Red River Rebellion

The Red River Rebellion was an 1869-1870 rebellion in the Red River Settlement in what is now the Canadian province of Manitoba. It was the first crisis the new government faced after Canadian Confederation in 1867.

The Red River settlement was centred on Fort Garry, modern Winnipeg, which was then owned by the Hudson's Bay Company. The Canadian government bought the area from the Company in 1869 and appointed an English-speaking governor, William McDougall, who was opposed by the French-speaking Métis inhabitants of the settlement. McDougall sent out surveyors before the land was officially transferred to Canada, and had them arrange the land according to the square township system used in Ontario. The Métis, however, arranged their land according to the seigneurial system of their French ancestors that was also used in Quebec.

The Métis, led by Louis Riel, created a provisional government and renamed the territory Assiniboia. Riel attempted to negotiate directly with the Canadian government to establish Assiniboia as a province, and prevented McDougall from entering the territory. Meanwhile, Riel arrested a prominent Orangeman named Thomas Scott, one of the English Canadians who had been held prisoner in the Fort but had escaped. Scott was put on trial and executed by firing squad for offences usually considered non-capital at the time – fighting with his guards, defying the authority of the provisional government, and insulting Riel.

Canada and the provisional government soon negotiated an agreement. In 1870, the Manitoba Act was passed, allowing the Red River settlement to enter Confederation as the province of Manitoba. The Act also incorporated some of Riel's demands, such as separate French schools for Metis children and protection of Catholicism.

As part of the agreement, Canada sent a military expedition consisting of Canadian militia and British regular soldiers led by Colonel Garnet Wolseley to Manitoba to enforce federal authority. As the expedition headed west, outrage grew in Ontario over Scott's execution, and many Ontarians demanded that Wolseley's expedition be used to arrest Riel and suppress what they considered to be rebellion. Riel fled before the expedition reached Fort Garry.

In 1875, Riel was formally exiled from Canada for five years, but under pressure from Quebec the government of Sir John A. Macdonald took no more vigorous action. Riel was elected to the Canadian parliament three times while in exile, but never took his seat. He returned to Canada in 1875 to lead the North-West Rebellion or North-West Resistance.

See also: History of Canada


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