On today’s date in 1992, the Canadian government recognized Louis Riel as the founder of Manitoba, making him one of the Fathers of Confederation.
That day, the House of Commons unanimously passed the motion to recognize “the unique and historic role of Louis Riel … and his contribution in the development of Confederation.”
While working to establish the province of Manitoba, Riel was the leader of the Métis in the Canadian Prairies and is among the most significant figures in the country’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.
PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT, BILL OF RIGHTS
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 of 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, Riel fled to the U.S. in August.
In the years that followed, he 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 a U.S. resident 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. The Canadian government, however, 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.
1970 RIEL, 2019 REBELLION ISSUES
In 1970, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) featured Riel on a six-cent stamp (Scott #515).
Printed by the British American Bank Note Company, a total of 37,000,000 commemoratives marked “the 100th anniversary of the year in which he reached the apex of his career,” notes the first-day cover issued along with the single stamp on June 19, 1970.
The stamp’s image of Riel is based on a photograph by William James Topley.
Last November, Canada Post issued a single stamp and official first-day cover (OFDC) to commemorate Riel’s defence of Métis rights and its impetus for Manitoba’s entry into Confederation.
Issued Nov. 6, the stamp (available in booklets of 10) and OFDC mark the 150th anniversary of the Red River Resistance of 1869-70. Also known as the Red River Rebellion, it asserted Métis rights during the turbulent events leading up to the creation of the province of Manitoba.
“We’re thrilled Canada Post is issuing a stamp to mark this important anniversary,” said Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, which offered “close consultation” for the stamp’s design. “By defending Métis rights, Riel and the provisional government changed the course of Canadian history.”