There are many events throughout Canadian history that are responsible for shaping Canada. Colonization, Confederation, and numerous other events are well-known as the foundation and building blocks of present day Canada. However, when retelling the tale of Canadian history and development, one would be foolish to leave out the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870 (Bumsted, 1996). The Rebellion deeply affected Canada's views on Native Americans and the French. The events of 1869-1870 also resulted in the creation of Canada's fifth province, Manitoba (LeVert, 2001). Overall, the Red River Rebellion is a significant event in Canadian heritage. To properly understand the importance and happenings of the Rebellion, one must understand the main events. These include Canada's purchase of the Hudson's Bay Company's Rupert's Land, the formation of a Provisional Government, and the proclamation of the province of Manitoba (The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada, 1990). These undertakings are the basis of the Rebellion.
In 1869, the first step of the Red River Rebellion occurred. This was what triggered the people of the Red River area to rebel in the first place. The event arose when Canada's largest fur trading company, the Hudson's Bay Company, agreed to sell Rupert's land to the Dominion of Canada in 1869 (The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada, 1990). This would affect the people of the Red River settlement since their area was classified under Rupert's Land. These people were called the "Métis" and were mainly of Aboriginal, French, or Scottish descent. Up until this event, the Red River settlement was not considered a colony. It was governed by council and governor, both chosen by the Hudson's Bay Company (Canada Revisited 8, 2000).
The Métis became furious since they did not want to merge into the Dominion of Canada. They felt their culture would be lost in a country where English was the dominant language. Later on in the same year, a well-educated man stepped up and became the leader of the Métis rebellion (Neering, 1999). His name was Louis Riel. Louis Riel was born in the Red River area, was studying in Montreal to become a priest, and was also fluent in both English and French (Canada Revisited 8, 2000). Oscar Malmros, the American consul of the Red River, once described Louis Riel as "...ambitious, quick of perception, though not profound, of indomitable energy, daring, excessively suspicious of others and of a pleasing and rather dignified address" (Canada Revisited 8, 2000: 158).
Louis Riel played an important role in the Red River Rebellion since he acted as a leader of the resistance and formed organised ways to rebel against joining Canada. "He was a prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the Métis were the new chosen people." (Flanagan, 1996: 1) One of Riel's organised ideas to stop the Canadian government from taking over was the formation of Le Comité National des Métis (the Métis National Committee). Their goal was to stop the newly appointed lieutenant-governor, William McDougall, and his surveyors from gaining access to the Red River Settlement. In November of 1869, McDougall tried to enter the settlement, but the committee was successfully able to stop him by blocking him with fourteen armed Métis. They required him to gain permission from the inhabitants before he was to enter. On that same day in November, the Métis National Committee was also able to take over Fort Garry without even firing a single bullet. This was the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company in Red River and contained cannons, guns and plenty of food supplies. It was a key victory since the nearing winter would slow down any Canadian forces from reaching the fort. The Métis tried to use this opportunity to negotiate with the Canadian government (Canada Revisited 8, 2000).
The next step for the Métis rebellion was to create a temporary or provisional government. Numerous events are accountable for Riel's decision to organise a provisional government. One of these events occurred on the day before the temporary group was established; the Métis were busy on another phase of their rebellion. This time they were fighting against the Canada Party, a group who believed that English-speaking Europeans should control the Red River. The Métis surrounded the leader of the Canada Party's store. They took the guards of the store back to cells at Fort Garry and claimed a large supply of government pork that was held there (Canada Revisited 8, 2000). The Métis now recognized that they could make an impact and influence on Canada and decided they should form a more formal way to use this new found power than the Métis National Committee.
Finally, on December 8, 1869, a Métis provisional government was launched. Led by Riel, the government drew up the Métis Bill of Rights. It was revised and approved by English and French representatives from Red River. The Bill was a list of needs that had to be met in order for the Métis to willingly join Canada (McLean, 1985). These rights included, "that the people have the right to elect their own Legislature, that a portion of the public lands be appropriated to the benefit of Schools the building of Bridges, Roads and Public Buildings, and that the Judge of the Supreme Court speak both the English and French languages" (Bumsted, 1996: 142). Unfortunately, in the end, very few of these wishes were granted to the Métis by the Canadian government.
Now the government had to complete one last task. They had to find a way to compromise Canada's and the Métis' needs. The group realized that they had no choice but to join Canada. Thus, they now attempted to work with Canada toward the formation of Manitoba. Sadly, the government got carried away when it captured an Ontario farmer named Thomas Scott. Scott was the leader and organiser of a volunteer brigade to fight the Métis and did not believe that the Métis should have any rights (LeVert, 2001). He was also ill-tempered and aggravated his captors. His attitude caused the provisional government's biggest move and greatest mistake, the execution of Thomas Scott. Scott was killed on March 4, 1870, by a Métis firing squad (The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada, 1990).
The execution was a poor choice since it resulted in the loss of support of many Canadians, especially the English-speaking community. People began to call Louis Riel a murderer and demanded that the government did something to stop Riel. The people, who had been against Riel prior to the execution, just became more infuriated and their desire to crush the Métis became even more noticeable. The Canadian government hesitated and thought about how to handle the situation and keep both the French and English inhabitants happy (Canada Revisited 8, 2000).
On July 15, 1870, the government made their decision and passed the Manitoba Act. Despite their initial decision to make the Red River area a territory, they changed their minds and made it a province. This was a huge change since a province had much more control of its own affairs than territory. In the Manitoba Act many points from the Métis Bill of Rights were included. The right to be granted amnesty for the actions that occurred during the resistance was not (Canada Revisited 8, 2000). The Canadian government felt that the Métis should not get away with all the trouble they caused. Although this right was not granted, Manitoba would benefit from other areas of the Act, such as the right that people of mixed ancestry's culture would be preserved and that land would be granted. Another advantage to the Métis was that Riel gained a spot in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. However, this event did not serve to be as useful as expected since Riel's trip to Ottawa was described as, "hollow and short-lived." (LeVert, 2001: 26) To make matters worse, Louis Riel and his men were held accountable for political treason and the death of Thomas Scott. Eventually, Riel would be hung by the Canadian government in 1885 (Flanagan, 1996).
In conclusion, the Red River Rebellion had an unmistakable impact on Canadian history. Without the Dominion of Canada's purchase of Rupert's Land, the formation of a provisional government, and the creation of Manitoba, Canada would not be what it is today. The Rebellion gave the Métis, other Natives, and the French acknowledgement in the country of Canada. Louis Riel's provisional government also helped build what Manitoba's government is today and gave Manitoba the right to become a province. There is no doubt that the Canada that is known today would be a completely different place if the Red River Rebellion did not occur.
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