“It cannot be said that Riel was hanged on account of his opinion. It is equally true that he was not executed for anything connected with the late rebellion. He was hanged for Scott’s murder; that is the simple truth of it.” — Wilfrid Laurier, 1885
An event on March 4, 1870, in Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), is still causing political repercussions in Canada. Louis Riel had Ontario Orangeman, Thomas Scott, executed in the prison yard at Fort Garry. The outcry in Ontario was so great that Riel was hanged in Regina in 1885, after leading a rebellion on the prairies. In Quebec, Riel was regarded as a martyr, and the Conservatives were blamed for his death.
Scott’s trial had been held on March 3, 1870, and was called “a council of war.” It was presided over by Ambroise Lépine, who was one of Riel’s chief aides. Riel was the prosecutor and one of the three witnesses who were called. Scott was not allowed to call any witnesses in his own defence.
The charge against Scott was that he had taken up arms against Riel’s provisional government. It was “phoney” because dozens of others had done the same thing and had been released., Later, Riel told federal mediator Donald A. Smith (Lord Strathcona) the real reason. It was that Scott had been rough and abusive to the guards and insulting to Riel himself.
When the time came for the execution on March 4, Scott stood before a wall of the prison and was allowed to pray with Methodist minister Young. He then knelt in the snow, a coffin beside him. There were six Métis in the firing party, and they had all been drinking. Three of their rifles contained blank charges so it would not be known who actually fired the bullets that killed Scott. After the guns blasted the kneeling Scott, another Métis had to dash up with a revolver and put a bullet through his head because he was only wounded.
The body was buried secretly and its resting place has never been found. It is rumoured that the coffin was dropped into the river through a hole in the ice.
To continue reading about Thomas Scott, I suggest the following: CBC’s Execution of Thomas Scott; The Execution of Thomas Scott, written by George Siamandas; Execution of Thomas Scott on Canada: A Country by Consent. To read a book, I recommend The Execution of Thomas Scott. Adventures in Canadian History.