Riel, Louis
b. 1844-10-22
d. 1885-11-16
Louis Riel (October 22, 1844 - November 16, 1885) is known as a Métis patriot, martyr, thinker and founder of the Province of Manitoba.1 He was a central figure in the Red River and Northwest Resistances, and was ultimately executed for his involvement on the 16 November 1885.2
Riel was born to John-Louis Riel and Julie Lagimodiere, on 22 October 1844.3 He was the eldest of their 11 children.4 As an adult he was the husband of Marguerite Monet dite Belehumeur, and father to Jean and Angelique.5
From his father Riel inherited a strong sense of duty and love for community, and from his mother an intense piety.6 In 1858, he was sent to the Collège de Montréal in hopes he would later join the monastery.7 However, in 1864, after the death of his father, Riel left the college to work in a law firm.8 In 1868 he returned to the Red River Settlement.
Upon his return to Red River, Riel participated in the Red River Resistance against Canada's annexation of Rupert's Land.9 He became the president of the Métis led Provisional Government, and formed partnerships with many French Métis; eventually he won the backing of most of the Provisional Government's delegates.10 The Manitoba Act, resulting out of the resistance, acted as a resolution between the people of the Red River Colony and the federal government or “Canada Party;” and resulted in Manitoba becoming a province of Canada.11 The act promised religious, language and land rights, as well as established educational institutions for the Métis and their descendants.12 Many of these promises were not realized.13
In the years following the rebellion, Riel helped to defend Manitoba from a Fenian attack (1871), was exiled to the United States after a bounty was placed on his head for the execution of Thomas Scott (1871-76,78-82), and was incarcerated in Québec insane asylums (1876-78).14 Riel was elected to Parliament for the riding of Provencher several times, but was never able to take his seat.15 In 1882, he married Marguerite Monet dite Belehumeur in the Montana Territory.16 In Montana, he served as a special deputy, taught school, and became an American citizen.17 On 5 June 1884, Riel arrived in the Saskatchewan District to head a second resistance.
In the summer of 1884, Riel tried to unify English and French Métis, Euro-Canadian settlers and First Nations. He hoped the groups would reach consensus and bring their grievances to the federal government.18 These grievances included, failure to recognize Métis land tenure, honour First Nations' treaties, prevent starvation on reserves, and provide Euro-Canadians with proper political representation, agricultural markets and transportation infrastructure.19 To create disunity the federal government used a divide and conquer strategy.20 First Nations, Euro-Canadians, and English Métis were reluctant to take up arms.21 This left Riel and his partners with less than 250 Métis to face the government.22 After a few skirmishes, there was a final battle at Batoche (9-12 May 1885). The conclusion of the battle marked the end of the resistance. It resulted in further socioeconomic and political marginalization, dislocation of the Métis to westward provinces, subjugation of the Plains' First Nations, and preparation for further agrarian settlement.23 Riel surrendered and prepared to defend himself along with the Métis cause.24 The ruling judge at Riel's trial however, had close ties to the Conservative Party and was not sympathetic to Riel's defense.25 As a result, Louis Riel was hanged despite pleas for mercy.
Riel has since become a contested figure in Métis and Canadian history. Some remember him as a valiant leader, martyr, visionary and humanitarian.26 Others view him as a madman, deluded prophet, apostate and grafter who tore the country apart.27 Those who hold the latter belief are now in the minority.28 In more current times, Riel's voice has been appropriated by Prairie regionalists, Québec nationalists and English Canadians.29 He has also been viewed as a victim of English Canadian intolerance.30
  • 1. Darren Préfontaine, Louis “David” Riel, in Lawrence J. Barkwell, Veterans and Families of the 1885 Northwest Resistance, 225-226.
  • 2. Ibid. 225.
  • 3. Ibid. 225.
  • 4. John W. Friesen, The Riel/Real Story, (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996), 45.
  • 5. Darren Préfontaine, Louis “David” Riel, in Lawrence J. Barkwell, Veterans and Families of the 1885 Northwest Resistance, 225.
  • 6. John W. Friesen, The Riel/Real Story, (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996), 45.
  • 7. Darren Préfontaine, Louis “David” Riel, in Lawrence J. Barkwell, Veterans and Families of the 1885 Northwest Resistance, 225.
  • 8. Ibid. 225.
  • 9. Ibid. 225.
  • 10. Ibid. 225.
  • 11. J.E. Rea, Jeff Scott, Manitoba Act, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Darren Préfontaine, Louis “David” Riel, in Lawrence J. Barkwell, Veterans and Families of the 1885 Northwest Resistance, 225.
  • 15. Ibid. 225.
  • 16. Ibid. 225.
  • 17. Ibid. 225.
  • 18. Ibid. 225.
  • 19. Ibid. 225-226.
  • 20. Ibid. 225.
  • 21. Ibid. 226.
  • 22. Ibid. 226.
  • 23. Ibid. 225.
  • 24. Ibid. 226.
  • 25. Ibid. 226.
  • 26. Ibid. 226.
  • 27. Ibid. 226.
  • 28. Ibid. 226.
  • 29. Ibid. 226.
  • 30. Ibid. 226.
Mentions of this person in the documents
Places in this document

Red River Settlement

Rupert's Land

The Colonial Despatches Team. Riel, Louis. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/riel_l.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)