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Trouble at Red River

For the week of Monday November 26, 2001

On December 1, 1869, William McDougall briefly entered the Red River Colony in order to proclaim its annexation to Canada. At the very core of the Red River Resistance, this event was one of the first political crises following Confederation — and it led to the creation of a new province.

William McDougall

William McDougall
© LAC / PA-026299

Before Confederation, some Canadians dreamed of an immense country that stretched from sea to sea. In 1869, Canada extended its boundaries to the north and the northwest by purchasing Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company. The Red River Colony lay within its boundaries. To recognize McDougall for his role in purchasing this new territory, the Canadian government appointed him lieutenant-governor of the Red River region. However, many Métis living in the colony were annoyed that they were not consulted about the annexation of their territory by the Dominion of Canada. The Métis, offspring of European fur traders and First Nations' women, were the most numerous settlers of the area. Concerned that their property rights and their political status would suffer, and anxious to find the surveyors at work even before the transfer date of December 1, a number of Métis formed a national committee to resist the Canadian authorities.

The Métis not only drove out the new lieutenant-governor to Pembina in the American Dakota Territory, but they also seized Upper Fort Garry, thereby strengthening their control of the Colony. Although McDougall succeeded in returning across the border to read his proclamation, he beat a hasty retreat. On December 8, Métis leader Louis Riel announced that a provisional government had been put in place. Faced with a mounting crisis, the Canadian Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, delayed the transfer of land in order to negotiate with representatives of the provisional government the terms on which Rupert's Land would enter Confederation.

Louis Riel and the Provisional Government

Louis Riel and the Provisional Government
© LAC / PA-012854

The Canadian government and the Métis discussed provincial status and a request for amnesty for acts committed during the resistance. The talks were fruitful. On May 15, 1870, the bill to create the Province of Manitoba received royal assent. Much smaller than present-day Manitoba, this new Canadian province guaranteed reserves of land and a number of rights for the Métis. However, no complete amnesty was ever given and leading figures in the resistance, including Louis Riel, spent short times in exile.

The creation of Manitoba has been designated an event of national historic significance. William McDougall, one of the Fathers of Confederation, and Louis Riel, a founder of Manitoba, have been designated persons of national historic significance.

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