|Birth Day:||October 22, 1844|
|Death Date:||Nov 16, 1885 (age 41)|
As per our current Database, Louis Riel died on Nov 16, 1885 (age 41).
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He originally studied to become a priest until his father's death in 1864.
The Red River Settlement was a community in Rupert's Land nominally administered by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), and largely inhabited by First Nations tribes and the Métis, an ethnic group of mixed Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, French-Canadian, Scottish, and English descent. Louis Riel was born there in 1844, near modern Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Louis Riel, Sr. and Julie Lagimodière.
Riel was first educated by Roman Catholic priests at St. Boniface. At age 13 he came to the attention of Alexandre Taché, the Suffragan Bishop of St. Boniface, who was eagerly promoting the priesthood for talented young Métis. In 1858 Taché arranged for Riel to attend the Petit Séminaire of the Collège de Montréal, under the direction of the Sulpician order. Descriptions of him at the time indicate that he was a fine scholar of languages, science, and philosophy, but exhibited a frequent and unpredictable moodiness.
Following news of his father's premature death in 1864, Riel lost interest in the priesthood and withdrew from the college in March 1865. For a time, he continued his studies as a day student in the convent of the Grey Nuns, but was soon asked to leave, following breaches of discipline. He remained in Montreal for over a year, living at the home of his aunt, Lucie Riel. Impoverished by the death of his father, Riel took employment as a law clerk in the Montreal office of Rodolphe Laflamme. During this time he was involved in a failed romance with a young woman named Marie–Julie Guernon. This progressed to the point of Riel having signed a contract of marriage, but his fiancée's family opposed her involvement with a Métis, and the engagement was soon broken. Compounding this disappointment, Riel found legal work unpleasant and, by early 1866, he had resolved to leave Canada East. Some of his friends said later that he worked odd jobs in Chicago, Illinois, while staying with poet Louis-Honoré Fréchette, and wrote poems himself in the manner of Lamartine, and that he was briefly employed as a clerk in Saint Paul, Minnesota, before returning to the Red River settlement on 26 July 1868.
The majority population of the Red River had historically been Métis and First Nation people. Upon his return, Riel found that religious, nationalistic, and racial tensions were exacerbated by an influx of Anglophone Protestant settlers from Ontario. The political situation was also uncertain, as ongoing negotiations for the transfer of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company to Canada had not addressed the political terms of transfer. Finally, despite warnings to the Macdonald government from Bishop Taché and the HBC governor William Mactavish that any such activity would precipitate unrest, the Canadian minister of public works, William McDougall, ordered a survey of the area. The arrival on 20 August 1869 of a survey party headed by Colonel John Stoughton Dennis increased anxiety among the Métis. The Métis did not possess title to their land, which was in any case laid out according to the seigneurial system rather than in English-style square lots.
In late August, Riel denounced the survey in a speech, and on 11 October 1869, the survey's work was disrupted by a group of Métis that included Riel. This group organized itself as the "Métis National Committee" on 16 October, with Riel as secretary and John Bruce as president. When summoned by the HBC-controlled Council of Assiniboia to explain his actions, Riel declared that any attempt by Canada to assume authority would be contested unless Ottawa had first negotiated terms with the Métis. Nevertheless, the non-bilingual McDougall was appointed the lieutenant governor-designate, and attempted to enter the settlement on 2 November. McDougall's party was turned back near the Canada–US border, and on the same day, Métis led by Riel seized Fort Garry.
It was not until 2 September 1870 that the new lieutenant-governor Adams George Archibald arrived and set about the establishment of civil government. Without an amnesty, and with the Canadian militia beating and intimidating his sympathisers, Riel fled to the safety of the St. Joseph's mission across the Canada–US border in the Dakota Territory. However the results of the first provincial election in December 1870 were promising for Riel, as many of his supporters came to power. Nevertheless, stress and financial troubles precipitated a serious illness—perhaps a harbinger of his future mental afflictions—that prevented his return to Manitoba until May 1871.
The trial and execution of Riel caused a bitter and prolonged reaction which convulsed Canadian politics for decades. The execution was both supported and opposed by the provinces. For example, conservative Ontario strongly supported Riel's execution, but Quebec was vehemently opposed to it. Francophones were upset Riel was hanged because they thought his execution was a symbol of English dominance. The Orange Irish Protestant element in Ontario had demanded the execution as the punishment for Riel's treason and his execution of Thomas Scott in 1870. With their revenge satisfied, the Orange turned their attention to other matters (especially the Jesuit Estates proposal). In Quebec there was no forgetting, and the politician Honoré Mercier rose to power by mobilizing the opposition in 1886.
The settlement now faced a possible threat, from cross-border Fenian raids coordinated by his former associate William Bernard O'Donoghue. Archibald proclaimed a general call to arms on 4 October. Companies of armed horsemen were raised, including one led by Riel. When Archibald reviewed the troops in St. Boniface, he made the significant gesture of publicly shaking Riel's hand, signaling that a rapprochement had been affected. This was not to be—when this news reached Ontario, Mair and members of the Canada First movement whipped up anti-Riel (and anti-Archibald) sentiment. With Federal elections coming in 1872, Macdonald could ill afford further rift in Quebec–Ontario relations and so he did not offer an amnesty. Instead he quietly arranged for Taché to offer Riel a bribe of $1,000 to remain in voluntary exile. This was supplemented by an additional £600 from Smith for the care of Riel's family.
Nevertheless, by late June Riel was back in Manitoba and was soon persuaded to run as a member of parliament for the electoral district of Provencher. However, following the early September defeat of George-Étienne Cartier in his home riding in Quebec, Riel stood aside so that Cartier—on record as being in favour of amnesty for Riel—might secure a seat in Provencher. Cartier won by acclamation, but Riel's hopes for a swift resolution to the amnesty question were dashed following Cartier's death on 20 May 1873. In the ensuing by-election in October 1873, Riel ran unopposed as an Independent, although he had again fled, a warrant having been issued for his arrest in September. Lépine was not so lucky; he was captured and faced trial.
Riel made his way to Montreal and, fearing arrest or assassination, vacillated as to whether he should attempt to take up his seat in the House of Commons—Edward Blake, the Premier of Ontario, had announced a bounty of $5,000 for his arrest. Famously, Riel was the only Member of Parliament who was not present for the great Pacific Scandal debate of 1873 that led to the resignation of the Macdonald government in November. Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie became the interim prime minister, and a general election was held in January 1874. Although the Liberals under Mackenzie formed the new government, Riel easily retained his seat. Formally, Riel had to sign a register book at least once upon being elected, and he did so under disguise in late January. He was nevertheless stricken from the rolls following a motion supported by Schultz, who had become the member for the electoral district of Lisgar. Undeterred, Riel prevailed again in the resulting by-election, and although again expelled, his symbolic point had been made and public opinion in Quebec was strongly tipped in his favour.
During this period, Riel had been staying with priests of the Oblate order in Plattsburgh, New York, who introduced him to Father Fabien Martin dit Barnabé in the nearby village of Keeseville. It was here that he received news of Lépine's fate: following his trial for the murder of Scott, which had begun on 13 October 1874, Lépine was found guilty and sentenced to death. This sparked outrage in the sympathetic Quebec press, and calls for amnesty for both Lépine and Riel were renewed. This presented a severe political difficulty for Mackenzie, who was hopelessly caught between the demands of Quebec and Ontario. However, a solution was forthcoming when, acting on his own initiative, the Governor General Lord Dufferin commuted Lépine's sentence in January 1875. This opened the door for Mackenzie to secure from parliament an amnesty for Riel, on the condition that he remain in exile for five years.
During his time of exile, he was primarily concerned with religious rather than political matters. Spurred on by a sympathetic Roman Catholic priest in Quebec, he was increasingly influenced by his belief that he was a divinely chosen leader of the Métis. Modern biographers have speculated that he may have suffered from the psychological condition megalomania. His mental state deteriorated, and following a violent outburst he was taken to Montreal, where he was under the care of his uncle, John Lee, for a few months. But after Riel disrupted a religious service, Lee arranged to have him committed in an asylum in Longue-Pointe on 6 March 1876 under the assumed name "Louis R. David". Fearing discovery, his doctors soon transferred him to the Beauport Asylum near Quebec City under the name "Louis Larochelle". While he suffered from sporadic irrational outbursts, he continued his religious writing, composing theological tracts with an admixture of Christian and Judaic ideas. He consequently began calling himself Louis "David" Riel, prophet of the new world, and he would pray (standing) for hours, having servants help him to hold his arms in the shape of a cross.
Nevertheless, he slowly recovered, and was released from the asylum on 23 January 1878 with an admonition to lead a quiet life. He returned for a time to Keeseville, where he became involved in a passionate romance with Evelina Martin dite Barnabé, sister of his friend, the oblate father Fabien Barnabé. But with insufficient means to propose marriage, Riel returned to the west, hoping that she might follow. However, she decided that she would be unsuited to prairie life, and their correspondence soon ended.
Travelling to the Montana Territory, he became a trader and interpreter in the area surrounding Fort Benton. Observing rampant alcoholism and its detrimental impact on the Native American and Métis people, he engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to curtail the whisky trade. In 1881, he married Marguerite Monet dit Bellehumeur (1861–1886), a young Métis, "in the fashion of the country" on 28 April, an arrangement that was solemnized on 9 March 1882 at Carroll, Montana by Father Damiani. They were to have three children: Jean-Louis (1882–1908); Marie-Angélique (1883–1897); and a boy who was born and died on 21 October 1885, less than one month before Riel was hanged.
Riel soon became involved in the politics of Montana, and in 1882, actively campaigned on behalf of the Republican Party. He brought a suit against a Democrat for rigging a vote, but was then himself accused of fraudulently inducing British subjects to take part in the election. In response, Riel applied for United States citizenship and was naturalized on 16 March 1883. With two young children, he had by 1884 settled down and was teaching school at the St. Peter's Jesuit mission in the Sun River district of Montana.
Following the Red River Rebellion, Métis travelled west and settled in the Saskatchewan Valley, especially along the south branch of the river in the country surrounding the Saint-Laurent mission (near modern St. Laurent de Grandin, Saskatchewan). But by the 1880s, it had become clear that westward migration was no panacea for the troubles of the Métis and the plains Indians. The rapid collapse of the buffalo herd was causing near starvation among the Plains Cree and Blackfoot First Nations. This was exacerbated by a reduction in government assistance in 1883, and by a general failure of Ottawa to live up to its treaty obligations.
As Riel's religious pronouncements became increasingly heretical the clergy distanced themselves, and father Alexis André cautioned Riel against mixing religion and politics. Also, in response to bribes by territorial lieutenant-governor and Indian commissioner Edgar Dewdney, local English-language newspapers adopted an editorial stance critical of Riel. Nevertheless, the work continued, and on 16 December Riel forwarded the committee's petition to the government, along with the suggestion that delegates be sent to Ottawa to engage in direct negotiation. Receipt of the petition was acknowledged by Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, Macdonald's Secretary of State, although Macdonald himself would later deny having ever seen it. By then many original followers had left; only 250 remained at Batoche when it fell in May 1885.
While Riel awaited news from Ottawa he considered returning to Montana, but had by February resolved to stay. Without a productive course of action, Riel began to engage in obsessive prayer, and was experiencing a significant relapse of his mental agitations. This led to a deterioration in his relationship with the Catholic hierarchy, as he publicly espoused an increasingly heretical doctrine. On 11 February 1885, a response to the petition was received. The government proposed to take a census of the North-West Territories, and to form a commission to investigate grievances. This angered a faction of the Métis who saw it as a mere delaying tactic; they favoured taking up arms at once.
Knowing that he could not defeat the Canadians in direct confrontation, Dumont had hoped to force the Canadians to negotiate by engaging in a long-drawn out campaign of guerrilla warfare; Dumont realised a modest success along these lines at the Battle of Fish Creek on 24 April 1885. Riel, however, insisted on concentrating forces at Batoche to defend his "city of God". The outcome of the ensuing Battle of Batoche which took place from 9 to 12 May was never in doubt, and on 15 May a disheveled Riel surrendered to Canadian forces. Although Big Bear's forces managed to hold out until the Battle of Loon Lake on 3 June, the rebellion was a dismal failure for Métis and Natives alike, as they surrendered or fled.
Several individuals closely tied to the government requested that the trial be held in Winnipeg in July 1885. Some historians contend that the trial was moved to Regina because of concerns with the possibility of an ethnically mixed and sympathetic jury. Tom Flanagan states that an amendment of the North-West Territories Act (which dropped the provision that trials with crimes punishable by death should be tried in Manitoba) meant that the trial could be convened within the North-West Territories and did not have to be held in Winnipeg.
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald ordered the trial to be convened in Regina, where Riel was tried before a jury of six English and Scottish Protestants, all from the area surrounding the city. The trial began on 28 July 1885, and lasted five days. Riel delivered two long speeches during his trial, defending his own actions and affirming the rights of the Métis people. He rejected his lawyer's attempt to argue that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, asserting,
Before his execution, Riel was reconciled with the Catholic Church, and assigned Father André as his spiritual advisor. He was also given writing materials so that he could employ his time in prison to write a book. Louis Riel was hanged for treason on 16 November 1885 at the North-West Mounted Police barracks in Regina.
Following the execution, Riel's body was returned to his mother's home in St. Vital, where it lay in state. On 12 December 1886, his remains were laid in the churchyard of the Saint-Boniface Cathedral following the celebration of a requiem mass.
Riel's execution and Macdonald's refusal to commute his sentence caused lasting discord in Quebec, and led to a fundamental alteration in the Canadian political order. In Quebec, Honoré Mercier exploited the discontent to reconstitute the Parti National. This party, which promoted Quebec nationalism, won a majority in the 1886 Quebec election by winning a number of seats formerly controlled by the Quebec Conservative Party. The federal election of 1887 likewise saw significant gains by the federal Liberals, again at the expense of the Conservatives. This led to the victory of the Liberal party under Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the federal election of 1896, which in turn set the stage for the domination of Canadian federal politics by the Liberal party in the 20th century.
In 1925, the French writer Maurice Constantin-Weyer who lived 10 years in Manitoba published in French a fictionalized biography of Louis Riel titled La Bourrasque. An English translation/adaptation was published in 1930 : A Martyr's Folly (Toronto, The Macmillan Company), and a new version in 1954, The Half-Breed (New York, The Macaulay Compagny).
In the 1940 film North West Mounted Police Riel is portrayed by Francis McDonald.
An opera about Riel entitled Louis Riel was commissioned for Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967. It was an opera in three acts, written by Harry Somers, with an English and French libretto by Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand. The Canadian Opera Company produced and performed the first run of the opera in September and October 1967.
A 1968 Episode of the TV Series The Virginian (S07E05 – The Wind of Outrage, Episode 180), appears to be a vignette of Louis Riel, as the story represents his circumstances in Montana in 1884 pretty closely, while also depicting a fictional version of his reasons for returning to Canada from exile. The character Louis Boissevain is played by Ricardo Montalbán.
Two statues of Riel are located in Winnipeg. One of the Winnipeg statues, the work of architect Étienne Gaboury and sculptor Marcien Lemay, depicts Riel as a naked and tortured figure. It was unveiled in 1970 and stood in the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building for 23 years. After much outcry (especially from the Métis community) that the statue was an undignified misrepresentation, the statue was removed and placed at the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface. It was replaced in 1994 with a statue of Louis Riel designed by Miguel Joyal depicting Riel as a dignified statesman. The unveiling ceremony was on 16 May 1996, in Winnipeg.
Across Canada there emerged a new interpretation of reality in his rebellion, holding that the Métis had major unresolved grievances; that the government was indeed unresponsive; that Riel resorted to violence only as a last resort; and he was given a questionable trial, then executed by a vengeful government. John Foster said in 1985 that:
A resolution was passed by Parliament on 10 March 1992 citing that Louis Riel was the founder of Manitoba.
That Riel's name still has resonance in Canadian politics was evidenced on 16 November 1994, when Suzanne Tremblay, a Bloc Québécois member of parliament, introduced private members' bill C-228, "An Act to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel". The unsuccessful bill was widely perceived in English Canada as an attempt to arouse support for Quebec nationalism before the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Bill C-213 or Louis Riel Day Act and Bill C-417 Louis Riel Act are the more notable acts which have gone through parliament. Bill C-297 to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel was introduced to the House of Commons 21 October and 22 November 1996, however the motion lacked unanimous consent from the House and was dropped. Bill C-213 or the Louis Riel Day Act of 1997 attempted to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel for high treason and establish a National Day in his honour on 16 November. Bill C-417 or the Louis Riel Act which also had a first reading in parliament to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel, and establish 15 July as Louis Riel Day was tabled.
Riel remains controversial. J. M. Bumsted in 2000 said that for Manitoba historian James Jackson, the murder of Scott – "perhaps the result of Riel's incipient madness – was the great blemish on Riel's achievement, depriving him of his proper role as the father of Manitoba."
In 2001, Canadian sketch comedy troupe Royal Canadian Air Farce featured Riel in its send-up of the CBC documentary series Canada: A People's History. Significant parallels were drawn between Riel's actions and those of modern-day Québécois separatists, and the comedian who portrayed Riel was made up to look like then-Premier Lucien Bouchard.
On 22 October 2003, the Canadian news channel CBC Newsworld and its French-language equivalent, Réseau de l'information, staged a simulated retrial of Riel. Viewers were invited to enter a verdict on the trial over the internet, and more than 10,000 votes were received—87% of which were "not guilty". The results of this straw poll led to renewed calls for Riel's posthumous pardon. Also on the basis of a public poll, the CBC's Greatest Canadian project ranked Riel as the 11th "Greatest Canadian".
In numerous communities across Canada, Riel is commemorated in the names of streets, schools, neighbourhoods, and other buildings. Examples in Winnipeg include the landmark Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge linking Old Saint-Boniface with Winnipeg, the Louis Riel School Division, Louis Riel Avenue in Old Saint-Boniface, and Riel Avenue in St. Vital's Minnetonka neighbourhood (which is sometimes called Riel). The student centre and campus pub at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon are named after Riel (Place Riel and Louis', respectively). Highway 11, stretching from Regina to just south of Prince Albert, has been named Louis Riel Trail by the province; the roadway passes near locations of the 1885 rebellion. One of the student residences at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia is named Louis Riel House. There is a Louis Riel School in Calgary, Alberta. and Ottawa, Ontario. On 26 September 2007, Manitoba legislature passed a bill establishing a statutory holiday on the third Monday in February as Louis Riel Day, the same day some other provinces celebrate Family Day, beginning in 2008. The first Louis Riel Day was celebrated on 18 February 2008. This new statutory holiday coincides with the celebration on 15–24 February of the Festival du Voyageur.
On 18 February 2008, the province of Manitoba officially recognized the first Louis Riel Day as a general provincial holiday. It will now fall on the third Monday of February each year in the Province of Manitoba.
The Seattle-based Indie rock band Grand Archives also wrote a song entitled "Louis Riel" that appears on their 2008 self-titled album.
A track entitled Snowin' Today: A Lament for Louis Riel appears on the 2009 album Live: Two Nights in March by Saskatchewan singer/guitarist Little Miss Higgins; a studio version features on her 2010 release Across The Plains.
In the spring of 2008, the Government of Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Christine Tell proclaimed in Duck Lake that "the 125th commemoration, in 2010, of the 1885 Northwest Resistance is an excellent opportunity to tell the story of the prairie Métis and First Nations peoples' struggle with Government forces and how it has shaped Canada today." One of three Territorial Government Buildings remains on Dewdney Avenue in the Saskatchewan capital city of Regina, which was the site of the Trial of Louis Riel, where the drama the "Trial of Louis Riel" is still performed. Following the May trial, Louis Riel was hanged 16 November 1885. The RCMP Heritage Centre, in Regina, opened in May 2007. The Métis brought his body to his mother's home, now the Riel House National Historic Site, and then interred at the St. Boniface Basilica in Manitoba, his birthplace, for burial.
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