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Louis Riel's Historic Places

Louis-Riel-Better-PortaitLouis Riel, one of the most enigmatic and interesting men in Canadian history, had a major impact on Canada. From his birth at the Red River Settlement in Manitoba, to his education in Québec, to his political leadership in what were to become Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Louis Riel left a lasting impression. Riel's impact is most strongly felt on the Canadian Prairies, where he led the Métis people in their quest for constitutional rights and recognition. Let us take you to Louis Riel's historic places, the places where he left an indelible mark on Canadian history.

Upper-Fort-Garry-GateBorn in St. Boniface, Manitoba, October 22nd, 1844, Louis Riel spent his formative years at the college de Montréal. It was only when he returned from Montréal to the Red River Settlement that he began to shape Canada's destiny: A fort's modest gate in downtown Winnipeg is all that remains of one of the most important places associated with Louis Riel. The
Upper Fort Garry Gate (right), constructed of limestone and wood in 1853 for the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trade fort in the Red River Settlement, became centre-stage for political resistance in young Canada. After 1867, formal lands of the North-West Territory were transferred to the Canadian government. The Métis people, who lived in Manitoba, wished to be consulted in matters that would have a drastic impact on their lives. Yet, they were not. In response to the Canadian government's attempt to instate a lieutenant-governor, the Métis, under the leadership of Louis Riel, seized Upper Fort Garry in 1869. After taking the fort, the Métis formed a provisional government with Louis Riel as their leader. The conflict, known as the Red River Resistance, ended when Métis requests were met by the federal government. With the conflict resolved, Louis Riel fled Canada and went into exile in the United States fearing that he would be arrested for his actions in the course of the uprising.

Two significant places associated with Louis Riel are located in Saskatchewan, where the Métis-Canadian conflict resurfaced after the creation of the province of Manitoba. Conflict exploded again with the North-West Uprising in 1885, the result of Métis people once again feeling that their rights and livelihood were being threatened. For this conflict, Louis Riel was drawn back from exile in the United States and once again rose up as a Métis leader. The earliest battle site of the North-West Uprising, on March 26, 1885, was the Battle of Duck Lake. It was a Métis victory, where Métis and Cree allies were led by Gabriel Dumont, Isidore Dumont and Louis Riel against the forces of the Canadian government sent to pacify the resistance.

Batoche was a Métis village founded in 1870 near present-day Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The village became the base for Métis forces during the North-West Uprising. It was near Batoche that Métis fighters engaged with the Canadian soldiers and where Riel formed his provisional government. This national historic site is significant as the location of the final battle of the North-West Uprising between 9-12 May 1885, in which the Métis were defeated by the forces of the Canadian government, after which Louis Riel was taken into custody by the government forces.

Riel-HouseRiel was imprisoned in Regina and stood trial for treason against Canada. The trial resulted in Riel's conviction and he was executed on November 6, 1885. A special historic place associated with Louis Riel is the small, one-and-a-half storey, squared log house in St. Vital, Winnipeg, constructed by Riel's mother in 1880 after her husband's death. Riel visited the home briefly in 1883 before the start of the North-West Uprising in 1885, but it is in this house that Riel's body was brought to lie in state. The Riel family continued to live in the home until 1968 and now the Riel House (left) serves as the location where Louis Riel is commemorated as a person of national historic significance.

St.-Boniface-CathedralNot far from his mother's house in St. Vital is the
St. Boniface Cathedral (right). Though the cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice since the days when Riel lived in the Red River Settlement, it is where Louis Riel's parents were married and was central to the Franco-Manitoban population that lived on the banks of the Red River. After lying in state at his mother's house, Riel's body was brought to the cathedral and interred its cemetery.

Louis Riel left his mark not only on each of these national historic sites listed on the Canadian Register, which are still possible to visit today, but on the country as well. Founder of Manitoba and controversial political figure, Louis Riel's legacy shaped Canada's history and brought Métis culture to the forefront of our shared national identity.


Photo of Louis Riel: University of Manitoba Archives, PC 107