Canadian History/Red River Rebellion

The events in Canadian History that the Métis peoples are most associated with is The Red River Rebellion. The Red River Rebellion (or Red River Resistance) refers to the events triggered by the provisional government formed by the Métis people of the Red River Colony (which is now Manitoba) in 1869-1870. The leader of the provisional government was a Métis man named Louis Riel.

The Red River Settlement


The Métis already had their own community set up at the junction of the two rivers, the Red and the Assiniboin. This was probably because they could have access to the waterways and canoe to places to trade. Some of the best prairie soils were there so they lived comfortably with crops and the buffalo hunt to sustain them through the winter, and because of their French background, they laid out their farms in seigneurial pattern, i.e. long narrow plots with one end on the river. Pemmican played a huge part in their lives because they ate it in the winter and while traveling and they traded it with the North-West Company for supplies.

Then the colony that Lord Selkirk decided to set up was right where the Métis lived. His colony was set up in the traditional English fashion, in square lots that paid no attention to what the land looked like. A colony in the Sahara would look very similar on a map to a colony in Hawaii. This naturally clashed with the Métis already living in the area.

Causes of the Rebellion


Three things: British incompetence, Métis pride, and both groups trying to use the same land. Well, and necessity for food/income. The British set up camp on the Red River in 1812. By the time they finally arrived, though, they realized they hadn't brought enough food, and it was autumn, so they couldn't grow anything. The Métis had pity on them and gave them food for the winter. A mistake, as it happens. The Scottish governor, MacDonnell, issued a proclamation saying all stores of pemmican, a Métis export, were to be given to the colonists. The Métis depended on the sale of pemmican for income, however, and they couldn't survive without money either. The Métis were not to be meekly forced off their land by William McDougall with a squared map, either. The colonists built Fort Douglas and Fort Garry at river junctions. These they had to build multiple times, as they were burned down by angry Métis residents.1813

HBC Changes


In 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company sold Rupert’s Land to the Canadian Government. Upon this, the Canadian Government appointed an anti-French Lieutenant Governor named William McDougall. The Métis feared losing their rights to the land and their culture as a result of this, as many had no clear deeds to their farm land, and greatly opposed his appointment.

The Uprisings


On October 11, 1869, Riel and a group of Métis confronted and disrupted the surveyors. Later, the same people formed a group whose purpose was to represent to the Métis and people living in the Red River Settlement.

On October 25, 1869, Riel declared that any further surveyors or others sent by McDougall would be blocked from entering the settlement until further discussion.

Most of the settlement was in favour of supporting the Métis and their rights, but there was a resilient and small group of people in the settlement that formed a Canadian Party. McDougall appointed a few men to arrest the Métis occupying Upper Fort Garry in the settlement, and a man named Dr. John Christian Schultz managed to accumulate roughly 50 men to assist. Riel heard of the threat and gathered several more people to surround Schultz’s house.

Schultz and his followers surrendered as they were significantly outnumbered. On December 8th, the previous group formed when the Metis confronted the surveyors (the Métis National Committee) declared a provisional government. Ten days later, McDougall and Colonel Dennis (the man McDougall had appointed to arrest the Métis) transferred to Ontario.

With the advancements of the provisional government in the Canadian government’s absence, the Metis people seemed to be doing well. However, on January 9th, 1870 there was a prison break at Fort Garry, where those who were allied with Schultz were held. 12 prisoners in total escaped, including a man named Thomas Scott and another named Charles Mair. Two weeks later, John Schultz escaped as well, and by February, Riel had let the rest of the prisoners go free, so long as they swore to no longer interfere with the Métis. However, Scott, Mair and Schultz had every intention to do so.

Scott and Mair proceeded to the Canadian settlements and met Major Charles Boulton, a supporter of the Canadian Party. Boulton and his men planned to rendezvous with Schultz and overthrow the Métis, but he had misgivings and turned his party back. However, the Métis detected his movements, and captured him and his men. Scott was apprehended with Boulton, but Mair and Schultz managed to flee to Ontario and avoid capture.

Riel tried to have Boulton executed, but through several intercessions, he was pardoned. Scott openly bad-mouthed the Métis and saw Boulton’s pardon as a weakness on the Métis’ part. Soon Scott was put on trial, and sentenced to death for treason. Scott was executed by firing squad in March 1870.

After Events/Effects of the Rebellion


After Scott’s execution, Mair and Schultz arrived in Ontario and quickly tried to spread their anti-Métis attitude throughout the province using Scott’s execution. Still, John A. Macdonald had already realized that he needed to negotiate with the Métis. After much negotiation, Macdonald and the delegates formed the framing of what would be the Manitoba Act, which would admit Manitoba into the Canadian Confederation.

However, many Ontarians were still angered over Scott’s execution, so some time later a Canadian militia expedition was dispatched to the Red River area, now Manitoba, led by Colonel Garnet Wolseley, and was named the Wolseley expedition accordingly. Upon hearing that the militia meant to lynch him, Riel fled from the Red River as the expedition arrived, marking the end of the Red River Rebellion.