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Louis Riel
Louis Riel.jpg
President of the Provisional Government, then, Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia
In office
27 December 1869 – 24 June 1870
Member of Parliament
for Provencher
In office
13 October 1873 – 16 April 1874
Preceded by George-Étienne Cartier
In office
13 September 1874 – 25 February 1875
Succeeded by Andrew Bannatyne
Personal details
Born (1844-10-22)22 October 1844
St. Boniface, Red River Colony, Rupert's Land
Died 16 November 1885(1885-11-16) (aged 41)
Regina, North-West Territories, Canada
Marguerite Monet dite Bellehumeur
(m. 1881)
Children 2

Louis Riel ( 22 October 1844 – 16 November 1885) was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political leader of the Métis people. He led two resistance movements against the Government of Canada and its first prime minister John A. Macdonald. Riel tried to preserve Métis rights and culture. He is regarded by many as a Canadian folk hero today.

Early life

Louis Riel, age 14

Louis Riel was born in 1844 in St-Boniface near the fork of the Red and Seine rivers. He was the eldest of eleven children. His family was well-respected family. The Riels were noted for their devout Catholicism and strong family ties.

Riel began his schooling at age seven, and by age ten he attended St. Boniface Catholic schools. At age thirteen he came to the attention of Bishop Alexandre Taché who was eagerly promoting the priesthood for talented young Métis. In 1858 Taché arranged for Riel to attend the Petit Séminaire of the Petit Séminaire de Montréal. At the time he was a fine scholar of languages, science, and philosophy. While a good student, he was also hot-tempered, extreme in his views, intolerant of criticism and opposition, and often argued with his teachers.

Following his father's death in 1864, Riel withdrew from the college in March 1865. For a time, he continued his studies as a day student in the convent of the Grey Nuns, but was soon asked to leave. Impoverished by the death of his father, Riel took employment as a law clerk in the Montreal office of Rodolphe Laflamme.

Riel found legal work unpleasant and, by early 1866, he had resolved to leave Canada East. He worked odd jobs in Chicago and was briefly employed as a clerk in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Political career

On, 26 July 1868 he returned to the Red River settlement. The majority population of the Red River had historically been Métis and First Nations people. Upon his return, Riel found that his people were unhappy with the arrival of Anglophone Protestant settlers from Ontario who wanted to take their land.

Riel and his supporters decied to resist. They insisted on negotiations with the Canadian government but were ignored at first. To attract the government's attention, Riel started the Red River Resistance of 1869–1870. He formed the provisional government and negotiated the terms under which the new province of Manitoba entered the Canadian Confederation.

During a battle against the Canadian government his people took prisoners. One of these prisoners was a man named Thomas Scott. Scott would often be resistant and disrespectful of his captors. When Scott assaulted one of Riel's men, Riel had had enough. Scott was put on trial to a jury containing several of Riel's most trusted men, including Elzéar Goulet, a Métis leader who supported Riel. The court found Scott guilty, and he was sentenced to death, by a firing squad.

The English speaking people of Ontario considered this murder and a war party called the Wolsely Expedition was sent to put his rebellion down. Riel soon fled to the United States to escape prosecution. During his exile he was elected three times as member of the House of Commons, but, fearing for his life, he could never take his seat. At this time he also came to believe that he was a divinely chosen leader and prophet and was treated for mental problem.

By 1884 Riel got married, settled down and was teaching school at the St. Peter's Jesuit mission in the Sun River district of Montana.

In 1884 Riel was asked by the Métis leaders in Saskatchewan to help resolve issues with the Canadian government. Riel came to help but was captured and imprisoned in Regina. He was convicted at trial of high treason. Despite protests, popular appeals and the jury's call for clemency, Riel was executed by hanging on 16 November 1885 at the North-West Mounted Police barracks in Regina.

Riel's execution had a lasting negative impact on Canada, causing disagreement within the society.

Personal life

Riel was involved in a failed romance with a young woman named Marie–Julie Guernon. His fiancée's family opposed her marriage to a Métis, and the engagement was soon broken.

He married the young Métis Marguerite Monet dite Bellehumeur in 1881 while in exile in the Montana Territory. Marguerite and Louis had three children: Jean-Louis (1882–1908); Marie-Angélique (1883–1897); and a boy who was born and died on 21 October 1885, less than one month before Riel was hanged.


Louis Riel statue at the Manitoba Legislative Grounds
Louis Riel statue at the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds in Winnipeg

Two statues of Riel are located in Winnipeg. One of these statues, the work of architect Étienne Gaboury and sculptor Marcien Lemay, depicts Riel as a tortured figure. It was unveiled in 1971 and stood in the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building for 23 years. After much outcry (especially from the Métis community) that the statue was an undignified misrepresentation, the statue was removed and placed at the Université de Saint-Boniface. It was replaced with a statue of Louis Riel designed by Miguel Joyal depicting Riel as a dignified statesman. The unveiling ceremony was on 12 May 1996, in Winnipeg. A statue of Riel on the grounds of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina was installed and later removed for similar reasons.

In numerous communities across Canada, Riel is commemorated in the names of streets, schools, neighbourhoods, and other buildings. Examples in Winnipeg include the landmark Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge linking old Saint-Boniface with Downtown Winnipeg, and the Louis Riel School Division. The student centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon is named after Riel, as is the Louis Riel Trail. There are schools named after Louis Riel in four major Canadian cities: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Portrayals of Riel's role in the Red River Resistance include the 1979 CBC television film Riel and Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown's acclaimed 2003 graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. An opera about Riel entitled Louis Riel was commissioned for Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967; it was written by Harry Somers, with an English and French libretto by Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand.

Interesting facts about Louis Riel

  • Riel applied for United States citizenship and was naturalized on 16 March 1883.
  • Since the 1980s, numerous federal politicians have introduced private member's bills seeking to pardon Riel or recognize him as a Father of Confederation.
  • In 1992, the House of Commons passed a resolution recognizing "the unique and historic role of Louis Riel as a founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of Confederation".
  • The CBC's Greatest Canadian project ranked Riel as the 11th "Greatest Canadian" on the basis of a public vote.
  • In 2007, Manitoba's provincial government voted to recognize Louis Riel Day as a provincial holiday, observed on the third Monday of February.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Louis Riel para niños

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