The Red River Resistance and the Creation of Manitoba

st boniface

William Henry Edward Napier, watercolour, “St. Boniface, Red River Settlement,” 1858. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1950-63-7.


  • Lecture Outline: The Red River Resistance and the Creation of Manitoba

1). Canadian Expansion

a) — William McDougall

i)   resolutions to Parliament

ii)  trip to England

iii) ambition

2). Settler Resistance

a) — Who were the settlers?

i)  numbers

ii) community traits

b) — What were their grievances?

i)   property ownership

ii)  lack of consultation

iii) behaviour of the ‘Canada Party’

c) — What was the settler response?

i)  councils

ii) emergent spokespeople

3). Declaration of Provisional Government

a) rejection of MacDougall

b) emissary Donald A. Smith

[c) the Convention of Forty and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. For transcriptions of the debates of these councils, supplementary documents, and links to additional resources see  Provisional Government of Assiniboia: Acknowledging the Aboriginal Contribution to the Creation of Manitoba .]

4). Execution of Thomas Scott

a) Why shoot Thomas Scott?

i)  settler deaths

ii) Windigo

5). The Manitoba Act

6). The Wolseley Expedition

i)  behaviour

ii) outcome


[under construction – editing incomplete]


In the past, historians interested in telling a national story of Canada presented the Red River Resistance as part of a story celebrating the country’s geographic expansion; or as an example of ongoing Anglo-French (and, by extension Protestant-Catholic), tension within the Canadian nation.[1] Both versions assume that a large force — ‘destiny’ — literally compelled human actors through this historic event. The ‘right’ outcome was obvious: the geographic completion of the nation’s country ‘from sea to sea.’ If the outcome is taken as inevitable, then, when reading backwards into the events leading up to that outcome, anyone who had stood in the way of its prompt resolution was subverting history — they themselves were backwards in their rebellion against the future. Therein, perhaps at least partially, lies an explanation of the willingness of Canadian historians to accept the portrayal of the people of the settlement as volatile Métis who instigated a Red River ‘Rebellion.’ Another explanation might be that Canadian historians tended to rely on Ontario newspapers of the time as a source — almost exclusively.

[For a look at some of the newspaper articles read in Red River during the resistance, beginning with one from the Toronto Globe, dated 7 November 1869, see the scanned pages of Glenbow Archives, James Ross, “Red River Rebellion Scrapbook,” November 1869.]

As an observation of J.L. Granatstein suggests, there is another way that historians can approach history. He averred:

It is the responsibility of historians … to try to put themselves back into the circumstances of the past, and, while never becoming apologists for the horrors of those times, to seek to understand why people acted as they did.[2]

If one assumes that the course of the future is unknown to human beings, that both sides of a past dispute ought to be examined, and that the teleological approach to historiography should be rejected, then ‘rebellion’ becomes an inappropriate term to apply to what took place in Red River during the years 1869 and 1870. Semantically, the term rebellion is only appropriate when there is a revolt against the rule of a legitimate, or established authority. As the following description shows, prior to 23 June 1870, the Dominion of Canada was not a legitimate authority in Rupert’s Land. According to custom and the conventions of law, Canadian statesmen and citizens belonged to what was in effect a foreign country. What happened in Red River is, therefore, more properly termed a resistance.[3]

[For a Red River rejection of the label ‘rebel’ see “Our Situation,” New Nation (16 March, 1870), 2 (including 2d column); “Right or Wrong?” New Nation (10 May 1870), 2 (and column 2); also Enquire Within,” New Nation (17 May 1870), 2 (including 2d column ; and column 3). For sympathetic agreement on the nature of their position and the inappropriateness of the term rebellion see reprint, “The North West Problem,” Montreal Nouveau Monde, in New Nation (4 February 1870), 1, 2d column, beginning at paragraph indent 7; and reprint, “Are the Red River People Rebels?St. Paul Press in New Nation (13 May 1870), 1 (nb: scroll down the column to find the article), continued in column 2.]

If historians have the option of assuming that things happened because people chose to act in a certain way, then the problem to solve becomes understanding why past people made the choices they did. That’s the approach I took in researching Red River Settlement, and in composing this lecture. The questions I sought to answer began with the single one: why did people of Red River resist Canada’s plan to incorporate Rupert’s Land into its dominion? Answering that question requires considering how the people in the settlement regarded their position prior to Canada’s take-over bid. Other questions arose that I sought to answer. You will note that in the text below several points that I regard as central to understanding the political positions adopted within Red River Settlement — as well as aspects of Canadian conduct that Red River settlers may well have objected to — are italicized.

[For a Red River description of the chain of events see “Canada’s Blundering,” New Nation (14 January 1870), 2; for a Red River reflection on the course of events see “The Past and the Present,” New Nation (22 April 1870), 2 (and column 2, column 3; for Red River conviction that the course taken was appropriate see “Our Defence,” New Nation (3 May 1870), 1 (and column 2).]

1). Canadian Expansion

much fathered

“Confederation! The much-fathered youngster,” political cartoon, Source: Library and Archives Canada/C-005812, online MIKAN no. 2955870. Characters, who were participants in the formulation of the terms of confederation at Charlottetown, Quebec, and London, from left to right: Geo. Brown “Come to your genuine Poppy”; Sir Francis Hinks “I’m the father of Confederation”; William McDougall “Gracious! Me own child don’t know me!”; Sir John A. Macdonald “Don’t it recognize its real Daddy?”

a) William McDougall

i) resolutions to Parliament

On 4 December 1867, in the first session of the first parliament of the newly created Dominion of Canada, William McDougall, a ‘father’ of Confederation, introduced resolutions for the annexation of Rupert’s Land, warning as he did so: “If we do not expand, we must contract.” The debate that ensued indicated that most members of parliament had little sense that any people — that is, any people who mattered — lived in the territory [though Mr. Chipman’s remarks (p. 187), suggested at least some thought the inhabitants ought to be consulted]. Joseph Howe pronounced McDougall’s idea “mildly ridiculous,” because, Howe pointed out, constitutionally Canada’s colonial status gave it no power to take over the North West. Nevertheless, parliament began the process of approving Mcdougall’s resolutions as of 6 December 1867.

ii) trip to England

In June of 1868, the British Parliament passed an act allowing the Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] territory to revert to the Queen. McDougall went with Sir George-Étienne Cartier to London to negotiate the transfer of Rupert’s Land from the Queen to Canada. Canada was to compensate the HBC with £300,000; allow the Company to retain lands around its posts; and allow it to retain the right of continued trade.

The HBC accepted the terms in March 1869. The terms of the ‘Deed of Surrender,’ were accepted 19 November 1869 [although the Queen did not approve the Company’s surrender until 22 June 1870]. The promise of payment of funds by Canada to the HBC was recorded, as was the Company’s right to keep 450,000 acres around its trade posts and an additional 7,000,000 acres of land. Questions of compensation for exchange of Aboriginal ownership were settled without reference to Métis entitlement.

The transfer was to be effective as of 1 December 1869.

william mcdougall

William James Topley, photo, dated September 1869, captioned Hon. William McDougall (Hon. Minister of Public Works) b. Jan. 25, 1822 – d. May 28, 1905.” Source: William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-, online MIKAN no. 3218824.

iii) ambition

Canada had ambitions and McDougall, the minister of public works, was ambitious. Canada decided to make Rupert’s Land a temporary Canadian colony, to be administered by a lieutenant-governor and an appointed council of Canadians — incidentally, none of the individuals chosen for these positions had ever set foot in Rupert’s Land. The Canadian Parliament passed its “Act for the Temporary Government of Rupert’s Land” in June 1869. Macdonald appointed McDougall as lieutenant-governor of the soon-to-be ‘temporary Canadian colony’ on 28 September 1869.

McDougall, in his capacity as minister of public works, had already initiated the construction of a road from Lake of the Woods to Red River Settlement — ostensibly to improve communication between Canada and Red River — and had sent out an advance party of surveyors including one Charles Mair.

charles mair

William James Topley, photograph, dated 1901, captioned “Charles Mair M.P.” Source: William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-025944.

All of this was done before the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada had taken place, and without bothering to inform anyone in Red River.

Charles Mair’s road-building crew had been joined in August by an additional crew, led by John Stoughton Dennis. This second crew was tasked with surveying Rupert’s Land for Canadian settlement — again without consulting anyone who was already living in Rupert’s Land. The surveyors had soon run afoul of the Red River settlers.


“Lt. Col. J.S. Dennis, Surveyor General of Canada,” dated 1871-1878. Source: Library and Archives Canada / C-005833.

For a satirical assesment of Col. Dennis and his account of his activities, see “Colonel Dennis’ Apology,” New Nation (15 April 1870), 1, continued in a 2d column of the article, and concluded on page 2.

See also “Colonel Dennis’ Statements Denied,” New Nation (29 April 1870), 2, a letter to the editor from Robert Tait and James McKay.

2). The Impetus for Settler Resistance

a) who were the settlers?

Understanding settler resistance requires knowing something about who the settlers were. One starting point is to consider the question of how many people were there.

i) numbers

In the years 1869 and 1870 there were approximately 12,000 people living in Red River — about 8000 of whom were under the age of 21.

Rough breakdown of population. NB: The vast majority of adult women in Red River at the time had Aboriginal mothers. As mothers were the primary care-givers of infants and young children, it is reasonable to expect that a woman’s first language would have been that of her mother.

Among the 4,000 adults, those who were parents of the 8000 children and youths of Red River were predominantly people who had been born in the country and who had both Aboriginal and European family connections. Most people in the settlement were what is now termed ‘Métis’ — a French term derived from the Latin miscere ‘to mix’ (a census conducted in 1871 reported that there were 5,720 French and 4,080 English ‘half-breeds’, and 1,600 ‘white’ settlers). Their settlement had existed for about 60 years, and their society reflected a mix of Aboriginal and European traditions.

There are two points I consider noteworthy if understanding the course of resistance in Red River is the goal:

the Resistance involved approx. 11,999 people who were not Louis Riel.

most of the people were intimately familiar with Aboriginal life-ways.


H.L. Hime, photograph, “Ojibway tents on the banks of Red River, near the Middle Settlement,” dated 1858. Source: H.L. Hime/Library and Archives Canada/C-001995.

ii) community traits

Red River was geographically removed from other similarly settled communities (the closest settlement, at the village of Pembina, some 60 miles distant to the south in American territory, was also distinctively Métis), and the inhabitants had developed a unique approach to community living. In my opinion, five community traits – common to Cree and Anishnaabeg/Ojibway traditions – are key to understanding Red River settler behavior in 1869-70:

1) Kinship networks mattered – Settlers relied on family connections for support. In Red River, one way or another, everybody was either related (by extended family ties) or as good as related (by social connections) to their neighbours [as evidence see the chart illustrating family ties among the councillors of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia (derived from genealogies listed on their individual pages, this blog)].

2)Respect for diversity and maintenance of harmony were important practices – survival depended on both. There was no formal military or police force, and no facility suitable for long-term incarceration. Consensus within the community was sought on all issues of governance.

3)Orality was key to decision making and planning – people talked their problems out. For Red River people, gossiping allowed democratic consensus building to work. Talk within the community meant:

everyone had an opportunity to weigh all the arguments in circulation;

to know what their neighbours were thinking;

and to voice their opinion.

4) ‘Leaders’ were spokespeople, chosen when needed, on the basis of their ability.

In Algonkian societies, such positions were always only “temporary and intermittent.”

Individuals chosen as spokespeople were not to dictate their own convictions, but those of the people.

The people were at all times free to follow, or not, according to individual preference.

It was also acceptable for members of one community to divide and commit to different ‘leaders.’

[on the above points see Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage: The ceremonies, rituals, songs, dances, prayers, and legends of the Ojibway (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), 61-62; on the merits of considering the Ojibway example as broadly representative of Algonkian culture in a southern Manitoba see Michael G. Johnson and Richard Hook, American Woodland Indians (Long Island City, NY: Osprey Publishing, 1990), 36.]

5)Territoriality was assumed: Red River was home to people who had a sense of rights to possession, access, and utilization of an extensive land base, and they were proud and protective of it.

In terms of conflict with Canadians and Canada, consideration of that last point is crucial. First and foremost, the grievances of the Red River settlers were rooted inthe issue of property ownership. In terms of European law, from 1670 the HBC had the authority to govern Rupert’s Land, and, in 1817, a treaty with First Nations bands allowed the HBC to settle people at Red River. However, Company representatives had no ready means of enforcing their authority. Basically, people living in the northwestern third of North America were able to go about their business with or without HBC approval.

The only military or policing force the Company could count on in times of crisis was made up of Red River people. So, when disputes between the Company and settlers arose, because Company representatives were vastly outnumbered, those representatives usually backed down – not that this is what they reported to their head office in London. Officially, the HBC was represented as in charge and eminently competent when it came to ‘managing’ what were represented to be less evolved and ‘wild’ people — ‘Indians’ and ‘half-breeds’ who had not been ‘domesticated’/’civilized’ by way of being subject to the dictates of any formally organized — and recognized under European law — ‘civil’ society’s state.

metis 2 wives

Peter Rindesbacher, watercoulor, “Un métis et ses deux épouses,” dated 1820, and neither painted in Red River, nor depicting Red River settlers. Source: Library and Archives Canada, account no. 1973-84-1.

Actually, the people of Red River were perfectly intelligent. Their community included educated ladiesand accomplishedgentlemen, a significant number of whom were widely travelled by land, inland waterways, and by sea, and who may have lived for some years in Europe, Canada, and the United States in the course of pursuing a higher education.

red river 15

Anne Ballenden of Red River

When it came to land ownership, although the HBC had a system on its books, most people ignored it, to settle wherever they chose in whatever portion of what they considered to be their country, the which, in community, they managed and developed.

[See Archer Martin, The Hudson’s Bay Company’s land tenures and the occupation of Assiniboia by Lord Selkirk’s settlers: with a list of grantees under the Earl and the company (London: W. Clowes, 1898).]

And, in terms of settler and settlement success, things had gone very well under this arrangement.

[See map, ‘Red River Settlement 1870,’ Metis Culture and Heritage website,]

By 1856 there were 922 houses, 1,232 stables, 399 barns and 8,371 acres of cultivated land. Livestock included 2,799 horses, 7,427 head of cattle, 2,429 sheep, and 4,674 pigs. Families also raised poultry and kept numerous dogs. The settlers had 2,145 carts and 577 watercraft, and 1,315 ploughs and harrows. There were 9 churches, 17 schools and 56 shops and stores manufacturing and selling a variety of items. There were 18 windmills and 9 water-mills for threshing and grinding grain and for carding wool, as well as a combination saw and grist mill. The people of Red River had survived floods, grasshopper infestations, and outbreaks of disease, had recovered and continued to build for the future. They were justly pleased with their accomplishment.

b) what were their grievances?

i) property ownership

Despite their evident success, as of 1869 the people of Red River had been unable to get assurances, either from the HBC or Britain, that their entitlement to lands that were settled and used would continue to be respected. Hence, the lack of consultation with Red River settlers about the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada was bound to exacerbate any already existing frustration.

There had been a HBC survey in 1835 which had ensured that the rights of settlers who had actually purchased land after 1811 would be respected. Until new settlers wanting tenure protection began to arrive from Upper Canada, nothing was done to safeguard non-purchaser families, even though — by Company calculation — from about 1835 they had occupied river fronted vacant land, on lots of a width of approximately 800 feet and a depth of about two miles, amounting to about 200 acres, without arousing Company ire.

ii) lack of consultation

Land ownership became a very big issue when the settlers found out that the HBC, Britain, and Canada had gone ahead with arranging for the the buying and selling of their country, without taking their existence into account, let alone their views. From that point onwards, on-site HBC governor William Mactavish became increasingly aware that the settlers would not put up with what they considered to be arrogant outsiders — take settler reaction to the activities of members of the ‘Canada Party’ in and about the settlement for example:

iii) The behaviour of the ‘Canada Party’

Tensions were growing between old Settlers and people newly arrived from Canada. For one thing, everyone was going through a bout of ‘hard times’: crops had failed to produce a surplus, and so had the buffalo hunt – so extra people in the settlement meant resources were spread very thin. Secondly, a few of the new arrivals were breaking community norms: they did not exhibit the customary respect for diversity, and they did not place the customary emphasis on maintaining harmony. A few characters really stood out, namely:


John Christian Schultz. At 31 years of age, Schultz was the leader of the ‘Canada Party.’ He advertised himself as a ‘Dr.’, but his primary activity in Red River was speculating in land. Twice he was jailed in Fort Garry — both times he refused to accept his community-dictated penance and broke out.

annie b. 2

Annie Bannatyne, who whipped Charles Mair for insulting the women of Red River and “struck the first blow in the struggle for representative government at Red River” [See also Women and the Resistance ]

Charles Mair. The previously mentioned surveyor was a founder of the ‘Canada First’ society in Ontario. Like McDougall, he believed in Canada’s manifest destiny in the North West. He wrote several articles published in Ontario, reporting on Red River as a settlement site for Ontarians in need of land. One article got him into trouble in Red River —Annie Bannatyne reportedly pulled his nose and whipped him with her riding crop for what he had written about women of the settlement. Mair belonged to the Orange Order, as did his associate who would become the most notorious of the Canadians and who is listed immediately below.

tom scott2

Thomas Scott. Recently arrived from northern Ireland, Scott was committed to the  Orange Order. He was ultra Protestant, intolerant of Catholics, and of anybody who married or associated with Catholics, which put him at odds with all of Red River, because roughly half the people were Catholic, more were married to somebody from a Catholic family, and, one way or another, just about everybody in the Settlement was related one to another.

After arriving in Red River, all three of the Canadian men listed above made incautious statements about the Métis and how they would become ‘slaves’ when the ‘new order’ arrived. The insult implied the settlers weren’t the true British subjects they considered themselves to be, because, as Scottish poet James Thompson’s popular lyrics to ‘Rule Britannia’ had it: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.” In addition, Mair as paymaster of the road survey crew reneged on a wage agreement with settlers who had signed on to the road crew as labourers. Scott drew negative attention for being arrested, tried, and convicted for an assault on his boss on the survey crew. Then a group of the Canadians ‘took treaty’ with ‘Indians,’ paying them in alcohol (an illegal activity), in order to lay claim to land that, within the Settlement, was held to belong not to any particular ‘Indians’ but to specific and established settlers.

To top it all off, the Canadian surveyors under John Staughton Dennis did not stay out on empty land but went right into the settled area.


“The Beginning of the Section Land Survey as Shown on J.S. Dennis’ Plan for the Survey of the Red River Plain. (1869).” Note thatthe surveyors were measuring to the American plan, which marked out 160 acre quarter sections, as opposed to the settlement plan, which allotted every holding river frontage with a long narrow lot extending behind. Source: Manitoba Historical Maps Photostream, Flickr page, explains: “The most important line in the mapping of modern western Canada is the Winnipeg or Principal Meridian. It is shown on this map of the surveys completed by Lt. Col. J.S. Dennis and his survey parties in 1869, before Rupert’s Land was transferred to Canada. Marked in a darker shade are the parishes of Red River Settlement, subdivided into river lots by the colony’s surveyors. Cutting across the lots is the Winnipeg Meridian. The township survey, consisting of 64 sections of 800 acres in each township, is shown in the sketch in the lower right hand corner of the map. The point where Major Webb’s survey party was stopped by the Métis on October 12th [sic], 1869 is marked.”

c) what was the settler response?

Initially, the incidents involving rude arrivals from Canada were merely annoying, but by Oct. 11 the settlers had had enough. On that date, instead of surveying outwards from already settled lands and onto the open prairie which lay to the west of the Principal Meridian shown on the map above, the Canadian Survey party began marking off property east of the meridian and soon encroached on a farm in the Parish of St. Vital said to belong to André Nault. The surveyors’ work was brought to a halt by Nault and his neighbours – one of whom was his first cousin, Louis Riel. Presumably in good part because Riel spoke English, had been educated in the Canadas, and was familiar with power politics and how to make legal arguments, he acted as spokesperson — standing on the survey chain and informing the crew that they could go no further. Subsequently, Riel penned a letter, which was published in a Quebec newspaper, declaring settler loyalty to the Queen and to the HBC, and pointing out that the surveyors had “disregarded the law of nations” by working in Red River under the name of “an alien authority.” John Stoughton Dennis demanded that Gov. Mactavish have the settlers protesting the survey arrested. Mactavish declined. John A. MacDonald, when he heard about the incident, commented that Dennis was “a very decent fellow and a good surveyor” but “quite without a head.”

i) councils

The settlers of Red River began to organize councils. They had discussed incidents amongst themselves over the summer and what to do about the unsettled state of affairs through the fall. Different individuals and groups within the settlement held different views which circulated as ‘general rumour.’ Once events warranted, the community response of organizing was easily effected, in much the same manner as had become traditional when preparing for the buffalo harvest:

parish councils were held,

which appointed representative spokespeople

ii) representative spokespeople

The families of both St. Vital and St. Norbert chose Louis Riel, the son of a ‘leading Métis family,’ as their spokesperson. Another prominent spokesperson was James Ross. Representing the families of Kildonan and St. John’s, Ross was the son of retired Northwest Company fur-trader Alexander Ross and Sarah/Sally, a woman from a leading family of the Okanagan First Nation. Like Riel, James Ross had been educated in the Canadas and was tri-lingual (at minimum). He was similarly familiar with other political forms. His faction of Red River settlers and the one led by Riel were often at logger-heads over what strategy to take to deal with Canadian encroachment, but the two also cooperated with each other. The cooperation is evident in Ross and Riel’s working together on printing up notices to inform the community of meetings and in their taking turns as interpreters when large councils were held: where one meeting would be conducted in English with Riel translating the proceedings, the next would be held in French with Ross translating.

prov govt

President Riel, in group with a number of members of the Government and prominent defenders of the people’s rights,” photographed c. 3 May 1870 by Joseph Langevin, probably at R.H. McLaughlin’s Picture Gallery, Town of Winnipeg.

As far as I can determine, those photographed are, from left to right: (back row) Cyrile Laroque, of the Provisional Government Guard  [often listed as Charles Larocque (his father), but also as Bonnet Tromage and as François Guilmette], Hon. Pierre Delorme, Hon. Thomas Bunn, Hon. Xavier Pagé, Hon. André Beauchemin [sometimes identified as Hon. Baptiste Beauchemin], Hon. Baptiste Tourond, Thomas Spence [sometimes misidentified as Joseph Spence]; (middle row) Hon. Pierre Poitras, Hon. John Bruce, President Louis Riel, Hon. William Bernard O’Donoghue [sometimes misidentified as John O’Donoghue], Hon. François Dauphinais; (front row) Hon. Hugh Francis ‘Bob’ Olone [often misrepresented as Robert O’Lone], Paul Proulx.

Archives of Manitoba, Photograph Collection, Red River Disturbance 1, includes a small reprint of a larger group photo that indicates the larger original had the names of the members of the council printed on a surrounding border. Some of the names on the small reprint have been crossed out and corrected in ink. A note on the back explains: “July 30. 1934. Submitted duplicate of this Red R. Rest. picture, without names, to: John-Marie Poitras aged 96; Pauline McDougall 84; Daniel Carriere 84; Martin Gerome 84; also Frederic Genthon 77; and all these—who knew the men personally—certified the names are correct with the changes noted.” The inclusion of François Guilmette (of whom there are no known records), otherwise identified as Bonnet Tromage (likewise without known records), and of Robert O’Lone (who is known to have never existed at Red River) are problematic, however. The card is stamped: “Manitoba Historical Society, 255 Legislative Bldg., Winnipeg 1, Man.”

Source: “Councillors of the Provisional Government of the Métis Nation,” Library and Archives Canada / PA-012854.

3). Declaration of a Provisional Government and the rejection of the non-representatively elected but appointed by the foreign government of Canada, William MacDougall, as a ‘lieutenant-governor’ with peremptory authority over Settlement affairs

There were two issues that the various factions in the Settlement disagreed about. They presented sophisticated arguments in council meetings that were recorded verbatim (or as reasonably close an approximation of verbatim as could be accomplished).

  • The first issue was whether to allow McDougall to enter the settlement or not.
  • The second issue was:
    • if they decided to confederate with Canada
    • did they want to be a province or not.

The problem was that the settlers were unable to arrive at consensus, because they had received no reliable information about what Canada’s intentions were, or about if, and when, their concerns were going to be addressed.

Those opposed to letting McDougall enter Red River argued that once he did, Canada would have taken their country without negotiating terms. In fact, a party of those opposed had turned McDougall back at the border with the United States on 2 November while he was on his way to Red River. Further, they had installed armed guards in Fort Garry to keep it out of Canadian hands — the HBC having no guards of its own for the establishment.

fort garry 1868

James Lockhart, watercolour, “HBC, Fort Garry, Red River Settlement,” 1868. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-100-1.

By 6 November, a majority of settlers had agreed that they would resist the unsanctioned actions of any foreign state in their country, unless negotiations over terms of self-government and settler rights were satisfactorily undertaken and concluded.

By 24 November, the majority of settlers had agreed on a basic list of rights they wanted recognized if they joined Canada. They demanded:

  • recognition of private and community land ownership,
  • improved communication with other centres;
  • protection of the right to self-determine language and religious affiliation,

[Incidentally, all of these basic points were repeated in subsequent drafts of demanded rights  – and, save perhaps the demand for improved communication, they were mostly won.]

The settlers also agreed that McDougall was not to be allowed to enter the country.

[Fot a satirical Red River summation of McDougall see “The Political Death and Dying Words of Recreant Willie,” New Nation (8 April 1870), 1.]

Meanwhile, because the Canadian government heard about the dissatisfaction and unrest in Red River, it pushed back the date of transfer. On 27th November Macdonald wrote to McDougall, cautioning that any assumption of government on McDougall’s part would end HBC authority in Red River. If HBC authority was ended too early, Macdonald warned, then there would then be no legal government and the inhabitants would be entitled to set up a government with sovereign rights. In effect, then, Macdonald recognized that in these circumstances, the creation of a provisional government was a just response, and, the entity so formed was a legal government.

A communication problem meant McDougall remained ignorant of the delay, nor, apparently did he receive Macdonald’s warning letter. On the 1st of December, therefore, MacDougall assumed government of Red River on behalf of Canada, proclaiming the completion of a transfer that had not in fact occurred, to no one but his own cortege standing out on an otherwise empty prairie.

prairie empty

Humphrey L. Hime, photograph, “The Prairie, on the Banks of Red River, looking south,” dated 1858.  Source: Humphrey L. Hime / Library and Archives Canada / C-018694.

He then sent a fraudulent, because unauthorized, proclamation of dominion into the settlement via his supporters in Red River. The ‘Canada Party’ promptly upset everyone by forming a volunteer army under John Stoughton Dennis, whom the rejected McDougall had made his lieutenant.

Aside from misunderstanding their legal position, neither McDougall nor his Canada Party supporters understood the local system of community government. They were convinced that power in Red River was invested in a single leader – Riel. They decided to seize him by stealth and install Canadians as the Settlement’s “masters.”

Riel, however, heard about the plot. It would have been hard not to, in a community where overt orality was a feature and family networking was in place.

William Mactavish, the HBC governor, was married to Mary Sally ‘Sara’ McDermot, “a strong Roman Catholic” and daughter of Andrew McDermot– another confidante of the Canadian Party. Sara’s brother, Miles was married to Guillemine Goulet — sister to the wife of Riel’s cousin Elzéar Lagimonière. Sara’s sister, Annie, wife of A.G.B. Bannatyne — had whipped Charles Mair. It is Annie’s husband who, despite his affiliation with the Canadian party, is credited with alerting Riel to the danger.

By 7 December Schultz, Scott, and about 53 other armed Canadians, were arrested and jailed. Mair was arrested some days later. Dennis fled the Settlement and left for Ontario with McDougall on 18 December. On 9 January Mair and Scott escaped from jail and headed to Portage la Prairie where they joined another Canadian who had come out with Dennis’ survey party, former Army Captain, Charles Arkoll Boulton. On 23 January Schultz escaped from jail, and went into hiding in Red River Settlement.

In mid-February some Canadians who had escaped and fled to Portage la Prairie determined to march on Upper Fort Garry to rescue the remaining prisoners. Boulton tried unsuccessfully to restrain the “hotheads,” including Charles Mair and Thomas Scott. In an attempt to keep them out of trouble Boulton gradually assumed leadership of the group, which planned to unite with another led by Schultz. The group did not keep out of trouble. Instead, deadly mayhem — outlined below — ensued. In its aftermath, the Métis patrol in Red River had no difficulty taking most of the Canadians, including Boulton, prisoner [For a satirical account of the incident see “Revolution!,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 2.]. Boulton and three others were threatened with execution. Boulton, however, was spared through the intervention of leaders in the Red River community. Upon his release from jail on 16 March 1870 he returned to Ontario.

[On ongoing Red River animosity towards member of the Canada Party see, “The Flea in the Fable,” New Nation (13 May 1870), 2; and “Mair’s Letter to Hon. W. MacDougall,” New Nation (22 April 1870), 2, particularly column 2.]

During the same period that all this had been going on, prior to Schultz’ escape from jail on 23 January, three emissaries had been sent by Macdonald to allay the fears of Red River people. Two of the gentlemen, Jean-Baptiste Thibault and Charles-René-Léonidas d’Irumberry de Salaberry, where less active in communicating with the settlers than the third — Donald A. Smith. He was a nephew of HBC Chief Factor John Stuart — some of whose descendants lived in Red River — and married to Isabella Sophia Hardisty, one of the daughters of HBC officer Richard Hardisty and his Métis wife, Margaret Sutherland. Hardistys and Sutherlands lived in Red River.

On 19 January 1870, 1000 people gathered at Upper Fort Garry to spend five hours standing in -40o weather outdoors to hear Smith outline the Canadian government’s intent. The next day an even larger number cheered assurances that their rights would be accommodated. Smith admitted he did not have the authority to enter into final negotiation, but he offered to take a statement of what Red River wanted back to Canada.

The settlers decided to hold a convention of community representatives, selected by smaller councils to “to decide what would be best for the welfare of the country.” The convention, which met on 26 January, produced a ‘Second List of Rights’ which clarified the extent of land to be recognized as the new territory. It was to be a circular area that fell “inside a circumference, having Upper Fort Garry as the centre.” The radius of this was to “be the number of miles that the American line is distant from Fort Garry” (120 kilometres). The area asked for was about 9,500,000 acres (11,000 square miles).

The Convention met again, 7-10 February, and accepted the Provisional Government as representative for the entire Settlement. This was, as Macdonald had outlined, a legal proceeding. Riel was confirmed as President, JamesRoss as Chief Justice. A governing body with representatives from the parishes of Red River — the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia — was elected [<– click link for details on this Legislature, ‘lost’ to historiography until 2010].

[Note on the need for lecture revision: In my opinion, now that the existence of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia has been established, a study of the Red River Resistance should turn at this point to an examination of that Assembly’s debates — if the study is to be considered adequate. See Provisional Government of Assiniboia: Acknowledging the Aboriginal Contribution to the Creation of Manitoba for debate transcripts and additional resources.]

In early March an event occurred which, historians have avowed, has left them mystified, and which some have termed ‘Riel’s Blunder.’


The Execution of Thomas Scott

The question that has apparently been so difficult to answer, given that everything seemed to be going well, is: why shoot Thomas Scott, thereby rousing the ire of Canadians in Ontario? There have been all sorts of speculations – and it seems likely any explanation must remain speculative because there is a lack of documentation. Red River’s was an oral culture, the people were not necessarily in the habit of writing things down, and, due to a fire in 1873, it seems that whatever pertinent information that might have been written down was likely lost.[4] In the absence of documented explanation, some historians have theorized:

  • Riel was mentally unstable
  • his followers were out of control
  • the execution was a mistake – Scott was only meant to receive a good scare.
  • the execution was part of a Fenian plot.

I have a theory of my own, based on piecing together information that was put into writing. Examining the events that saw Scott imprisoned in the first place helps with understanding his sentence:

The first pertinent event involved two “unhappy” deaths in mid February of Hugh Sutherland and Norbert Parisien.

Hugh Sutherland was an English, Protestant, Red River settler of non-Aboriginal descent. At the time of his death, he was 26 years old, married, with an infant son. Information is vague and contradictory about Norbert Parisien. He was of French Métis descent and likely Catholic. Narcisse Parisien, and wife Marguerite Sabiston of St. Andrews may have been his parents — or perhaps his brother and sister-in-law. There are assertions that Norbert was as young as 15, yet others claim that he was as old as 52. While eyewitnesses said that he died in the latter half of February, some historians allege he died in April. It appears from some accounts that he may have been an intellectually challenged individual who had a job cutting firewood at Fort Garry. All accounts agree that Parisien was responsible for Sutherland’s death — though it seems the community regarded the actions of a Canadian contingent of 60 armed men led by Charles Boulton as the real cause.

[See Revolution,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 2; “The Revolution,” New Nation (25 February 1870), 2; “Canadian Malcontents,” New Nation (4 March 1870), 2; Taché, quoted in Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties, 21-23; Taché, Amnesty Again, 16, 32. See also Canadian Who Has Visited Manitoba to Discover the Truth [pseud.], Ontario and Manitoba ([Toronto?: s.n., 1872]), 1-16.]

Boulton’s contingent had set out from Portage la Prairie to drum up support for taking over the Settlement. They had not succeeded. Then they came across the unfortunate Parisien. The Canadians among Boulton’s group accused him of being a spy, and took him prisoner. In the course of a terror-fuelled bid to escape, Parisien ran into Sutherland who had happened to cross his path. Parisien shot Sutherland, mistaking him for one of the kidnappers — the latter having overtaken their fugitive. Despite the dying Sutherland’s pleas on Parisien’s behalf, the escapee was attacked with a hatchet, had a belt looped around his neck, and was dragged “behind a horse for a quarter mile.”

The news was probably relayed rapidly throughout the Settlement. Violent deaths were not unheard of in Red River, but they usually took place at a remove from the Settlement.

Most of the Canadian group was arrested as they made their way home, although two of the leading agitators, Schultz and Mair, had run off for Canada [for a satirical comment on the exodus of the last of the ‘Canadian Party’ agitators see “Red River Fizzlo“]. Boulton, however, stuck with his men. He testified that it was Thomas Scott who was the one responsible for Norbert Parisien’s death.[5]

Scott was unruly, unrepentant and troublesome in captivity. Aside from complaining about being chained — a measure adopted because Red River jails were easy to break out of — he had severe diarrhea. He was tried by a War Council and sentenced to death. The Provisional Government accepted the sentence and on 4 March Scott was blindfolded and shot by firing squad. [See also “Military Execution,” New Nation (4 March 1870), 3.]

scott shot

“The execution of Scott.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, online MIKAN no. 2930599.

Stories of Scott’s death maintain some unusual occurrences transpired:

  • the volley of shots from the firing squad didn’t kill him, and he lay on the ground groaning.
  • A pistol was put to his ear and fired, his body was put into a pine box and taken into the fort, but, it was claimed, he was still making noise.
  • Settlement clergy were refused the body for burial. The box was buried secretly – rumours circulated in the settlement of eerie late night doings.

[See Arthur William Alsager Pollock, Colburn’s United Service Magazine, and Naval and Military Journal vol. 137, part 1 (London: 1875), 176-177 n., for one story — attributed to John Bruce — recounting the execution and disposal of Scott’s remains.]

[For another account, see also Dr. Derrick Nault (of the University of Calagary), “Thomas Scott: Recollections of Alexandre Nault as Passed Down by Andre Nault“]

More bizarrely still,

  • when the box was dug up some time later, it was found to contain only straw.

[For an additional account of what actually happened to Scott’s body see Derrick Nault, “Did Andre Nault Accidentally Reveal the Location of Thomas Scott’s Body?]

One possible explanation for the execution, as well as the seeming-strange details about the death and burial, might be that Red River people had Aboriginal approaches to community management. They may have thought that Thomas Scott was Windigo. I suspect that they did, because the treatment of Scott conforms to the means of dealing with Windigo. From the time of the attack on Parisien — which, because Sutherland died, some thought could have set off a ‘civil war’ —  to descriptions of Scott’s volatility in jail, and of his weird inability to die, his behavior is consistent with the most abhorred evil known to Algonkian speaking peoples in North America — and to fur traders as well.

The word windigo is not a proper noun, it is only a kind of “reference,” to a murderous, infectious force that invades a community and is dedicated to its physical extermination.[6] There are many ways to spell it. The term derives from the Algonquian root word “witiku”, though pronunciation and spelling varies widely, appearing as Wendigo, Windego, Wetiko, Windago, and Windikouk. Aboriginal law and practices had been devised to deal with the societal threat windigo posed in the absence of facilities for long-term incarceration. The procedures were all followed in the Scott case:

  • he was isolated and restrained from inflicting additional harm.
  • he was interviewed to determine the extent and source of the hostility.
  • he was given spiritual counseling — in an attempt to heal what was regarded as a horribly aberrant, but possibly surmountable affliction.

If he was suspected of being windigo, unfortunately for himself, he did not demonstrate behavior that would have convinced anyone who believed in windigo that he could be saved. If he had shown remorse, and an ability to behave reasonably, then he would have been banished, for life. In cases that were extreme, however, cases where there was no indication that the offender could refrain from deadly violence, execution was deemed “the only solution.” The decision was not lightly made. Action was not taken in an easy spirit, but ending a windigo was considered “the very opposite of murder.”

People who had gone windigo were notoriously hard to kill, usually a hole was put in their head to get the evil spirit out. There was a special method for disposing of windigo remains – it varied from community to community but was always very different from the ordinary funeral practices. Cremation, for example, would be resorted to where burial was the norm. Once over, community silence on a windigo incident was usual.

It is unlikely that anyone in Red River felt that it was safe to openly discuss the matter. Schultz and Mair, once back in Ontario, with the help of the ‘Canada First’ society stirred up sentiment among Orangemen to avenge their ‘loyal martyr,’ Thomas Scott. [See “Schultz and Mair and their Associates Advocate Mob Law,”  New Nation (13 May 1870), 1.] Sir John A. Macdonald, characterized the entire Boulton-led escapade as “foolish,” and “criminal,” but the pronouncement did little to quell Ontarian outrage. The loudest responses emanating from that province indicated that all Red River families were at risk of retaliation.

Whether the execution of Scott and unusual treatment of his body was due to adhering to Aboriginal law or not, the turmoil ceased when he did and life in the settlement regained its harmony.

The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia’s final List of Rights for the consideration of the Canadian government was drafted on 22 March. This list asked for:

  • recognition of private and community land ownership,
  • improved communication with other centres;
  • protection of rights to self-determine language and religious affiliation;
  • Manitoba’s admittance into Confederation as a province rather than a territory.

(The rightness of provincial status had been argued by settlers such as retired sea captain William Kennedy and Donald Gunnas early as 22 October 1869 at a council held in St. Andrew’s. Their arguments suggest that they were aware that Section 146 of the British North America Act implied that “additions to Confederation were to enter as provinces.” [7])

  • that all existing rights — which would include French, Aboriginal, and women’s rights — be protected
  • and that all individuals implicated in the uprising be pardoned — Canadians as well as settlers.
  • Three delegates of the Assembly were appointed to bear the list to Ottawa: Abbé Ritchot, Alfred H. Scott, and John Black. They were to meet with Sir John A. Macdonald, and Sir George Cartier. Instead, they were arrested and jailed – to Macdonald’s embarrassment. Consequently, amnesty became a big issue for the delegates, who argued that it had to be put in place immediately.

The Manitoba Act

The Canadian government incorporated most of the Red River’s ‘List of Rights’ in the Manitoba Act, pushed through Parliament in April. The Act held that:

  • Manitoba would be a province,
  • existing land claims were confirmed
  • an additional 1,400,000 acres was reserved for the dependant children of Red River families in recognition of Aboriginal title (the 31st clause).
  • and a separate school system was to be established.

Word was sent back to Red River by Abbé Richot that all had been accomplished. The Manitoba Act was enacted in May. It was ratified by a “jubilant” Legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government on 24 June. The Red River Settlers had every reason to believe they faced a promising future. Their self-governed society had dealt with difficult situations well. They had set collective goals and met them. The provisions they secured for responsible government meant that they would head up the new system of government. The story did not end there however.


“General Garnet J. Wolseley, detail from ‘Canadian Nile Contingent’,” dated 1884. Source:Canada. Patent and Copyright Office / Library and Archives Canada / C-009993.

The Wolseley Expedition

In late August [the 24th], in the wake of the Manitoba Act, Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley’s Expeditionary force, of nearly 400 British regulars, and over 700 Ontario and 77 Quebec militia, and a large party of civilian voyageurs and workmen embarked from Collingwood, Ont., was sent out as a military demonstration, and to install the new civil authority  — Sir Adam George Archibald: MB’s 1st Lieutenant Governor.

Before landing, some of the men solidified their fraternal bond by inaugurating Manitoba’s first Orange Order Lodge and vowing to avenge the murder of their ‘brother,’ Thomas Scott. They entered the settlement before Archibald had arrived, meeting no resistance. rather, they were welcomed by the settlers, who stood on the sidelines and watched as Wolseley deployed a battalion in formation, rifles at the ready, to storm Fort Garry. That establishment, however, proved to be empty.

Riel was among those who watched the display of force from the steps of the St. Boniface Cathedral across the river — disappointed because they had been assured that amnesty would be proclaimed and obviously it had not. Riel wisely decided to seek safety across the border. As it turned out, the promised amnesty was never put in writing, nor was the promise honoured until 1875 when Governor General, Lord Duffrin, extended it to Riel on condition that he observe a 5 yr. banishment.

The Wolseley Expedition moved into Fort Garry and proceeded to drink for 2 days. Wolseley was a teetotaler, and, from 3 May, the enlisted had been allowed only near beer (.05% alcohol), and tea as they carried their own supplies over the 600 miles of rough terrain, enduring 47 portages and running 51 miles of rapids between Lake Superior and the prairies.


“Red River Expedition, Colonel Wolseley’s Camp, Prince Arthur Landing on Lake Superior,” dated July 1870. Source: Library and Archives Canada, account no. 1969-3-1.

The drinking done, the British regulars returned to Ontario, leaving the militia to garrison the community. Violence directed against the settlers followed, beginning with the stoning/drowning death of Elzéar Goulet, who had shot Scott. The killing of four others followed, including François Guilmette, and John[?] Tanner. André Nault, was “bayoneted and left for dead.” An additional two settlers were beaten. Women were not immune — Eleanor Eliza Cripps/Kennedy, the wife of Capt. Kennedy was targeted in an “Eastern newspaper” as having “counseled and insisted on the murder of poor young Scott.”

Red River was subsequently inundated by settlers from Ontario. The majority was hostile to French Catholics and regarded ‘Indian blood’ as tainted and inferior. Many of the ‘old settlers’ moved west in the hope that resettlement would allow recovery of the better life they had once known in Red River.


In seeking to understand the reasons for the Red River Resistance, I factored the ordinary settlers of Red River into the story. By understanding ‘ordinariness’ in terms of settlement norms — rather than the norms of societies elsewhere, I found explanation for the form that conflict took as it arose between the Red River settlers and the new and expansion-hungry country of Canada. To my way of thinking, this was a story of misunderstanding and miscommunication between two very different communities, 1000 miles apart, but with similar ambitions for a prosperous future. Both groups regarded ownership, control, and use of territory as critical to ensuring prosperity. Adopting a different approach to telling the story of the resistance did not change the most basic finding of previous historians of Canadian national history: in the history of the Canadian West, land mattered.


red river 4

Louis David Riel

For Riel there followed continued exile, with furtive journeys back to Saint-Vital. He was elected there to serve in Ottawa in 1874, but was expelled from Parliament. He spent time in detention in the Beauport asylum in Quebec, then refuge in the United States, until answering the appeal of the Saskatchewan Métis in 1884.

james ross

James Ross

James Ross, who might eventually have been recognized by posterity for his contribution to the creation of Manitoba and was said to be deeply disappointed with what happened in Red River after Manitoba became a province, died the following year.

[1] For a discussion of Canadian national historiography see Jennifer Leigh Hamel, “A brief history of the writing (and re-writing) of Canadian national history,” M.A. thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 2009; and Martin Brook Taylor, Promoters, patriots, and partisans: historiography in nineteenth-century English Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989). For examples of national histories see Adam G. Mercer, Canada, historical and descriptive, from sea to sea (Toronto: W. Bryce, 1888);  William Henry Withrow, A popular history of the Dominion of Canada: from the discovery of America to the present time (Boston: B.B. Russell, 1878).

[2] J.L. Granatstein, “The Evacuation of the Japanese Canadians, 1942: A Realist Critique of the Received Wisdom,” in On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-1945 (Ottawa: Canadian Committee for the History of the Second World War, 1988).]

[3] Language is mutable and meaning as well. See for example, W.S Avis, R.G. Gregg, C.J. Lovell, M.H. Scargill, “rebellion,” Dictionary of Canadian English, Vol. I, The Beginning Dictionary (Toronto: W.J. Gage, 1962), 539, the text, which was devised by “established scholars in the field of Canadian English,” and was meant to reflect and describe “the usage of educated Canadians,” for children to solve “word problems that are actually encountered in the classroom,” defines rebellion as “1. the act or state of organized resistance against the authority of a government; a revolt: the Riel Rebellion.”

[4] Bruce Cherney, “Heritage Highlights: Manitoba’s first legislative building — Bannatyne’s home on McDermot a little east of Main Street,” parts I & II, Winnipeg Real Estate News (28 August & 4 September, 2009): 4-6 & 4-7.

[5] See Louis Riel, as quoted in “A2-001. Interview with a Correspondent of the Winnipeg Daily Sun. (St. Vital). 83/06/(28), Collected Writings of Louis Riel vol. 2, 416; Catherine Black, as quoted in, Women of Red River by W.J. Healy, 221-223; A.S. Morton, 905; George F.G. Stanley, Birth of Western Canada, 82-83; George F.G. Stanley, Louis Riel, 107-108, 112, 106 no. 30, 386-387 n. 30;

[6] John Robert Columbo, Windigo: Kirkness, Killing the Shamen; Alberta History.

[7] See Chester Martin, “The natural resources question”: the historical basis of provincial claims (Winnipeg: King’s Printers for the Province of Manitoba, 1920), 27-43, available at Internet Archive, download-able ebook online


Events Timeline from 1856: Context for Red River Settlement 1869 and 1870


— the Toronto Globe begins a concentrated newspaper campaign to “conquer” the North West.

Captain William Kennedy of Red River steps up his lobbying for Canadian annexation of HBC territory.


— British Government strikes parliamentary committee to hold hearings on ending HBC charter.

— Captain Kennedy circulates petition in Red River requesting union with Canada, 575 settlers sign.

Griffith Owen Corbett begins campaigning for a road to Canada and Crown Colony status for the settlement.


— HBC charter up for renewal.

— French petition circulates in Red River opposing annexation by Canada if guarantees of rights for the inhabitants are not assured.


‘Dr.’ John Christian Schultz arrives in Red River, intent on land speculation.


Sale of the HBC to [Sir] Edward William Watkin and the International Financial Society angers Red River settlers.


— Canadian Government decides to purchase the North West.


Nov. 8 — Parliament of the new Dominion of Canada meets for first time.

Dec. 4 — Canadian Government expansionist policy introduced to Parliament by William McDougall.

Dec. 6 — Resolutions to acquire Canada’s first colony passed (Joseph Howe finds the idea “mildly ridiculous,” because, constitutionally, Canada’s colonial status gives it no power to do so).

Dec. 17 — Canada addresses a request to the Imperial Government that Rupert’s Land and the North-western Territory be united with Canadian territory.


Apr. 23 — Colonial Secretary in Britain advises Canada that compliance with their request requires an
Act of the Imperial Parliament, then places a Bill before the Imperial Parliament which became the Rupert’s Land Act, 1868 (U.K.) 31-32 Vict., c. 105, effective 31 July 1868.

— McDougall and George-Étienne Cartier go to London to bargain with HBC.

27 Oct. — Road-building crew, including Charles Mair, arrives at Red River Settlement to announce work on the Dawson road from Lake of the Woods to Fort Garry.


March — The HBC agrees to sell Rupert’s Land to Canada.

May 31 — Canadian Parliament adopts proposal to annex the North West.

June — Canadian Parliament ratifies the terms of transfer of Rupert’s Land, setting initial date of transfer at Oct. 1 (later pushed back to Dec. 1); also passes “An Act for the Temporary Government of Rupert’s Land.”

— Settlers near St. Norbert confront Canadians pacing out lots nearby as though to stake claims, warn them the land is already occupied, and oversee their departure.

July 1 Oscar Malmros appointed American consul in Winnipeg.

July 5 — Settlers at St. Norbert meet and agree to form patrols to prevent strangers from interloping on settlement land.

July 19Pascal Breland and William Dease organize a meeting at the settlement courthouse to discuss fears about what Canada might be up to. Dease argues the £300,000 Canada promised to pay the HBC ought to be paid to the people of the North-West as the real owners of the land, but he fails to win support.

Aug. 13Malmros arrives at Town of Winnipeg.

Aug. 20 — Canadian surveyors under ‘Colonel’ John Stoughton Dennis arrive in the settlement to combine with the road-building crew:

— Métis workers complain of changes to pay policy;

— Canadian Surveyors ‘take treaty’ with ‘Indians’ and lay claim to land;

— on-site HBC Governor William Mactavish warns the HBC London Committee that Red River Settlers will protest further survey;

— Mactavish writes to Bishop A. A. Taché of Red River outlining settler complaints.

Sep. 11 — American consul in Wpg. informs U.S. govt. of mounting Red River Settler opposition to idea of Canadian annexation.

Sep. 28Canadian Prime Minister John A. Macdonald appoints McDougall lieutenant-governor of the soon-to-be ‘temporary Canadian colony’ on 28 September 1869

Oct. — Taché (while on his way to Rome), warns Cartier about dissatisfaction in Red River (and is ignored).

Oct. 11 — Settlers halt Canadian survey; Louis Riel pens letter (later published in a Quebec newspaper) declaring settler loyalty to the Queen and HBC, asserting that surveyors had “disregarded the law of nations” by working in Red River under the name of “an alien authority.”

Oct. 16Joseph Howe leaves Red River Settlement after a short visit.

— meetings are organized by, and for, settlers at St. Norbert and St. Vital parishes.

Oct. 19 — At a public meeting in St. Norbert, settlers elect members to the Comité National des Métis under president John Bruce, with Riel as secretary, and including Paul Proulx, Amable Gaudry, and Prosper Nault.

Oct. 20McDougall is reported as arriving at St. Cloud, south of Red River, with boxes of repeating rifles.

Oct. 21 — The Comité National des Métis send a dispatch to McDougall warning him not to enter the territory without their permission; about 40 men are appointed byset up barricade (la barrière), just north of the point where the road to Pembina crossed the Rivière Sale, against McDougall.

Oct. 24Riel addresses the congregation at St. Boniface Cathedral, explaining the reasons for disallowing McDougall’s entrance to the territory.

Oct. 25 — meeting of the Governor and Council of Assiniboia with Bruce and Riel; Council hopes for the best, Riel agrees to keep them informed.

Oct. 30McDougall reaches Pembina; letter from HBC Gov. Mactavish advises him to stay on the American side of the border; McDougall is determined to continue towards Red River.

Nov. 2 — Métis patrol escorts McDougall back to the American boundary, while another contingent (of perhaps 120 men) seizes Fort Garry, purportedly to “protect it”; Mactavish is bedridden with consumption and complains that his small contingent of guards is incompetent.

Nov. 6 — general agreement among settlers to resist the unsanctioned actions of any foreign state in their country, unless negotiations over terms of self-government and settler rights were satisfactorily undertaken and concluded.

— Press and type of the Nor’-Wester newspaper are seized to print a “Public notice to the inhabitants of Rupert’s Land,” published by “Representatives of the French-speaking population” under joint supervision of Riel and James Ross., alerting settlers that a convention will be held Nov. 16.

Nov.9 — Notice is posted; an anonymous letter is sent to the Toronto Globe explaining the case of the “British subjects” of Red River against Canadian mismanagement (it was later printed).

Nov. 16 — The “Convention of 24” (12 ‘English’ parish representatives and 12 ‘French’), meets in Red River and drafts 1st ‘Bill of Rights’ for the Settlement.

John A. Macdonald learns of the halt to the Canadian survey from American press reports.

Nov. 19 — “Deed of Surrender” of Rupert’s Land is signed by the British Government.

— Quarterly Court in Red River tries Thomas Scott for an assault on his road-crew boss.

Nov. 20Macdonald plans to send Father J.-B. Thibault and Colonel Charles de Salaberryto Red River as good-will ambassadors from Quebec.

Nov. 22 — Convention of 24 resumes in Red River.

Enos Stutsman, United States treasury agent at Pembina, arrives at Red River to “set up shop in the bar of Emmerling’s Hotel,” and regale its patrons with tales of the frustrated would-be governor sent from Canada, McDougall.

Nov. 23-30 — Meetings held in Red River Settlement; English-speaking Settlers agree to support a representative council to negotiate terms with the Canadians.

Nov. 26 — Canada requests a delay of the transfer of the North West until they receive guarantee of peaceful possession.

Nov. 27Macdonald writes to McDougall advising that he must not use force, nor proclaim his authority over the territory on Dec. 1 as previously directed, but instead stay in the United States.

Dec. 1 — unaware that the date previously set for formal transfer has been moved back, and despite instructions to wait for official authorization, McDougall prematurely announces his new gubernatorial power to the wind while standing out on the prairie; sends a proclamation to supporters in the settlement, and commissions Dennis to raise an armed force to “attack, arrest, disarm or
disperse the said armed men so unlawfully assembled,” with the help of ‘Major’ Charles Arkoll Boulton.

— in Red River the Convention of 24 reassembles, reviews McDougall‘s proclamation, disapproves of Dennis, approves second draft of List of Rights, and agrees on “No takeover without consent.”

Dec. 5Macdonald sends Donald A. Smith to Red River, as “a sort of commissioner.”

Dec. 6Macdonald sponsors Governor-General Sir John Young‘s proclamation of  amnesty for all in Red River if they lay down their arms. Thibault and Salaberry are officially on the way to Red River.

Dennis publishes his commission in the Settlement with a notice attached calling upon all loyal men of the North-western Territory to help him.

Dec. 7 Schultz and 50 armed Canadian “volunteers,” including Mair, are arrested and jailed for roaming about the settlement intent on taking it over. Dennis flees the settlement for Pembina.

Dec. 8 — Red River’s pending establishment of a Provisional Government (mostly French Métis) under presidency of Bruce is announced.

Dec. 10 — Provisional Government formally proclaimed in ceremony at Upper Fort Garry.

Smith arrives in the Settlement and writes a report to Macdonald.

Dec. 18 — informed that annexation has been postponed, McDougall and Dennis leave Pembina for Ontario.

Dec. 25Bruce resigns, Riel becomes president.

Thibault arrives in Red River, is escorted to the bishop’s palace at Saint-Boniface, and ‘kept under surveillance.’

Dec. 27Donald A. Smith arrives in Red River Settlement with Richard Charles Hardisty.


Jan. 3Macdonald writes Smith stating: “I have read again the claims set up by the insurgent Half-breeds, some of which are altogether inadmissible [and lays out what Canada is prepared to concede] … You are authorized, to invite a delegation of at least two residents to visit Ottawa for the purpose of representing the claims and interests of Rupert’s Land. The representation of the Territory in Parliament will be a matter for discussion and arrangement with such delegation. … The Indian claims, including the claims of the Half-breeds who live with and as Indians, will be equitably settled. There is no general Homestead Law in Ontario as you state in your letter, but you can assure the Residents that all titles to land held by residents in peaceable possession will be confirmed, and that a very liberal land policy as to the future settlement of the Country will be adopted. These are, I think, the principal points alluded to in your letter …”

Jan. 6 — Riel and Council of the Provisional Government receive Thibault and Salaberry (the latter having just recently arrived), who communicate their instructions which are taken under consideration.

— Riel and Council of the Provisional Government meet with Smith.

— two prisoners released, they leave for Canada.

Jan. 9 Mair and Thomas Scott escape from jail, head to Portage la Prairie where they join Boulton.

Jan 10Thibault writes to the provisional government asking for conditions required by the colony for union with Canada, “in order that we can submit them to the examination of the government that sent us.”

Jan. 11 — the Council of the Provisional Government replies to Thibault pointing out that the documents he and Salaberry had submitted do no appear to confer to them power needed to conclude an agreement

Jan. 13 — Thibault and de Salaberry meet “President and Council of the People,” to explain their position, admitting they have no power to negotiate.

Jan. 19-20 — Settlers assemble outdoors to hear Smith. He agrees to carry wishes of the settlers to Canada. Riel proposes a Convention of 40 to review Smith‘s instructions from Canada. Proposal accepted.

Jan. 21 — meeting held by English-speaking settlers to elect representatives for upcoming Convention.

Jan. 23Schultz escapes from jail, goes into hiding.

Jan. 26 — Convention of 40 meets at Upper Fort Garry; Judge John Black is Chairman; Committee of 6 appointed to draft a non-partisan Bill of Rights.

Jan. 29-31 — Bill of Rights debated by Convention of 40 (debate continues to linger on among some delegates to at least Feb. 3).

Feb. 7 Smith is given 3rd draft of Bill of Rights at Convention of 40; he invites the convention to send a delegation to Ottawa to negotiate.

Feb. 8 — Convention of 40 agrees to accept invitation of Canadian Government to send delegation.

Feb. 9 — HBC Gov. Mactavish tells delegates of Convention of 40 to keep order in the Settlement.

Feb. 10 — Convention accepts constitution for Provisional Government drafted by members of the committee that had been appointed in January; passes plan for Provisional Government; establishes a Representative Assembly [soon to be known as the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia], Riel is confirmed as President, Ross as Chief Justice, 24 members are to be elected, 3 delegates to Ottawa nominated and confirmed: Rev. N.J. Ritchot, Judge John Black, and Alfred H. Scott.

Feb. 11 — Representative Government announced for Rupert’s Land.

— Canadian cabinet agrees to negotiate with delegates from Red River.

Feb. 12Alfred H. Scott and Hugh F. Olone, circulate petition asking for representation in the Legislative Assembly for the Town of Winnipeg, to make it a constituency separate from the parish of St. John’s. Riel, in his capacity as president, subsequently approves the change; the number of representatives to be elected to positions in the Legislative Assembly is raised to 28 (14 from nominally ‘English’ parishes, 14 from nominally ‘French’).

— 60 Armed Canadians from Portage la Prairie led by Boulton, including Mair and Thomas Scott, join Schultz in Red River.

Feb. 14-15 Riel releases 20 prisoners from jail; Boulton’s group, looking for Riel, are disappointed, so seize Norbert Parisien who shoots bystander Hugh Sutherland during escape attempt. Parisien is recaptured and severely beaten. Schultz and Mair flee for Canada.

Feb. 17 Boulton‘s party arrested, including Thomas Scott. Boulton is court-martialed and condemned to be shot, but is pardoned. William Gaddy, a Métis supporter of Boulton, is threatened with death by firing squad three times, but ‘escapes.’

Feb. 23 — Last of the Assembly members are elected.

late Feb.Parisien dies.

Mar. 1Thomas Scott put in irons for being “rough and abusive.”

Mar. 3 — Tribunal votes for execution of Thomas Scott.

Mar. 4Thomas Scott executed.

Mar. 5 — Town of Winnipeg has been designated the capital of the North-West.

Mar. 9First session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia opens.

Mar. 16Boulton released from jail; leaves for Ontario.

Mar. 23-24 — delegates proceed to Ottawa carrying fourth Bill of Rights drafted by Executive of the Provisional Government.

Mar. 26 — First session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia closes.

Apr. 3Alfred H. Scott meets with Joseph A. Wheelock, an ardent American expansionist, and editor of the  Daily Press, in St. Paul Minnesota (and possibly met with Malmros who had recently resigned his position as American Consul at Winnipeg), and communicates the contents of the List of Rights. Wheelock subsequently writes of the meeting to United States Senator Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota, avowing that the annexationist movement was strong, that a promise of armed American support ought to be made to Riel, and that Wheelock had made arrangements for Alfred H. Scott to meet with railway magnate and financier Jay Cooke and George Sheppard (at the time a reporter for the New York Tribune, but formerly with Toronto’s Globe) in New York – the meetings presumably to take place after Alfred H. Scott’s mission to Ottawa.

Apr. 6 — A large public meeting is held at Toronto and adopts a resolution denouncing the reception of the Red River delegates to Ottawa, who are regared as complicit in the ‘murder’ of Thomas Scott.

Apr. 7William Marshall, former Governor of Minnesota, is slated to leave St. Paul, Minnesota, on a mission to Fort Garry. (Marshall had arrived in St. Paul from Washington, where he had been lobbying on behalf of Jay Cooke in March 1870. Cooke had directed Marshall to make the journey to Red River, on the basis of intelligence received from “our friends in Winnipeg.” Marshall seems to have delayed leaving St. Paul for one week, “to await the President’s instructions” (President Ulysses S. Grant being a close friend of both Jay Cooke and his brother, Henry Cooke).

Apr. 11 — delegates of the Assembly of Assiniboia arrive in Ottawa.

— American ‘special’ and ‘secret’ agent, James Wickes Taylor, writes from Ottawa to Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State in Washington: “A dispatch from Ottawa April 9 announces that the Government of Canada has determined to receive Rev. Mr. Richot [sic] and Mr. Alfred H. Scott as delegates from Red River, and will make propositions based on the Bill of Rights lately adopted by the Convention of the Winnipeg people.”

Apr. 12Alfred H. Scott is arrested and jailed, on a warrant issued in Toronto, for aiding and abetting the “murder of Thomas Scott.”

Apr. 13 Ritchot is placed under arrest.

Apr. 22 — Charges dropped against the Red River delegates in Ottawa.

— In Washington, Zachariah Chandler (who was working with United States Senator Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota) introduces resolution into the Senate requesting the President appoint two commissioners to negotiate with “the people of Winnipeg” for annexation to United States.

Apr. 24 — Marshall arrives at Red River Settlement with an entourage that included Nathaniel Pitt Langford, the brother-in-law of James Wickes Taylor. They remain at the settlement for five days. During that time, Marshall and members of his party meet with a number of residents, including American Vice-Consul Henry M. Robinson, and William B. O’Donoghue, honorable member for St. Boniface in the Legislative Assembly and Treasurer of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia. Marshall also enjoys “a long interview” with Riel.

Apr. 25Second session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia opens.

Apr. 26 — Red River delegates to Ottawa informed “Sir John A. MacDonald and the Hon. Sir George Etienne Cartier have been authorized to negotiate with you on the subject of your mission and will be ready to receive you at 11:00,” and their negotiations finally begin.

Apr. 27Ritchot sends telegram to Secretary of State for the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, Thomas Bunn, informing that “Negotiations going on. We are doing our best. Some points are settled. The rest under discussion.”

May 2Macdonald introduces the Bill that will become the Manitoba Act for first reading in the Canadian Parliament (printed form not presented until May 4).

May 3 — Red River delegates meet Governor-General Sir John Young in Ottawa, are assured wishes of the people will be accommodated by Canadian government (including a general amnesty), before any military is sent to Red River.

— American Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, writes to Henry P. Baldwin, Governor of Michigan, instructing that by order of President Ulysses S. Grant the Canadian ship Chicora is to be barred from passing through the Sault Ste Marie Canal if carrying troops to Red River Settlement.

May 4Richot sends telegram to Secretary of State, Thomas Bunn, at Red River: “Bill erecting Province of Manitoba introduced before Parliament. We find it satisfactory. Other points to be settled. We are confident of amicable and acceptable arrangements.”

May 6 — 4th Bill of Rights tabled before the Legislative Assembly. News of the arrests of Alfred H. Scott and Ritchot has reached Red River. According to American Vice-Consul, Robinson, on this date Riel “gave notice, in consequence of the Canadian action against the Delegates from this Colony, of his intention to place before the Legislature, for their approval, the Bill of Rights as it was sent to Canada. This was to be accompanied by a Protest – also subject to the approval of the Legislature – against the sending of British troops into the Territory, also protesting against the idea, prevalent in Canada, of this people being divided in their allegiance to the Provisional Government, declaring them a unit in its support.”

May 9 — Second session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia closes.

May 12 — Canadian Government passes the Manitoba Act creating the province of Manitoba, although the territory of the new province had not yet been transferred from the HBC to the British government to the Canadian government.

May 16 — American Government allows Chicora and Red River Expedition to pass through Sault Ste Marie Canal on the understanding that no military action against people of Red River is intended.

June 17 — Assembly of Assiniboia delegate Ritchot arrives back in Red River

June 23 — transfer of territory completed.

Third session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia opens to consider report of the delegation to Ottawa on the negotiations with Canada, but adjourns until next day because Ritchot too ill to attend.

June 24Legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia ratifies the Manitoba Act.

July 15 — Province of Manitoba proclaimed in Ottawa. By default, acting government in Red River remains the Provisional Government.

Aug. 20Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley and Canadian militia arrive in Red River.

Aug. 23 Riel vacates Fort Garry.

Aug. 24 — Red River Expedition moves into Fort Garry.

Smith governs in name of old Hudson’s Bay Company Council of Assiniboia.

Sep. 2 — Lieutenant-governor Adams G. Archibald sworn into office.

Sep. 13 — Canadian attacks on Red River settlers begin with the stoning death of Elzéar Goulet. Killings of four others follow, an additional settler is “bayoneted and left for dead”; two others are attacked.

— The Canadian wife of Capt. William Kennedy is targeted in an “Eastern newspaper” for having “counseled and insisted on the murder of poor young Scott.”

Oct. 13 — Archibald Census designed.

1871?Thomas Scott’s coffin exhumed and found empty.


Additional readings and sources:

Norma J. Hall, “A Perfect Freedom: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810-1870,” M.A. Thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2004).

Jill McConkey, “[working title: Law and Society in Red River],” M.A. Thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2009).

Sorouja Moll, “The Davin Report: Shakespeare and Canada’s Manifest Destiny,”

Ruth Swan, “The Crucible: Pembina & the Origins of the Red River Valley Métis,” Ph.D. Dissertation (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2003).


Tags: Red River Rebellion, Red River Settlement, Red River Resistance, Louis Riel, Thomas Scott, Windigo, 1869-1870.


4 Responses to The Red River Resistance and the Creation of Manitoba

  1. Trish Lewis says:

    Your timeline, outline, and documentation/sourcing so far is quite impressive! I look forward to reading more. I stumbled across your post here – what is your ultimate aim? (I write a local history blog that cover the Pembina area and surrounding region north and south of the border…)

    • hallnjean says:

      Hi, and thanks Trish, basically I’m posting writing I’ve done for seminars, lectures, papers etc. that took hours to pull together, but is not likely to get published as is and that I’m not putting to any other use at the moment — following a waste not, want not sort of philosophy. Organized info on Canadian history sometimes seems so much harder to come across than, say, American or British history (boy they have some gorgeous sites on the web for that!), so I’m doing my bit to get the Canadian out there. Am happy to hear that you are too! I shall search for your blog — perhaps you could post a link to it here?

      I’m currently doing more in-depth research into 1870 Manitoba prior to it being named a confederated province and trying to find info on early ‘parishes’ of settlement. Pembina figures into the story of course. What I’d really like to stumble across is a good map … showing names of rivers, creeks, etc all the way from Pembina to Fort Garry. Would you happen to know of any?

  2. Coral Margarat McBeth says:

    Robert McBeth was my great (x) grandfather. What did the original deed of land state lot 33 red river boulevard. What I read stated descendants. The land exists today, what are our right to it as descendants?

  3. Patricia Gendreau says:

    I am a volunteer archivist for the Enfant Jesus Heritage Site. The two predominant cultures who settled in the Richer area were French Canadian and Metis French. Many of the Metis’ ancestors were involved with the Resistance. Your exposé is informative, easy to follow and understand, and is supported with strong and complete resources. I thank you so much for sharing your research on Manitoba History. It is by knowing our past, that we can reclaim our strong ancestral ties so that we may walk proudly and confidently in the present. What a precious gem of information.

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