By Jesse Robitaille
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.”
In March 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company – under pressure from the British Empire – sold to the young Dominion of Canada an area known as Rupert’s Land, which comprises a quarter of the continent and served as the company’s exclusive commercial domain since 1670.
The area included modern Manitoba, where Indigenous communities like the Métis feared the loss of land and cultural rights.
An August 1869 land survey by the Canadian government eventually pushed Riel, who emerged as the Métis leader only two months later, into action. He formed a militia, turned back surveyors and took possession of Upper Fort Garry to begin the rebellion.
Under the leadership of their 25-year-old leader, the majority Métis population of the Red River Settlement established a provisional government in December 1869 to negotiate with the Canadian government.
But while his provisional government was negotiating with the feds, Riel was vilified in other parts of Canada for allowing Thomas Scott, an active “Orangeman” – a member of Northern Ireland’s Protestant fraternal order – to be killed.
Scott was among nearly 50 armed Canadian troops who gathered at Portage la Prairie to enlist support for disbanding the provisional government. His March 1870 execution by firing squad “led to outrage among many in the Protestant community,” wrote Dimitry Anastakis in his 2015 book, Death in the Peaceable Kingdom.
“Scott himself became a martyr – and Riel a target for revenge. In the early 1870s, the province witnessed protests, ‘indignation meetings,’ and newspapers such as The Nation declaring their hatred for Riel as Scott’s ‘murdered,’ vowing vengeance. Out of this rage emerged a ‘Canada First’ movement that pushed a white, English and Protestant form of nationalism, one based on a thinly disguised racism.”
Despite the setbacks, the ongoing negotiations between the Métis’ provisional government and the feds resulted in a “list of rights,” which eventually became the Manitoba Act, bringing the first western province into Confederation in May 1870.
“Central to this agreement, the federal government agreed to reserve 1.4 million acres (566,560 hectares) for the children of Métis residents of Manitoba and ensured that the province would be officially bilingual,” noted The Canadian Encyclopedia.
That summer, when the feds sent a military force to Red River as a so-called “errand of peace,” Riel fled to the U.S. and wouldn’t return until the following May (and often in hiding).
In the years that followed, Riel was elected to Canadian Parliament three times but was expelled from his seat.
Convicted of Scott’s murder and sentenced to death, Riel eventually received amnesty on the condition he remained exiled from “Her Majesty’s Dominions” for five years.
The Riel stamp was designed at Montréal’s Paprika by Raymond Lanctot with art direction by Louis Gagnon and illustration by Gérard DuBois.
“The stamp artwork is a faithful illustration of a historical photograph combined with an adaptation of a lithograph of Fort Garry from that period,” said Gagnon. “By respectfully using archive documents, we wanted to create a strong symbolic link to this important moment in Canadian history.”
The design is based on an 1848 lithograph of Fort Garry by Henry James Warre plus an 1870 photograph of Louis Riel and his provisional government councillors.
A total of 130,000 stamps, each measuring 38 millimetres by 38 millimetres, were printed by Lowe-Martin using five-colour lithography.
Serviced with a Winnipeg cancellation, 7,000 OFDCs were also issued. The day-of-issue cancel is inspired by the infinity symbol, which holds special significance to the Métis people.
“The Métis Nation is one of the founders of Manitoba,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation. “In partnership with Canada Post, we are pleased that we can all commemorate our history.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- The current decade (2011-20) has been declared the “Decade of the Métis Nation.”
- In Manitoba, the third Monday of every February is a provincial holiday known as Louis Riel Day.
- According to the 2016 census, the Métis population in Canada includes more than 587,000 people. Métis Nation citizens, originally of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, emerged as a distinct Indigenous nation in the northwest in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the Métis Nation Homeland encompasses the Prairie Provinces and a contiguous part of British Columbia, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Northwestern U.S.
- The earliest recorded use of the Métis flag was on June 19, 1816, at the Battle of Seven Oaks.
- The multi-use “ceinture flechée” worn by the voyageurs during the fur trade era evolved into the now-iconic garment of the Métis Nation, whose history and identity are expressed through each pattern and colourful strand. Featured on this coin, Riel’s sash is a Coventry sash, a popular style that was mass-produced on a loom in Coventry, England.
In the mid-1880s, Riel was again asked to negotiate for the Métis – this time in Saskatchewan – but after the Canadian government sent armed militia rather than negotiators, the second resistance was defeated.
After surrendering during the Battle of Batoche in May 1885, Riel was found guilty of high treason and hanged in Regina on Nov. 16, 1885.
Today, Manitobans celebrate Riel on the third Monday of February each year – a provincially recognized holiday.
Across Canada, people also honour Riel on Nov. 16, the day he gave his life for the Metis Nation.
This year also marks the 175h anniversary of Riel’s birth.
1970 RIEL ISSUE
In 1970, Canada’s Post Office Department – a precursor to Canada Post, a Crown corporation created in 1981 – 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 OFDC 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.