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A Second Last Stance

For the week of Monday April 23, 2007

On April 24, 1885, Gabriel Dumont and a group of Métis battled Major-General F. D. Middleton’s army at Fish Creek, locally known as Tourond’s Coulée, in present-day Saskatchewan. Despite being greatly outnumbered by the troops, Dumont and the Métis were able to force Middleton into retreat after an intense day of fighting.

Gabriel Dumont
Gabriel Dumont
© Duffin & Co. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-117943
In 1870, the Métis in the Red River settlement clashed with the federal government over land interests, so many moved further west to what is now Saskatchewan. By the mid 1880s, they had rebuilt, with the community of Batoche as their centre. However, similar problems with the government began to re-occur; this time, the government refused to recognize their claims to the land. A provisional government, led by Louis Riel, was formed in response to the situation. Gabriel Dumont, a respected leader in the community, was made the military commander.

In response, Ottawa sent Major-General F. D. Middleton and a large number of soldiers and militiamen. They arrived by rail at Qu’Appelle on April 10, and began their march northward to Batoche, the Métis stronghold. This led to a series of battles between Middleton’s troops and the Métis and First Nations peoples.

Dumont, determined to prevent the army from attacking Batoche, decided to ambush the army at Tourond’s Coulée, situated approximately 27 kilometres from the town. The element of surprise was ruined, and Middleton’s men were prepared for the attack. Fighting began early in the morning and, despite being greatly outnumbered by Middleton’s men, the Métis were able to hold strong until nightfall. The Métis were able to use the natural geography and buffalo hunting techniques to their advantage. But by this time, ammunition began to run out and Middleton’s men were attempting to break the line.

Officers of "A" Battery, Canadian Militia, 1885
Officers of "A" Battery, Canadian Militia, 1885
© Glenbow Archives / NA-363-1
Dumont’s brother arrived in the evening with reinforcements, ammunition and horses from Batoche. He led a single cavalry charge against Middleton’s men, forcing them to retreat. The attack inflicted many losses on Middleton’s forces, and stopped their advance on Batoche until his reinforcements were able to arrive from Ottawa.

Fish Creek was a small victory. Weeks later, Middleton and his troops would defeat Dumont and the Métis at Batoche, forcing Dumont to flee to the United States, and eventually leading to the execution of Louis Riel.

The Battle of Fish Creek and Batoche were designated National Historic Sites in 1923. Gabriel Dumont was designated a National Historic Person in 1981.

For more information on Batoche, please visit This Week In History’s archives.

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