Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

Louis Riel

During the war of 1812 Upper and Lower Canada had been drawn together. French and British forgot their differences and jealousies. But when peace had once more come these differences and jealousies were felt again, and the French especially thought that they had not enough voice in the ruling of the land. Many of them were still very ignorant, being able neither to read nor write. These scarcely knowing what they wanted, but easily led by a handful of clever and discontented men, rose in rebellion.

This Rebellion they called the Patriot War. There was never any real reason for it, and it was soon over. But it made wise people see that something must be done to prevent such discontent in the future. So it came about that Canada, which, in 1791, had been divided into British Canada and French Canada, was, in 1841, united again. It was decided that there should be only one Parliament, to which both French and British should come in equal numbers. It was also decided that the colony should have "responsible government." Responsible government means government by those who are responsible, or answerable to, the greater number. They may continue to rule only so long as the greater number of the people wish them to do so. When they can no longer get the greater number to vote for them they must cease to rule. Then there is a "General election," and people choose again those whom they wish to have power.

The Assembly of Upper Canada had met at Toronto, that of Lower Canada at Quebec. The new parliament now met at Kingston, on Lake Ontario, which was between the two, and beautiful romantic Quebec was left lonely on its rock.

For the next few years parliament was moved from place to place, no one being able to fix which was best. At last Queen Victoria was asked to settle the question. She chose a little village on the river Ottawa. And there at Ottawa fine new buildings were built, and there the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada has sat ever since.

But this union of Upper and Lower Canada did not mean the whole of Canada as we see it marked on our maps to-day. It meant only the two states of Ontario and Quebec. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and all the great land known as the North-West Territory were still separate provinces. But gradually these lands joined the union, and now the Dominion of Canada stretches all across the north of America from sea to sea. Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island, are the names of the provinces which make up the great Dominion. Newfoundland alone has a separate government.

As time went on and Canada grew into a united whole it was no longer thought well that any province should be ruled by a company, and all the lands belonging to the Hudson Bay Company were brought under the direct rule of the Canadian Government.

Since the days of Lord Selkirk Red River had prospered. Bit by bit the wild prairie had been reclaimed. It had been ploughed and sown, and now corn-fields waved where lately the bison had roamed. Houses, schools, and churches stood where pine and hemlock tree had towered their dark heads for ages. The wild Métis had forgotten their hate, and side by side thrifty Scottish settlers and adventurous French half-breeds lived in peace, the one careful and saving, the other careless, passionate and spendthrift.

But most of these half-breeds knew, and cared, nothing for Canada. To them the Company was everything, and they were content to live beneath its rule. But when they heard that Canada, not the Company, was to rule in future, they thought that they were being given over to some foreign power.

The Métis were very ignorant, and it was a pity that no one was sent to explain to these simple people what was really happening; it might have saved the shedding of much blood and many tears. No one was sent, and so they rose in rebellion, led by a man called Louis Riel.

Louis Riel, himself a Méti, was a clever, but half-educated man. He thought himself a patriot, and soon had an army of six or seven hundred men behind him. They took possession of Fort Garry, one of the strongest of the Hudson Bay Company's forts. They made many of the settlers prisoners, and proclaimed a new government, of which Riel was president.

Backed by his army the new president did as he liked, taking prisoner and banishing whom he chose. One of the worst things he did was to condemn a young man named Scott to death, because he had spoken scornfully of his government. After a mere mockery of a trial, Scott was led out and shot mercilessly by some half-drunk Métis.

The news of this murder rang like a war-cry through all Canada. It roused to indignation every fair-minded Canadian, and Colonel Garnet Wolseley, a young British officer then in Canada, was sent to Fort Garry to put down the rebellion. But when Riel heard of his coming he ran away to the United States, and the rebellion was at an end.

This disturbed part of the dominion was now made into the province of Manitoba, and many of the things for which Riel had fought were granted by the Manitoba Act.

But fifteen years later Riel came again, and there was another and far more serious rebellion. It is difficult to explain all the causes for this rebellion. The Métis thought that they were being badly treated by the Government. They thought that their land was being taken from them, and that they had not enough power in Parliament. They could get no one to listen to their grievances, so at length they sent to Riel, and asked him to come to help them.

Riel came, but this time he seemed more like a madman than a patriot. He called himself "The Liberator," and said that he was the bearer of a message from God. He lived in a curious fashion, eating chiefly blood boiled in milk, and did many things to try to make people think that he was truly the messenger from God that he said he was.

But in spite of his mad antics, or perhaps because of them, Riel had soon a large army of Métis at his back. And not only Métis, but Red Men followed him. Tribe after tribe smeared their faces with war-paint, danced the war-dance, and set out to join the rebels. The North-West was full of the nameless horror and terror of the Red Man, as Canada had been long years before. Great and terrible as their names, were some of the chiefs who took part in the war—Big Bear, Wandering Spirit, Yellow Mud, Bare Neck, and Man-Who-Wins were some of them—and there were many more with as strange and high-sounding names.

As soon as the rebellion began, the news of it flashed like wild-fire over Canada, and from all sides volunteers came, eager to fight for their country. For weeks and months the rattle of firearms and the terrible Indian war-cry was heard in the North-West, and all the land was filled with blood and tears. But in the end the rebels were beaten. Riel was taken prisoner, tried, and condemned to death for high treason, for he "did maliciously and treacherously levy and make war against our Lady, the Queen."

With Riel were hanged eight Indians, and a few others were imprisoned. So ended what is known as the Saskatchewan rebellion.

With this rebellion, war in Canada came to an end, so that since then the country has found time and strength to grow great. And thus we leave a united and peaceful Canada. From that June day, hundreds of years ago, on which John Cabot landed to plant the red cross of St. George upon "the new isle," it has grown step by step until it is a mighty Dominion, stretching from sea to sea. It is a nation within a nation, strong and prosperous in itself, and yet a part of our great Empire.

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