Louis David Riel
"The Father of Manitoba"
By George Siamandas
Louis Riel was described as a handsome, eloquent, and impatient man. Very moody and prone to depression at times. And vain. Riel was one for the few educated men in Red River. He was not a buffalo hunter and did not spend his time riding horses or doing those outdoorsy things. He served as an advisor and translator for many people. Had an incredible fondness for children giving away his money. He was always in debt to somebody. Riel House in St. Vital was the recognized Riel house according to Parks Canada, but recently a man called Maurice Prince maintains he was actually born near the junction of the Seine and Red River at Whittier Park which was the old Lagimodiere homestead.
His parents were Louis Riel Senior and Julie Lagimodiere. Julie was a daughter of Marie Anne Gaboury who gave birth to the first white child in wed lock at Red River. Louis David Riel was the oldest of their 11 children. Riel Sr had already had two previous children by a Metis woman. Riel Sr. who had been born in Northern Saskatchewan in 1817, was active in the resistance of the Hudson Bay Co's monopoly over trading. Riel Sr led the French Metis community in the 1850s and established the pattern of leadership his son would continue. He was also a wool carder or wool maker who set up an early mill on the Seine. The stones from this mill stand outside the St. Boniface Museum today. Riel Sr. met his son Louis David en route for the son to study for the priesthood in 1858, the last time they saw one another. He died in 1868.
RIEL'S EARLY YEARS
Louis David Riel was born in Red River on October 22, 1844 and was educated in St Boniface were he had been picked out for priesthood. His family was deeply religious. Riel worshipped his father and tried constantly to please him. He worked hard in school and caught the attention of the priests like Tache. In 1858 he was sent to the College of Montreal to study for the priesthood. He proved to be an erratic scholar who did well at some subjects and poorly in others and left his studies without graduating.
His father's death in 1864 plunged him into a deep depression. And in 1866 his love affair with a Marie-Julie Gueron in Montreal was stopped by her parents who did not approve of Riel's 1/8 part Indian ancestry. He moved first to Chicago and then to St Paul. In 1868 at age 24 he returned to Red River to help his widowed mother and to accomplish something with his life. This was at the time that the Federal government was trying to annex the North West to prevent Americans from taking it over. It was a most turbulent time. The buffalo had disappeared, and crops were terrible. Settlers were moving in from Ontario. The Metis and their country born cousins numbered 5,750 and 4,000 respectively vs 1,600 whites and perhaps 700 Indians rounded out the population in Red River. The Hudson Bay political control was collapsing.
Riel and the Metis were not happy with the coming changes. They feared for their land and language rights. Riel seized Upper Fort Garry (Downtown) On Nov 2 1869. Riel was also responsible for the second Rebellion in Saskatchewan in 1884.
In 1881 Louis Riel married Marguerite Monet dit Bellehumeur. They lived at Sun River Montana. She is described as a timid silent woman who was very devoted to Riel and to their three children. She came from White Horse Plains, but they met in a wintering camp in the US. She was not educated. They lived a very difficult life where they had to depend on the charity of others. Their marriage is said to have been sad. Apparently Riel tried to remake her in the image of his lost love Evelina. Evelina Barnabe was from New York and a sister of a priest. She was fond of Riel and became broken hearted when he married in Red River.
Riel worked as a school teacher and trapper in Montana but was persuaded to go to Batoche to help with the North West rebellion, a replay of what had happened in Red River 14 years earlier. He was hung on Nov 15, 1884. Marguerite died of TB at St. Vital a few months after Riel was hung. They had three children.
The man who was once considered a traitor is now taking his place as the true father of Manitoba. And little by little, more and more, French Manitobans are taking pride in their Metis ancestry.