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 Whistleblowers Need Protection



Eight: Louis Riel

Patriot without a Country

A Government of Canada hanged Louis Riel 103 years ago, but many Canadians will still not let him die. The man who during a turbulent life was founder of a province, member of the Parliament of Canada, an outlaw, an exile, and a victim of the hangman has remained the storm centre of Canadian politics. He continues to capture imaginations and controversies in a way no other Canadian figure has done.

The transformation of the founder of Manitoba from a regional agitator and national traitor to a major Western Canadian hero in our popular mind has taken much of a century. For a long while, Canadian historians because of partisanship or for other reasons ignored the details of his life. Even the Makers of Canada collection of biographies published in 1905-1908 did not include him. Today, as the Winnipeg historian J.M. Bumsted points out, "he is the only major Canadian whose papers have been collected and published with the full panoply of scholarly apparatus developed for figures like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams...." To Canada’s Native people, Riel has come to symbolize their aspiration for a fuller share in our national life, "What Canadians do not understand is that Louis Riel is a Father of Canadian Confederation.... He intuitively sensed the future for Canada and wanted to guarantee a place for Métis people in that future. The fact that he was betrayed and martyred for his efforts only guarantees the fact that today he is hailed by his people as a freedom fighter of the highest order...," says Louis Bruyere. This sketch will make a case that Riel’s statues should stand not only near the legislature buildings in Winnipeg and Regina, as they now do, but in prominent places in all four western and northern capitals, and in Ottawa itself.

At the age of 14, the young Louis, who was in fact of seven-eighths white ancestry, followed his father’s footsteps to Montreal to study for the priesthood. The Catholic Bishop of St. Boniface, Alexandre Taché, was so impressed by his academic ability and religious ardour during his elementary schooling that he had persuaded the wife of a later Lieutenant Governor of Québec to pay what the Riel family could not afford.

During the next decade at the Sulpician seminary, Louis proved a serious and indeed brilliant student. His father’s death hit him so hard that afterwards he avoided other students, faltered and missed classes. In the final year of the seminary he abandoned his religious studies and spent a little over a year in Montreal working for a brief time as a student-at-law. In 1867 he went to St. Paul, Minnesota, before he finally decided to return to Red River a year later.

His first act of leadership occurred in the fall of 1869 well before the vast Rupert’s Land was formally transferred from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the government of Canada. William McDougall, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s Minister of Public Works, had ordered a survey to be done on the mile-square system of the Americans to accommodate new settlers from Ontario. The Quebec land system, already working well for the Métis in Red River, had provided each settler with a small river frontage and, in recognition of the water shortage problem, with a "hay privilege" as well, going back from the river for two miles. Understandably, the Métis were greatly disturbed when McDougall’s agent, Colonel John S. Dennis, began his American system and doubtless illegal surveys in their community. When a survey crew began work on the hay pasture of André Nault, a French Canadian, Riel in company with a group of unarmed Métis appeared on the scene and declared that the territory south of the Assiniboine belonged to the people of Red River and not to Canada, and that the Métis would not allow the survey to proceed any further. His argument was that the Canadian government "had no right to make surveys on the Territory without the express permission of the people of the Settlement." That ended the surveying for the time being and established Riel at only 25 years of age as the new Métis leader of Red River.

Within days of the Nault incident, William McDougall was appointed by Sir John as the Lieutenant Governor of Rupert’s Land. The Prime Minister’s ignorance of the West was again evident; the Red River Métis seethed. The governor-designate soon reached Minnesota by train and proceeded north to Pembina. There he received a note signed by Riel as secretary of the National Committee of the Métis of Red River ordering him not to enter the territory of the North-West without "special permission" of the Committee. McDougall impetuously drove two miles north to a local Hudson’s Bay post, but quickly obeyed an order delivered by Ambroise Lépine, a giant of 6’3" in height, on behalf of Riel’s Committee to return to the American side of the international boundary.

In fact, McDougall’s mission was one of mismanaged conquest meeting Métis resistance, not rebellion or insurrection. Until Queen Victoria consented to the transfer, which was not finally done until June, 1870, the only legal authority for the region was that of the Hudson’s Bay Company, but it had, in Howard’s words, "signed away its authority and its embittered agents had virtually ceased to govern.... The new government which McDougall was attempting to impose and against which the Métis ‘rebelled’ did not exist either, and the ‘Governor’ had no more right in the country than any private citizen. He was not even entitled, at the moment, to the courtesies due a visiting dignitary, because he was no longer a member of the Canadian Cabinet."

On the same day that McDougall was ordered out of Rupert’s Land, Riel formally succeeded John Bruce as leader of the New Nation and with 120 followers seized Fort Garry. He did this to obtain control of its muskets and cannon, explaining to the protesting Hudson’s Bay Company officials, who were confined to quarters, that he wanted to prevent bloodshed and guard the fort against danger.

Riel then turned his attention to establishing both order and democracy. The English-speaking parishes were invited to elect twelve representatives to meet with his equal-sized council of French-speaking Métis. Both groups cooperated. The first convention met in mid-November, 1869. It produced a bill of rights which in effect demanded full provincial status. Its specifics included the right to elect a legislature, a free homestead law, treaties with Indians, use of French and English as official languages, respect for all rights present before the transfer of sovereignty, and fair representation in the Parliament of Canada. None of the people in the heterogeneous community could argue that their interests were not protected.

In the meantime, McDougall remained fuming with his wagons and entourage near Pembina. The prime minister in Ottawa soon learned from Queen Victoria that she hoped the Métis would present their grievances to her governor general in the new country. Macdonald, for once prudent about the West, advised caution to McDougall, but the self-professed democrat without any authority from anyone drafted out of his own imagination a proclamation dated December 1, 1869, announcing in the Queen’s name the completion of the transfer to Canadian sovereignty and himself the governor of the North West Territory of Canada - "an act," in the words of W.L. Morton, "at once rash and completely illegal."

Copies of the proclamation quickly appeared on walls at Fort Garry at McDougall’s direction. Knowing from his spies in McDougall’s party that Queen Victoria had made no such proclamation, Riel immediately denounced it as fraudulent. In one of the most comical scenes in our entire national history, McDougall on the same day as he issued his bogus proclamation took a party of seven men north a few miles over the border and in a snowy gale read it to the stars and north wind before rushing back to Pembina. The gesture, as Howard wrote, "convulsed America, horrified Ottawa and mined him forever in the West." He compounded matters the next day by issuing yet another illegal order authorizing the surveyor Col. J.S. Dennis, "Lieutenant and Conservator of the Peace" in Rupert’s Land, to organize and arm a force sufficient to disperse the armed men in the settlement "unlawfully assembled and disturbing the public peace." Dennis, invited in effect to begin a civil war, managed to occupy lower Fort Garry, twenty miles north of Winnipeg, but his campaign soon collapsed and Riel’s government continued. The Prime Minister later repudiated everything the pair had done and wrote in a self-revealing note to a friend, "The two together have done their utmost to destroy our chance of an amicable settlement with these wild people."

Riel doubtless knew from the start that his little colony could not maintain independence from both Canada and a hovering United States with unconcealed continental ambitions. On December 8, 1869 after successfully arresting 45 armed Canadians who had occupied the home of Dr. John Schultz in Red River, Riel opted to negotiate with Ottawa rather than Washington despite various inducements offered by the Americans to do so. His declaration of that day said many things, but the effect of it was that the Provisional Government established in Rupert’s Land the previous month was the only lawful authority in the region and it now "wished to enter into such negotiations with the Canadian Government as may be favourable for the good government and prosperity of this people." In 60 days, Riel had driven McDougall permanently out of the West. The latter’s lieutenant, Dennis, had been unable to ignite a civil war and Riel’s List of Rights and Declarations had provided the necessary ingredients for the successful resistance to a crude conquest attempt. No one at Red River had been robbed or attacked. Ottawa, moreover, had decided to send three commissioners west to negotiate the terms of entry into Confederation.

The commissioners were led by Donald Smith, manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Montreal district and husband of a Métis woman. Fully a thousand people from the Red River’s scattered settlements of approximately twelve thousand attended a mid-January open field meeting to consider Ottawa’s case. After two days of five-hour meetings in temperatures of 20 below zero, Riel, as president of the Provisional Government of Rupert’s Land, moved that a convention of forty (half elected by the Scots and English, half by the French) consider Smith’s proposals. The North-West die was clearly already cast in favour of Canada and against the American hopes for annexation of the region, but it would be a long while indeed before Riel got much credit in Central Canada, or among its politicians and historians, for choosing Canada.

At the convention, Riel attempted to include in a new bill of rights a demand that the region be admitted to Canada as a full province rather than a territory. This was rejected by the English-speaking delegates who were supported by three French-speaking ones. His Provisional Government, however, later made this request at his insistence and it is on this basis that his place in history as Manitoba’s founder was established. Smith approved the new bill of rights in principle.

In a particularly astute move, Riel then won full legal status for his Provisional Government by persuading the convention to reestablish his government on the basis that the delegates to Ottawa would need official status. Riel was elected president of its assembly, or council, elected on February 9, 1870. Three delegates were chosen to go to Ottawa.

The ultimate cause of most of Riel’s problems, the execution of Thomas Scott by his government, occurred only days after his installation as president. The basic facts are well known. In hindsight, it was really the only error committed by the young and inexperienced leader of an infant nation. Yet, for Riel thereafter, in W.L. Morton’s words, "there was to be no peace in the North-West he loved. No peace anywhere but the forlorn peace of exile and the final peace of the gibbet at Regina." Few now recall that Riel prevented 600 well-armed and mounted Métis from destroying an unmounted and lightly-armed group of several hundred settlers, mostly from Portage La Prairie, who attempted to free the remaining prisoners from the earlier seizure at Schultz’s home. As the prospects of a confrontation heightened, the remaining 24 prisoners signed peace oaths and were released. Most of the settlers from Ontario then dispersed, but about 50 who did not were arrested and jailed for two days, including Major C.W. Boulton. Riel wisely granted mercy to Boulton, the leader of the short-lived uprising, after the mother of John Sutherland, one of two dead victims of the affair, pleaded with him to do so.

Thomas Scott, hot-headed and aggressive, was not a popular figure in Red River. Donald Smith himself called Scott "a rash, thoughtless man whom none cared to have anything to do with." Scott, who interpreted Riel’s clemency in Boulton’s case as timidity, deliberately antagonized and insulted guards at every opportunity. "The Métis are a pack of cowards. They will not dare to shoot me," he shouted defiantly. In any case, Scott, who had been arrested for being part of Boulton’s uprising, was convicted of insubordination while in custody by an ad hoc court-martial and shot by a Métis firing squad on March 1, 1870. He was the only individual killed by the Métis during the 10 anxious and dangerous months they controlled Rupert’s Land, and the execution was doubtless carried out partly to prevent others from challenging the new government. As Riel later put it, "If there was a single act of seventy, one must not lose sight of the long course of moderate conduct which gives us the right to say that we sought to disarm, rather than fight, the lawless strangers who were making war against us." Years later, just before dying on a scaffold, he told his priest, "I swear as I am about to appear before God that the shooting of Scott was not a crime. It was a political necessity.... I commanded the shooting, believing it necessary to save the lives of hundreds of others."

Unfortunately for Riel, his nemesis John Schultz had already escaped and would travel from town to town in Ontario haranguing anyone who would listen about the blood-thirsty Riel and the Métis. The Ontario government later offered a $5000 reward for the capture of its hero’s murderer, even though the act had occurred outside both Ontario and the Dominion. "Scott and Riel," in Howard’s words, "ceased to exist as men. They became symbols solely: Scott the Protestant, Riel the Catholic.... That was the picture: young, progressive, dedicated Protestantism destroyed by entrenched, superstitious, corrupt Catholicism. It was a good sharp picture and it made for a foul and vulgar fight, whose repercussions echoed ominously throughout the next fifteen years."

Scott’s execution also prevented the granting of an amnesty by Macdonald’s government for any "illegal" acts committed by anyone in Red River in 1869-70. The prime minister had in fact issued an amnesty proclamation, but it did not arrive until four days after Scott’s death, and the prime minister took the view that it did not apply to those involved with Scott. The lack of an amnesty clearly prevented Riel from becoming either the first premier of Manitoba in 1870 or a leading member of Parliament from the province. Its consequences doubtless contributed to his subsequent mental breakdowns.

Two of the three delegates en route to Ottawa were briefly imprisoned by Ontario authorities for alleged complicity in Scott’s murder. Macdonald would even protest that he never recognized Riel’s Provisional Government, something flatly contradicted by both the record and the fact of the negotiations with its delegates. "The Right Honourable John A. Macdonald lied (excuse the word) like a trooper," an exasperated Archbishop Taché wrote subsequently.

On May 2nd, 1870 a bill called the Manitoba Bill, embodying most of the features of the Métis "List of Rights," was introduced and quickly passed. The historian G.F.G. Stanley recognized Riel as "the father of the province of Manitoba," conceding that the federal government would not willingly have granted provincial status to "the infant half-breed colony at the time of the transfer of the Territories to Canada, had it not been for Riel’s protest.’’

The legislative assembly of Rupert’s Land heard the delegation’s report when it returned from Ottawa and unanimously voted to accept the Manitoba Act and to enter Canada on the terms proposed. An ominous beginning occurred when Ottawa, once again grossly mismanaging events in the West, permitted Colonel Garnet Wolseley and his Red River Expedition of 1200 mostly Ontario and British troops to reach the new province before the new lieutenant governor, Adams Archibald, could arrive. Riel rejected the advice of those who wanted to fight, and insisted on welcoming Wolseley in peace. But his scouts subsequently indicated that the approaching expedition intended to deal with the rebels and Riel felt obliged to leave his new province for the U.S. for his own safety.

Wolseley paid off his exhausted troops after their incredibly arduous journey and publicly denounced the Métis as "banditti and cowards," despite Ottawa’s clear order that the Provisional Government should remain in place until its governor arrived. The conduct of some of his men and those, like Schultz, who had slunk back into Red River, towards anyone involved in Scott’s death was as outrageous as it should have been predictable in Ottawa. Two suspects were murdered. Another was bayoneted and left for dead. Riel’s mother was terrorized at her home. Archibald, an honourable and fair administrator, received little help from Ottawa and reported to Macdonald a year later that many of the Métis "actually have been so beaten and outraged that they feel as if they were living in a state of slavery."

Macdonald’s mishandlings of Manitoba continued virtually unabated. Only five of his first 85 appointments in the new province went to Métis. Archbishop Taché went to Ottawa to see about the amnesty for Riel and Ambroise Lépine. The prime minister produced $1000 in cash and indicated that he might be able to speed the amnesty up if both would leave the country for a year. Taché eventually did persuade both to leave with their families.

Riel returned briefly to Manitoba in the fall of 1872 to be nominated for Parliament, but withdrew in favour of George Etienne Cattier who had been defeated 10 days earlier in Montreal East. After Cartier died a year later, Riel ran in the Provencher district as an independent candidate and won by a landslide in the general election of 1874. Still no amnesty had been granted.

When Riel appeared at the House of Commons in Ottawa to claim his seat in late 1874, the new Manitoba attorney general, Henry Clarke, had already indicted him for Scott’s murder. The question of how a Manitoba court could assert that it had jurisdiction over an incident happening before the province itself was created was essentially ignored. Mackenzie Bowell, the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge and future Conservative prime minister, moved for and won Riel’s expulsion from the House. But the new Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie, put into office in the "Pacific Scandal" election of 1874 by voters seeking to punish Macdonald, proclaimed an amnesty for Riel in April, 1875. Unfortunately for Riel, it was made conditional upon his exile for five years under an extraordinary Manitoba court order made against him a few months earlier. In effect the Manitoba court finding of "outlaw" against him amounted to a bizarre finding of guilt for the murder of Scott in Riel’s absence. The order in the circumstances thus probably had no basis in law certainly none in justice -- and should have been ignored by Mackenzie.

Following the federal election in 1878, Riel’s arch-enemy John A. Macdonald was returned to power. In the interval after his expulsion from the House, Riel travelled widely in America and clearly suffered several bouts of mental illness. Much of the time he was penniless. In 1876, he was committed to a mental hospital near Quebec City for a period even though he was still banished from Canada. Even Howard his biographer and admirer was convinced that he showed "symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia." The Riel of 1884-85 was clearly not the perfectly rational leader of 1869-70, but bearing in mind what he had been through since, whose mind could have resisted better?

When he returned to the West in 1878, he found that the steamboats and Red River carts had gone overnight with the arrival of the railway. The buffalo were gone; the local Métis were discouraged, and felt threatened by the westward advance of an agricultural civilization. "These impulsive half-breeds.. .must be kept down by a strong hand until they are swamped by the influx of settlers," John A. Macdonald had written to Sir John Rose in 1870. The process had begun.

Riel worried about his people, but resolved to move on to the freedom and older ways of Montana. He became a wood chopper, a trader and mediator between Indians or Métis and white Americans. In 1881, he married 21-year-old Marguerite Monet, the daughter of a buffalo hunter, to whom he was unfailingly considerate until his death. A son, Jean, was soon born and then Marie Angelique. Riel became an American citizen and was active in Republican politics. He also taught Blackfoot Indian boys at a mission school at St. Peters.

In early June 1884, Gabriel Dumont and other Métis from what is now northern Saskatchewan came to invite Riel to take charge of their campaign to seek redress from Ottawa for their grievances. Riel, who had long maintained a wish to help his people, agreed to go without any payment until September. He and his family loaded a cart and departed. Riel evidently told a Montana priest, before crossing into Canada: "I see a gallows on top of that hill, and I am swinging from it." The party pushed on to Batoche, a Métis settlement 40 miles southwest of Prince Albert.

Riel’s speeches in the North-West were moderate, making such reasonable requests as free title for the Métis on existing land, provincial status for the region, and representation in the federal Parliament. In December, a petition drafted under the guidance of Riel was sent to Ottawa, proposing in addition to the above items, responsible government, provincial control of natural resources, and the building of a railway to Hudson’s Bay to provide access to Europe for prairie products.

Macdonald, who had been for some time Minister of the Interior as well as Prime Minister, again demonstrated his lack of interest in the North-West by essentially ignoring the numerous memorials and petitions received from the region. After Riel arrived in the North-West, Macdonald’s only response was to increase the number of Mounted Police in the Batoche district. Even the commanding NWMP officer at Fort Carlton, L.N.F. Crozier, urged Macdonald to survey the Métis land in the manner they preferred; had he done it, the North-West Rebellion might not have occurred. "Old Tomorrow," as the Western Indians had first named the prime minister, finally opted instead to appoint a commission to investigate Métis complaints; but the Métis had long since lost faith in his word and the North-West Rebellion broke out in late March of 1885.

The gross insensitivity of Macdonald and his government was clearly the major cause of the uprising. Not a few Canadian historians have recognized that the Métis rebellion, coming at precisely the right time, saved the federal government from political limbo and the CPR from bankruptcy. To Donald McLean, a Saskatchewan authority of the Métis, this was not a "fortunate coincidence" but a careful "design."

The CPR certainly received further public funding because of the role it played in crushing the Métis rebellion, and its transcontinental line was completed nine days before the execution of Louis Riel in Regina. William Van Home, the CPR general manager, later was quoted as saying that "the CPR should erect a monument to Riel."

Riel’s decision to establish a provisional government under the protection of the Métis cavalry was in retrospect both a tragedy and an act of folly. Rupert’s Land in 1869 lacked a government; the North-West Territories in 1885 had both a government and an almost-completed railway capable of delivering Canadian troops in a matter of days, not months. Nonetheless, Riel called a mass meeting, formed a council and called his people to arms against the oncoming police. The support he had enjoyed among the Catholic clergy and whites vanished immediately. The tragic last stand of the Métis people was underway, although Riel and Dumont both knew in their hearts from the outset that they could not win a full-scale war.

The war for Western Canada’s future was mercifully brief. Approximately three thousand troops were soon in the Territories and moving against fewer than 500 Métis soldiers. At Fish Creek, outnumbered six to one and later ten to one, Dumont’s soldiers held off 400 white troops until they withdrew and were immobilized for two full weeks. Three battles had taken place and three times the Métis-Indian alliance had won; but only 200 sharpshooters remained as the North-West Field Force neared the final encounter at Batoche. After a four-day battle, the Métis gave up, thus ending two months of combat. Riel surrendered to Middleton; Dumont fled to Montana.

Riel’s conviction in Regina of high treason, for which at the time death was the only penalty, raises many questions. Did a territorial magistrate’s court have jurisdiction to hear one of the most important trials in Canadian history? Could Riel as an American citizen be properly convicted in the particular circumstances under a British treason statute of 1352? Should the presiding judge, Hugh Richardson, as a member of the anti-Catholic Orange Order and a part-time magistrate serving only at the pleasure of the federal government, not have disqualified himself from the case? Why was the trial held in Regina and not in Winnipeg? Why were the six jurors selected all English-speaking Protestants who were thus obliged to depend on interpreters for much of the testimony? Why did Judge Richardson select the names of the 36 prospective jurors?

In his personal address in English to the jury, Riel spoke of conditions of the Prairie Métis and their various unanswered petitions to Ottawa, indicating that he felt God wanted him to make a better world for his people. He wished to be judged both sane and not guilty, he argued, because "I have acted reasonably and in self-defence while the government my accuser, being irresponsible, and consequently insane, cannot but have acted wrongly." Riel’s team of defence lawyers from Quebec attempted from the outset to prove him insane in order to save his life. But the accused’s stirring speech to the jury was so lucid overall that it undid him because the jurors could simply not accept that anyone insane could deliver such an address.

Riel’s chief counsel, Charles Fitzpatrick, who later became chief justice of Canada, addressed the jury for two hours. He stressed that Riel had abandoned his security in the U.S. without asking for any payment in order to help his people in the North-West Territories and to seek redress from a stone-deaf government two thousand miles away. Would a sane man have declared war on the British Empire as Riel did? He ended by urging a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. "I know that you shall not weave the cord that shall hang him and hang him high in the face of all the world, a poor confirmed lunatic; a victim, gentlemen, of oppression or the victim of fanaticism."

The judge’s charge to the jury was anything but fair and balanced on the evidence heard, especially with respect to the all-important insanity issue, but neither the Manitoba Queen’s Bench nor the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain would later order a new trial. After retiring for only an hour, the jury returned with a guilty verdict and a recommendation of mercy.

Riel thanked the jury for "clearing me of the stain of insanity" and spoke of being "hunted like an elk for fifteen years." He then asked for a commission to decide whether he was a murderer of Thomas Scott. One of his jurors, Edwin J. Brooks, answered this question only five decades later in a newspaper interview: "We tried Louis Riel for treason, but he was hanged for the murder of Thomas Scott." Richardson sentenced him to be hanged, showing in his remarks that his view of the case was identical with that of the prosecutors. A few days before the Riel trial, Richardson had acquitted Riel’s white assistant, Will Jackson, of treason on grounds of insanity.

A flood of petitions and pleas for clemency soon reached Ottawa from many people at home and abroad. Macdonald’s resolve only hardened as families, friends and the political parties throughout Canada split bitterly over the issue. In an interview, the 72-year-old Prime Minister stamped his foot and said what are possibly the most insensitive words ever uttered by a Canadian prime minister: "He shall hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour." He also tried to persuade a concerned governor general that "this North-West outbreak was a mere domestic trouble, and ought not to be elevated to the rank of a rebellion.... It never endangered the safety of the state." This was indeed an outrageous comment on an incident that his government had publicly characterized as a major rebellion, whose leader it prosecuted on a charge of high treason.

The governor general nonetheless prevailed on him to appoint a medical commission to determine whether Riel was still sane. If not, this would provide his government a sound reason to exercise the royal prerogative of mercy without disturbing the court verdict.

The prime minister shamelessly manipulated the commission in a gross abuse of his office, admonishing one commissioner to find Riel sane and seriously distorting the conclusion of the other commissioner that Riel was "not an accountable being." Both Queen Victoria and the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, declined to interfere, the first because an adamant Macdonald indicated his government would brook no interference, the second evidently because his secretary of state and possibly the British ambassador counselled restraint. Clearly the decision not to show the same mercy to Riel as to the other convicted rebellion prisoners was based on political necessities. Macdonald balanced his reelection prospects in Ontario against those in Quebec and decided he could better afford to lose a few seats in Quebec than to have English Canada turn against him.

Riel died as he prayed, with courage and dignity. Somehow a final indignity was allowed by the federal authorities to its hired executioner, Jack Henderson, a friend of Thomas Scott and Riel’s former prisoner. George Stanley describes the last moments of Riel in this grim account: "Near the enclosure behind which the Métis tragedy was drawing to a close, there stood various groups of people, talking and grumbling because they could not see the hanging. As the moment of the execution approached, there was silence. Then a dull heavy sound as of a body falling. ‘The God damned son of a bitch is gone at last,’ said one voice. ‘Yes,’ said another, ‘the son of a bitch is gone for certain now.’ There followed some heartless laughter. But it was thin and brittle."

Three weeks later, Riel’s body was taken secretly home to St. Boniface from Regina. After remaining in his mother’s home for two nights while hundreds of Métis filed past, it was moved to the cathedral in St. Boniface. Archbishop Taché conducted the requiem before a large crowd and one of Western Canada’s greatest sons was buried nearby. On the brown granite tombstone are the words "Riel, 16 novembre 1885."


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