Hudson's Bay Company and private merchants what he needed for his followers.

The Dominion government finally took action in regard to the Red River rebellion, although it was a step towards pacification rather than definite settlement of the trouble. On December 4th the secretary of state, Hon. Mr. Howe, instructed Rev. Grand Vicar Thibault to proceed to the Red River Settlement and present the views and purposes of the government to the people there. Colonel de Salaberrv was to act as his colleague. Mr. Howe's letter of instructions to the two commissioners gave them no real power to conclude any arrangements with the colony and was very vague and general in what it promised to the people. It stated that, in the four provinces already federated men of all classes, races, and creeds were on perfect equality the eyes of the government and the law, and that no government would attempt to establish different conditions in the North-West; it pointed to the fact that the rights of the Indians in eastern Canada had always been respected and that no Indian wars had ever occurred there, and it promised that the Indians of the west would be justly treated; it declared that there would have been bloodshed in the Red River Settlement, if the Dominion and imperial governments had not shown so much moderation; it assured the people that the governor-general's proclamation and the instructions to Governor McDougall would show them how groundless were their fears that they would receive unfair treatment or that their political rights would be ignored; intimated that the fullest measure of self-government would be given the colony as soon as possible; and concluded with a little fling at the indiscretion shown by Governor McDougall.

On December 6th the proclamation of the governor-general, Sir John Young, afterwards Lord Lisgar, was issued to the people of the Nortli-West Territories. The following are its principal clauses:

t'^'The Queen has charged me, as Her Representative, to inform you that certain misguided persons in Her Settlement on the Red River have banded themselves together to oppose by force the entry into Her North-West Territories of the officer selected to administer, in Her name, the government, when the Territories are united to the Dominion of Canada, under the authority of the late Act of Parliament of the ITnited Kingdom; and that those parties have also forcibly, and with violence, prevented others of Her loyal subjects from ingress into the country.

"Her Majesty feels assured that she may rely upon the loyalty of Her subjects in the North-West, and believes those men, who have thus illegally joined together, have done so from some misrepresentation.

"The Queen is convinced that, in sanctioning the union of the North-West Territories with Canada, she is promoting the best interests of the residents, and at the same time strengthening and consolidating Her North American possessions as part of the British Empire. You may then judge of the sorrow and displeasure with which the Queen reviews the unreasonable and lawless proceedings which have occurred.

"Her Majesty commands me to state to you that she will always be ready, through me as Her Representative, to redress all well-founded grievances, and that she has instructed me to hear and consider any complaints that may be made, or desires that may be expressed to me as Governor-General. At the same time she has charged me to exercise all the powers and authority with which she has trusted me in the support of order and the suppression of unlawful disturbances.

"By Her Majesty's authority, I do therefore assure you, that on the union with Canada all your civil and religious rights and privileges will be respected, your properties secured to you, and that your country will be governed, as in the past, under British laws and in the spirit of British justice.

"I do further, under Her authority, entreat and command those of you who are still assembled and banded together in defiance of law, peaceably to disperse and return to your homes, under the penalties of the law in case of disobedience.

"And I do lastly inform you, that in case of your immediate and peaceable obedience and dispersion, I shall order that no legal proceedings be taken against any parties implicated in these unfortunate breaches of the law."

On the next day Mr. Howe sent a letter to Governor McDougall, amplifying the pledges contained in the proclamation of the governor general. Unfortunately the letter reached Pembina after the governor had departed for Ottawa, and its contents were not made known to the people of Red River until January 25th. Mr. Howe said:

"You will now be in a position, in your communications with 1he residents of the North-West, to assure them:

"1. That all their civil and religious liberties and privileges will be sacredly respected.

"2. That all their properties, rights and equities of every kind, as enjoyed under the government of the Hudson's Bay Company, ;<will be continued to them.

"3. That in granting titles to land now occupied by the settlers, the most libera] policy will be pursued.

"4. That the present tariff of customs duties will be continued for two years from the 1st of January next, except in the case of spirituous liquors, as specified in the order-in-council above alluded to.

"5. That in forming your council the Governor-General will see that not only the Hudson's Bay Company but the other classes of the residents are fully and fairly represented.

"6. That your council will have the power of establishing municipal self government at once, and in such manner as they think most beneficial to the country.

"7. That the country will be governed, as in the past, by British law, and according to the spirit of British justice.

"8. That the present government is to be considered as merely provisional and temporary, and that the Government of Canada will be prepared to submit a measure to parliament, granting a liberal constitution, so soon as you, as Governor, and your council have had an opportunity of reporting fully on the wants and requirements of the territory.

"You had, of course, instructions on the above-mentioned points, excepting as regards the tariff, before you left Ottawa, but it has been thought well that I should repeat them to you in this authoritative l&rmjfi

In sending out Rev. Thihault and Colonel de Salaberry the government hoped to pacify the insurgents without committing itself to any precise plan for the future government of the colony ; but a few days later it decided that more definite action was necessary, and it dispatched to Fort Garry a representative invested with real power to deal with the discontented colonists. Shortly after his arrival at Pembina Governor McDougall had reported to Ottawa that the inactivity of the Hudson's Bay Company seemed to 'warrant the; inference that its officials had considerable sympathy with the position taken by the Metis. This was scarcely fair, however, for on November 24th Mr. Donald A. Smith, now Lord Strathcona, wrote to Hon. Mr. Howe, by request of the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company, offering all the assistance in its power to restore peace and order in the Red River Settlement. After some deliberation the government accepted this offer, and on December 10th the secretary of state wrote to Mr. Smith, appointing him a commissioner with power to bring about the best settlement possible with the people of the western colony The

letter was as follows:

"Sir—1 have the honor to inform you that His Excellency the Governor-General has been pleased to appoint you Special Commissioner, to inquire into and report upon the causes and extent of the armed obstruction offered at the Red River, in the North-West Territories, to the peaceful ingress of the Hon. Wm. McDougall, the gentleman selected to be the Lieutenant-Governor of that country on its union with Canada.

"Also, to inquire into and report upon the causes of the discontent and dissatisfaction at the proposed change that now exists there.

"Also, to explain to the inhabitants the principles on which the Government of Canada intends to govern the country, and to remove any misapprehension which may exist on the subject.

''And also to take such steps, in concert with Mr. McDougall and Governor Mactavish, as may seem most proper for effecting the peaceable transfer of the country and the government from the Hudson's Bay authorities to the Government of the Dominion. You will consider this communication as your letter of appointment as Government Commissioner.

"With this letter you will receive:

"A copy of the letter of instructions given to Mr McDougall on leaving Ottawa, dated 28th September last;

''Copy of further letter of instructions to Mr. McDougall. dated 7th instant;

"Copy of the Proclamation issued by nis Excellency the Governor-General, addressed to the inhabitants of the North-West Territories, by the express desire of Her Majesty.

"These will enable you to speak authoritatively on the subject of your mission.

"You will proceed with all dispatch to Pembina, and arrange with Mr. McDougall as to your future course of action; and then go on to Fort Garry, and take such steps as, after such consultation, may seem most expedient. You will, of course, consult Governor Mactavish, and endeavor to arrange one system of concerted action in the pacification of the country, with Mr. McDougall, the Hudson 's Bay authorities, and yourself .

"As the information received by the Government here is necessarily imperfect, and as the circumstances at. the Red River are continually changing, it is not considered expedient to hamper you with more specific instructions. You will, therefore, act according to the best of your judgment in concert with Mr. McDougall, and you will keep me fully informed by every mail of the progress of events.

"In addition to the more immediate object of your mission, you are requested to report on the best mode of dealing with the Indian Tribes in the country, and generally to make such suggestions as may occur to you as to the requirements of the country for the future."

Mr. Smith left at once for Fort Garry and reached it on December 27th. He took the precaution of leaving his commission and the official documents committed to him in the hands of Mr. J. A. N. Provencher at Pembina, ne

found Colonel de Salaberry at the border town, for that gentlemen was doubtful if the Metis would allow him to enter the settlement; but Rev. Thibault had gone forward and had reached St. Boniface a day before Mr. Smith arrived at Fort Garry. lie had left his commission with his colleague; but that gentleman rejoined him on January 6th, and then their papers were handed to Riel. The Metis leader, having read the documents, remarked that they gave the bearers no power and retained them. The two commissioners were kept as virtual prisoners in the bishop's palace and had no chance to discuss matters with the people, and so they accomplished very little. Perhaps the government did not expect them to do more. Mr. Smith was allowed to occupy quarters with his fellow officers of the Hudson's Bay Company; but he, too, was closely watched by Riel's men and was little better than a prisoner.

On December 25, 1869, Mr. Bruce resigned as president of the Metis council, and at a meeting, held two days later, Riel was appointed as his successor. On January 8th the following notices were gazetted in the New Nation: "Orders of the Provisional Government of Rupert's Land. "The people of Rupert's Land are notified by these presents:— "That at a meeting of the Representatives of the People, held at Fort Garry, on the 27th day of December, 1869, the following resolutions were adopted:—

"1st.—Mr. John Bruce having, on account of ill health, resigned his position as president, Mr. Louis Riel was chosen to replace him.

"The new president takes this opportunity, in conjunction with the Representatives of the People, to express their high sense of the qualities which distinguish the ex-president. Among others, his modesty, the natural moderation of his character, and the justness of his judgment. These qualities, which were of such great assistance to the people, deserve public recognition, and the Representatives accepted his resignation only in the hope hereby to preserve the health of one dear to them

"2nd.—Mr. Francois Xavier Dauphinais has been chosen Vice-President, t, "3rd.—Mr. Louis Schmidt has been aj>pointed Secretary of the Council "4th.—Mr. W. B. O'Donoghue has been appointed Secretary-Treasurer. "5tli.—Mr. Ambroise Lepine has been appointed Adjutant-General on '6th.—It has been decided that Mr. A. G. B. Bannatyne should be continued in his position as Postmaster.

"7th.—All the officers or employees of the old government who might pretend to exercise that old authority shall be punished for high treason,

"8tli.—Justice shall be administered by the Adjutant-General, whose council shall be composed of Mr. A. G. B. Bannatyne, F. X. Dauphinais, and Pierre Poitras. This council will sit on the first and third Monday of each month.

"9th.—All licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquors must be given by the Adjutant's council, and all those who took this kind of license on the 1st of December last, must have them renewed by the said council.

"In publishing these orders the President and Representatives of the People, anxious to draw upon the exercise of their authority the blessing of Heaven and the approbation of all. announce to the people of Rupert's Land that they have pardoned twelve political prisoner's, showing thereby that clemency and forgiveness are as familiar to them a? severity.

Louis Riel, President, Louis Schmidt, Secretary."

For a month Kiel's prisoners had endured, as bravely as they might, the hardships and indignities meted out to them by their captors. Major Boulton says': "They were detained for 110 offence, but merely that Riel might use them to'serve his purpose in any way that seemed to him expedient. Their confinement and poor food were not long in telling 011 them7 but they were unable to get any release, or any amelioration of their lot, for Riel was obdurate, and they were closely guarded by a large force. Their sufferings were greater by reason of the inclemency of the weather, it now being the depth of winter; and neither sufficient warmth or clothing was allowed them. Having been confined for some weeks without am hope of speedy release, nothing having been so far accomplished by the mission of Mr. Smith, some of the prisoners determined to effect their escape. The guards had become careless; and, an opportunity presenting itself, they made a dash for their liberty. But the difficulties they had to contend with in finding their way across the snow-clad prairies after effecting their escape were greater than they anticipated. Out of the twelve who escaped seven were retaken. One of them, poor Hyman, was badly frozen. Charles Mair and Thomas Scott, whose life was afterwards taken by Riel, reached Portage la Prairie."

The recaptured men were taken back to prison on January 11th. Up to that time the prisoners—nearly sixty in all—had been confined in the jail of the Hudson's Bay Company, a rather dilapidated structure which stood just outside the fort; but after the capture of those who escaped, all were immured in buildings inside the walls of the fort. Dr. Schultz was kept in a room by himself, and believing that Riel meditated some special act of vengeance against him, he determined to escape. His wife and one or two friends assisted him in his preparations, and on the 23d of January everything was ready. By the aid of a knife and a gimlet he opened the window of his prison; his buffalo robe, cut into strips, furnished a rope by which he descended to the ground; a severe blizzard screened his movements; and when he was outside the walls of the fort, a cutter was waiting to carry him to the house of Mr. McBeth in Kildonan, where he was safe for a time. "When his fellow-prisoners learned the next day of the doctor's escape, neither the abuse nor the threats of their guards could keep them from cheering.

When Mr. Donald A. Smith reached Fort C4arry, he was taken by some of the guards to Riel who introduced him to some of the members of his "provisional government." He was asked the purport of his visit, and replied that he came as the representative of the Canadian government and would show his credentials to the people of Red River as soon as they were ready to receive him. He was required to take an oath not to attempt to leave the fort; but he declined to do this, and was careful throughout his stay not to recognize the provincial government as having any legal existence. For two months he was practically a prisoner; for although Riel gave him permission to go outside the walls of the fort for exercise, if accompanied by two armed guards, he never availed himself of the privilege. On January 6th he had an interview with Riel, which convinced him that no good would come of any negotiations with 1he Metis council. He decided that it was better to deal with individuals among the disaffected people.

Mr. Smith, in his report to the government, said: '"Meantime we had frequent visits in the fort from some of the most influential and most reliable men in the settlement, who gladly made known to the people generally the liberal intentions of the Canadian Government, and, in consequence, one after another of Riel's councillors seceded from him, and being joined by their friends, and by many of their compatriots and co-religionists, who had throughout held aloof from the insurgents, they determined 110 longer to submit to his dictation."

On January 14 Riel informed Mr. Smith that he had had an interview with Grand Vicar Thibault and Colonel de Salaberry and had found that they were without authority to guarantee the rights of the colonists, should the Red River Settlement be federated with Canada; and he asked to see Mr. Smith's commission. Being informed that it was not in Mr. Smith's possession, he demanded a written order that the document should be delivered to his messenger. This was refused; hut when Riel assured him that the papers would be delivered into his hands, Mr Smith agreed to send for them. That evening he dispatched Mr. Hardistv, his brother-in law, who had accompanied him from Montreal, to Pembina for the papers left in the hands of Mr. Provencher. Riel sent one of his guards with Mr. Hardisty, and he placed a guard over Mr. Smith, with instructions not to lose sight of him for a moment and to prevent him from having any communication with other people. The next morning, several hours before daybreak, Mr. Smith was awakened and found Riel and a guard standing beside his bed. The new president of the provisional government demanded a written order for the delivery of Mr. Smith's official papers and again met with a refusal.

The well-affected people among the French, having been informed of these incidents and suspecting Riel's purpose, determined to prevent him from seizing the papers. They collected seventy or eighty men—mostly French—and, without giving others any inkling of their purpose, rode south to meet Mr. Hardisty. As they were escorting him back on the 18th, Riel met the party a few miles south of Fort Garry. The Metis leader, who was accompanied by Father Ritchot and a few of his followers, attempted to interfere; but when Pierre Laveiller levelled a revolver at his head and told him to fall into line with the others, he thought it wise to obey. The president of the provisional government was not an absolute ruler by any means.

During the afternoon Very Rev. Vicar Thibault, Colonel de Salaberry, and Father Lestanc called on Mr. Smith, and while they were discussing the intentions of the Canadian government with regard to Rupert's Land, Mr. Hardisty and his escort arrived with Mr. Smith's papers. As these established his status as a representative of the Dominion government, he demanded that the guard be removed and that he be allowed to communicate freely with the people of the colony. Riel consented to this at once. An altercation then arose between members of Mr. Hardisty's escort and Riel, O'Donoghue, and others of the extreme Metis party, but finally it was agreed that a meeting of inhabitants from all parts of the settlement would be called for the next day to hear the proposals brought by Mr. Smith from the Dominion government. A guard of forty men remained to watch the documents which he had received. During the evening some of Riel's most ardent supporters were busy among the followers who had grown lukewarm and persuaded many of them to show a united front at the meeting to be held on the morrow.


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