Similarity or Causes of Trouble ix 1870
and 1885—Saskatchewan' Halfbreeds Omitted ix Distribution of
Scrip—Numerous Petitions of Redress (1872, 1873)—Pathetic Petitions from
St. Laurent—Reply of Hon. David Mills—Petitions from Prince Albert and
Cypress Hills—North West Council Urges Redress of Halfbreed
Grievances—Mr. Dennis' Memorandum—Correspondence of Government With
Tache, McLean and Laird— Opinions Expressed by Judge Richardson—Numerous
Petitions of 1880—Petitions of 1881—Proposals Shelved—Danger of Indian
Situation—Petition of 1882—1883—1884—Herald's Comment on the Arrival of
Riel.—Resolutions Adopted by the Halfbreeds Resulting in the Coming of
Riel—Andre's Letter to Riel—Riel's Reply to the Delegation—Riel's Policy
of 1884—The Bill of Right—Agitation Conducted by the Farmers'
Union—General Discontent Described and Explained by Canon
Newton—Expectation of a Rising—Extraordinary Statement of Secretary of
State—The Mail's Criticism of the' Government—Official Telegrams
Despatched Immediately Before the Outbreak.
The rebellion of 1885 arose chiefly from
causes the same as or similar to those that brought about the rising of
1869 and 1879: delay in recognizing the rights of Halfbreeds in
connection of the extinguishment of the Indian title to the soil;
uneasiness consequent upon the unexplained policy of the authorities
entrusted with the surveying of the lands; and the total neglect of
formal protests entered by the aggrieved parties.
Under the Manitoba Act of 1870 a large
area in the new Province was set apart to be divided among the
Halfbreed: and by subsequent legislation it was provided that Halfbreed
heads of families should receive scrip for 160 acres apiece. At the time
the census was taken to form a basis for the issue of this scrip many
Red River Halfbreeds were absent or resident in tbe Territories, and
were therefore not included: manifestly, however, their rights were as
valid and binding as were those of their brethren in Manitoba.
The question did not become urgent in
the North West at a very early date. However, in May, 1873, we find John
Fisher and a number of other Halfbreeds in the Territories petitioning
through Lieutenant-Governor Morris for equitable land grants in
extinguishment of their Indian rights. In 1874 Mr. John McKay, of Prince
Albert (brother of the Honorable James McKay, of Fort Garry,) informed
the North West Council that at Prince Albert there were already between
309 and 400 English Halfbreeds, who, like the French Halfbreeds of St.
Laurent on the south branch of the Saskatchewan, were exceedingly
anxious to have the land question settled. In the same year the Reverend
Father Decorby, missionary at Lake Qu'Appelle, wrote Mr. Laird, then
Minister of the Interior, regarding the anxiety of the Halfbreeds in
that locality lest they should be disturbed in their holdings, and about
the same time thirty-one of the latter petitioned Lieutenant-Governor
Morris in the same regard. In 1876 Inspector James Walker, N.W. M. P.,
wrote Air. Laird regarding the disputes and dissatisfaction arising from
the unsettled condition of the land question among the settlers at
Prince Albert Mission, which then had about 150 families. In 1877,
forty-three Halfbreeds at Blackfool Crossing presented an address to
Lieutenant-Governor Laird imploring assistance with a view to
maintaining themselves by agriculture. So far, however, the agitation
was somewhat sporadic. There was but little interference with the Metis
of the Territories in early days, but with the gradual influx of white
settlers and the disappearance of the buffalo, the necessity of pressing
their claims became evident. Accordingly, as long ago as 1878 a more
formal agitation took shape.
On February 1, 1878, the Halfbreeds of
St. Laurent had a public meeting, at which Gabriel Dumont was president
and Alexander Fisher secretary. It was declared in the memorial signed
on this occasion:
"That the sudden transition from
prairie to agricultural life, necessitated by the rapid disappearance of
the buffalo, and the ordinance respecting hunting, of the North West
Council, have brought your petitioners to their last resources and
forced them to apply to the Federal Government for assistance in
agricultural implements and seed grain, like assistance having been
granted to certain foreign immigrants in the Province of Manitoba. Those
instruments, besides being extremely scarce, are only sold here at
prices so exorbitant that it is impossible for your petitioners to
secure them; if, therefore, the Government were unable to grant this
help many of your petitioners, however willing they might be to devote
themselves to farming, would be compelled to betake' themselves to the
prairie at the risk of infringing the ordinance providing for the
protection of the buffalo, however good it may be, since the time during
which hunting is permitted is too short and .the buffalo too scarce to
enable them to lay in a sufficient supply and provide for their own
needs and those of their families during the rest of the year."
They further petitioned:
"That there he granted to all
halfbreeds who have not participated in the distribution of scrip and
lands in the Province of .Manitoba, like scrip and lands as in that
In the preceding month a petition to
the same effect bad been signed by the French Canadians and Halfbreeds
of St. Albert.
In reply to Mr. Laird's letter
forwarding these pathetic appeals, the Honorable David Mills wrote a
curt refusal as regards aid in commencing agriculture, but promised that
a fair survey and allotment of lands would be made in due time.
In June a petition signed by 151
persons was forwarded from Prince Albert asking for a census of
Halfbreeds and old settlers "with a view to apportioning to those not
already included in the census of Manitoba their just allotment of land
A petition analogous in character to
those referred to above, and bearing 269 signatures was presented from
the Halfbreeds of the Cypress Hills in the same year.
A resolution in the same connection was
passed by the North West Council on August 2, and on September 30,
Lieutenant-Governor Laird wrote the Ottawa .Authorities to "urge upon
the Dominion Government the necessity of taking early action with
respect to the claims set forth." About the same time a deputation of
Halfbreeds waited upon the Lieutenant-Governor at Duck Lake to enquire
what reply bad been received to their petitions.
In December Air. Dennis, Deputy
Minister of the Interior, presented to his Minister a very long
memorandum urging "that it is expedient with as little delay as possible
to deal with the claims to consideration preferred by the Halfbreeds of
the North West Territories." He proposed to offer the Halfbreeds certain
inducements to settle on land, and to teach them to farm, especially to
raise cattle, and of this plan he says:
"The immediate effect would be,
assuming that the Halfbreeds themselves are willing to give it a trial,
that we should have the whole of this element in sympathy with the
Government in dealing with the plain tribes of Indians. In this way we
should attract to our side a moral power which in the present critical
relations of the various tribes of Indians towards each other and
towards the Government, would prove of the greatest value to the
Dominion. . . . The undersigned regards the state of affairs in the
Territories in relation to the Indians and Halfbreeds as calling for the
serious consideration of the Government in view of additional
complications which are not unlikely to arise, owing to the presence 011
our soil of large numbers of armed Indians, refugees for the time being
from the seat of war in the adjoining territory. He is of opinion that
further means should be adopted to cultivate and maintain relations with
the Indian and Halfbreed populations calculated to attach them to 11s,
and to convince them that the Government is desirous of fulfilling its
obligations to them in the utmost good faith."
Air. Dennis then suggests a scheme of
industrial schools, and closes thus:
"The undersigned respectfully requests
for the whole question discussed in this memorandum the early
consideration of the Minister of the Interior, in order, if thought
desirable, that a measure should be prepared, embodying such policy as
may be decided upon in good time for the ensuing session of Parliament."
In consequence of these representations
Mr. N. H. Davin was appointed a Commissioner and Colonel Dennis'
memorandum was forwarded for the consideration of Archbishop Tache,
Bishop McLean and Governor Laird.
On January 29, 1879, Archbishop Tache
replied in a very long letter:
"A liberal policy on the part of the
Government would attract to its side a moral and physical power which in
the present critical relations of the various tribes of Indians towards
each other and towards the Government would prove of the greatest value
to the Dominion. On the other hand, the Halfbreed element in
dissatisfaction would form a standing menace to the peace and prosperity
of the Territories. There is no doubt that the state of affairs in the
Territories in relation to the Indians and Halfbreeds is calling for the
serious consideration of the Government, and measures should be adopted
to cultivate and maintain relations with the Halfbreed populations
calculated to attract them to us.
"The formidable Indian question has not
yet arisen in our midst, owing largely to the influence of the Halfbreed
element. The disappearance of the buffalo and especially the extension
of the settlers into the Indian country, are preparing difficulties
which may be avoided, I hope, but which would otherwise involve such
terrible and expensive results that it is the duty of all the friends of
the Government and of the country to do all in their power to prevent
"The result depends in a great measure
on the way the Halfbreeds would be treated. Friendly disposed, they will
mightily contribute to the maintenance of peace: dissatisfied, they
would not only add to the difficulty, but render the settlement of the
country the next thing to an impossibility.
"The Halfbreeds arc a highly sensitive
race; they keenly resent injury or insult, and daily complain on that
point. In fact, they are daily humiliated with regard to their origin by
the way they are spoken of, not only in newspapers, but also in official
and semi-official documents. . . .
"It is desirable that the Halfbreed
question should be decided upon without any further delay. The requisite
legislation ought to be passed in the coming session of the Legislature.
Immediately afterwards inspectors ought to be appointed, and I would
particularly recommend Mr. Angus McKay as one of the inspectors. . . .
"There is no doubt the difficulties
increase with delay. . . ."
The replies of Bishop McLean and the
Honorable Mr. Laird were much to the same effect, though as to details
of policy there were naturally differences of opinion among the various
gentlemen engaged in evolving a solution to the problem.
In the Saskatchewan Herald of March 24,
1879, reference is made to a rumor that Louis Kiel was to come in the
summer with a large number of French Halfbreeds from the Red and Pembina
Rivers to make settlements along the Saskatchewan.
In May, 1879, a resolution was passed
empowering the authorities of the Department of the Interior "To satisfy
any claims existing in connection with the extinguishment of the Indian
title preferred by Halfbreeds, resident in the North West Territories
outside the limits of Manitoba, on the 13th day of July, 1870, by
granting land to such persons to such extent, and on such terms and
considerations as may be deemed expedient."
In December of the same year Judge
Richardson was in Ottawa and approved of the scheme suggested by Colonel
Dennis in his memorandum. Six weeks later he again wrote Colonel Dennis,
in part, in the following terms :
"I may be permitted to express the
opinion that opportunities present themselves for removing the
dissatisfaction existing among these people, and securing their
good-will towards the Government, because: (1) Their former occupation
as hunters is gone; (2) they are as a class destitute. A further reason
for urging, as I respectfully do, early action, is that they are
scattered among the Indians and lately subjected to the evil influences
of leading spirits of the Manitoba troubles of 1870, who, during the
past season have been traversing the country doing, at least, no good."
On February 23, 1880, a meeting was
held at Duck Lake at which Father Andre, in a speech widely reported in
the press, admitted that the Halfbreeds had grievances requiring
redress. In the spring of the same year the Halfbreeds of Manitoba
Village, North West Territories, signed a petition setting forth the
On April 3 Air. W. L. Orde, Indian
Agent, Battleford, wrote that a credible report was prevalent that Riel
was then agitating among the Halfbreeds, Sioux and Crow Indians.
On the 19th of Alay, 1880, Air. Thomas
MacKay, of Prince Albert, transmitted to the Minister of the Interior a
petition enclosed in the following letter:
"I herewith forward you a petition from
the halfbreeds of Edmonton and Prince Albert, North West Territories. As
we have no representative for the North West Territories through whom we
could make out wants known, the petition is forwarded direct to you.
Trusting it shall receive your early and special attention-"
The petition was signed by one hundred
and two names. On July 10, 1880, Air. MacKay's letter was acknowledged.
In the summer of 1881 a like petition
to the Governor-General with one hundred and twelve signatures was
presented by the Halfbreeds of Qu'Appelle. In June, Mr. Lawrence Clarke,
Member for Lome, presented to tbe Xorth West Council a memorial couched
in the following words:
"The undersigned has the honor to
represent: That a feeling of dissatisfaction and discontent exists among
the Halfbreed element of the North West Territories.
"That such a feeling has arisen from
what these Halfbreeds consider a disregard of their rights, and in the
opinion of many whose standing in the country gives such an opinion
weight, has, to some extent at least, increased the difficulties
encountered by the Dominion Government in their dealings with the
Indians, between whom and the whites the Halfbreeds form a distinct
class, possessing, as a rule, great influence over the Indians.
"That the Halfbreeds have always been
recognized as possessing rights in the same soil, subject to which the
Government accepted the transfer of the Territories, and while ample
provision has been made for those resident in Manitoba on the 15th of
July, 1X70. nothing has been done towards extinguishing that portion of
the Indian title to lands and territories outside the Province of
Manitoba, as originally formed by the Act of 1870.
"The undersigned further draws
attention to the fact that, by law, the Halfbreeds are excluded from the
benefits conferred upon the Indians.
"That the undersigned has been given to
understand several petitions from various quarters have been presented
to the Dominion Government on the subject of the Halfbreeds particularly
referred to, but no notice taken thereof.
"That the undersigned knows that a
considerable portion of these Half-breeds were and are still residents
of the electoral district of Lorne, and feels it, as the electoral
representative of that district, his duty to bring under notice their
grievances in the hope that some action may be taken at an early date
towards removing what seems to be just cause for complaint.
"The undersigned recommends that,
through your Honor in the Council, the attention of Ilis Excellency be
respectfully drawn to the subject, and he be memorialised to direct the
attention of his ministers to the position of the Halfbreeds. who at the
transfer to Canada were, and still arc, residents of the North West
Territories, and have not become parties to Indian treaties, and the
taking of such steps as may lead to a speedy adjustment of the
grievances they labor under."
On June 14, 1881. the
Lieutenant-Governor transmitted a copy of this memorial to the
"I was requested by a resolution in
Council, passed on the 10th inst.. to transmit copies thereof to he laid
before His Excellency the Governor-General, and to express the hope that
His Excellency may be pleased to draw the attention of His Ministers to
the grievances complained of.
"I trust you will have the goodness at
an early day to bring these subjects to which these memorials refer
under the consideration of His Excellency, the Governor-General. . . .
Apart from the representations in the memorial in question. I am aware
that serious disputes are arising in the Prince Albert, St. Laurent and
Duck Lake settlements regarding claims for lands, and I would therefore
respectfully urge that, in so far as it may he consistent with the
policy of the Dominion Government, the prayer of the memorials may
receive early consideration.
On receipt of these papers the Deputy
Minister made up a tile which contained his memorandum of December.
1878, the letter of Archbishop Tache, the letter of Bishop McRae, the
letter of Bishop McLean, the letter of Mr. Laird, the letter of Colonel
Richardson, the memorial of Mr. Clarke, and the letter of Governor
Laird, and lie laid it before Sir David MacPherson, then Acting Minister
of the Interior, but nothing came of it. Though his responsible
ministers and advisors could not be stirred to consider the grievances
of the Metis, the Marquis of Lorne. Governor-General, who visited the
North West Territories in September of this year, clearly recognized the
importance of contentment among the Halfbreeds, and expressed himself as
"In cementing the friendship which,
thank God, has reigned between the whites and the red men, the Metis has
been the valued confidant, as he is the brother of both. lie has aided
in the perfect understanding which exists."
While the Saskatchewan Herald and other
newspapers from time to time denied that any real danger of an Indian
rising at this time existed, .serious trouble with the Indians was, as a
matter of fact, narrowly averted in June, 1878. The Herald reports that
an Indian violently assaulted Instructor Craig, engaged in issuing
rations on Lucky Man's reserve, and that Superintendent Crozier, upon
visiting the reserve with about thirty police, found the Indians holding
their annual Thirst Dance and in a high state of excitement. He
considered it advisable to remove the cattle and provisions belonging to
the Government from Lucky Man's reserve to that of Poundmaker. where he
fortified himself, sending to Battleford for additional men and
ammunition. Next day Crozier despatched a messenger to the Indians,— who
had sent their women and children away and hung out their medicine
bag—asking them if they intended to give up the men be had come
to-arrest. Some reply was received, whereupon Major Crozier. unarmed and
unaccompanied by anyone save an interpreter, visited the Indian cam])
and held a council with the chiefs. Next morning he left the camp again,
having received a promise from the Indians that they would come down at
nine o'clock with the prisoner. As they did not do so he again visited
the camp, where he found that the advice of their responsible leaders
was having little effect upon the excited braves. Poundmaker addressed
the Indians, and said, in effect, that as he found his men unwilling to
yield up the prisoner, he would deliver himself up to the police. He
accordingly left for the barracks in company with Big Bear and two or
three other Indians. The original culprit presently arose and told his
version of the fracas, and four men
were ordered by Crozier to arrest him.
"Then ensued," says the Herald, "a scene of almost indescribable
confusion and uproar, many of the Indians crying out, 'Now is the time
to shoot,' while others implored them to wait until the police fired the
first shot. In the melee two policemen were overpowered and disarmed.
Had a revolver or rifle accidentally gone off in the scuffle there is no
telling what might have been the result."
The prisoner was ultimately lodged
safely in the Police guard room, but the whole episode showed how easily
a serious Indian outbreak might be precipitated. When Crozier's
messenger had come to Battleford. rifles were issued to volunteers. An
offer of the assistance of fifty armed men was also telegraphed from
After this affair it was thought that
the authorities should organize effective volunteer companies in every
settlement. Some such companies had been established a few years
earlier, but the Government refused them uniforms. The settlers
considered a uniform essential, believing that it was as impressive to
the savages as were the rifles themselves. However, nothing was done,
and the companies were practically disbanded and their' rifles lost to
All through these years frequent
letters regarding Halfbreed claims were being transmitted to Ottawa by
private citizens and public officials, such as Mr. John Mackay, of
Prince Albert, Bishop Grandin. Hon. Mr. Ryan, Stipendiary Magistrate,
Inspector James Walker of the Mounted Police, and others, without
effect. Mr. George Duck, Dominion Lands Agent at Prince Albert, wrote on
March 11 regarding the possibility of resurveying the land in the
vicinity of St. Laurent in accordance with tbe way it had actually been
taken up by the settlers resident upon it. In accordance with well
recognized precedent, this letter was left unanswered for a little over
six months. Then Air. A. Burgess, on behalf of the Minister of the
Interior, replied in the negative (September 21, 1S82). Meantime. the
following petition had been forwarded to Ottawa. While it does not
differ materially from many others of which we have been speaking, it
deserves tbe reader's careful consideration :
"ST. Antoine de Padou. South
Saskatchewan, September 4. 1882. "To the Right Honorable Sir John A.
"Minister of the Interior, "Ottawa,
"We. the undersigned French Halfbreeds,
for the most part settled on the west bank of the Saskatchewan in the
district of Prince Albert, North West Territories, hereby approach you,
in order to set forth with confidence the painful position in" which we
are placed, with reference to the lands occupied by us in this portion
of the Territory, and in order to call the attention of the Government
to the question which causes us so much anxiety.
"Compelled, most of us, to abandon the
prairie, which can no longer furnish us the means of subsistence, we
came in large numbers, during the course of the summer, and settled on
the south branch of the Saskatchewan. Pleased with the land and country,
we set ourselves actively to work clearing the land both in the hope of
sowing next spring and also to prepare our houses for the winter now
rapidly approaching. The surveyed lands being already occupied or sold,
we were compelled to occupy lands not yet surveyed, being ignorant, for
the most part, also, of the regulations of the Government respecting
Dominion lands. Great was our astonishment and perplexity when we were
notified that when the lands are surveyed we shall be obliged to pay
S2.00 an acre to the Government if our lands are included in the
odd-numbered sections. We desire, moreover, to keep close together, in
order more easily to secure a school and a church. We arc poor people,
and cannot pay for our land without utter ruin and losing the fruits of
our labor and seeing our lands pass into the hands of strangers, who
will go to the land office at Prince Albert and pay the amount fixed by
the Government. In our anxiety we appeal to your sense of justice as
Minister of the Interior and head of the Government, and beg you to
reassure us speedily, by directing that we shall not be disturbed on our
lands, and that the Government grant us the privilege of considering us
as occupants of even-numbered sections, since we have occupied these
lands in good faith. Having so long held this country as its masters,
and so often defended it against the Indians at the price of our blood,
we consider it not asking too much to request that the Government allow
us to occupy our lands in peace and that exception be made to its
regulations by making to the Halfbreeds of the North West free grants of
land. We also pray that yon would direct that the lots be surveyed along
the river, ten chains in width by two miles in depth, this mode of
division being the long-established usage of the country. This would
render it more easy for us to know the limits of our several lots."
On October 13, 1882, Lindsay Russell
answered briefly on Sir John's behalf:
"In reply I am directed to request von
to inform the petitioners that when the proper time arises the case of
each bona fide settler will be dealt with 011 its merits; but as regards
the surveying of the lands in question, that all lands in the North West
Territories will be surveyed according to the system now in force."
In the preceding August, Mr. Dewdnev
had addressed a letter to Sir John Macdonald in which he spoke as
follows regarding the Metis claims:
"I would respectfully suggest that
either Mr. Commissioner Walsh or Mr. Inspector Pearce be instructed to
examine into and adjust them on an equitable basis, and that without
delay, as the Halfbreeds interested are very uneasy about their
holdings, and may be looked upon as the pioneers of the districts."
On January 16, 1S83, Father Andre, of
St. Laurent, again laid the ease clearly before the Minister of the
Interior in the following letter:
"I write you for the purpose of calling
your attention to the painfully embarrassing position in which the
French Halfbreeds settled on the southerly banks of the Saskatchewan are
"According to an old custom in
Manitoba, they took up their lots ten chains wide in front by two miles
in depth, trusting that the Government, acting on the rule already
established, would survey these lands into lots ten chains in width by
two miles in depth.
"Their surprise may be imagined when
they say the land along the Saskatchewan measured off into squares of
forty chains without any heed being given to their just claims and
"What is the result of this abnormal
division? Our Halfbreeds are overwhelmed with difficulties on account of
their lands and this proceeding will now sow division and discord among
them, and will render the Government odious in their eyes, they
considering it as guilty of a gross injustice towards them.
"This survey lamentably mixes things;
some lose their land, which is being grabbed by their neighbors; others
see the fruits of their industry and their improvements dissipated.
"This unhappy state of things would
easily be made to cease by giving ear to their just claims. And how can
this be refused them when you granted a similar favor to Prince Albert.
All the lands along the branches of the Saskatchewan have been surveyed
in this manner; everybody was satisfied, and not the least complaint was
heard about the survey.
"I cannot understand, sir, why your
surveyors should have two different methods of parcelling the public
domain ; one for Prince Albert ten chains in width by two miles in
depth, which we approve, and which we claim as a right, seeing you have
granted it to Prince Albert; the other, of blocking out the land in
squares of forty chains without taking the river nor location of the
settlers into consideration. The latter method we protest solemnly
against, all of us, and humbly pray, sir, that you order a new survey,
and thus validate our requests.
"Already the people of this colony have
addressed to you a petition on this subject, but the answer given under
your directions is not one calculated to inspire them with the hope that
you would right the wrong of which they complain.
"Knowing the difficult situation in
which our people are placed, I have resolved to make another effort,
which I trust will bring happy results, and I dare hope that yon will
accede to their just requests, and 110 later than next summer order a
new survey of the land on the south branch of the Saskatchewan.
"By your kindly concurrence in this
matter you will do an act of justice to our people and render them a
service for which they will ever be thankful."
Lieutenant Dewdney wrote to Honorable
Mr. MacPherson, March 19, 1883:
"The sooner the claims of these
Halfbreeds are determined, the better, as a number of them are bona fide
settlers and deserve consideration."
On January 19, 1880, Father Vegreville.
of St. Louis de Langevin, wrote Air. A. M. Burgess as follows:
"I myself have several times got Mr.
Duck, D. L. S.. of St. Albert, to write to Ottawa, and in every case
without success; so that I myself lost all hope, and several parties
went away, some of them selling their lands for a nominal price, and
others abandoning them without any indemnity. In February, 1883,
Reverend Father Leduc and Air. Maloney were deputed to set forth our
grievances and present our claim to the Government. They were promised,
in writing, that the lands we occupied should be surveyed as river lots
ten chains in front by two miles in depth, and that the survey should be
made in the following autumn (1883).
"The autumn has passed, winter is
advancing. What has become of those promises? Has some surveyor been
entrusted with the work and failed to perform his duty? To you, sir, we
put these questions, and this is also, sir, what I ask you today.
"I do not put these questions merely in
my own name or merely in the name of the two missions I have founded on
the right bank of the South Saskatchewan. I repeat what Father Leduc and
Mr. Maloney said to the members of the Government in the winter of 1883;
I repeat to you. what our settlers say to the land agent at Prince
Albert ; I am the faithful interpreter of the whole population.
"Be good enough, sir, to consider the
consequences of a painful delay. The settlers have made settlements and
are working them day by day, without knowing where the lines of their
future properties are to pass. These inflexible limits, right lines, and
parallels, will traverse fields, pass through houses, cut off farm
houses from the fields connected with them. This must inevitably occur
where parties have already put up buildings, and wherever buildings are
erected until the survey is made. What serious hardships, what
deplorable results must How from all this! Three-fourths of these
miseries might have been avoided had the survey been made when asked for
and promised. . . . If I were on the spot I could get this letter signed
by heads of families representing a population of two thousand souls."
St. Louis de Langey in was settled in
the years 1873 and 1875. The settlers had petitioned the Minister of the
Interior at Ottawa in 1880. On November 19. 1883. they sent another
petition in part as follows:
"Finally Father Leduc, who had been
sent as a delegate to Ottawa by the people of Edmonton and St. Albert,
showed us the answer of the Government promising a special survey for
all the located lands 011 the Saskatchewan. Since then we have waited in
vain for the new survey."
In the following year. 1884, Father
Andre laid before the Lieutenant-Governor in Council the following
specific example of the kind of wrongs he and his people were subject
to, through the neglect of the Ottawa authorities:
"1 beg your indulgence in being obliged
to make you acquainted with a grievance of mine, which, however, will
give you an idea of the state of things calling for a prompt remedy. I
hold at Duck Lake a tract of land of about 200 acres, of which 1 have
been in peaceful possession for over seven years. The land was fenced in
and cost me a good deal of money and was always respected as the
Catholic Mission's property at Duck Lake. I was one of the first
settlers at that place, and through my exertions the settlement
increased rapidly and nobody ever troubled me in my lawful possession of
that land until last March', when a man of the name of J. Kelly jumped
my claim, and. notwithstanding my protestations, claimed the land as his
own, and put the frame of a house upon it, depriving me, in that manner,
of half my property. This is not the only occurrence of the kind at Duck
In the Herald of July 12, 1884. a
further warning of impending trouble was to he found in the form of an
editorial regarding Louis Riel, who by this time had acted on a formal
invitation to return to Canada. Said the Herald: "It is a suspicious
circumstance that immediately following his arrival in the country,
threats of armed rebellion should be indulged in, and that stories of
the cooperation of the Indians should be put in circulation as they now
The circumstances attending the return
of the Metis leader in 1870 must now be considered in some detail. At a
meeting of Halfbreeds in the summer of 1884 the following among other
resolutions were passed:
"That the French and English natives of
the North West (those that have not participated in the Manitoba Lands
Grant) want free patent for the land they possess and occupy at the
present date, without any prejudice to any more grants to which they are
entitled for the extinction of their Indian title to the lands of the
"That the natives, French and English,
protest against the dues and charges on timber and forest until their
rights within mentioned be recognised and granted by the Dominion
"That the management of the Indians
such as Indian agencies, instructor-ships or other offices for the
benefit of the Indians in the North. West Territories be entrusted to
natives, as they are more familiar with the habits, character and wants
of those Indians, and to prevent any regrettable occurrences such as
have happened in the past.
"That the French and English natives of
the North West, knowing that Louis Riel has made a bargain with the
Government of Canada, in 1870, which said bargain is contained mostly in
what is known as the 'Manitoba Act," and this meeting not knowing the
contents of said 'Manitoba Act.' we have thought it advisable that a
delegation be sent to Louis Riel. and have his assistance to bring all
the matters referred to in the above resolutions in a proper shape and
form before the Government of Canada, so that our just demands be
Accordingly a delegation consisting of
Gabriel Duniont, James Ishister, an educated English Halfbreed. Moise
Onelette. and M. Dumas visited Kiel in Montana.
Moreover, Father Andre, an influential
missionary among the Halfbreeds, had sent Riel the following letter:
"My dear Mr. Riel: The opinion here is
so prominent in your favor, and longs for you so ardently, that it would
be a great disappointment to the people of Prince Albert if you did not
come. So you see you absolutely must come. You are the most popular man
in the country, and, with the exception of four or five persons, all the
world impatiently expects you. 1 have only this to say—Come; come
quickly. With kind remembrances, 1 am, A. Axure."
Riel's acceptance of the Halfbreeds'
invitation was published in the Canadian newspapers, and the Government
was urged to prevent his return. However, he arrived in Saskatchewan
about July i, 18S4. Throughout the summer and fall he addressed many
meetings, one of these being held in Prince Albert and very largely
attended by citizens of all classes. Riel himself was advising patience
and moderate measure, and the cause he had championed was approved by
practically every one in the country. Xo unconstitutional measures were
advocated or expected, except possibly in the case of a few tire brands.
One of these is stated to have said at the Prince Albert meeting, "The
best day for Manitoba was when Louis Riel took up arms there, and the
best day for the North West will be when Louis Riel takes up arms here."
In September, under Riel's guidance, a
"Bill of Rights" was adopted and forwarded to the Federal Government.
Its seven provisions or demands were as follows:
"First: The subdivision into Provinces
of the North West Territories.
"Second: The Halfbreeds to receive the
same grants and other advantages as the Manitoba Halfbreeds.
"Third: Patents to be issued at once to
the colonists in possession.
"Fourth: The sale of half a million
acres of Dominion lands, the proceeds to be applied to the
establishment, in the Halfbrced settlement, of schools, hospitals, and
such like institutions, and to the equipment of the poorer Halfbreeds
with seed, grain and implements.
"Fifth: The reservation of a hundred
townships of swamp land for distribution among the children of
Halfbreeds during 120 years.
"Sixth: A grant of at least $1,000 for
the maintenance of an institution to be conducted by the nuns in each
"Seventh: Better provision for the
support of the Indians."
These demands the Government received
with absolute silence.
It must not be thought that serious
grievances were confined to the Half-breed party. For two years back the
Farmers' Unions had been conducting a serious agitation for the redress
of offensive land laws and other alleged grievances. As indicating the
dangerous form this agitation assumed, the following letter to the
Secretary of the Union will be read with interest.
"June 18, 1884.
"George Purvis, Esq.,
"Sec. Farmers' Union, "Brandon. "Dear
"I think there has not been, since the
commencement of the agitation, a belter time to strike than the present;
everything seems ripe for it. I am certain that seven-eighths of the
people of Winnipeg are in our favor, and I am certain four or live
hundred good men will accomplish our object without any difficulty
whatever. The fact of the matter is this: We have nothing to resist us.
The military here is nothing more than a pack of boys, and we have easy
access to the store rooms. We had a small meeting tonight, and the
parties present were unanimous in making a strike at once. Now I think
that if we delay we will only be losing ground, and the thing will never
be accomplished. Would like to know the possible number of men who can
be got from the country to assist in the scheme. I hope you will come to
some definite conclusion at your council meeting.
"Believe me: I am in perfect sympathy
with you, and I am ready at any time to take part in the more active
part of the business and see if we can't get the people their rights.
Kindly let me hear from you at your earliest convenience, and oblige.
"Mack Howe, J. G."
The Reverend Canon Newton, a well-known
and highly respected missionary, in his book entitled Twenty Years on
the Saskatchewan, makes it clear that deep and well founded resentment
was prevalent in the most loyal circles.
Some of the causes of the discontent
almost universal among the inhabitants of the North West may be learned
from such a note as the following, in which Canon Newton records a
"On my land I had a beautiful grove of
spruce firs, and being fond of trees, I spent time and money in clearing
the grove. Once, on returning home, I found persons had, in my absence,
taken down the fence, cut down some of the trees, scattered the waste
around and carried the timber away. Presently I found the man who had
done this wrong, and told him not to come on such business again.
Instead of being ashamed, he told me he should do as he pleased with the
grove and that he would not hesitate to take it all away. When I
complained to the only civil authorities we had, they replied that they
had no instructions about crown lands and timber limits, and so refused
to give me protection. . . . Just then there was a small band of
American outlaws and others who stole horses and cattle from whom I
suffered and could get 110 protection.
"In the years following the
relinquishment of Hudson Bay rights, the question of the ownership of
any kind was exceedingly difficult and uncertain. The Canadian
Government was far off and did not seem to know that it had any
responsibilities, or that people situated as we were could possibly
suffer any inconvenience.
"Surveys were not made for several
years, and no one knew where his homestead was or what land would he
allowed him when the surveys were made.
"There seemed to be no recognised law
except the decision of a Magistrate, and no one could tell what this
would be or the code that might rule him. There was, in fact, no law,
although there was supposed to be a Government. We were not in Ontario,
or Quebec, or Manitoba. We were in an undefined territory, subject to
the man who happened to be in office, and he was a great distance from
his superiors and found no difficulty in shielding himself behind his
own reports. If a man took a pair of stockings from the Hudson's Bay
Company's store he was quickly arrested and punished, but if he
trespassed on land, and cut down timber of great worth to the settler
who had fenced it and protected it from prairie fires, the settler was
informed that he had no property in the soil or in the trees. Outside
the circle of Government men a Committee of Public Safety was instituted
(Edmonton), and it seemed necessary, if the commonest order was to be
observed. The lawless saw that there was very little to restrain them
and they acted accordingly. England was a long way off and Canada lay
between and effectually hindered the cry for justice reaching the
Motherland. If an able Commissioner had been sent from England to the
Indians, Halfbreeds and settlers of the North West during the three
years preceding the events of 1885 there would in all probability have
been no outbreak. Unrest seemed to be in the air, as when a storm is
brewing, and the clouds arc preparing for a furious tempest, yet no one
knew where the centre of the storm would be or when it would burst."
Very many warnings were offered to the
Government in addition to those that have been enumerated in the
foregoing pages, but in vain. To be sure, as will subsequently be
pointed out. those best fitted to judge of the trend of events did not
till the .very last believe that an armed rising would occur.
Nevertheless, the possibility -and probability were freely discussed on
all hands. In his book entitled Trooper and Red Skin (page 103), Mr.
John C. Donkin, formerly of the Royal North West Mounted Police, speaks
of the situation of affairs in the early spring of 1885 in the following
"Everything now was approaching a
crisis. Indeed, we of the rank and file used to talk in quite a familiar
way, in the barrack-room, of the coming rebellion, as a matter of
course. We even had the date fixed. I remember our corporal singing out
from his bed, 'Well, boys, old Riel will be starting in on the 18th.'
(The speaker had his thigh broke by a shot at Duck Lake on the 26th.) A
civilian—an Englishman—who had been a guest for some little time of our
commanding officer, came over to take his leave of me in the early part
of March. 'Good-bye, old man," he said, 'I want to get through before
this rebellion begins.' "
Apparently, however, the authorities at
Ottawa had neither ears nor eyes, nor any knowledge of the long period
of agitation, petition and expostulation that had passed since any steps
had been taken by the Government to inquire into western complaint and
to remove their causes. On the 6th of June, 1885. the Secirtary of State
was bold enough to say in a public letter:
"If the Halfbreeds had serious
complaints against the Canadian Government, the ordinary methods of
petition was-open to them as to every free citizen. They have not
availed themselves of it."
In view of the facts set forth in the
preceding pages of this chapter, this ministerial utterance involved a
most damaging confession.
When the cloud broke the Government had
practically 110 defenders. In the Toronto Mail of July 8, 1885, the
following editorials appeared:
"It has never been denied by the Mail
that the Metis had good ground for grievances.
"By the passage of the Manitoba Act of
1870 old Canada had formally and frankly recognised the. rights of the
Halfbreeds of that province to share in the Indian title, and it follows
as a matter of course that if they had rights in the soil of Manitoba,
those of them dwelling in the region beyond had rights in the soil
"This admits of no dispute.
"It must have been well understood by
Parliament in 1870: at all events 1 the records show that the Government
of the day recognised the point, though a settlement was not then asked
"In spite of this recognition, however,
and of the manifest and unanswerable logic of the Halfbreed case, the
department for years had steadily refused to move in the matter.
"It was a tangled question; it would
involve the appointment of a commission and no end of trouble. St.
Albert and St. Laurent were far distant dependencies without political
influence; it was a claim that 'would be none the. worse for
bluemoulding in the pigeon-holes.'
"This was the way in which the
officials treated the just demand of the Metis, and we agree with Mr.
Blake that their negligence was gross and inexcusable, and contributed
to bring about the insurrection.
"Had they had votes. like white men, or
if. like the Indians, they had been numerous enough to command respect
and overawe red tape, without doubt the wheels of the office would have
revolved for them; but, being only Halfbreeds, they were put off with an
eternal promise, until patience ceased to be a virtue.
"We repeat again that the departmental
system under which such callous and cruel neglect of the rights of this
portion of the community was possible was wrong, and should be
Our study of the premonitions of the
rebellion may very well close with an examination of the following
telegrams received at or sent from the office of the Comptroller of the
North West Mounted Police during the three weeks immediately prior to
FROM THE COMMISSIONER: "Regina, March
12, 1885. Just received the following telegram from Gagnon, dated today,
from Carlton. Have shown it to Lieutenant-Governor. Halfbreeds excited;
move about more than usual, preparing arms. Do not know cause or object
of these preparations."
FROM SUPERINTENDENT CROZIER: "Carlton,
March 11, 1885. Halfbreeds greatly excited. Reported they threaten
attack on Carlton before 16th. Halfbreeds refuse to take freight or
employment for Government; will stop all freight coming into country
after 11th of this month. Getting arms ready. Leader will not allow
people to leave home, as they may be required. Origin of trouble I think
because letter received stating Riel not recognised British subject;
they expect arms from States. Have ordered twenty-five men from
Battleford and one gun to come here at once."
FROM SUPERINTENDENT IRVINE: "Regina,
March 14, 1885. Lieutenant-Governor received telegram dated Carlton
today from Crozier, saying Halfbreed rebellion may break out any moment
and joined by Indians and asking that his division he largely increased.
Would recommend that at least one hundred men be sent at once before
roads break up. Please instruct."
TO SUPERINTENDENT IRVINE: "Ottawa,
March 15, 1885. Start for the north as quickly as possible with all
available men up to one hundred. Telegraph marching out state, and
report when passing telegraph station."
FROM SUPERINTENDENT CROZIER: "Duck
Lake, March 17, 1885. Our movements and preparation have quieted
matters; no cause for alarm. Prince Albert people did splendidly."
FROM SUPERINTENDENT DEAN: "Regina,
March 19, 1885. The following received from Superintendent Crozier.
Rumor tonight Indians being tampered with. Large force should be sent
without delay that arrest may be made if necessary to prevent further
and continuous trouble from Riel and followers. Militia arms from
Battleford will be here in a day or two."
SUPERINTENDENT CROZIER: "Carlton, March
21, 1885. Rebels seized storehouse south branch. Lash, Indian agent, and
other prisoners. Threatened attack on Carlton tonight or tomorrow.
Rebels by last report assembled at Batoehe's crossing."
In treating of the discontent in the
Territories and of the attitude of the Federal authorities in relation
to the grievances of the white and Halfbreed settlers, I have endeavored
to present merely a fair, plain and unvarnished statement of the
evidence available to any serious student of Canadian History. Even at
the risk of tediousness, I have iterated and reiterated the ever
recurring attempts unsuccessfully made through a long term of years to
obtain the attention of the Government. It would have been easy to
present the matter in more alluring literary form, but it was thought
wiser with the minimum of personal comment dispassionately to present
the outstanding facts of an affair regarding which judgment has
frequently been blinded by party prejudice, and to leave each reader to
draw his own conclusions.