Get to Know Louis Riel
You’ve heard his name, but do you know the man behind the legend? To some, he was a hero. To others, a traitor. One thing is certain. He was never boring. Folks, meet Louis Riel.
Back in 1869, Louis Riel, Father of Manitoba, Metis leader and folk hero, was just about to make a name for himself.
Manitoba wasn’t Manitoba back then. It was a chunk of Canada known as Rupert’s Land and largely controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company. When the federal government started land transfer proceeding, Riel stepped up, fearful the Metis people would lose their place in history. There was a skirmish, maybe a few of them. Actually, it went down in history as the Red River Rebellion. And just before Christmas, Riel made a declaration on behalf of the People of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest and became head of the provisional government of Red River.
A few months later, on May 12, 1870, the Manitoba Act was passed and we became a province.
If you want to feel a little closer to the Father of Manitoba, spend some time in the spots where we celebrate him.
Statue at the Manitoba Legislature
He’s standing tall and proud with a traditional sash tied at his hip. With the majestic dome of the Manitoba Legislature in the background, this is your best bet for a great photo with Mr. Riel. The statue was created by Winnipeg artist Miguel Joyal and unveiled in May of 1996. But there’s a little more to the story.
Statue at College Universitaire de St. Boniface
In 1971, a different statue was unveiled on the grounds of the Legislature, this one by Marcien Lemay and Etienne Gaboury. It was controversial from the start, depicting a tortured form of Riel. In 1995, it was moved to the College Universitaire de St. Boniface where it stands today.
St. Boniface Cathedral
Not only is it the best example of French Romanesque architecture in Manitoba, its cemetery is the final resting place of Riel. Take a summertime stroll under the leafy shade and reflect on the life of the leader of the Red River Rebellion. Riel was found guilty of treason and executed in Regina on Nov. 16, 1885.
St. Boniface Museum
The handsome white building next door is St. Boniface museum, known to be the oldest building in Winnipeg and the largest log structure in North America. Stop here for Riel 101 - the museum houses a permanent exhibit about the Father of Manitoba that includes his coffin, moccassins and a toque. Curator Philippe Mailhot is also the closest we have to a resident Riel expert and is eager to wax poetic about the controversial historic figure. If you’re in town for Riel Day, the museum serves as headquarters for the celebration, and it’s certainly where you want to be.
Riel House National Historic Site
It seems so modest a home for such an important historic figure. The Red River Frame building has been restored to how it would have looked in the spring of 1886. Occupying river lot 51 along the Red River, this was Riel’s family home and where his descendants continued to live until 1969. It is here, in the living room of his mother’s house, that Riel’s body lay in state for two days in December 1885. Get a glimpse of how life was along the Red River before Rupert’s Land became part of this great, wide land called Canada.