1. Birth of Manitoba2. Red River before 18703. The reasons for the resistance4. The resistance at Red River
Birth of ManitobaFor nearly 200 years the Hudson's Bay Company claimed much of what is now western and northern Canada. In 1670 King Charles II of England granted the company the trading rights to over 7.7 million square acres of land draining into Hudson Bay. As a fur-trade company, the Hudson's Bay always sought to keep settlers, particularly farmers, out of its territory, which was known as Rupert's Land. By the 1860s it was apparent that the years of company control in the west were coming to an end. Newly built railways were bringing settlers to the American mid-west and many politicians in the United States saw Rupert's Land as the next American frontier. There was also a growing movement in Ontario to have Rupert's Land transferred to the newly created country of Canada. With the support of the British government, the Hudson's Bay Company agreed to sell the land to Canada for $1.5-million. No one, unfortunately, had bothered to ask any of the nearly l2,000 people living in Red River, let alone the 34,000 Aboriginal people in the rest of Rupert's Land, if they wanted to become Canadians.
The transfer was supposed to come into effect in late 1869. When the Canadian government's appointed governor William McDougall tried to enter the territory on November 2, 1869 however, he was met by a patrol of armed men who forced him back across the U.S. border. They told him he could not return without the permission of the National Committee of the Métis of Red River. The same day, the Métis, under the leadership of Louis Riel, seized Upper Fort Garry, (Ref1, Ref2) the Hudson's Bay trading post near the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The Red River Resistance had commenced. The resistance would continue for nearly a year, with Riel leading a number of different temporary governments. The leaders of this resistance were not opposed to becoming Canadians, but they wished to do so on their own terms. They wanted to elect their own government, rather than be governed by a governor appointed by politicians in Ottawa. They needed guarantees that their farms would not be taken from them. And they wanted protection for the unique French and English culture that had developed in Red River over the past fifty years.
When the people of Red River made it clear that they would continue to resist until their rights were guaranteed, the Canadian government agreed to negotiate with the Provisional Government. As a result, in the spring of 1870 the Canadian Parliament passed the Manitoba Act, creating the province of Manitoba. Termed the postage-stamp province at the time, Manitoba was only 13,500 square miles in size. The French and English languages were to be guaranteed equal status in the courts and the legislature, and there was a commitment to public funding of both Roman Catholic and Protestants school systems. Existing land titles were recognized and 1.4 million acres set aside for those Manitobans whose families were of partial Aboriginal heritage. Promises were also given that Canada would not prosecute anyone for their involvement in the resistance. This last promise was particularly important because in March 1870, the Provisional Government of Red River had executed Thomas Scott, a young man who been one of the most active and vociferous opponent's of Riel's government.
The Manitoba Act was in large measure a victory for the leaders of the Red River Resistance. It was not one that they could enjoy in peace. In the summer of 1870 a British-led military expedition arrived in Red River determined to avenge Thomas Scott's death. The promised amnesty was never granted: one of the leaders of the resistance was killed, while others, including Riel, were forced to flee for their lives. Delay and controversy surrounded the promised transfer of land to the Métis. With their leaders in exile, and the province filling up with immigrants from Ontario who looked down on them because of their ancestry and their religion, many of the Métis left the province for the western prairie. The Red River Resistance was over and a new era of settlement was about to transform Manitoba.