Edhird's Blog

Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit

Louis Riel: Canadian Patriot?


By the Rev. Dr. Ed and Mark Hird

Who was Louis Riel?  Was he a patriot or a dissident or both?

Louis Riel was born at St. Boniface (Winnipeg, Manitoba) on October 22nd 1844, inheriting from his father a mixture of French, Irish and Aboriginal blood, with French predominating.

Louis’ mother Julie sent her son Louis to become Canada’s first Metis priest.  The 1864 death of his father however weighed heavily on Louis, bringing about an abrupt end to his seminary training.  Four months from becoming a priest, Louis met a young Montreal girl, fell in love, and decided to marry.  He rashly left the College of Montreal without obtaining his degree, and then his marriage plans collapsed when his fiancée’s parents forbade this proposed union with a Metis.  Embittered by this racist-rejection, Riel left Montreal in 1866 – without a wife, without a career, without money.

Returning home to the Red River settlement, Riel found that locusts had devastated the land. With the demise of the Hudson Bay Company’s influence, both Eastern Canada and the United States seemed poised to swallow up the Red River settlement.  The Metis felt forgotten, ignored and politically abandoned.

Without adequately consulting the local 12,000 Red River people, the Hudson Bay Company sold the Red River settlement to Eastern Canada.  Louis Riel rallied the Metis people in 1869 to take over the local Fort Garry, the Western nerve centre of the HBC.  Riel’s goal was to force the Federal Government to negotiate Manitoba’s admission into Confederation as a full province, not just a territory. The provincial name Manitoba, rather than the expected territorial name Assiniboia, came from Louis Riel himself.

Louis Riel proclaimed that the Metis were ‘loyal subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of England’. “If we are rebels, said Riel, “we are rebels against the Company that sold us, and is ready to hand us over, and against Canada that wants to buy us.  We are not in rebellion against the British supremacy which has still not given its approval for the final transfer of the country…We want the people of Red River to be a free people…”

The Americans watched the Red River Rebellion with keen interest.  Ignatius Donnelly, a former Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, said: ‘If the revolutionists of Red River are encouraged and sustained…, we may within a few years, perhaps months, see the Stars and Stripes wave from Fort Garry, from the waters of Puget Sound, and along the shore of Vancouver.’  In the summer of 1870, Nathanial F. Langford and ex-governor Marshall of Minnesota visited Riel at Fort Garry.  They promised Riel $4 million cash, guns, ammunition, mercenaries and supplies to maintain himself until his government was recognized by the United States.  Riel declined.

After William O’Donohogue ripped down the Union Jack, Riel immediately reposted the Union Jack with orders to shoot any man who dared touch it.  Despite his rebellious reputation, Louis Riel showed himself to be a Canadian patriot who single-handedly kept Western Canada from being absorbed by the USA.  Riel prayed in his diary: “O my God!  Save me from the misfortune of getting involved with the United States.  Let the United States protect us indirectly, spontaneously, through an act of Providence, but not through any commitment or agreement on our part.”  Riel also prophetically noted in his diary: “God revealed to me that the government of the United States is going to become extraordinarily powerful.”

“The Metis are a pack of cowards”, boasted Thomas Scott, “They will not dare to shoot me.” If it was not for Riel’s sanctioning of the tragic shooting of the Orangeman Thomas Scott, he might have ended up in John A Macdonald’s federal Cabinet.  Thomas Scott’s death made Riel ‘Canada’s most hated man’.

After fleeing to the United States, Riel was then elected in his absence as a Manitoba MP. The Quebec legislature in 1874 passed a unanimous resolution asking the Governor-General to grant amnesty to Riel.  That same year, after Louis Riel’s re-election as MP, he entered the parliament building, signed the register, and swore an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria before slipping out to avoid arrest.  The outraged House of Commons expelled him by a 56-vote majority.

Exiled to Montana, Riel married and became a law-abiding American citizen. In 1884, with the slaughtering of the buffalo, many First Nations and Métis were dying of hunger.  The Metis in Saskatchewan convinced Riel to return to Canada.  Riel sent a petition to Ottawa demanding that the Metis be given title to the land they occupied and that the districts of Saskatchewan, Assiniboia and Alberta be granted provincial status.  The Federal Government instead set up a commission.  In the absence of concrete action, Louis Riel and his followers decided to press their claims by the attempted capture of Fort Carlton.

Due to the Canadian Pacific Railway, my great-grandfather Oliver Allen was shipped with the Toronto militia to quickly defeat Riel at Batoche.  Using an American Gatling gun with 1,200 rounds a minute, the battle did not last long.  While in the West, Oliver Allen met his future wife Mary Mclean a Regina Leader news-reporter sympathetic to Louis Riel.  Right before Riel’s hanging, Mary Mclean disguised herself as a Catholic priest in order to interview Riel.  Before Riel died, he prayed in his diary: “Lord Jesus, I love you.  I love everything associated with You…Lord Jesus, do the same favour for me that You did for the Good Thief; in Your infinite mercy, let me enter Paradise with You the very day of my death.”

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.


-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5.

. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

Author: edhird

I was the Rector of St. Simon's Church North Vancouver, B.C for 31 years, from 1987 to 2018. Ordained in 1980, I have also served at St. Philip's Vancouver and St. Matthew's Abbotsford. My wife Janice and I have three sons James, Mark, and Andrew. I was the Past President and Chaplain for Alpha Canada. While serving as the National Chair for Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada, I was one of three co-signers of the Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials For the past 31 years, I have been privileged to write over 400 articles as a columnist on spiritual issues for local North Vancouver newspapers. In the last number of years, I have had the opportunity to speak at conferences and retreats in Honduras, Rwanda, Uganda, Washington State, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Ontario. My book For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship, coauthored with Janice Hird, can be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Better-Worse-Discovering-lasting-relationship/dp/0978202236/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1535555614&sr=8-1 My sequel Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit, with a foreword by Dr JI Packer, is online with Amazon.com in both paperback http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/097820221X/ref=redir_mdp_mobile and ebook form http://tiny.cc/tanhmx . In Canada, Amazon.ca has it available in paperback http://tiny.cc/dknhmx and ebook http://tiny.cc/wmhmmx . It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook). Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form. Nook gives a sample of the book to read online: http://tiny.cc/vj3bmx . Indigo also offers the Kobo ebook version: http://tiny.cc/kreonx . You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook: http://tiny.cc/1ukiox The book 'Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit' focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus' healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how North Americans can embrace a holistically healthy life. In order to obtain a copy of the prequel book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada', please send a $18.50 cheque to 'Ed Hird', 102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. For more info, please click on www3.telus.net/st_simons/nsnews030.html

4 thoughts on “Louis Riel: Canadian Patriot?

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