Was he a man propelled by mission, or loyalty?

by George Siamandas

On March 5 1870, Thomas Scott was executed to death for opposing the Riel provisional government. Presiding over that trial was Riel's right hand man, Ambroise Lépine. Lépine was Riel's military commander during the provisional government and directed the tribunal that sentenced Thomas Scott to death.

Ambroise Lépine was born at St. Boniface on May 18, 1840. His mother was a Saskatchewan Metis and his father was Quebec-born Jean Baptiste Lépine, who owned a big river lot in the Fort Rouge area. (Near the King george Hospital). The Lépines were part of the French-speaking elite at Red River. Young Ambroise was educated at St Boniface College and at age 19 married Cecille Marion. They took up agriculture on a farm in the south end of Winnipeg near near Louis Riel. But like a true Metis, Lépine also hunted and trapped with Metis friends and had a reputation as a keen marksman.

By force of physical presence Lépine was destined for leadership and looked it standing six foot three. He is described as having a "magnificent physique with hair of raven blackness, a large aquiline nose and eyes of piercing brilliance."



Ambroise and his wife were neighbours of Louis Riel. When the initial conflict began, Lépine was challenged by Riel: Was he for or against the Metis? Lépine did not have strong political views of his own. Was it a sense of community loyalty? Almost an impulsiveness that got him involved? He is said to have been a man of action and not a man of ideas. Lépine got into the thick of it by first barring William McDougal's entry into Manitoba and then by helping Riel and O'Donohue raise the Fleur de Lis banner when they seized Fort Garry on Dec 7, 1869. Scott was tried and executed outside the walls of Fort Garry. The Canadian government later took back the Fort causing Lépine and Riel to flee in August 1870.



His brother Baptiste Lépine was murdered in anti Riel attacks. Ironically. Baptiste had been a member of Scott's tribunal and had argued against executing him. Riel and Lépine hid in the Manitoba countryside and helped quell the Fenian raid. Riel's good relationship with Lieut Gov Adams Archibald caused Archibald a lot of embarrassment.

Tache gave them $1,600 each to go off to the USA. As a further incentive, a $5,000 bounty had been put on their heads. For the next three years Riel and Lépine were lost in the USA. Apparently Lépine became lonely and returned to Manitoba with his amnesty question unresolved. In the fall of 1874 he was arrested at his farm.



On October 10, 1874 Lépine was found guilty of aiding in the murder of Scott and was sentenced to be hung on January 29, 1875. His sentence was commuted to two years in prison by Lord Dufferin Canada's Governor General. In 1875 Lépine and Riel's amnesty was approved. But it meant banishment. Lépine had grown weary of politics. He chose to serve out his sentence and avoid banishment.

It is not clear what he thought of the whole business. Lépine withdrew from public life. He had already paid dearly for his political involvement. Lépine had a sense that St. Boniface did not back him up. And apparently on the streets of Winnipeg people would not let him forget the past. Louis Riel believed that Lépine thought him to be mad. Lépine chose not to become involved in the 1884-1885 rebellion. Lépine returned to farming but suffered several misfortunes in several places in Manitoba. In 1907, Lépine left Manitoba and moved to Saskatchewan.

Lepine came home in old age. Lépine returned to St. Boniface in 1923 where he died on June 8. This man who chose to make love instead of war had fathered 14 children. He lived twice as long as Riel, and lies buried next to Louis at St. Boniface Cemetery.


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