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The Prairie Provinces
Chapter XI. The Red River Rebellion


The transfer of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company to Canada, which had been arranged for and only required the Queen’s proclamation, met with a local opposition which unfortunately grew into rebellion. During the late summer of 1869 the Canadian Government began to make preparations for taking over the new territory in December. Col. J. S. Dennis, a Dominion land surveyor, was instructed to proceed to the Red River and begin a general survey. While obeying his instructions, Col. Dennis gave warning that such action would have a disturbing effect upon the half-breeds. The warning proved to have been reasonable, for scarcely had the survey been begun, when a party of French half-breeds, headed by Louis Riel, interfered and stopped the work. It was evident that many of the settlers had the impression that their claims to the land upon which they had settled were to be disregarded by the Canadian Government.

In September, the Hon. William McDougall was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the North-West Territories, his term of office to date from the day River, arriving at Pembina on October 30th. Meanwhile Riel, who now had a following of three or four hundred men, and was determined to oppose the entry of the newly appointed governor, had blockaded near St. Nor-bert the road leading into the settlement. Ambroise Lepine, who had charge of the military operations, was dispatched to Pembina to instruct McDougall not to enter the country, and these instructions were, fortunately for all concerned, observed. Col. Dennis, however, made an attempt to raise a force among the English and Scotch settlers to bring in the governor in spite of the rebels. His failure brought to light the fact that, while these men had held aloof from Riel and his followers, they were not disposed to undertake to suppress the rising. They had not been consulted in the great change which had been made, and could not therefore be expected to take an active part therein.

In November, Riel, anxious to secure more comfortable quarters, seized Fort Garry, from which he issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of Rupert’s Land, requesting them to send twelve representatives to act in a common council with the French half-breeds.

Although the council met, the adverse elements of which it was composed failed to agree to anything. From this point the situation became more strained and Riel’s conduct more high-handed. All suspected of opposing Riel and his followers were arrested; and the stores of the Hudson’s Bay Company were freely used by the usurping rulers. A “provisional government” had been established, with Riel as president and O’Donoghue as treasurer.

On the first day of December, McDougall issued what purported to be the Queen’s proclamation, appointing him governor, and another authorizing Dennis to raise a force to suppress the rebellion. The attempt of Dennis to carry out these instructions proved a failure, and forty or fifty men who had gathered at the house of Dr. Schultz to protect some government stores, were disarmed by a force of three hundred Frenchmen and imprisoned in Fort Garry. Dr. Schultz, who was among those arrested, proved impatient of restraint, and, improvising a rope from a buffalo robe, succeeded in making his escape. After hiding for a time at the house of one of the Kildonan settlers, he made his way to Duluth and thence to Eastern Canada.

Meanwhile, McDougall had returned to Ontario, and the Government had sent out a special commissioner, in the person of Donald A. Smith, now Lord Strathcona, whose experience and tact it was hoped would put an end to the existing difficulties. Immediately the effect of his presence was seen in the gathering of a convention of forty members, French and English equally represented. A Bill of Rights was drawn up and preparations made to send delegates to the Government at Ottawa. After the dissolution of the convention Riel and his council continued to rule, and there was every promise of a speedy settlement of all grievances. Many prisoners had been liberated during the sitting of the convention, and now the remainder would have been set free but for an ill-timed movement against Riel’s government. A party of about one hundred men from up the Assiniboine had gathered at Kildonan, hoping to be there reinforced, but had been persuaded to return home. As they were making their way across the prairie, they were suddenly arrested by Riel and imprisoned; and four of them, including Major Boulton, were sentenced to death.

Anxious, however, to secure recognition of his government, Riel announced that he would spare the condemned men if the people would send representatives to a convention. It now seemed as if a peaceable settlement of all difficulties was to be reached, when suddenly the whole community was shocked by the announcement of the execution of one of the prisoners. On the 4th

of March, after a mock trial, in which the prisoner had no opportunity of putting in a defence, Thomas Scott was led out in front of the fort and shot.

Riel had taken a fatal step, for from the moment of this tragedy the sentiment of the community had turned against the “provisional government.”

When the news of Scott’s death reached Ottawa, all thought of conciliation was dismissed by the Canadian Government. Col. Wolseley was dispatched with an armed force to the scene of the rebellion. Following1 the old fur traders’ route, the expedition arrived at Fort Garry by the end of August.

It was found that the three rebel leaders, Riel, O’Donoghue, and Lepine had fled to the States. The rebellion was over. Col. Wolseley called upon Donald A. Smith to act as administrator of the Government until the arrival of a regularly appointed governor.

Even while the force under Wolseley was on its way to the Red River, the Manitoba Act was passed and Manitoba thereby received into the Dominion Confederation as a full-fledged province. By a provision of the Act one and a half million acres of land were set apart to satisfy the half-breed claims. Most of the demands made by Riel and his followers were readily granted. Many men who had come west under Col. Wolseley settled in the new province; and, with the restoration of order, a stream of immigration began to flow, which, in a few years, converted the little Fort Garry settlement into the populous capital of Manitoba. Close behind the military expedition came the first governor of the province, the Hon. Adams G. Archibald. No time was lost in taking the necessary steps for the organization of a provincial government. Twenty-four electoral districts were formed, each of which was to send a representative to a legislative assembly. A council of five was selected to advise the governor The history of Manitoba since Confederation has been mainly the history of immigration. So rapidly did settlers press west, that a great need arose of inlets for population and merchandise, and outlets for the products of the country. Although for a while the flat-bottomed, stern-wheeled steamer did good service on the Red River, a railway soon became a necessity. The first road to

connect 'Winnipeg with the outside world was a branch line from Pembina, built in 1878. In 1885, the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed and the isolation of the North-West became an experience of the past.

Manitoba, in spite of the rapid growth in population and general prosperity, has not been free from difficulties. A dispute over the boundary between Manitoba and Ontario, involving the district in which Kenora is situated, was finally settled in favor of the latter province. Another serious question was that presented by the virtual monopoly which had been granted by the Canadian Government to the C. P. R. The rapidity with which the province was filling up with settlers made clear the necessity of opening the country to more railways. The Provincial Government, therefore, under the leadership of the Hon. John Norquay, urged the withdrawal of the monopoly. Provincial rights were finally recognized, and with the abolition of all restrictions other railroads entered the province. The development of a great railway system has assured the prosperous growth of Manitoba and the North-West Territories.


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