Louis Riel would have been a hero in Canada had he not killed Thomas Scott, a federal employee who had been sent to Manitoba during the Metis uprising in 1870. The gruesome execution caused religious and political strife, as Scott was an Orangeman and Riel was a Roman Catholic.
Edward Blake, then Premier of Ontario, offered a reward of $5,000 for Riel’s capture.
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald was caught in the crossfire of the controversy. Riel was a hero among French-speaking Canadians, but he was looked upon with hatred by English-speaking Canadians. Sir John had to try to satisfy both sides. Through Bishop Tache at Fort Garry, he privately sent Riel $1,000 but he demanded more. On February 6, 1872, Governor Archibald of Manitoba got Donald A. Smith to put up $3,000 so that Riel and his comrade, Lepine, would leave the country. Once again, Riel took the money, but failed to leave.
In August of 1872, Riel was nominated as the candidate for Provencher (Manitoba) in a federal election. Sir George Etienne Cartier was defeated in Montreal in that election, so Sir John A. Macdonald asked Governor Archibald to find a safe seat for him in Winnipeg. Elections in those days did not take place on the same day all over the country, but were spread over several weeks. Riel and his opponent in Provencher were asked to withdraw, which they did, and Cartier was elected in their place.
Cartier’s death soon afterwards necessitated a by-election in Provencher. Although a fugitive from justice, Riel was elected by acclamation. He thought that the government would grant him an amnesty because he had withdrawn in favour of Cartier. This did not happen, so he was unable to take his seat in Ottawa.
Following the C.P.R. scandal, there was another general election in 1874, and Riel was elected again. He went to Ottawa and signed the register of members, but found days later that he was expelled from the House before he had taken his seat. A bill banishing Riel was enforced, and as a result, he lived in Montana until 1884. Then he was persuaded to return to Canada and lead the second serious rebellion on the prairies, which prompted his capture and hanging.
Everything Riel is complicated. This post is but a minute of his lifetime. Luckly, there are many places on the internet to learn more. A good place to start would be Wikipedia, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, CBC Archives, Historica Dominion Institute. After this, I suggest a simple Google.ca search!
Plus, check out these blog posts:
- New Arrival: Canada at War: graphic history (kssreads.wordpress.com)
- The Week in Review & Louis Riel Revisited (michelinewalker.com)
- Notable Historical Trials IV – Louis Riel (kilobooks.wordpress.com)
- Canada at 150: Let’s rethink Louis Riel’s role, says Metis president (o.canada.com)
- Montana Monadology: Louis Riel in Exile (3quarksdaily.com)