Introduction to the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Project:
The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia History Project marked an exciting moment in the writing of history in Canada. It is rare that a gap in historical knowledge about political development during Canada’s formative years exists to be filled — given longstanding interest of historians in the subject. It is rarer still to discover that under-utilized documentary bases exist for building knowledge, promoting understanding, and duly recognizing the past achievements of Aboriginal Manitobans. With this project, the Government of Manitoba, the Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Métis people of Manitoba came together to make a valuable contribution to written history in Canada. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to help to accomplish that goal.
Link to Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Manitoba Métis Policy page (with link to History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia pdf).
About Manitoba History and the Assembly:
The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia formed during the turbulent Red River Resistance and functioned from 9 March to 24 June 1870. It was then apparently forgotten in the formal annals of history devoted to describing the advent of Manitoba. Early accounts, including the reminiscences of eyewitnesses to the events of 1869–1870, sometimes mentioned a ‘council’ of the Provisional Government, but did not refer to any legislative function. Some later histories read as though the Legislative Assembly did not exist.
As part of putting the province of Manitoba’s new Métis Policy into practice, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Manitoba commissioned research to bring details of the Legislative Assembly to light. To help with the workload, I put together a team that included another writer/historian, Clifford P. Hall and a genealogist, Erin Verrier.
Although one would be hard pressed to know it from existing historiography about the Métis, the Red River Settlement, and the Resistance of 1869-1870, there are informative documents that do exist. There are two principal sources among these. The first is the Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia compiled by Thomas Bunn — Secretary of State of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia (identified as the author on the basis of handwriting comparisons). The second is a series of newspaper reports printed in the New Nation. They were recorded by William Coldwell, reporter for the paper and Clerk of the Assembly. A third informative document is the record of minutes of a committee formed to review and revise local laws for the consideration of the Assembly, and a forth is a set of printed Bills passed by the Assembly.
A first step in the research process was to review primary documents to identify members of the Assembly. A second step was to transcribe the documents to reconstruct the debates of the Assembly. As part of this step, the debates of the earlier Convention of Forty were also reconstituted — members of that convention having created the Legislative Assembly. Finally, a short history of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was composed as a report on the findings that re-inserted this forgotten portion of Manitoba’s political past into its historical context.
What the research project made clear is that the Métis played a the central role in the political and social history of the province. Ignoring that contribution constitutes a distortion of the past.
 For instances of elision see Roderick George MacBeth, The Making of the Canadian West: being the reminiscences of an eye-witness, 2d ed. (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905), 86-87, who completely misses the Legislative Assembly’s existence; Alfred C. Garrioch First Furrows: A History of the Early Settlement of the Red River Country, Including that of Portage la Prairie (Winnipeg: Stovel Company, 1923), 240, makes a brief and obscure mention; W.L. Morton, ed., Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal: and other papers relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1956), 2, acknowledges self-government was a test of the civilized nature of Red River Settlement that ‘in no forced sense’ it met, but does not clearly describe the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia; Raymond Huel, ed., The Collected Writings of Louis Riel/Les Ecrits Complets de Louis Riel, vol. 1 (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1985), 62 n.1, after citing ‘Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislature of Rupert’s Land, Wed. March 9th, 1870,’ counters that ‘Despite the title “The Legislature of Rupert’s Land,” this body was the Council of the Provisional Government created on 10 February 1870’; Thomas Flanagan, ed., ‘Chronology,’ Collected Writings of Louis Riel, vol. 5, 78-80, does not clearly identify ‘The Assembly of the Provisional Government’ as a legislative body within the government; Emily Katharine Grafton, ‘The Manitoba Legislative Assembly,’ paper, Canadian Study of Parliament Group: Studies of Provincial and Territorial Legislatures (n.d.), 4, online version, http://www.studyparliament.ca/English/index_en.htm, accurately acknowledges the formation of the Assembly of Assiniboia, but does not clearly distinguish it from the first Legislative Assembly of Manitoba.
 Edmund A. Aunger, ‘Justifying the End of Official Bilingualism: Canada’s North-West Assembly and the Dual-Language Question, 1889-1892,’ Canadian Journal of Political Science/ Revue canadienne de science politique 34, no. 3 (September 2001): 461, observes ‘Scholarly critics of this accord [between Canada and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia on a dual language system] have … systematically ignored or out-rightly denied the very existence of this legislative assembly.’ For instances of denial see F.A. Milligan, ‘The Establishment of Manitoba’s First Provincial Government,’ Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, ser. 3 (1948-1949 Season), online version, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/provincialgovernment.shtml, who observes that prior to the creation of Manitoba, ‘There was, of course, no legislature’; and Nelson Wiseman, ‘The Questionable Relevance of the Constitution in Advancing Minority Cultural Rights in Manitoba,’ Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de politique 25, no 4 (December 1992): 703 n.23, finds it ‘amusing’ that anyone would cite the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia ‘– a body that never existed.’
[Credit: Original research commissioned for the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Project, by Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Manitoba]
About unveiling the research:
Winnipeg Free Press:
by Melissa Martin
Honourable Members and Officers of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Conseil du Governement Provisoire
Provisional Government of Assiniboia
My 5 minute observation during the proceedings:
Speaking Notes: 15 November 2010, Room 200 Legislative Building of Manitoba
Ladies and gentlemen, honourable and distinguished guests,
It has been a thrill to work on this project and learn, about the people who shaped my heritage — a Métis heritage that also shaped Manitoba and Canada’s story.
The history of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia tells a story with themes that transcend time. Themes that speak to us … that connect this new picture of our past to our present.
- A central theme we can identify with is Change:
In 1870, Canada was coming west – political change was going to bring on social and economic change – people of Red River imagined foreigners, strangers arriving, and railroads being built …
o there’s a theme: ‘progress and development’ – a big deal for Red River Settlement – because it tied into fear – of the future – nobody knew how that would play out; How much, of what they had and valued, would come through ‘future developments’ intact?
- Opposition – was a theme tied to politics and change: factions jostling for position in the ‘new order of things’ – aligning, clashing — in the Press, in meeting halls, outside … in the cold.
o the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was not decided-upon at a leisurely pace – people raced to put it together. So we have Time as a theme …
- and with it Distance:
o in a matter of months … the people of Red River (about 12,000 of them, but maybe only 4,000 over 21), people living along ‘our’ river banks —
§ (picture it: homes spread from here, up the Assiniboine out to Portage la Prairie, [with big gaps between neighbours] up the Red to the U.S. border, down the Red to Lake Winnipeg, or follow the Seine – out to Ste-Anne – or trek overland to the shores of Lake Manitoba). —
o These people, so far apart from each other, travelled on foot, on horseback, by sled …
to overcome uncertainty, opposition, and distance, and form a Government
- with members who spoke French, English, Ojibwa, Cree, Dakota
- And [these multiculturalists] knew what they were doing.
o They knew it was pretty grand — celebrating with fireworks at the Forks – in February
§ (what kind of people do that?)
What kind of special people were they? to know about democracy — out on the bald prairie, 140 years ago. to know about the importance of leadership.
To insist on the right to elect their leaders. To step forward and agree to be leaders (some of them).
— Some of them were willing put themselves out and stand up for their constituents.
— To argue their case, to negotiate, to compromise,
— to Act.
And to answer for their actions.
Were these extraordinary people? Their accomplishment was extraordinary. They didn’t just set up a Legislative Assembly in a Government, complete with a President, a judicial system, a military, and all the rest – they also negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Confederation, with Canada over 2,000 miles distant.
These people, who were faced with change, distracted by opposition, these people overcame it all – They travelled the distance …
What theme is that? – when ordinary people do extraordinary things?
— adaptability? ingenuity? resourcefulness?
— It’s beyond competence.
What they once did democratically in Assembly, is being celebrated here, today …
In making Manitoba, they made history. In recognizing them we are using history to transcend Time – Their achievement is now part of our achievement.
The closest I’ve been able to come to a word for that theme is ‘Manitoban’:
How very Manitoban it is to be among exceptional people. And we must be exceptional: if we want the themes introduced 140 years ago to continue to transcend time – defining us as a people open to change, and determined to act.
Thank you, merci, megwich.