Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Louis Riel, Canadian Folk Hero

On today's date 125 years ago -- November 16, 1885 -- Louis Riel was hanged in Regina, Saskatchewan after being convicted of treason. On behalf of his dispossessed and beleaguered Métis people, he led the unsuccessful North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government. Most English Canadians supported his execution and most French Canadians opposed it. His death continues to be controversial in Canada, even after all these years.


Sixteen years earlier in 1869, Louis Riel led the Red River Uprising in Lower Fort Garry (Winnipeg) during which he negotiated more favourable terms for the creation of Manitoba as a Canadian province. He is quite rightly regarded as Manitoba's Father of Confederation. However, once the province was established in 1870, Riel became a wanted man for the murder of Thomas Scott, an Ontario Orangeman who had been executed on Riel's orders during the Uprising. Riel disappeared and went underground in the United States for years, although defiant Manitoba francophones and Métis persisted in electing him as their Member of Parliament three times in his absence.


Following his execution, Riel was buried on the grounds of St. Boniface Cathedral in the French part of Winnipeg. Today, there are a number of Riel statues in Winnipeg plus several buildings, a school division and a bridge named in his memory. The St. Boniface Museum contains a wonderful display of Riel artifacts.

Riel's death is marked each year in Manitoba with ceremony and honour.

14 comments:

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

Aren't we humans interesting? One person's hero, is another's traitor.

mxtodis123 said...

Thanks so much for this little piece of Canadian history. I know so little about Canada.
Mary

Willym said...

I grew up in English - very English - Canada where if it wasn't pink on the map it didn't matter, so of course Riel was pictured as a traitor in the school history books. It was only as an adult when I began reading more detailed histories that I got to know the other side of the story. He was a strange man and almost messianic in his single minded devotion to the cause of his people.

Many thanks for the post - there are so many rich personalities and events in our history.

faerwillow said...

~yes, thank you...i too know not much about canada but am learning quick as we are trying to get my grandfathers birth certificate {which so far we can't place him anywhere...he doesn't know where he was born and there is no info on his parents anywhere} so he can go up to christmas island where his father was born and where they lived when his father logged...anyways sorry to have gotten off the beaten path...hehehe! i wish you and yours a l♥vely day ahead...much l♥ve and light upon you always~

Cora said...

Thanks for the history lesson, Debra! So, which way do you see him: traitor or hero?

When I went to Montreal I was surprised to see statues of Benedict Arnold as a hero. In the US he's a huge traitor.

Em said...

I've known about him because Mrs. Mike was a favourite book as a child and Jonathon Forquet's father was one of his followers in the book. And, being a total geek as a kid, I would research the history mentioned in the books I loved.

He was an interesting man.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Cora -- I see Riel as a hero, definitely. And the same thing that made Benedict Arnold a traitor to the American Revolution -- supporting the British -- made him a patriot in Britain's other North American colony, Canada. As Aunt Amelia said, one person's traitor is another person's hero! All depends which side you're on!

SUZY8-TRACK said...

Thanks for the Canadian history lesson. Its always interesting to learn something new.

My Farmhouse Kitchen said...

come anytime...
we have plenty

:-)

Jeanne said...

Interesting. I would liken him to Ulysses Grant of the Confederacy here in the US. And I do feel that hanging was a bit of a harsh punishment for doing what he felt was right.
Hhhmmm....I'd say he was a hero in my book!

imaginationlane said...

I thoroughly enjoyed that, Debra. I did learn about Riel in elementary school after emigrating from Ireland to Ontario. By contrast, I don't recall hearing much mention of him throughout my high school years in BC...

dbs said...

History is always a matter of who wrote the book. Great post. I recommend a visit to Batoche, SK.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, dbs, I've been to Batoche -- loved it! I should post about that sometime.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

I hope he was hiding out in Texas, he's out kind of hero