On today’s date in 1992, the Canadian government recognized Louis Riel as “a founder of Manitoba”.
In 1970, Canada Post featured Riel on a 6-cent perforated stamp (Scott 515) printed by the British American Bank Note Company. The commemorative stamp marked the 100th anniversary of the year Riel reached the apex of his career, noted the official first-day cover on June 19, 1970.
Besides helping to establish the province of Manitoba, Riel was also the leader of the Métis in the Canadian Prairies. He is considered one of the most important figures in Canada’s early history.
During the late 1860s, Riel worked with the Red River Métis, who were troubled by the country’s plans to annex lands owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Métis feared they would lose their land and livelihood in the process of annexation. Finally, in 1869, a land survey by the Canadian government pushed the Métis leader into action. He formed a militia, turned back surveyors and took possession of Upper Fort Garry to start the Red River Resistance.
During the winter of 1870, when Riel was only 25 years old, he formed a provisional government and presented Canada with a Bill of Rights, which later became the Manitoba Act, 1870. His provisional government approved the act on June 24, and it came into effect less than one month later. However, while his provisional government negotiated with the country in early 1870, Riel was vilified in eastern Canada after allowing an agitator, Orangeman Thomas Scott, to be tried and executed for insubordination. Fearing death, he fled to the U.S. in August.
In the years that followed, Riel was elected to the Canadian Parliament three times but denied his seat each time. Finally, in 1874, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the 1870 execution of Scott. However, he eventually received amnesty on the condition he remained exiled for five years.
By 1884, Riel was living as an American with his family in Montana. When he was asked again to negotiate for Métis – this time in Saskatchewan – Riel hoped to create a Métis homeland. However, the Canadian government sent armed militia rather than negotiators, and the Métis resistance was defeated in the North-West Rebellion at the Battle of Batoche in May 1885.
Riel was found guilty of high treason and hanged in Regina on Nov. 16, 1885.