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North West Rebellion 1885 Essay Help

The North-West Rebellion (or the North-West Resistance, Saskatchewan Rebellion, Northwest Uprising, or Second Riel Rebellion) of 1885 was a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people under Louis Riel and an associated uprising by First Nations Cree and Assiniboine of the District of Saskatchewan against the government of Canada. The Métis believed that Canada had failed to protect their rights, their land and their survival as a distinct people. Riel had been invited to lead the movement but he turned it into a military action with a heavily religious tone, thereby alienating the Catholic clergy, the whites, most of the Indians and some of the Métis. He had a force of a couple hundred Métis and a smaller number of other Aboriginal people at Batoche in May 1885, confronting 900 government troops.[7][8]

Despite some notable early victories at Duck Lake, Fish Creek and Cut Knife, the rebellion ended when the Métis were defeated at the Siege of Batoche. The remaining Aboriginal allies scattered. Riel was captured and put on trial. He was convicted of treason and despite many pleas across Canada for amnesty, he was hanged. Riel became a heroic martyr to Francophone Canada, and ethnic tensions escalated into a major national division that was never resolved.[9][10] Thanks to the key role that the Canadian Pacific Railway played in transporting troops, Conservative political support for it increased and Parliament authorized funds to complete the country's first transcontinental railway. Although only a few hundred people were directly affected in Saskatchewan, the long-term result was that the Prairie Provinces would be controlled by English speakers, not French. A much more important long-term impact was the bitter alienation French speakers across Canada showed, and anger against the repression of their countrymen.[11]


After the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870, many of the Métis moved from Manitoba to the Fort Carlton region of the Northwest Territories, where they founded the Southbranch settlements of Fish Creek, Batoche, St. Laurent, St. Louis, and Duck Lake on or near the South Saskatchewan River.[12][13] In 1882, surveyors began dividing the land of the newly formed District of Saskatchewan in the square concession system. The Métis lands were laid out in the seigneurial system of strips reaching back from a river which the Métis were familiar with in their French-Canadian culture.[9] A year after the survey the 36 families of the parish of St. Louis found that their land and village site that included a church and a school (in Tsp 45 Rge 7 W2 of the Dominion Land Survey) had been sold by the Government of Canada to the Prince Albert Colonization Company.[14][15] Not having clear title the Métis feared losing their land which, now that the buffalo herds were gone,[16] was their primary source of sustenance.[10]

In 1884, the Métis (including the Anglo-Métis) asked Louis Riel to return from the United States, where he had fled after the Red River Rebellion, to appeal to the government on their behalf.[9] The government gave a vague response. In March 1885, Riel, Gabriel Dumont, Honoré Jackson (a.k.a. Will Jackson), and others set up the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, believing that they could influence the federal government in the same way as they had in 1869.

The role of aboriginal peoples prior to—and during—the outbreak of the rebellion is often misunderstood. A number of factors have created the misconception that the Cree and Métis were acting in unison. By the end of the 1870s, the stage was set for discontent among the aboriginal people of the prairies: the bison population was in serious decline (creating enormous economic difficulties)[17] and, in an attempt to assert control over aboriginal settlement, the federal government often violated the terms of the treaties it had signed during the latter part of the decade.[18] Thus, widespread dissatisfaction with the treaties and rampant poverty spurred Big Bear, a Cree chief, to embark on a diplomatic campaign to renegotiate the terms of the treaties (the timing of this campaign happened to coincide with an increased sense of frustration among the Métis).[19] When the Cree initiated violence in the spring of 1885, it was almost certainly unrelated to the revolt of Riel and the Métis (which was already underway). In both the Frog Lake Massacre and the Siege of Fort Battleford, small dissident groups of Cree men revolted against the authority of Big Bear and Poundmaker.[20] Although he quietly signalled to Ottawa that these two incidents were the result of desperate and starving people and were, as such, unrelated to the rebellion, Edgar Dewdney, the lieutenant-governor of the territories, publicly claimed that the Cree and the Métis had joined forces.[21]

For Riel and the Métis, several factors had changed since the Red River Rebellion. The railway had been completed across the prairies in 1883, though sections were still under construction north of Lake Superior, making it easier for the government to get troops into the area. In addition, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) had been created, developing an armed local force. Riel lacked support from English settlers of the area as well as the great majority of tribes. Riel's claim that God had sent him back to Canada as a prophet caused Catholic officials (who saw it as heresy) to try to minimize his support. The Catholic priest, Albert Lacombe, worked to obtain assurances from Crowfoot that his Blackfoot warriors would not participate in a rebellion.[22]


The District of Saskatchewan, part of the Northwest Territories in 1885, was divided into three sub-districts and had a population of 10,595. To the east, the Carrot River sub-district with 1,770 people remained quiet. The Prince Albert sub-district located in the centre of the district had a population of 5,373 which included the Southbranch settlements with about 1,300. The Southbranch settlement was the centre of Louis Riel's Provisional Government of Saskatchewan during the Rebellion. To the west, where the Cree uprising led by Poundmaker and Big Bear occurred, was the Battleford sub-district with 3,603 people.[13][23]

The largest settlement and the capital of the district was Prince Albert with about 800 people[24] followed by Battleford with about 500 people who were "divided about equally between French, Métis and English".[25]

The Métis population in Saskatchewan in 1885 was about 5,400. A majority tried to stay neutral in the dispute with the national government, as the priests recommended. About 350 armed men supported Riel.[26] A smaller number opposed him, led by Charles Nolin. in addition he had the support of a small number of the Indians. Riel's supporters included the older, less assimilated Métis, often with close associations with the Indian population. Many moved back and forth into Indian communities and preferred to speak Indian languages more than French. Riel's opponents were younger, better educated Métis; they wanted to be more integrated into Canadian society, not to set up a separate domain as Riel promised.[27]


Riel had been invited in to lead the movement but he turned it into a military action with a heavily religious tone, thereby alienating the Catholic clergy, the whites, nearly all of the First Nations, and most of the Métis. He had a force of a couple hundred Métis and a smaller number of First Nations at Batoche in May 1885, confronting 900 government troops.[7][8]

Battle of Duck Lake[edit]

Main article: Battle of Duck Lake

On March 26, 1885, the 150 to 200 Métis and Aboriginal warriors under the command of Gabriel Dumont defeated a combined group of 90 Prince Albert Volunteers and North-West Mounted Police led by their superintendent Leif Newry Fitzroy Crozier at Duck Lake, outside Batoche.[28]

The federal government had, shortly before the battle at Duck Lake, sent Major General Frederick Middleton to the West. Eventually, over a period of many weeks, Middleton brought 3,000 troops to the West, and incorporated another 2,000, mostly English-Canadian volunteers, and 500 North-West Mounted Police into his force.[1]

The government reacts[edit]

Recognizing that an uprising might be imminent, the federal government had, three days before Duck Lake, sent Major General Frederick Middleton, the commander of the Canadian militia, to Winnipeg, where a unit of militia, the 90th Winnipeg Rifles, and of militia artillery, the Winnipeg Field Battery, already existed. After Duck Lake, the government immediately commenced the mobilization of Canada's many amateurishly-led, badly-trained and ill-equipped militia units, as well as the tiny forces of infantry and artillery regulars who made up the almost-nonexistent regular Canadian Army. By March 30, after hasty mobilization in Toronto, two trains containing the 10th Royal Grenadiers and Queen's Own Rifles militia regiments were ready to leave Toronto. Other militia units, the 9th Voltigeurs from Quebec City, and the 65th Mount Royal Rifles from Montreal, were also quickly mobilized. Soon every major city in the East was the scene of embarkation for inexperienced young militiamen cheered by immense crowds. The first militia to struggle westward had to contend with the many lengthy breaks in the C.P.R. railway line in northern Ontario. They marched through snow, or were carried in exposed sleighs. Where there were short stretches of track, the militia rode on hastily-constructed railroad flatcars which did nothing to shelter them from the extreme cold. Many of the soldiers suffered greatly from the winter weather. However, the first troops sent West were, in succeeding weeks, followed by thousands more.[29]

Looting of Battleford[edit]

Main article: Looting of Battleford

On March 30, 1885, a raiding party of Cree people, short of food due to declining bison populations, approached Battleford. The inhabitants fled to the nearby North-West Mounted Police post, Fort Battleford. The Cree then took food and supplies from the empty stores and houses.[30] As well, Cree insurgents looted Hudson's Bay Company posts at Lac la Biche and Green Lake on April 26.[31]

Frog Lake Massacre[edit]

Main article: Frog Lake Massacre

On April 2, 1885, at Frog Lake, Saskatchewan (now in Alberta) a Cree raiding party led by Wandering Spirit attacked the small town. Angered by what seemed to be unfair treaties and the withholding of vital provisions by the Canadian government, and also by the dwindling buffalo population, their main source of food, Big Bear and his Cree decided to rebel after the successful Métis victory at Duck Lake. They gathered all the white settlers in the area into the local church. They killed Thomas Quinn, the town's Indian agent, after a disagreement broke out. The Cree then attacked the settlers, killing eight more and taking three captive.[5][32][33]

The massacre prompted the Canadian government to take notice of the growing unrest in the North-West Territories. When the rebellion was put down, the government hanged Wandering Spirit, the war chief responsible for the Frog Lake Massacre.

Battle of Fort Pitt[edit]

Main article: Battle of Fort Pitt

On April 15, 1885, 200 Cree warriors descended on Fort Pitt. They intercepted a police scouting party, killing a constable, wounding another, and captured a third. Surrounded and outnumbered, garrison commander Francis Dickens capitulated and agreed to negotiate with the attackers. Big Bear released the remaining police officers but kept the townspeople as hostages and destroyed the fort. Six days later, Inspector Dickens and his men reached safety at Battleford.[34]

Battle of Fish Creek[edit]

Main article: Battle of Fish Creek

On April 24, 1885, at Fish Creek, Saskatchewan, 200 Métis achieved a remarkable victory over a superior government force numbering 900 soldiers who were sent to quell the rebellion. The reversal, though not decisive enough to alter the outcome of the war, temporarily halted Major General Frederick Middleton's column's advance on Batoche. That was where the Métis would later make their final stand.[35]

Battle of Cut Knife[edit]

Main article: Battle of Cut Knife

On May 2, 1885, the Cree war chief Fine-Day successfully held off Lieutenant Colonel William Otter at the Battle of Cut Knife near Battleford. Despite its use of a Gatling gun, a flying column of Canadian militia and army regular army units were forced to retreat. Fine-Day was affiliated with the chief Poundmaker. Big Bear did not get involved.[36][37]

Battle of Batoche[edit]

Main article: Battle of Batoche

On May 9, 1885, Middleton attacked Batoche itself. The greatly outnumbered Métis ran out of ammunition after three days of battle and siege. The Métis resorted to firing sharp objects and small rocks from their guns, until they were killed or dispersed when Middleton's soldiers advanced in strength and overran their rifle pits. Riel surrendered on May 15. Gabriel Dumont and other participants escaped across the border to the Montana Territory of the United States.[38]

Battle of Frenchman's Butte[edit]

Main article: Battle of Frenchman's Butte

On May 28, 1885, Major General Thomas Bland Strange brought an NWMP detachment from Calgary, Alberta, but they were unable to defeat a Cree force under Big Bear who carried the day at Frenchman's Butte at the end of May.[39]

Battle of Loon Lake[edit]

Main article: Battle of Loon Lake

On June 3, 1885, a small detachment of North-West Mounted Police under the command of Major Sam Steele caught up to a band of Cree led by Big Bear who were moving northward after their victory at Frenchman's Butte. The Cree were almost out of ammunition, and were forced to flee after a short exchange of fire and the release of their hostages.[40]

International attention[edit]

While the North-West Rebellion was ongoing, the American and British press took note of the actions of both the Métis and the Canadian Government. Different newspapers, such as the British Times and Guardian wrote approvingly of the actions taken by the Canadian government and by extension, the British Empire against what was seen as another 'native' uprising.[41]


Demoralized, defenceless, and with no hope of relief after the surrender of the Métis and Poundmaker, most of the Cree surrendered over the next few weeks. On July 2 Big Bear surrendered to the NWMP on an island in the Saskatchewan River near Fort Carlton. The government pacified the Cree and Assiniboine by sending them food and other supplies. Poundmaker and Big Bear were sentenced to prison. Eight others were hanged in the largest mass hanging in Canadian history.[42] These individuals, found guilty of killing outside of the military conflict, were Wandering Spirit, (Kapapamahchakwew) a Plains Cree war chief, Little Bear (Apaschiskoos), Walking the Sky (AKA Round the Sky), Bad Arrow, Miserable Man, Iron Body, Ika (AKA Crooked Leg) and Man Without Blood, for murders committed at Frog Lake and at Battleford (the murders of Farm instructor Payne and Battleford farmer Barney Tremont). Riel was tried and hanged as well, sparking a national controversy between French and English Canada.[10]

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) played a key role in the government's response to the Rebellion, as it was able to transport federal troops to the area quickly. While it had taken three months to get troops to the Red River Rebellion, the government was able to move forces in nine days by train in response to events in the North-West Territories. The successful operation increased political support for the floundering and incomplete railway, which had been close to financial collapse. The government authorized enough funds to finish the line. Thus, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was able to realize his National Dream of linking Canada across the continent.

After the fighting, new Territorial Council ridings were created in the Territories, although still only covering specific areas of concentrated settlement. The North-West Territories election of 1885 was held.

A Scrip Commission was dispatched to the District of Saskatchewan and to present-day Alberta to address Métis land claims.[43][44]

The Rebellion was Canada's first independent military action. It cost about $5 million, and lost the Conservative Party most of their support in Quebec. It guaranteed Anglophone control of the Prairies, and demonstrated the national government was capable of decisive action.[45]


Main article: Louis Riel § Legacy

The Saskatchewan Métis' requested land grants; they were all provided by the government by the end of 1887, and the government resurveyed the Métis river lots in accordance with their wishes. The Métis did not understand the long term value of their new land, however, and sold much of it to speculators who later resold it to farmers. The French language and Catholic religion faced increasing marginalisation in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as exemplified by the emerging controversy surrounding the Manitoba Schools Question. The Métis themselves were increasingly forced to live on undesirable land or in the shadow of Indian reserves (as they did not themselves have treaty status as Indians with a right to land).

Riel's trial and Macdonald's refusal to commute his sentence caused lasting upset in Quebec, and led to a fundamental francophone distrust of Anglophone politicians. French Canada felt it had been unfairly targeted.[46]


In the spring of 2008, Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Christine Tell proclaimed in Duck Lake, that "the 125th commemoration, in 2010, of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion is an excellent opportunity to tell the story of the prairie Métis and First Nations peoples' struggle with Government forces and how it has shaped Canada today."[47]

Batoche, where a Métis Provisional Government had been formed, has been declared a National Historic Site. Batoche marks the site of Gabriel Dumont's grave site, Albert Caron’s House, Batoche school, Batoche cemetery, Letendre store, Dumont's river crossing, Gariépy's crossing, Batoche crossing, St. Antoine de Padoue Church, Métis rifle pits, and RNWMP battle camp.[48][49]

BATOCHE. In 1872, Xavier Letendre dit Batoche founded a village at this site where Métis freighters crossed the South Saskatchewan River. About 50 families had claimed the river lots in the area by 1884. Widespread anxiety regarding land claims and a changing economy provoked a resistance against the Canadian Government. Here, 300 Métis and Indians led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont fought a force of 800 men commanded by Major-General Middleton between May 9 and 12, 1885. The resistance failed but the battle did not mean the end of the community of Batoche.

Historic Sites and Monuments board of Canada. Government of Canada [50]

Fort Carlton Provincial Historic site has been rebuilt as it had been ravaged by three separate fires. Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa) had used the site in his initial negotiations for Treaty Six in about 1884, and finally, the following year he surrendered here after his engagement at Steele Narrows.[51][52] The Prince Albert blockhouse was employed by the North-West Mounted Police on evacuating from Fort Carlton after the first fire.[53] Duck Lake is home to the Duck Lake Historical Museum and the Duck Lake Regional Interpretive Centre, and murals which reflect the history of the Rebellion in the area. The Battle of Duck Lake, the Duck Lake Massacre, and a buffalo jump are all located here. The "First Shots Cairn" was erected on Saskatchewan Highway 212 as a landmark commemorating the scene of the first shots in the Battle of Duck Lake. The Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine at St. Laurent north of Duck Lake is a local pilgrimage site.[54][55][56][57] The Battle of Fish Creek National Historic Site, the name has been changed to Tourond's Coulee / Fish Creek National Historic Site to preserve the battlefield of April 24, 1885, at la coulée des Tourond , Madame Tourond’s home, early Red River cart Fish Creek Trail and the site of Middleton’s camp and graveyard.[58]

"North West Rebellion - Fish Creek - While General Middleton was moving to capture Batoche his forces were attacked on the 24th April 1885, by the Half-breeds under Gabriel Dumont from concealed rifle pits near the mouth of Fish Creek. The rebels were defeated and driven from the field. Erected 1933."

National Historic Sites and Monuments Board[59]

The Marr Residence is a municipal heritage property of Saskatoon which served as a field hospital for wounded soldiers of the rebellion.[60][61][62] Fort Otter was constructed at Battleford's government house located at the capital of the North-West Territories. Poundmaker was arrested at Fort Battleford and sentenced to a prison term. Eight First Nations men were hanged, five due to participation in the Frog Lake Massacre, two for murders in the Battleford area, and one for the killing of a Mountie at Fort Pitt on April 15.[63] Fort Battleford has been declared a National Historic site of Canada to commemorate its role as military base of operations for Cut Knife Hill, Fort Pitt, as a refuge for 500 area settlers and its role in the Siege of Battleford.[53][64][65][66]Fort Pitt, the scene of the Battle of Fort Pitt, is a Provincial Park and National Historic site where a National Historic Sites and Monuments plaque designates where Treaty Six was signed.[67][68][69] Frog Lake Massacre National Historic Site of Canada, at Frog Lake, Alberta, is the location of a Cree uprising that occurred in the District of Saskatchewan North-west Territories.[70] Frenchman Butte is a National Historic Site of Canada. It is the location of an 1885 battle between Cree and Canadian troops.[71][72]

"Cut Knife Battlefield. Named after Chief Cut Knife of the Sarcee in an historic battle with the Cree. On 2nd May 1885, Lt. Col. W. D. Otter led 325 troops composed of North-West Mounted Police, "B" Battery, "C" Company, Foot Guards, Queen's Own and Battleford Rifles, against Cree and Assiniboine under Poundmaker and Fine Day. After an engagement of six hours, the troops retreated to Battleford."

National Historic Sites and Monuments Board[73]

At Cutknife is the world's largest tomahawk, the Poundmaker Historical Centre and Big Bear monument erected by cairn erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. There is also now, correctly located, a cairn erected upon Cut Knife Hill the look site of the Poundmaker Battle site and Battle River valley.[74][75][76][77] The Narrows between Makwa Lake and Sanderson Bay, in the Makwa Lake Provincial Park, was the site of the last engagement of the rebellion. Steele Narrows Provincial Historic Park conserves the lookout point of a Cree burial ground.[78][79] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police training depot at Regina was established in 1874, and still survives. The RCMP chapel, a frame building built in 1885, is still standing. It was used to jail Indian prisoners. One of three Territorial Government Buildings remains on Dewdney Avenue in the provincial capital city of Regina which was the site of the Trial of Louis Riel, where the drama the Trial of Louis Riel is still performed. Following the May trial, Louis Riel was hanged November 16, 1885. The RCMP Heritage Centre, in Regina, opened in May 2007.[80][81][82] The Métis brought his body to Saint-Vital, his mother's home, now the Riel House National Historic Site, and then interred it at the Saint-Boniface Basilica in Manitoba, his birthplace, for burial.[83][84]Highway 11, stretching from Regina to just south of Prince Albert, has been named Louis Riel Trail by the province; the roadway passes near locations of the 1885 rebellion.[85]

In fiction[edit]

  • Stewart Sterling's Red Trails (1935) depicted the pulp hero Eric Lewis, a Mountie of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. He tries to keep "peace and order" during the North-West Rebellion, helped by Sergeant Tim Clone.[86]
  • The novel for young adults called Battle Cry at Batoche, by B. J. Bayle, portrays the events of the North-West Resistance from a Métis person point of view.
  • Lord of the Plains, by Albert Silver, c 1990, Ballantine Books. Spur Award Finalist. Focuses on Gabriel Dumont and his family.
  • North West Mounted Police, by Cecil B. DeMille (1940). The film is about a Texas Ranger who joins forces with the North-West Mounted Police to put down the rebellion.

See also[edit]

Grave of the Battleford Eight in Battleford marking the largest mass hanging in Canada, November 27, 1885, in the wake of the rebellion.
Troops on the march, North West Rebellion, Qu'Appelle Valley, 1885
Métis and First Nation prisoners following the rebellion, August 1885.
Riel speaks at his trial, which took place in July 1885 and lasted only five days, after which he was hanged for treason

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


North-West Rebellion


[This article was published in 1948 by W. Stewart WALLACE. For the full citation, see the end of the text. Parts in brackets [...] were added to the original text by Claude Bélanger.]


The Rebellion of 1885.

The second North West Rebellion broke out in the valley of the North Saskatchewan . Here had settled a number of the [Métis] of the fur-trade, on oblong farms abutting on the river. Some of these were [...] from the Red river valley, who, after having been granted farms of 240 acres in the Red river district, had sold out, and moved west to the Saskatchewan. To all these native settlers the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the prairies brought a serious threat. They had enjoyed a monopoly of the transportation business on the western prairies; and of this the railway threatened to rob them. The buffalo, on which they had relied for a livelihood, had disappeared, and their farms had become their chief source of livelihood. The government surveyors, who had come out with the railway, had proceeded to run their lines with a mathematical precision which ignored the rights of the half-breed owners of oblong farms; and the [Métis] became fearful that they would be again dispossessed. Their cousins, the Indians, had recently been granted reserves on which they could settle; but no provision had been made for them. They saw white settlers coming into the country, and in some cases receiving title to parts of their farms; and they became [agitated and worried]. Representations were made on their behalf to the Canadian government; [there is disagreement among historians as to the appropriateness of the response of the Canadian government. Some hold that] with an obtuseness which it is difficult to understand, the government ignored these representations [while others, especially Thomas Flanagan, argue that the federal government was responding appropriately and in a timely manner].


In 1884 the Métis on the Saskatchewan sent a delegation to Louis Riel, who was teaching school in Montana, to come up and help them. He accepted their invitation; and for a time devoted himself to attempting to obtain the redress of the Métis' grievances by constitutional means. But gradually he became [more erratic and extreme]; and in the spring he set up a provisional government at Batoche, on the South Saskatchewan. A detachment of North West Mounted Police, sent to nip the rebellion in the bud, were defeated by the Métis under Gabriel Dumont; and the fat was in the fire. For a time there was danger of an Indian rising; and the Indians under Big Bear actually massacred most of the whites at the Hudson's Bay Company post of Frog Lake. The North West Mounted Police were forced to abandon first Fort Carlton and later Fort Pitt ; and the whites in the Saskatchewan valley were forced to take refuge within the stockades at Battleford.


The news of the Duck Lake disaster roused the Canadian government to action. A force of Canadian militia was organized, under General Middleton, the general officer commanding the Canadian militia; and between four and five thousand militiamen were rushed to the West by way of the newly-built Canadian Pacific Railway. General Middleton divided his force into three columns. The main force detrained at Qu'Appelle , and pushed north-west toward Batoche. A second column, under Colonel Otter, proceeded north from Swift Current to the relief of Battleford; and a third column, under General Strange, marched north from Calgary to Edmonton. Otter was the first to reach his objective. After being checked by a band of Crees under Poundmaker at Cutknife creek, he succeeded in relieving Battleford. Middleton was held up by the half-breeds at Fish creek, on the South Saskatchewan, but after a delay he resumed his march, and on May 12 he defeated the main body of Riel's [Métis] at Batoche. Meanwhile, General Strange had reached Edmonton, and was closing in on Big Bear and his Crees. Riel [gave himself up] a few days after Batoche, and later in that summer, on July 2, Big Bear surrendered. With his capture, the rebellion was over.


In the autumn of 1885, Riel and some of the other leaders of the rebellion were tried at Regina on charges of high treason, and were found guilty. Riel was hanged in the Police Barracks at Regina in November, 1885, though there were many who believed that he should properly have been confined instead to a lunatic asylum. Eight of the Indian ring-leaders in the rebellion were also hanged; though Poundmaker and Big Bear both escaped with prison sentences. The execution of Riel caused grave repercussions in Canadian politics, for his compatriots in French Canada were almost unanimous in demanding the remission of his sentence. But Sir John Macdonald was determined that he should pay the price for the mad folly of his second armed outbreak."He shall die," Macdonald exclaimed, with unwonted fierceness, "though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour."


[The hanging of Louis Riel had deep repercussions on Canada. In Quebec, it triggered a nationalist wave that brought Honoré Mercier to power. For decades afterwards, the hanging of Riel was interpreted in the province as the deep wounding of an entire people, as a supreme act of cruelty against one whose only sin was to have stood up for the rights of his people (i.e. the rights of French Catholics), as a symbol that Canada was not a land of equality between French and English Canadians but one where the French Canadians were a minority whose views and feelings could be disregarded. In truth, the Riel hanging was only the first in a series of events (school issues, imperialism, conscription, etc.) that eventually led Henri Bourassa to write that French Canadians were bound to come to think that Quebec was their only country since they had no rights anywhere else in Canada.]

[Both federally and provincially, the people of Quebec began to turn away from the Conservative Party, the party of Macdonald, the party of the "pendards" (the hangers). Increasingly they turned to the Liberal Party that chose Wilfrid Laurier, a French Canadian from Quebec, as its leader (1887). Essentially, for the next hundred years, consciously or unconsciously, the people of Quebec continued to punish the Conservative Party for the hanging of Riel. In the process, with little, if any, support from Quebec, the Conservative Party became "le parti des Anglais" (the party of the English), forever unattractive to the people of Quebec.]

[While it is clear that not all these consequences were fully grasped at the time, the contemporaries of Riel did appreciate the magnitude of the wound that had been inflicted on the national fabric of Canada. Yet, they largely underestimated the effect that the events of the North West has on Native Canadians. In 1885, Riel and his Indian allies, made the last stand of Native Canadians against the encroachements of White-European progress in the West. The defeat of Riel epitomized the last defeat of Natives in preserving their way of life in the West. Henceforth, increasingly as "wards" of the Canadian government, the Canadian Amerindians were subjected to assimilationist policies and stripped of their right to self-government.]

Bibliography. The story of the two rebellions has been told, in the light of the most recent research, in G. P. G. Stanley, The birth of the western provinces (London, 1936), and in A. L. Burt, The romance of the prairie provinces (Toronto, 1930). Two volumes by eyewitnesses of both rebellions are C. A. Boulton, Reminiscences of the North West rebellions (Toronto, 1886), and G. T. Denison, Soldiering in Canada (Toronto, 1900).


The traditional English view of the rebellion of 1869-70 is found in R. G. MacBeth, The making of the Canadian West (Toronto, 1898), and in the various histories of Manitoba . The point of view of the French-Canadian halfbreeds has been set forth in the Rev. A. G. Morice, A critical history of the Red River insurrection (Winnipeg, 1935), and in several papers by A. H. de Trémaudan, notably in Louis Riel's account of the capture of Fort Garry (Can. hist. rev., 1924), and The execution of Thomas Scott (Can. hist. rev., 1925).


An account of the rebellion of 1885 will be found in the blue paper entitled Report an the suppression of the rebellion in the North West (Ottawa, 1886), C. P. Mulvany, The history of the North West rebellion (Toronto, 1885), N. F. Black, History. of Saskatchewan and the North West Territories (2 vols., Regina, 1913), W. B. Cameron, The war trail of Big Bear (Toronto, 1926), and in the various histories of the Royal North West Mounted Police.

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada , Vol. V, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 401p., pp. 19-22.


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