My Great Grandmother Mary Mclean Allen was a pioneering Canadian reporter for the Regina Leader newspaper. In those days, the reporters were not given bylines in order to protect them from physical and legal assault. Mary was the principal reporter who wrote about Louis Riel, after she gained access to Louis Riel in the RCMP Regina jail. As she spoke french, she was able to disguise herself as a Roman Catholic priest with a fake beard, on the pretense of taking his confession. After another Regina Leader reporter had been turned away by the RMCP, the publisher Nicholas Flood Davin told my great grandmother to get an interview with Louis Riel or don’t come back. Through interviewing Riel, she became very sympathetic to his cause.
This confused some individuals who falsely assumed that it was the Regina Leader publisher Nicholas Flood Davin who disguised himself as a Catholic priest and did the sympathetic interviews. Davin, who wrote the tragic 1879 Davin Report creating the Canadian Residential School system, was campaigning actively for the hanging of Riel, stating that if they don’t hang Riel, they should abolish the death penalty. Articles have been written, falsely suggesting that there were two different personalities to Davin, the anti-Riel side and the sympathetic side. The University of Western Ontario changed its documentation to acknowledge that my great-grandmother Mary Mclean Allen was the reporter who interviewed Riel, disguised in a priest’s garb. Even the Regina Leader Post newspaper has acknowledged that Mary Mclean was the actual reporter in this incident. Given Davin’s involvement in producing Shakespeare plays, the Canadian Shakespeares website also made this comment:
“Davin, as discussed elsewhere on the CASP site, was at the center of a remarkable historical incident involving Louis Riel’s last interview––Riel being the Métis leader of the short-lived 1885 Rebellion, tried and executed for treason in Regina, Davin’s home town, on November 16, 1885.
In CASP’s 2010 correspondence with Ed Hird, Hird came forward with information about his great-grandmother Mary McLean, who worked as a reporter for Davin at the Regina Leader and who was also sympathetic to Riel’s cause. According to Hird, “Davin carried on the British tradition of not listing as a byline the names of the reporters who write for the Regina Leader. This was helpful for my great-grandmother Mary in protecting her from arrest by the RCMP when she snuck in disguised as a Roman Catholic priest confessor to obtain an interview with Louis Riel. Mary McLean quotes Davin [as saying] … ‘An interview must be had with Riel if you must outwit the whole police force of the North-West.’ Because Davin protected her anonymity, some writers like C.B. Koester have popularized the myth that Davin … disguised himself as that priest … I spent a week with my late Uncle Don Allen who carefully explained to me about his grandmother’s interview with Louis Riel. ‘When I first saw you [at] the trial, I loved you’ was said by Riel to Mary McLean, not to the man [Davin] calling for his hanging.” For the complete account of this incident in Mr. Hird’s own words, please click here.”
These newspaper articles came from Mary Mclean herself, via my late Uncle Don Allen, who corresponded with other Mclean relatives about our genealogical family history.