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Parliament Passes the Manitoba Act

For the week of Monday May 8, 2000

It's a province! On May 12, 1870, the Canadian Parliament passed the Manitoba Act, transforming a tiny corner of Rupert's Land into the fifth Confederation province.

Canada, 1870

Canada, 1870
© Lysandre Derry

The western interior of British North America, known as Rupert's Land, was an unorganized territory claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company. Its most important settlement was at Red River, which is now Winnipeg and its suburbs. The Métis, descendants of Aboriginal women and fur traders from eastern Canada and Scotland, were the most numerous of the settlers in this area. Many Métis were unhappy with the plan to transfer Rupert's Land through the British government to the Canadian government, believing that they would be discriminated against in favour of the recently arrived settlers. Foreseeing the same, Métis leader Louis Riel took action to defend his people's interests.

On December 8, 1869, Riel and his followers set up a provisional government at Red River. They exchanged delegates with the federal government during the winter of 1869-70, and a list of demands was drawn up and sent to Ottawa. It involved the safeguarding of French-language claims, of Roman Catholic educational claims, and of Métis land claims.

The delegation in Ottawa successfully negotiated Manitoba's creation. On May 12, 1870, the list of demands was approved and became the basis for the legislation to bring the Red River Colony into Canada. It was the country's first new province since its creation in 1867. Manitoba was given self-government and representatives in both Houses of Parliament, as well as a provincial government to control its local affairs.

Louis Riel and his  council

Louis Riel and his council
© LAC / PA-012854

At this point Riel might easily have won a place in Canadian history as the Father of Manitoba, had he not ordered the execution of Thomas Scott, a Protestant Irishman from Ontario who participated in attacks against Métis authority. His death destroyed whatever sympathy Riel enjoyed among English-speaking Canadians and doomed the Métis leader to life as an outsider.

Manitoba's entry into Confederation in 1870 was a negotiated response to the demands of Riel's provisional government. In 1956, Louis Riel was nationally recognized for his unique value in Canadian history and, in 1992, the provincial government of Manitoba accorded him the status of a Founding Father. The Creation of Manitoba has been commemorated by a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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