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Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada

Wood Carving of Louis Riel

Front view of wood carving of Louis Riel, with the name “David” visible at the base of the bust. The bearded figure rests on a three-piece supporting shelf. This bust of this important Métis leader was made by Jackson – a supporter of Riel and his cause – while he was an inpatient at the Manitoba Asylum (then located at Lower Fort Garry).
© Parks Canada

Maker: William Henry Jackson (1861-1952)
Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site

Location: Visitor Centre Exhibit

This miniature oak bust of Louis Riel was completed by William Henry Jackson (1861-1952) while he was an inpatient at the Manitoba Asylum. Jackson was the secretary of the North-West Settlers' Union in December 1884. With Riel, he co-drafted a petition to the federal government lobbying for Métis rights. After the resistance in 1885, Jackson was captured alongside Riel and put on trial; however, due to concerns about his mental health, he was found not guilty and admitted to the Manitoba Asylum at Lower Fort Garry. This asylum, which was later relocated to Selkirk, was the first asylum in Manitoba. The institution, run by Dr. David Young, was notable for its emphasis on therapy, and its humane treatment of inpatients in comparison to other mental hospitals in Eastern Canada and Europe. Dr. Young writes about Jackson’s arrival in his journal on August 14, 1885, describing him as a “rather thin” man with an “intense admiration for Riel” and his cause. Jackson gave Dr. Young the miniature carving of Riel later that year. He later escaped from the asylum and settled in Chicago and then New York.

The carved portrait attached to a three-piece wooden support features a bearded Riel with the name “Louis David Riel” inscribed onto the front and sides of the bust. Over time the dry wood split in places, and the support bracket was damaged due to the insertion of a modern screw. In 1992 the artefact was conserved by Parks Canada in order to prevent further deterioration: the base was dismantled and the screw was removed, old glue joints were cleaned, and splits were filled with fresh glue to improve appearance and prevent further cracking. The bracket and bust were then carefully re-attached, and inpainting was done where there were inconsistencies in the object’s surface appearance.