4. The resistance at Red River
The resistance at Red RiverThe Red River Resistance lasted from November 1869, when the Métis blocked William McDougall's entrance, to August 1870 when the British military expedition arrived at Red River. During that period Louis Riel tried with varying levels of success to bring the English and French speaking portions of the community together in a single government that would negotiate terms of entry with the Canadian government.
While the Métis had originally formed a National Committee of the Métis of Red River to turn back McDougall and seize Upper Fort Garry, one of Riel's first acts was to call on the English-speaking portion of the community to send 12 delegates to meet with 12 French-speaking residents to debate the community's future. This Convention of 24 was able to agree on a list of rights that they wanted to see Canada recognize, but were unable to agree on a common strategy. On December 1, 1869, McDougall, who had still not been able to get across the border, proclaimed himself governor and urged loyal residents to rise up in arms against the Métis. At the same time he said that the Hudson's Bay Council of Assiniboia no longer had the right to govern at Red River. It was a foolish, and as time revealed, mistaken decision. By announcing that the Council of Assiniboia had been dissolved, McDougall had done away with the only government that could legitimately oppose Riel in Red River. McDougall did not know that Canada had decided to delay its take over of Red River and not made full payment to Hudson's Bay. In other words, McDougall had no authority to govern or to urge citizens to revolt against Riel.
The only people in Red River who were likely to respond to McDougall's call for revolt were the Canadians, many of whom had barricaded themselves in Schultz's home in Winnipeg. Recognizing that they were his main opponents, Riel aimed a cannon at the house and forced them to surrender. Approximately 60 of the Canadians were held as prisoners (Ref1, Ref2, Ref3, Ref4, Ref5, Ref6, Ref7, Ref8, Ref9, Ref10, Ref11, Ref12, Ref13, Ref14, Ref15, Ref16) at Upper Fort Garry. As the winter dragged on several of them, including Schultz, managed to escape. (Ref1, Ref2) On December 8, the Métis formed a Provisional Government. (Ref1, Ref2) They justified this action by pointing out that because the Hudson's Bay had abandoned them to a foreign power, namely Canada, without their consent, they had the right to form their own government. Shortly thereafter Riel allowed three delegates from the Canadian government to come to Red River. Two of them were simply there to try to convince the residents that the government of Canada fully intended to respect their rights. The third, Donald Smith, the chief officer of the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada, had a secret assignment. Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald had urged him to try to organize the English-speaking residents into a military force to take over Upper Fort Garry. Smith soon discovered that beyond the small group of Canadians, whose leaders were still under lock and key, the English-speaking community had no interest in taking up arms on behalf of Canada. Having failed to raise an army against Riel, Smith reassured him and the Provisional Government that they had nothing to fear from Canada. At a two-day open-air meeting in January 1870 Smith promised to communicate the people's concerns to Ottawa. Another convention, this one with 20 English-speaking and 20 French-representatives agreed upon on list of demands to take to Ottawa. At this point the Convention of 40 proclaimed itself a provisional government with Riel as its President. It was the crowning point in the history of the resistance, bringing together both the English- and French-speaking halves of the community under a single government. Events then took a tragic turn. Canadian supporters in Portage la Prairie mounted an expedition to free the prisoners still being held at Upper Fort Garry. At the same time, the Provisional Government was in the process of releasing the prisoners. Upon hearing of this, the rebels dispersed. As many of them passed by Upper Fort Garry on their way back to Portage la Prairie, Métis horsemen stopped them and placed them in jail in the fort. One of them, Thomas Scott, was ill and angry. He is reported to have been continually criticizing and abusing the Métis guards, who at one point had to be stopped from beating him. Scott was tried and convicted of treason and executed by a firing squad on March 4. Historians continue to debate why Riel did not pardon Scott as he had done in the case of other rebel's who had been condemned to death: some have suggested Scott had so outraged the guards that Riel could not have saved him, while others argue that Riel may have felt that the execution was necessary to demonstrate to the Canadian government that the resistance had to be taken seriously. Scott's execution ended the period of turmoil at Red River and from then on there was no more opposition to Riel's Provisional Government. In the end it was used to undermine many of the gains for which the Provisional Government had fought.