Birthday: October 22, 1844
Died At Age: 41
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Louis
Born Country: Canada
Born in: Red River Colony, Rupert's Land, British North America
Famous as: Politician
Spouse/Ex-: Marguerite Monet
father: Louis Riel, Sr.
mother: Julie Lagimodière
children: Jean-Louis Riel, Marie-Angélique Riel
Died on: November 16, 1885
place of death: Regina, Northwest Territories, Canada
Ancestry: Canadian Americans
Cause of Death: Execution
education: 1865-03 - Collège de Montréal
Who was Louis Riel?
Louis Riel was a Canadian politician, best known as the founder of the province of Manitoba. Louis was born in the Red River Settlement, Rupert’s Land, British North America, into a well-respected local family. He was the eldest of 11 children in his family and got his early education from Roman Catholic priests. Later, he studied languages, science, and philosophy from ‘Collège de Montréal.’ Following his father’s demise, he stopped his education mid-way and returned to his native, Red River, where he learned that his settlement was being transferred to the Dominion of Canada from Hudson’s Bay Company without reaching a middle ground between the two parties. He was also worried about the influx of English speaking settlers on his land, putting Métis People’s identity in jeopardy. The Métis people formed their own government and made Louis their president to deal with the Dominion of Canada about the terms and conditions of the union. As a representative of the native Métis people, he led two major rebellions against the Canadian government, known as the ‘Red River Rebellion’ and the ‘North-West Rebellion.’ He is regarded as a great folk hero among the native Canadians.
Childhood & Early Life
Louis Riel was born Louis David Riel, on October 22, 1844, in the Red River Settlement, Rupert’s Land, British North America, Canada, to Louis Riel Sr. and Julie Lagimodiere. His family was well-respected in the region; he grew up as the oldest one among 11 siblings.
His father was a very influential man and a staunch supporter of Guillaume Sayer, a man who had challenged the trade monopoly of Hudson’s Bay Company in the area, for which he had to serve imprisonment. He effectively succeeded in forming a group and played a huge role in the release of Sayer. Thus, he became hugely popular among the Métis’ people.
Louis’ family was heavily influenced by religion. They were devout Catholics and gave more importance to family ties than anything else.
Louis’ parents arranged his early education in religion and appointed Catholic priests for his education. Louis was a fast learner and came into the eyes of Alexandre Taché, the Suffragan Bishop of St. Boniface. He pushed Louis to attend a seminar at the ‘Collège de Montréal,’ in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 1858, Louis began his formal education in language, philosophy, and science.
He was a fine scholar in the subjects he studied at the college, but he had to quit his studies midway when he learned about his father’s death in 1865. Following that, he gave up his priesthood and left college. He tried continuing his academics, but due to lack of discipline he could not continue his education and began working.
He stayed at his aunt’s house in Montreal and began working as a clerk in Montreal, then Minnesota. He finally moved back to the Red River in 1868, which turned out to be a huge turning point of his life.
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The Red River province was majorly inhabited by the Métis and the ‘First Nation People,’ known as the aboriginals. Upon his return, he found out that the settlement was at the risk of getting transferred to the Canadian Government from the Hudson’s Bay Company. What worried the Métis population the most was the expected massive influx of the English speaking settlers, who were known for their cruel ways in dealing with the natives.
The political terms of transfer had not been finalised yet and Louis was worried that this meant injustice toward the Métis population. He stood up strongly as the voice of the Métis people.
In 1869, the Canadian government ordered a survey of the area, which led to fear and anxiety among the natives. Louis delivered a fiery speech and requested his people to disrupt the survey that was to take place in October later that year. The rebellion group named itself the ‘Métis National Committee’ and John Bruce was made its president, while Louis served its secretary.
The Canadian government’s representative, lieutenant governor William McDowell, himself tried to enter the territory but he was sent back by Louis and his men. Fort Garry was later seized by the rebels. Louis declared that the M Métis would keep opposing them until the Canadian government listens to their issues.
A provisional government was later set up with Louis as its president. In early 1870, several meetings took place between Louis and the representatives of the Canadian government but a common ground could not be achieved. The peace was ultimately established between the two parties according to which the modern day province of Manitoba came into existence. It is widely known as the ‘Red River Rebellion’ of the 1869-1870.
However, the Canadian Party and Louis’ government kept plotting against each other. It turned really bad when Thomas Scott, a representative of the Canadian Party, was executed on Louis’ orders in March 1870. Louis fled and took asylum in the United States.
Despite this incident, his political influence remained strong and he was elected to the House of Commons of Canada three times. Naturally, he never took his seat.
However, he constantly remained aware of his ever growing influence on his people and hence developed a prophet-complex. He began living in a delusion that he was sent by the god himself to save his people from misery. He thus earned the dislike of the catholic priests, who once supported him. He was also sent to a mental asylum for a year.
He had earned a great name after successfully leading the ‘Red River Rebellion.’ He was requested to be a leader of the rebellion by the Métis People from Saskatchewan, but he knew that peaceful way was not possible with the Canadian government. He insisted for a full blown military attack on the establishment.
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A military resistance was organized and it was known as the ‘North-West Rebellion’ of 1885. However, he underestimated the Canadian military owing to his superiority complex and the rebellion was crushed, and he was arrested.
Arrest & Execution
To rule out of the possibility of a jury filled with sympathetic aboriginals, his trial took place at Regina, instead of Winnipeg, in July 1885. The trial commenced on July 28, 1885. It lasted five days. During his trial, Riel delivered two fiery speeches justifying his actions and affirming the rights of the Métis people.
The jury consisted of six English and Scottish Protestants, who held Louis Riel guilty of treason. However, they recommended mercy for his actions, but the judge sentenced Louis to death.
As the day of his execution approached, Louis tried to prove that he was not mentally sane while ordering the execution of Thomas Scott, but all his efforts went in vain. He was hanged to death on November 16, 1885.
Personal Life & Legacy
Louis Riel married Marguerite Monet dit Bellehumeur while he was in exile. He fathered two children, Jean-Louis and Marie Angelique. He had one more son who died right after his birth, on 21 October 1885, almost a month before Riel was hanged.
Despite his megalomaniac behaviour, he has been one of the most well-known and most-written about historical figures from Canada.
A number of statues of Riel are located in different parts of Canada.
Riel is commemorated in the names of schools, streets, neighbourhoods, and public buildings
A fictionalized biography of Louis Riel, 'La Bourrasque,' was published by the French writer Maurice Constantin-Weyer in 1925. It was twice translated in English, in 1930 and 1954.
Riel has found place in several films, television programs, and plays.